22 year-old former Moto3 racer Danny Webb will be racing a SuperBike at the 2014 Isle of Man TT races. With no road race experience and no time on a superbike, it seems that an element of the TT community feel that the decision to put him on the bike is one that’s put commercial gain before anything else. Newcomers traditionally come to the TT having previously competed in the Manx GP or one of the Irish road racing events. Danny comes from the glitz and glamour of the MotoGP paddock. Has he ‘stolen’ the place of a more deserving road racer that has served time on the roads? Is it a step too far to put somebody with seemingly zero road racing experience on a superbike? It’s frustrating for me to see people second guessing the answers to these questions without consulting a grown up from the TT event itself. I’ve just finished speaking to Paul Phillips, he’s the TT and Motorsport development manager for the Isle of Man. It’s his job to help grow the TT. He gets bums on seats on the start line, in the grandstands and at home in front of televisions. Paul works incredibly hard and in the six years I’ve known him, he always seems to cop some flak from somewhere. Here are his answers to the questions I thought needed asking.
JH. People seem annoyed that the process of spending time on the roads at the Manx or the NW before getting the opportunity to race at the TT as a newcomer seems to have been ignored. What are your thoughts?
PP. Road race experience is not a prerequisite for entry to the TT races. Some of the most successful TT riders in history have come to the event with little or no road race experience. What we look for is talent and if someone has a lot of ability when it comes to racing a motorcycle, we have the resources and experience available to assist them in learning the TT Course. There are no guarantees with this and some people just don’t take to it, but we do everything that is reasonably possible for rookies to our event so that they feel fully prepared before they head off down Bray Hill. And I believe our results in this area in recent years shows that this approach is working.
JH. People seem to think that Danny is just looking for a big payday, I know you’ve been happy to talk about riders’ start money in the past, are you happy to talk about how much Danny will get? A ballpark figure is good.
PP. The thing I like about this situation with Danny, is that he rang us (I’d have never considered him a likely target if I am honest) and he wants to do it. Unlike lots of other guys before him, he never came on the phone asking about money. Just like Josh Brookes didn’t the year before actually. Like Josh, he just wants to do it and fair play to him for that. We will probably end up supporting him with some finance and we see him as a good long term prospect worth investing in. But he isn’t going to get rich in one year racing at the TT and he knows that. He will almost certainly have more fun racing a motorcycle than he has ever had though. We can almost guarantee him that!
JH. Johnny Barton and Milky Quayle (rider liaison officers) do an amazing job of bringing newcomers on before they race, can you outline the kind of work Danny is doing with them. How much experience will he have before the TT?
PP. Well he has been here a couple of times off his own back to see the event. Now he is doing the usual onboard tuition and PS2 TT game thing. We will have him here a few times before the TT to spend decent time with Milky and Johnny Barton and he is well connected with a lot of the TT paddock who will also give him a good steer. He will need to do a lot of homework to succeed though, but he seems to realise that. He is in good hands with Ryan Farquhar and I think that was important for everyone involved in this. They will come to the event well prepared machinery wise.
JH. Danny has no experience on a superbike. Josh Brookes had lots, is that a concern?
PP. No. He won’t be the first person to come in that situation, nor the last. It is a matter of preparation again. He and Ryan have plans in place to get him sufficient track time on the bikes pre TT. He just needs to understand that when he comes, there is no pressure to get a result. He really can relax and enjoy himself and we will be telling him and all the other newcomers that the whole time. Conor Cummins came in 2006 aged just 20 straight out of the R6 Cup, jumped on an R1 and lapped at over 120mph. Conor had that same level of support and advice before he came like all the other newcomers now receive.
JH. Clearly global interest in the TT is growing year-on-year, but people feel that having Danny there is more of a commercial (financial) decision than one that’s related to entertaining new audiences. What are your thoughts on this?
PP. It is a commercial decision in so much as everything we do has to be a commercial decision. We are operating the TT for economic and commercial reasons, investing several millions of taxpayers pounds each year. We are not a sports club and are not being paid to be a group of enthusiasts. Danny Webb is a high profile rider and is already generating significant media coverage. This is good. But strip all that away, and look at it just from a sporting perspective for a minute; we have a 22 year old lad, keen as mustard to ride in our event, who has shown he has the ability to ride at one of the highest levels in our sport and be successful and some people think that is a bad thing? People like Josh Brookes and Danny Webb coming to race in our event is helping change global perceptions about the TT within the sport and that can only be a positive thing.
JH. I think people view newcomers’ fastest laps as a target, rather than as an indication of talent. What are your thoughts on this?
PP. We try and get all the newcomers to chill out and enjoy themselves and not worry about how they get on results and speed wise in the first few years. But that said, when you are dealing with a certain calibre of rider, you have to accept that they are going to set themselves targets. It is in their genetic makeup to be competitive. So there is little point trying to ignore that fact, and instead we try and help these guys hit their objectives in as risk free a manner as is possible.
So, there it is. Danny Webb clearly has a lot of hard work to do, but no more than anyone else that’s raced at the TT for the first time. Will his experience on a Moto3 bike help when he’s threading a 200 horsepower needle down Bray Hill for the first time? Time will tell. Looking at the reaction from the TT community, I don’t think Danny’s ability on a bike is in question, and like every other newcomer he’ll get his chance to show us what he’s got.
Independent TV monitoring showed that the global audience for the 2013 TT was 23.1 million people, an increase of 45 per cent year-on-year. More people than ever are interested in the TT, that says to me that somebody somewhere is doing something right. The question of whether choosing high profile riders like Danny Webb or Josh Brookes over riders with more road racing experience, but less of a commercial draw, is one that will run and run. My concern is that when racers crash at the TT, the impact from mainstream media is a negative one. They don’t share the same passion as us and see an opportunity to question the events’ legitimacy. Putting a rider with the right kind of experience on a bike is key to reducing the chances of a bashing from the Daily Mail weirdos. Paul Phillips has never tried to hide the fact that the TT is a commercial property, a business that needs to grow to survive. In that sense, business is good. I feel for the lesser known racers who’ve put the hours, effort and their own money into road racing, only to see a potential chance go to a rider who might not appear to deserve it. But if the grid didn’t have ‘star attractions’, how long would the TT last? Maybe the answer is to increase the number of newcomers allowed. The racing certainly isn’t getting any less exciting and I for one cannot wait for the TT to roll around again.