We caught up with British Mini Bike Championship Promotions Officer Matt Pierce to talk about the rapid rise of the sport and the stars of the future.
How's the series been going?
"It’s been going brilliant. We knew we would lose some numbers this year because we lost the minimoto class, but we’ve increased in other areas. We’ve increased in the open class with the Honda CRF150s and 110cc two-strokes. Pit bikes are always going to be popular, the veteran class is pretty much at maximum capacity now and the Juniors, Bambino and Mini GP classes have a lot more bike on track now.
"Everyone is seeing this progression through the four-strokes and so everyone is seeing the Mini GP and Bambino classes as good starting blocks to progress through to something like the KTM Cup or the Kawasaki Cup. They’re all four-strokes and so they’re starting to come across to it. This year has been good but next year’s going to be massive!"
You can tell that already?
"Yeah, a lot of orders have come in for the new purpose-built Bambino bikes. I think it’s going to be a great starting block. And then we’re trying to build a partnership with Norasport who run the British Supermoto Championship so it’s all good."
A couple of your younger riders have recently been selected for British Talent Cup, is that right?
"Yeah, we’ve had four riders that have come through the BMB. We’ve got Chloe Jones, who races in the Mini GP class on a 140. George Hopper who is ex-Junior British grass track champion - he came across to us two seasons ago. He’s racing in the Junior Supermoto 140 class and he is a name to look out for in the future. He's just an absolute raw talent. He’s so calm, controlled and never loses his rag. If things go wrong he deals with it and for a 13-year-old he’s got such an old head on his shoulders. Will Lathrope came through the Mini GP ranks and now races in the KTM Cup alongside Annabel Thomas who came up through the Junior Supermoto 140 ranks. Harris Beech, Lewis Jones and Kyal Tinker who race with Mini GP UK have also been selected.
"It shows it doesn’t matter which cRunner lass you choose.. All the building blocks are there so it’s giving them the good foundation they want. They’re all cracking kids as well. There’s no nastiness about them or arrogance, because we try and get that out of them and say it’s not about the money, it’s not about this, it’s about doing it because it’s fun and because you want to do it. Not because you have to do it or you’re being pushed to do it. If you’re smiling and you’re enjoying it you’re going to do well. If you talk to any of the kids they’re like a breath of fresh air."
With all this going on have you had much time to race this year?
"No (laughs). I do some instructing on the track days at Stretton and Fulbeck. I don’t do the junior race school as we have a few BSB lads working with the kids but if there’s any seniors or really new juniors – because all the rest of them are quicker than me – I do some instructing there. I do the practice days on a race weekend then on Sundays I do the commentary. If we’ve got guests down I’ll help with them over the weekend but I also do the commentary now for the entire afternoon, with a proper commentator, not just me mumbling along for three hours."
Have you missed racing?
"I have missed racing in a way. I love being out on track bashing elbows with my mates but the racing was never the be all and end all for me. Being involved with the club and the championship, watching it grow from nothing to what it is now has always been my passion and my drive. Don’t get me wrong I can still push into the fast group no problems at all but I’m just there to enjoy it and now I’m about 10-15 years older than most of the kids doing it!"
So how did you get involved with the BMB?
"I came out of the military and I sold all my bikes because we had no money but I told my wife I needed to be involved in some form of motorsport. I started marshaling at Donington Park and I did a full season which was great but there’s only so much you can do while watching other people have fun and I wanted to get involved with some form of racing again. I looked into karting and that’s crazy money. Looked into a track car and couldn’t afford that either.
"I looked on Youtube and found pit bike racing and thought ‘that looks like a right laugh’. I went on to a pit bike forum and just started asking questions and then Alan (who runs the BMB) messaged me and invited me to a test day where I could run a couple of laps to see how I found it. I chucked my old road leathers on with some brand new knee sliders and had a go. You know how it is you go there thinking you’re going to get your knee down and all that but it didn’t work out that way but the paddock was so welcoming – you know yourself – and you feel part of the team straight away. I bought a bike a few months later. November 2012 or 2013 I think. A long time ago any way.
"I started racing with what was the NMRRC. That was set up by a couple of riders from another championship who weren’t happy with the way pit bikes were being shelved so they set up their own championship. I offered to do some video for them and help the championship by running social media and that’s what we did. I carried on racing and everything but I’ve also been running the social media side of things since then.
"We built it from nothing and we’re up to 28,000 likes on Facebook now which is brilliant. In November 2014 Alan asked me to be the Promotions Officer and do it properly; from working with you guys at MCN to building the events and being part of the management committee. It was growing really well but we just wanted to make it more professional. We’re not about shiny leathers and all that but we want to give people on and off the track the best experience that we can. Giving the kids the right kind of promotion they need. So my job was to push the championship forward and make it more known and that’s what we’ve done. Last year we did a lot of work with yourselves and the media which was brilliant."
Yeah, I saw somewhere you invited Andrew Shim down?
"We contacted him last season after I saw his John McGuinness documentary and invited him along to a trackday and he absolutely loved it. He’s out on a GSX-R1000 most of the time with No Limits but the basics are really important riding the smaller bikes. Carrying in corner speed, getting the body position right and all that, so it transfers to a bigger bike. That’s why we’ve got so many people like Andrew Shim – he’s going to come back – and some of the BSB lads racing with us."
Scott Redding used to race in the winter with you?
"Yeah but he’s busy doing his academy no. We regularly have Joe Francis, Ed Best, Billy McConnell, Lee Jackson, loads of ex-BSB lads and current BSB boys who see it now as a training ground and that’s great. It caters for everyone. The championship is completely open, we don’t want an elitist attitude, we don’t want the strong drive to achieve to hinder people enjoying themselves. All it takes is time, patience and the right level of support, which is working with the people on track with you including competitors. We try and make it open and accessible for everyone to come down and have a go."
That’s one thing I did notice when I raced with you guys. Everybody made me feel welcome straight away and invited me to use their tools and eat their food.
"Absolutely. Dane Blackburn, who used to race British Superstock, had a blow up on a Saturday recently – one of the oil seals went and made a right mess. The lads had a CRF150 split down into component parts, absolutely everything and there were about four or five lads gathered around his van until 1am mucking in, including people racing against him.
"Everyone helped. Pete Ward gave him the gasket kit to finish off the job. You don’t get that at other championships. They even had schematics on an iPad so they could put the gearbox together! It was amazing and Dane went out on Sunday, stuck it on pole and won two races. That just shows what we’re all about. I’ve always said if that ever stops I’ll walk away.
"The friends I’ve made through this are friends for life. I’m off to one of the lads wedding’s this weekend so I’m going to his for a takeaway and a few beers tonight to watch him panic before the big day."
You put on an exhibition race at the TT last year, so what’s next for the championship?
"We raced in Peel and we were going again this year - we had everything booked and 37 riders paid up plus support staff but at the final meeting on the Isle of Man they made the decision not to run the race at all. Last year there was an accident where one of the riders injured himself so they had to pull emergency units away from the TT and public areas to deal with that and they said they can’t do that. I completely agree, public safety and the safety of the TT riders has to be paramount, we’re just a sideshow.
"We’ve got a weekend booked in France in August with Italians, Spanish and French riders there for the weekend. Looking further on we’re hoping to do some more festivals next year. Prescott is really good fun and the kids absolutely love doing that. We’d love to do the MCN Festival again next year."
Do you want a bit more grip on the surface for the MCN Festival next year?
"Yeah! Although I’ve got to admit that was a good giggle riding sideways all over the place. Hopefully we’ll do that with you guys next year. We’re trying to build a relationship with Three Sisters. We’ve got a trackday booked in August and we’re going to be working with them throughout the winter and perhaps try and get a couple of race events booked in next year. We hopefully – I cant confirm yet – but we’ve hopefully got a series sponsor."
That’s big news…
"Yeah, Alan has to pretty much underwrite everything at the minute. We have a few sponsors who come to the events but we basically only charge them a trading charge each weekend. We don’t have any money injection which in a way is good because we don’t owe anybody anything and we don’t have sponsors telling us how to run it which takes the pressure off and keeps it grounded, but this sponsor are onboard with keeping it grass roots. So we’ll see how that goes!"
What's your advice for people looking to get involved?
"A lot of people do a Google search, which is good, but my advice would be to come down to a trackday or a race weekend and just come and talk to us. Google searches will give you an idea but until you come down and get a feel for it you don’t know if it’s for you. I always tell people to come down to a trackday, we’ll always give you some time throughout the day and we’ll introduce you to a few people. They’ll learn a lot more doing that than they will confusing themselves on the internet.
"The next thing is to decide if you want to come racing or do trackdays. All of our events have medical cover and are permitted so you’ve got to decide what the budget is. Do you want to spend £85 a month to go racing all over the country or just do trackdays? Look at the budget. Set the budget. Then start looking into bikes. Don’t look at bikes then set your budget as you’ll just tie yourself in knots. Look at what you can afford, because it’s supposed to be an affordable sport. Make it realistic then look into bikes.
"On our website they range from £795 for the Bambino up to around £1500 for an all singing, all dancing model. There’s a bike to match whatever budget you have. Once you have your budget then come racing or come do some trackdays. I always advise people who are coming into the sport to do trackdays first. We’re not going to get people to come racing straight away. Spend some time with me and the other instructors and we’ll spend the day with you and help you progress. Settle in that way then when you feel confident enough to be out on track you can do race weekends. You can do just the practice days or just the race days, whatever you want.
"Alternatively you can hire a bike out for the weekend to test the water. If they’re experienced riders they can do the full race weekend if they like. Racing’s not for everyone. There’s plenty of accessible ways into the championship for anybody. It’s not for high rollers. We’re not high rollers - ask my wife! A set of brake pads are just £15!
"You can build one from scratch for under £1000 if you wanted to from parts on eBay. Everyone is recognising it as a stepping stone now so there are plenty of parts suppliers and back up. A whole new engine is £250 so it’s not going to break the bank."
What events have you got coming up?
"We've got a trackday at Stretton on July 30. After that we’ve got a really big round coming up at Whilton Mill on August 6. We’ve got guys coming over from America. There’s a chap called John McDonald who’s heavily involved in the growth of the Honda MSX125 scene over there and the building up of the racing. He's got a big Youtube channel. He’s racing for the weekend in the Stock 140 class and then a little lad called Julian Correa is also coming along. He's only 8-years-old and races in the Florida Mini Gp championship. He's going to race in the Bambino class and we've got out reigning Bambino champion Ryan Frost to drop back down into the championship for the weekend so it’s going to be good. Lots of exciting things coming up."
Thanks for your time.
"No problem, have a good one."
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