Suzuki GP boss Garry Taylor took the time to join us for a live webchat on Thursday November 29. In it, he revealed that he only applied for the job thinking it was a Formula One team, that he thinks Kenny Roberts and Sete Gibernau are set for some big battles next year, and that when he goes out for a ride on his 600 Bandit in a Kenny Roberts Jr lid, no-one mistakes him for the real thing. The full transcript follows…
Jim: How did you get your job?
GarryTaylor: Erm…I was already working in marketing and promotions and I applied for a job advertised in Campaign magazine. It was for a GP team and I thought it was a car team. But it was actually for a bike team, which I only realised half-way through the interview when the name Barry Sheene came up, which even I recognised! But I still managed to get the job!
Paul: What did you do before joining Suzuki?
GarryTaylor: That was it really... I was working in advertising and promotions but I was a competitor in various car events at club and national level. I rallied, auto-tested, hill climbed; I’ve been involved in motorsport since I was about 12 I think.
daveb: Were you really surprised to hear about getting the four-stroke for 2002?
GarryTaylor: Yes. I was very surprised. I knew the factory was doing everything they could to bring the programme forward but bearing in mind the plan was originally 2003, I thought we'd maybe see one or two wildcard events and start serious testing halfway through the season. It was a pleasant surprise. I think we all felt with the programme starting in 2003, we'd be a year behind in racing our major competition. A week is a long time in racing so a season is a couple of lifetimes.
Bonnisam: What’s the new engine for 2002 like?
GarryTaylor: Well, it's a V4, four-cylinder machine to the new reg. I've seen it, it looks beautiful but it's so new that's all I’ve seen. I know it's already testing but the main impression I've got is that it's really small, very compact.
gsxer400: Who's the best rider you've ever worked with?
GarryTaylor: Hard to say. Obviously, Kenny and Kevin Schwantz stand out among them, and it's hard because I worked with Kevin all through his illustrious career, whereas Kenny still has a long time ahead of him. So it's a bit unfair to judge, but they are very different people. Kevin achieved a lot through natural talent and aggression, whereas Kenny is a lot more of a thinking rider and technically interested in what goes on the bike.
Nedkelly: What happened with Kevin McGee - he crashed at Laguna then no news?
GarryTaylor: He crashed at Laguna, and spent quite a long time in hospital and obviously wasn't going to be fit to ride for the foreseeable future. So we were obliged to replace him ,which was a pity, because he'd only completed one race for the team. I saw him in Australia at Phillip Island and he's well, and doing a Murray Walker in Australia as a TV commentator, and doing a really good job of it.
r1basher: What will Kenny and Sete be riding next season, 2 stroke or 4 stroke?
GarryTaylor: Well, as revealed in some detail in MCN, they'll start the season on the four-strokes. Essentially the 2-strokes are parked.
slim shady: Who is better. Eddie Kidd or Evel Knievel?
GarryTaylor: Erm.... Well I think you have to say Evel Kneivel made a bigger impact on the world. Eddie Kidd is very much a British personality.
Nedkelly: What do think about the future of WSB and GP.. can they live side by side or will they merge?
GarryTaylor: I dunno if they will ever merge. My own view is that WSB could be a stepping stone into GPs and I think the new MotoGP class will take over the mantle of the prestige class from the 500s, but I think there is still plenty of space for Superbikes to be a very worthwhile championship.
r1basher: How badly did the retirement of Kevin affect the team?
GarryTaylor: I'd have to say it rocked the team completely. We were lucky enough to have Daryll Beattie there, who was doing exceedingly well, but I don't think until he was gone we realised just how important Kevin was to the team. It may sound a strange thing to say, but Kevin's personality and the way he did things basically set the way the team did things. I was learning my job at the same time as Kevin. It was doing his things like his amazing way of recovering from injuries. Looking back now, it's amazing the amount of injuries he carried and the way he could force pain and discomfort from his mind. Also the way he gave 100 per cent gave excitement and commitment to the team and rubbed off on other riders. Even now when he comes to races he brings a certain electricity to races and he's one of those guys who lifts a party by walking in. We also missed his humour, cos he's a very funny man.
Steve: Wny did Kenny's performance drop so much last season?
GarryTaylor: I think really in many ways, his performance didn't drop, just everyone else went quicker than they did before. The result was the same thing: we got our ass kicked! But if you look at most race tracks we were going quicker than the year before, but when you see some of the early races were around 30 seconds quicker than the previous year that’s a huge advancement. I think you could see how hard Kenny was trying, when he had 2 DNFs in the wet, whereas in general he loves the wet and is extremely good at it. Then we had a DNF at Brno, and Kenny got taken out by Biaggi in a race late in the season and that really knocks the point scoring down. But it's not a season we want to forget, because then we could repeat it. We have to remember it and learn from it.
beezer: How come Sete did so much better at some tracks?
GarryTaylor: Well I think firstly, he's an extremely good rider and he would get my award in the paddock for most improved rider of the season. I think Kenny had the extra pressure of trying to hang onto a championship, whereas Sete was coming out of a bad year with his previous team and he got on well with his mechanic and got his head down and got on with it. I think there will be quite a few ding-dongs between Kenny and Sete next year, on the track anyway. The race against your team-mate is the purest racing in many ways, because you're on identical machinery.
r1basher: A lot of Superbike riders have really struggled to make the transition to GPs (Walker, Corser, Haga etc) why do you think that is?
GarryTaylor: Well I think firstly, Grand Prix has more of the top riders in it at any given time, so the competition is going to be stronger. I also think in GPs the top riders are able to go fast every lap, whereas in WSB and BSB the riders seem to go fast at the start, then the pace drops and then it picks up at the end. I also think that to some extent, with a WSB bike, you just get on it and ride it. With a GP bike the settings are infinitely variable and you can make it a dream ride, but if you don't know what you are doing you can get into trouble. When we tested at Phillip Island with Scott Russell, he sat down and said that he just got on the bikes and rode depending on the bike. He wasn't used to having people asking him in detail about the settings etc so if someone as experienced and talented as him finds it daunting, then it's no wonder others do
Crescent: Do you honestly think the four-stroke ruling will help our superbike-bred racers like Chris Walker?
GarryTaylor: I think the top riders will still be the best riders. OK, Chris Walker is very talented…but I think if you look at my previous answer you'll see why he's struggled. Maybe the four strokes will be easier to ride; the power-band is broader, they'll be heavier etc. But I still think the cream will rise to the top. Maybe the progression will be easier through Superbikes etc, but I think for British GP riders to really make it they need to get there earlier.
weeble: Do you ride a road bike?
GarryTaylor Yes...and to be honest, not very often anymore travelling between meetings, and the short time I’m in England the car seems more convenient, what with a phone and a very heavy briefcase. I do have an old TS185, which I use for greenlaning and stuff...and also a 600 Bandit. But the honest answer is most miles are on a scooter at race tracks. I do have quite a large collection of helmets for most of the riders who have been with the team but I don't think many people mistake me for Kenny when I go out! Oh, and I’ve also got a quad. I live on a farm and it's very practical for dragging stuff around
Nedkelly: Do you allow your riders to ride road bikes in the off season... or dirt bikes?
GarryTaylor: Both Kenny and Sete seem to spend every second they can riding. Kenny tends to go to his dad's ranch and Sete riders Supermotard events. I do have reservations about skiing etc but these guys are the top riders so telling them to be careful on bikes seems a bit silly. They know how to take less risks and ride more carefully.
Frank: Do you still enjoy all the travelling?
GarryTaylor: No I don't enjoy the travelling. I never have. I’m mildly claustrophobic so I don't like underground trains or planes.
Frank: How about your family? Do they travel with you?
GarryTaylor: My family doesn't travel with me, although my wife used to work in the paddock with me so she knows what the real lifestyle is, as opposed to what you'd think. My daughter is about 5 years old and she knows who Kenny and Sete are, but I think she still thinks I’m out there on a bike! The strange thing is, what we do is exotic commuting. We go to the same hotels for 20 years, and many hotels pull out the same rooming plan they used before so you get exactly the same room! Since the events of September 11, we seem to be fairly unique in that no-one thought we'd miss races etc, whereas a lot of the rest of the world seem to have decided not to travel at the moment.
Rgvrider: If you weren't managing Suzuki, what would you do? Would you rather be out there on the bikes?
GarryTaylor: No, I’m nowhere near brave enough. I used to race cars at club level but I don’t consider myself a proficient motorcyclist at all and I know I’d get hurt. I fall off my quad enough at home. I remember someone asking Kevin the same question about what he would be if he wasn't a GP rider and he answered "a waste of space" and I think I’m the same way. It's important to keep a level head with what we do because we are mixing with the best riders in the world. We do things that we think are everyday, but most people would dream about it and we, as a team, try to give people the time and attention that we can as long as it doesn't interfere with work. But the pressure on the riders is amazing, they can't get off planes etc in Spain without getting recognised. I think if I had a career change, I know it might sound trite, but I’ve had such a good life, I'd quite like to work for a charity. It makes me sound like a Miss World winner! It's a great job that I’ve had but when you think about it someone once said motorcycle racing is a group of arseholes chasing one arsehole around a track and it doesn't contribute much to the world really. Apart from great entertainment and jobs for us.
beezer: When you see a rider crash, do you worry about whether he's injured, or do you just think..."Oh no, that's half a million skating down the road on it's side?"
GarryTaylor: laughs I have to be honest and say I’m terrified during every race. I’m not much of a motorcyclist, I just commute, but unless you're a biker you don't realise how good these guys are. The thing is we worry about every rider, not just our own and the thing we worry about is that the rider is up and OK. Everything else is just metal and plastic and can be replaced and people can't. Then again, I say that as a privileged member of a factory team. Obviously a privateer team might have more money troubles to worry about.
Nedkelly: Do you think Carl Fogarty would have been as successful in GPs? He certainly did in his book!
GarryTaylor: The honest answer is no, I don't think he would have been but as he never made the move, we'll never know the answer. I'm a great fan of his and I think he's done a lot for the profile of motorcycle racing in the UK. I think it's interesting to look at it the other way, and see if Mick Doohan would have won as many titles in WSB and most people think, yes, easily, but as neither of them made the move we'll never know.
r1basher: Gary, I do a bit of racing myself, any tips on getting sponsorship?
GarryTaylor: Find a rich girlfriend! That would be the best way. The first thing you've got to do is look at the proposition you're putting out and see if you would buy it. If you wouldn't invest in yourself then why would someone else? Then just get the logic out to as many people as possible, because what a salesman would call the conversion rate from proposition to sponsorship is very small, and it's very hard at the moment with recent events. But at club level, you're really looking for an enthusiast who wants to put his money behind an enthusiast indulging someone else in having fun. Best of luck
Nedkelly: What's your view on tobacco advertising? What would the impact be on bike racing if it was banned completely?
GarryTaylor: At one time tobacco sponsorship was very important for GP racing. We were sponsored by Lucky Strike for many years and we were grateful for that. I’m actually asthmatic and have an allergy to tobacco dust so I don't like to be around smoke, but if they want to invest their money to promote our sport then fair enough. But it looks like with the EU rules it will go anyway. But one thing we have to thank the Tobacco people for is the professionalism and investment. It was those companies who could groom riders and teams on the importance of PR etc. It's something very few companies could do. We were sponsored by Pepsi as well, who were very good sponsors, but they have lots of ways to spend their money. Tobacco companies were more limited and therefore motorcycling was one of their few avenues. So because their avenues were limited, they could put more effort in. Ultimately, everything in racing is a product; riders selling themselves, manufacturers selling a product, Motul selling an oil etc.
r1basher: What’s your opinion of 250s being scrapped on the British national scene?
GarryTaylor: I'm not really up to date, I’m embarrassed to say. But it seems a pity to close any formula down because it seems to have a knock-on effect. One country might follow another, and foreign riders might not come over to compete in that class, but I’m sure there's a reason behind it and it would be interesting to find out.
gazz78: What are Suzuki's aspirations for the coming season(s) ?
GarryTaylor: Well, what we'd like to do is be on the podium for the first race. You've got to set yourself a strong target, there’s no point in setting your sights low. We'd like to win every race which might get a little dull for the fans, but we'd be happy, and we've got a new bike, engine, chassis, new tyres moving to Dunlop so we've got a busy winter testing to come out of the box fighting. Realistically, we're looking at finishing top three in the first year, then we can pat ourselves on the back a little. Win the championship and we can give ourselves a big pat on the back. We've got a lot of catching up to do for sure because other teams have had their four-strokes up and running but we've got our secret weapons… Kenny and Sete. I couldn't tell you how motivated they are. Probably the most important part of the package is the rider’s mind. If they are motivated and confident they are a lot harder to beat. The trouble with GPs are that there are a lot of people like that!
rgvrider: Which teams do you think will be competing for the championship when Kawasaki, Ducati etc are all racing together? Will Ducati etc come in at the top level do you think?
GarryTaylor: I think Kawasaki wouldn't be coming back unless they thought they would be competitive. They've been out a long time but they have a long history of GP wins and that goes back to 250s and 350s. Ducati also built a brand on very impressive success in WSB and I’m sure they wouldn't be coming into GPs unless they think they can win and we say bring it on because the better people we beat, the better we look and our acheivements will be judged by the quality of the opposition.
Nedkelly: What do you think of Leon Haslam’s chances next year?
GarryTaylor: From what I read in the papers, his future is very uncertain. I have to admit I’m a fan of Leon's. He comes from a great background. His dad is one of our greatest riders; his mum, lovely lady, is incredibly supportive and he's young. I think he's made a really good effort this year, and the previous one was a nightmare for him. I think he needs to be on a good bike, doesn't matter what class, on a good bike, with a good mechanic and a good team around him, to give him a chance to blossom and I think he will. I also think what he's doing with their academy is brilliant. I’ve got a friend whose son is doing it and his son is just so excited at the prospect to maybe be in it. Bike racing is still a long way from mainstream but with more on TV, and more kids becoming bike racers, it will become more familiar and it becomes aspirational
Nedkelly: What did you make of the Biaggi vs Rossi off track battles this year?
GarryTaylor: I think it's entertaining. I think to a large extent what we do is part of the entertainment industry, and I think it makes good fun for people. It polarises people into Max or Valentino fans. As long as it doesn't get dangerous on the track it's good. I think a lot of people would enjoy reading about the intrigues behind the scenes, and coming from my commercial background I think more people would like to know what goes on. And I think Valentino is a great world champion, he's young, talented with a great personality, and Max is also a great rider and I think they do it a little bit tongue in cheek but if they can get one over on someone psychologically, it helps beat them. Mick Doohan was very good at it, but no-one could really match him on the track. Rossi and Biaggi are more of the same level which makes it far more interesting.
GarryTaylor: Thank you very much for all your questions and it's good to know what you guys care about which is why I’ll always try to make time to chat to you guys at the races so say hello.