Column: British championship or roads - a racer's dilemma

Published: 14 February 2015

As former Irish superbike champion Nico Mawhinney finalised his 2015 racing plans he was presented with two very different offers.

“I was approached by a team boss and offered a deal to race in the British Superstock championship,” he explains.

“I was given two payment options for the ride. I could either pay £2000 per round or £34,000 for the whole season. Crash damage was extra!”

Mawhinney, who was ISB champion in 2013, says he has no idea how he would be able to raise that kind of money.

The 21 year old’s second offer was for the roads.

“I was offered five bikes to race in every class on the roads.” he smiles.

“I just had to turn up and race them. I could keep all my own sponsorship money and any start or prize money I got.”

Having cut his teeth on the Irish short circuit scene the Irish youngster still wants to try to follow in the wheel tracks of riders like Jonathan Rea and the Laverty brothers, Michael and Eugene.  He has sorted another, cheaper, deal to do British Superstocks but his experience is far from unique.

BSB star, Peter Hickman has raced in the British Superbike championship since 2004 but he couldn’t find a ride in the series last season.

“I didn’t think that was fair.” he said.

“You need money to bring to a team to buy a BSB ride now and I don’t think that is right.”

A disillusioned Hickman decided to take his talents to the roads instead.  By the end of 2014 he had become the fastest ever newcomer at the North West 200 and TT on a BMW with Paul Shoesmith’s Ice Valley squad.

Within a fortnight of the TT ending Hickman was back in BSB with Lee Hardy’s RAF Reserves squad and he went on to win a race at Cadwell. The 27 year old will combine his BSB challenge with more between the hedges outings in 2015.

“It has become very tough to make a living in BSB in the past few years.” Hickman explains.

“Most of the guys on the grid are not doing that. I’ve looked at the roads and there is some money there. The TT also offers massive exposure.”

In Northern Ireland the short circuit scene is in the deepest doldrums. Race organiser Mark Sanlon recently complained that it is almost impossible to drum up interest in local meetings with either the fans or the media.

“Nowadays we have to cover our organising costs with the entry fees” he said.

“Any money from sponsors and the gate is a bonus.”
In Britain the crowds are bigger and sponsors easier to find but riders like Hickman still complain that the money isn’t working its way towards the guys putting on the show.

As Mawhinney’s experience highlights, teams have an expectation that riders will pay for their ride nowadays, even in the lesser championships.

Little wonder then that riders who have short circuit ambitions are being tempted on to the roads where the renaissance of the TT has sparked a boom in the sport from the media and big name sponsors.

Tim Martin, the boss of Mar-Train Yamaha, recently highlighted the appeal of road racing to his team comparing it with his experience in British championship racing. In spite of finishing runner up twice and winning the British Supersport title over the past three seasons Mar-Train have now given up on the series to pursue road-racing glory.

Martin points out that although he enjoyed every moment of his team’s time in BSS there was little or no coverage of their efforts.

“The media exposure for a road race team is much bigger and that is better for our fans and sponsors,” he says.

That is one of the reasons why Nico Mawhinney received his road racing offer and although he didn’t take it up for himself, he pointed out that he had had plenty of texts and calls from other racers who wanted to speak to the sponsor who made it.