Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - The million-euro gamble

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


The million-euro gamble

How much does it cost to get into Grand Prix racing? If you need to ask, you probably can’t afford it

I assume Jack Miller’s post-Assen party is just about over now and that he’s back down the gym, pumping iron like a good lad.

Miller, like many other Aussie battlers before him, has the knack of burning the candle at both ends: working hard and playing hard. And you may have noticed that whenever he has a good day at work he likes to thank his parents for what they’ve done for him.

There’s a good reason for this. It’s very difficult and expensive to fight your way down the long, winding and rocky road that leads to MotoGP, even if you live in Spain or Italy. But it’s a damn sight more difficult and expensive if you live outside Europe and especially if you’re from the other side of the world.

The amount of money spent by the Miller family to get their son into the lower reaches of Grand Prix racing is eye-watering. The same goes for Wayne Gardner, the former 500cc world champion, who reckons he’s spent £1.5 million on the careers of sons Remy and Luca.

Miller’s parents Sonya and Peter mortgaged their house more than once to fund Jack’s big adventure, which started when the former dirt tracker and motocrosser arrived in Europe in 2010, after just a few races back home on a Honda RS125.

“Dad built a trailer that slotted exactly into a 40-foot sea-freight container,” recalls Miller, who was 15 at the time. “We packed my two Hondas, a toolbox and all our living stuff, then when we got to Europe we bought a motorhome and hooked up the trailer. We lived in caravan parks and spent a lot of time living at racetracks – Cartagena for a while, then Almeria. We had one bike set up as a race bike – fresh pistons and tyres – and the other as a test bike, with second-hand pistons and tyres. I’d only done 1800km on a roadrace bike, so I’d ride every other day, paying 50 bucks to join track days. It was cool, diving through all these guys on streetbikes! But that year was ****ing dear – moving house and everything cost us at least 220,000 Aussie dollars.”

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Total votes: 146
Total votes: 138

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Comments

Thus it is even more of a shame that as Dorna adopted the STk1000 rules for WSBK (not a bad idea in and of itself) the possibilities for getting into MotoGP from other seies fades. There will be fewer riders coming from WSBK into MotoGP...?

Thus anyone who wants to get into MotoGP in the future will have to do so via the CEV. Cynically incorporated by Dorna as the official feeder series to continue to turn MotoGp into a national championship, band wagon for Spanish Sponsors and nice earner for the Spanish Economy. The Armstrong excuse being that "the Spanish like MotoGP". 

The only person, including many journos, who seems to care about this is Valentino Rossi who is able to put his significant fortune and experience to work, ensuring Italian riders do not get left out. 

 

Total votes: 154

That's about the size of it. I was talking to a young Brit rider who was beginning to go well in 125 GP's a few years ago. He told me that he was being chased by a team for the following year, all he had to find was £300,000.00 to make it happen. He has now retired from racing.

The worst part of all this is that riders can be bounced mid season by someone who can out bid them for their ride. It's a hard old game and you and your parents need to be tough and determined, although I often wonder if some potentially really great riders never get the chance to show us what they can do.  

Total votes: 121

It's a shame that costs to compete are so high even in relatively junior classes, and it sucks that the cost effectively rules out many riders who may have true talent, but it shouldn't suprises us that many riders have to pay lots of money to secure a ride, and need their families to help them out in a big way. 

Major sponsors aren't just writing cheques to most hopeful 15 year olds, no matter how much potential they seem to have. It makes complete sense to me that it costs a lot of money to prove yourself worthy of a big sponsorship in this sport.

I'm a middle aged dude just going out on Sunday joy rides with friends and it costs a fair amount to keep my bikes on the road, not to mention the mid-ride patio dinners :)

Total votes: 129

Miller is following the Stoner path - hope that your parents beleive in your dream enough to bankrupt themselves. If Miller doesn't make it after this third year, he'll have to live with that. How many families would be willing to risk that?

Kids in other sports aren't subjected to this. The bills were, once upon a time, paid for by the team sponsors, and the rider was either paid, or got sponsors for himself. $300,000 a year is an incredible amount for an unknown talent to manage to scrape together.

It might be a shame that it costs are so high, but that should not be compared with your going out joy riding. For these kids, amongst the best and brightest, it's a dream and a passion. If the talent goes where the money is, MotoGP might start having a problem.

 

You voted 2. Total votes: 117

Sure, it costs lots of money but it's still peanuts in comparison with four-wheeled sport at european or even national level.

The sooner that two-wheel racers understand that racing is actually a business and then actually try to connect with business, the sooner we'll hear less of these rather less than romantic tales. 

Anyone for more 'crowd-funding'?

Total votes: 132

Well juxtaposed tale Mat. Behold everything that need be in place for someone to get to the feeder class for Moto3. Amazing.

I enjoyed the movie "Troy's Story" illuminating Bayliss's back story. Both his parents AND his in-laws supported him to the hilt. And he had PLENTY of talent. And guts. And work ethic. If it isn't a sport that the local high school has funded for you to excel and show case in, and involves an expensive piece of machinery, this is the picture. It isn't owed to anybody.

And Spain is the natural realm for it. Followed by Italy and England. You can't argue with it. Miler's Dad wears an All Blacks jersey, Aussies have a great setting for getting into rugby. I can't break into cricket from the USA. Why should we defer to griping about fairness of the regionality of sport? It isn't some kind of conspiracy, it is organic.

I was happy as hell to have sponsor Motosport.com that built my motor for the year, provided free leathers/helmet/boots/gloves etc for the year, and being blessed with mechanic Jerry Walker (come sleep on my couch again!), mentor Justin Watkins that welcomed me into his fold, instructor Keith Code, lots of gracious friends in the local paddock etc etc. It wasn't because of talent, I lucked into it. The idea that I could just spend everything I could spare to club race and have all this support astounds me to this day. To win I needed more bike, more practice, more balls, more money and I am afraid more talent. When Kevin Pinkstaff passed me he was on a line I didn't know. But just being a 4th to 10th place club racer was a miracle. A hero's journey. When I was in the Ducati MotoGP garage chatting w Loris Capirossi in '05 I licked the tank of his bike. That's all I will ever taste. It is a bloody miracle to get into the GP's. But then, hasn't it always been?

Total votes: 123

A touching tale, with heavy 'name-dropping', but you're missing the point - it's about the future.

We can all regress and reminise because it's what we know, but at some point we've got to move forward.

I too can drop some heavy names - like Ayrton Senna (or da Silva) and Mauricio Gugelmin. Both shook their heads in awe and disbelief as we out-qualified them in their Marlboro sponsored, 'works' Van Diemen. Ours was a thread-bare lash-up from a high-speed Thursday crash at Chapel corner that knocked two corners off and left us with an overdraft and an engine leaking like a sieve. Calvin Fish tried to help us out with parts, but it was useless.

'We' were an electrician in ICI, a mechanical techician in BCB and a self-employed upholsterer. 'We' poured everything we had into this futile effort. 'We' worked on the car until 4 in the morning. 'We' believed we could succeed.   

The engine cooked during the race (in 6th position and first private team) but we couldn't afford another, so another bright racing career ended abruptly. Graham Gibson was very, very good but we were all piss-poor. We couldn't afford new tyres or food - let alone a complete engine re-build, so the dream was over.

That was then, but this is now. 'Get with the programme or get left behind - that was the lesson.' That was a long time ago.

We can all wax lyrically about motorsport because we all love it, but very few of us understand it. Some move on, but most are simple idiots stuck in the mud.

Total votes: 132

Well said Avid. Nostalgia yes. Name dropping maybe (this was a briefer secondary realm for me I did little in). Appreciation for sure.
I am stuck, that is clear. Mud? Nah. Trancending the envelope of the possible with two wheels and a motor. Most compelling thing in this world, better than boobs. Lucky to have discovered it!
Glad we are comrades.

Total votes: 104

Just re-read my drivel and it's come across all wrong. It wasn't meant to disparage anyone, and I sincerely apologise if it did.

I posted it to display the trials and tribulations of almost 40 years ago, and how little times have changed since.

'Idiots stuck in the mud'? That was a reference to us back then - trying to drag, lift, haul a wreck of a two-wheeled car back onto a trailer (with half of the country-side still attached) in the hopeless attempt of taking-on the well-funded finest, and in the vain hope of getting 'noticed', on a painfully thin, shoe-string budget, just three days later. Futile.

It wasn't the way forward all those years ago, and it certainly isn't now - but try telling today's young hopeful's that.

Thanks for not taking my words in the wrong way. We live, we learn and eventually get out of debt (if we're lucky).

Total votes: 129

And this is the reason, after over 40 years of being stood trackside, I still am in awe of what it has taken riders to get there. Working in the motorcycle trade in the UK for 30 of those years I have represented various brands (ie sponsors), looking after dealers and folk who have paid to sell their name in the hospitality units, through onto the teams' bikes and riders. It never ceases to amaze-and often infuriate me- how many riders, even at British Superstock 1000 level, have to pay £20-30,000 to get into some of the 'big' operations; and not all that money goes into the effort. I know many riders who are now back down the ladder, working their arses off to pay back whoever, or wherever their funding came from. Despite the shiny glossy PR and huge trucks, there is more of the 'Fur coat and no knickers' at domestic level then ever before, the desperation seeping through if you look hard enough.

They say BSB is one of the most successful motorsport race series on the planet and yes, the punters get a good show and I suppose 'value' is delivered for the TV bean counters and brand managers but who else gets paid other than the very highest of the grid in Superbikes-and how much of that money is going to pay off their previous debts?

If there was one single thing that highlighted where the money went it was last season at Brands Hatch when there was a pile of money (£50,000 I think?) put up for a front row rider to go to the back of the grid and get more money as he ploughed (pun intended) through the field. This split teams, riders and owners as discussions, even arguments raged over whether it should be attempted and, if so, who got the money anyway? For an organisation making a very tidy sum, this brought into sharp relief what was willing to be spent on gimmicks to improve the 'show' or the viewing figures. Nobody took it up despite Josh Brookes pretending to as the grid formed up!

The question most posed after this latest stunt ('the showdown' being one of the first), was why don't the organisers simply pay prize money, just like the old days. The faster you are, the higher up you finish, the more money you actually earn. Big trophies are nice, but they don't pay the rent...

Total votes: 118