There's a lot to like in this paddock…
Over the last four weeks I've been working in the WorldSBK, British Superbike, CEV and MotoGP paddocks. There's a lot of differences between them but there's a lot of similarities too.
"You'll love it at [insert circuit x, series y], they're a great bunch of people." It's a common refrain when you say you'll be leaving familiar confines and heading to another series. There's always something to take from any series. Since I started working as a journalist, I've worked in pretty much every two- and four-wheeled paddock in the world. Initially I was combining holidays or work trips with races. Pretty quickly I was combining race weekends with work trips...
Trying to get a foothold in the industry, I was lucky to already be working as a 'travelling salesman'. At the time I was a telecoms engineer offering training courses around the world, and luckily for me, most of the customers for my product happened to be in countries holding major races! There's no way I could have managed to go to Daytona for the 500 and then Sebring for the 12 Hours if it wasn't for my job. It's amazing what you can justify to the accounts department when there's a bucket list event to be ticked off!
MotoGP was always more than a bucket list for me though. It was a necessity. As a non-drinker and non-smoker I had to have some sort of addiction, and it was bike racing. Over the years as I started to get more work from racing and eventually able to turn it into a full-time job, I've basically never turned down work. It's amazing how busy you can be when you just keep saying yes, but like all freelancers I learned the lesson early that you should never turn down work!
That approach has led to a very busy few weeks! Assen to Silverstone to Valencia to Jerez before Imola and the Northwest 200. You won't hear me complaining about it, but it did show up the differences that exist between the different paddocks.
MotoGP is obviously the pinnacle. There is no other two-wheeled series that can match MotoGP in terms of the visceral excitement of those bikes. Stand track side and prepare to be amazed by the spectacle. It's absolutely awe inspiring. The atmosphere at a Grand Prix is unlike anything else, save for Suzuka at the 8 Hours, where you can feel the excitement. The paddock is buzzing at almost every round and heaving at more than most.
The hospitality units are slick. Some are now on such a grand scale that they take days to erect. They're a feat of engineering in and of themselves. The teams and trucks are all polished. No stone is left unturned up and down the grid. This is the best of the best and you know it every time you walk into the paddock.
Up close and personal
In WorldSBK you know you're at a big race too. At half a dozen circuits it offers a similar feel to MotoGP. When you're at Imola or Misano or Magny-Cours with an open paddock, it's packed. The atmosphere builds in a different way to a Grand Prix. In MotoGP there's little needed to promote the racing. In WorldSBK there's plenty of different attractions for fans, with the paddock show a very popular way of interacting with the stars of the day. It's different to a Grand Prix with a much more personal feel.
I've always loved working in the Superbike paddock. From my first events in 2013 until now it's always felt a very welcoming paddock. As someone once said, there's a great bunch of people there…
What I found interesting, though, was the difference between a BSB round and a CEV round. Over the years I've worked at most BSB circuits and I've always loved the British championship. It's a proper full-bore entertainment fest. As one race finishes the riders will head to the podium, but underneath them the next grid will already be forming up. Once the podium is finished you're straight to the next race. Bang-bang-bang one after the other for the whole day. It's a fantastic fan-friendly event. I've taken friends and family that have as much interest in racing as they do for watching flies on the wall but they've loved the day out. It's geared towards them.
With a great TV package, media partners in specialised press and national media, its promotion is something that almost every series could learn from. At the moment you look at the BSB grid and think "who's actually going to be a star in Grand Prix or WorldSBK?" There are no clear answers to that question. There's lot of possible answers if their chips fall into the right place but no one that jumps off the screen at you.
In the CEV paddock, that's most definitely not the case. The Moto3 class is the de facto proving ground for elite talent. If you want to earn your way into the Grand Prix paddock, the fastest way to do it is by showing your potential in CEV. Over the years, the Moto3 Junior World Championship, and its forerunner the CEV 125cc championship, has proved a who's who of the future.
Maverick Viñales, Fabio Quartararo, Pol Espargaro, Alvaro Bautista and a host of household names have their name on the title. Alex Rins, the latest rider to become a MotoGP race winner, is a former champion. If you can make it in the CEV, you can make it anywhere.
It should sell itself. It should be the biggest game in town. It should be played out in front of full grandstands with everyone able to say "I saw him before anyone else. He was amazing at Albacete." Instead, as we saw a 14 year old debutant put it on the podium in Valencia, it was in front of a small crowd. The TV audiences for CEV prove that there's a demand to see these talents, but having come on the heels of a massive crowd at Silverstone it was surprising to see the difference in Spain.
Race day in Valencia was voting day for Spain. It might have made an impact on the crowds, but for a championship that can sell itself as having the next big thing, it was a surprise.
Measuring success differently
It showed, once again, how good a job BSB has done to promote their series. Both CEV and BSB are domestic championships. They have talented riders who are hoping to move on to the international stage in the future. One has a ready-made supply line of talent to the premier class of motorcycle racing. The other has a talent pipeline that has dried up in recent years. One gets massive crowds and the other plays out in front of a small audience.
Both have tremendous positives but you'd be surprised by which is more popular.
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