Terry O’Neill talks ASBK FX 2015 | Part 3

Can we have one national road race series in 2015

Introduction: Two weeks ago we ran the first part of a three part interview with Terry O’Neill, discussing the past, present and future of ASBK and FX Superbikes in Australia. This contined into Part Two of that interview, to read this third instalment with the correct backgrounding we strongly suggest you go back and read Part One (Link) before moving on to the transcription of Part Two. Continued from Part Two……

 Terry O’Neill Interview – August 2014 – Part Three

MCNews.com.au: Okay, so moving forward, at this stage is still looks as though we’re going to have two series again in 2015. What can we look forward to in 2015 with the Australasian Superbike Championship / FX Series. What do you feel this season perhaps has been your biggest failing and how are you going to remedy that? Looking forward to next year is there anything that you can share with us that is perhaps exciting on the horizon for 2015, now that we’ve got all this negativity out of the way?

Terry: “If you ask some of my partners in ARTRP some would say our failing is we need to promote ourselves and how good the series is better, so more people know how good the series is and how much media exposure we get compared to our competition. I tend to take a more pragmatic view about that and reckon those who need to know can see it for themselves without us shouting it out loud.

“When it comes to me I’d say our biggest failing is that I left a few gaps in the new series rules for this year that some have taken advantage of, plus we’re struggling to train more front-line officials, because there’s a massive shortage out there for the whole sport, I’m in the same situation that everyone is in because it’s very hard to get volunteer officials anymore and the reality is no series, be it on two or four wheels, can afford to pay them what they’re worth. So we’re going through the process of bringing as many new people in as we can and training them up as best and as fast as we can.

“Where are we going for next year? Look, we’re well down the path of making various plans, because no matter how many people want to see one series we can’t just sit here and wait for M.A. to make up their mind whether or not the sky is blue or the sea is green, so we’re full steam ahead on what we’re doing and if they come knocking on the door, then just as we have made it known previously we are prepared to listen to what they have to say, but as I have said earlier, seriously, I don’t believe thats going to happen, again from what their new CEO said to me when I rang him he more than made it clear in his indirect way that they have no intention of trying to do a deal despite what he said.

“I know there are lots of people out there who want to see one series and want a deal done between M.A. and us but if M.A. won’t talk then it can’t happen. So yes, I believe there will be two series next year, MA has decided that.

“I would invite everyone who wants one series to think of this, we run our own series and provide our own rules for mainly our own classes and we run it under the AASA not M.A. We have never asked to be given the ASBK or to take it over, but people keep asking us to try and make it happen because they are angry at how M.A. is running it and in general like how we run our series, so we have tried to open a discussion with M.A. more than once, to no avail.

“So lets move on and get back to our series, we’re looking at various things on how we can improve our massive television and live free to air webcasting coverage at present and we’re actually considering whether or not to expand the series, and we’ve actually got tracks asking if we could look at running more rounds, they want to be a part of it. So that’s an exciting thing, it’s good to have tracks showing interest. But at this time no firm decision has been made on that because we have to look at a whole range of factors before we make that final decision.

“Am I excited about 2015? Yes I am very excited about what’s going to happen next year because I believe this series will be even bigger and better than this year and we’ve got a great line up of classes, like the 300 Ninja Class, that’s got to be the find of the decade and I wouldn’t mind betting that class sees a full grid of bikes in only its second year, and that will only just feed into the other classes and eventually make all the classes stronger. So next year is another year, but I see it as being a very good year for our series and road racing in general because competitors, sponsors, spectators and all stakeholders know that they can rely upon us to do what we say we will, and deliver as best as we can another nationally televised high profile professionally run fun and affordable race series for all grades of racers as we always do, and seriously, I’m really looking forward to doing just that.”

MCNews.com.au : You’ve bought up the 300 class and yes it has been a fantastic category this year. It is quite restrictive in obviously the bike you run, which is part of the beauty of it, there is going to be some new bikes on the market soon, sexy faired little KTM RC 390, which has a single cylinder engine compared to the Kawasaki’s twin, have you had any time to possibly consider opening it up for people to race that little gem as well perhaps?

Terry: “The strength of the 300 series is quite simple, it’s one make, one model. I was involved in introducing the Aprilia RS 250 Cup back in the early 2000’s, it was me who with support from JSG got it up and ran it back then. Back then M.A. used to run 250 Production, it was all RGV 250s. It was an amazing class, a fantastic class, and hindsight shows it was all because they were all RGVs. Yes, you could race other bikes, but the other bikes were uncompetitive, so everyone raced RGVs.

“Aprilia brought in the RS 250 which used a RGV 250 motor anyway, but with far superior chassis, better brakes, better handling, and what happened was the RS 250s killed off the RGVs and within 18 months you didn’t see RGVs anymore, they were gone. And then Aprilia stopped supporting the RS 250 and so we lost all 250 Production racing. Who knows, there might have been still RGVs getting made today and raced here in proddy racing if that had not happened? Because they were only getting made back then supposedly for this Australian market so they could be raced anyway.

“So am I going to allow other bikes enter that class? No, at this stage, no. The other strength of that class is that there’s something like 4,000 Ninja 300’s that have been sold in Australia, you can go down the wreckers and buy one for $1,000 plus, and you could be racing out here racing for another $2,000. I know some guys who are racing in our series on FX300 Ninja’s for $2,500 – $3,000, the average is more likely 5 or 6k, but it’s the cheapest form of racing that I’ve seen since the days of RZ Cup, which actually pre-dates my involvement in road racing. So it’s easily the cheapest form of racing and the best thing, it’s a level playing field and it provides spectacular racing at every round. “So the little KTM 390, beautiful bike, but if we put it out there, more likely it could have the same impact as the Aprilia RS250 did back to the RGV class which would see it lose its appeal and see the cost increase and destabilize what is already a great class. As I said the strength of that class is it’s one make, one model and the fact that competitors know it will continue on the way it is.”

MCNews.com.au : We touched quickly on 2015, what could you share with our readers so far in regards to a 2015 calendar? New circuits, new venues, you’ve often mooted you would like to head across the pond and perhaps try and add an international round, and that’s the Australasian part of the series title, are we going to have such a thing in 2015?

Terry: “I don’t know that we will in 2015, but I’m definitely working on that for 2016, that’s where I’d like to be. Like all of these things people come along one day and say, wow look at this its an overnight success, the problem with overnight successes is they normally take about three or four years to get there. What we have managed to do so far in step one is attract quite a lot of competitors from across the pond, you walk down the pits at one of our rounds and there’s whole garages full of bloody Kiwis, and the buggers can ride.”

MCNews.com.au : And a bloody Kiwi running the show, right?

Terry: “And a bloody Kiwi running the show (laughs). But we managed to attract over I think in this round (Winton) at least half a dozen New Zealanders, and that’s a great thing. And from what I can gather, that’s only going to keep growing. “So would I like to go and run a round in New Zealand? Yes, I would, absolutely. But not just New Zealand, Southeast Asia, there’s a market there where I think they would love to see Australian Superbikes racing because you know we’ve got some amazing talent in this country and look at our Superbike class. Tell me this, Trevor, round one, 17 bikes qualified within one-second. Is there anything in the history books like that that’s ever happened before in Australian superbike racing in this country?”

MCNews.com.au : Not off the top of my head, no. And yes, look, the Southeast Asian market is infinitely exciting, and as much as we like our Kiwi allies, the opportunities for growth are certainly throughout that whole Southeast Asian belt. And it could quite possibly, if you can get in the door there and the sooner the better, perhaps, it could maybe attract enough support for the series where the series could really go to the next level and become a proper Australasian series, opening up a lot more opportunities to attract sponsors and bring more money in to the sport,  potentially, it could quite realistically underwrite the whole series in this country as well?

Terry: “That’s possible, I don’t know if it’s probable though. But the thing is I like the idea of heading overseas, well, I have been suggesting it for a while, so obviously I like it. Right now though I want to take at least one class offshore as I did in 2000, I took eight Formula Xtreme bikes to New Zealand and we raced at Pukekohe Raceway just south of Auckland at a 2+4 endurance event and that was a great event, we were really well received in New Zealand and I’d really like to take our Superbikes back there soon if possible.”

MCNews.com.au : Perhaps an opportunity could be nutted out to take 15 Superbikes to a round of the Malaysian series for example.

Terry: “Absolutely, why not. And I would hope we take the whole superbike class there not just the favourites. Look, the reality is our superbike class is averaging around 25 and if you’re going to look at a true A grade class, even though there’s a couple of C and D graders, for a superbike class in Australia 25 is about the number. If people think they’re going to end up with 40 superbikes on the grid then they are likely to be disappointed, around 25 is a good number, given the number of people actually racing at a national level now. It will take us time to build it back up to large numbers given the damage done to the sport and many of its competitors through how the ASBK was overseen in recent years.

How do we plan to fix it? we’ve made superbike racing much more affordable than it’s been for 20 years and as close to a level playing field as possible, for the privateer to be able to go head to head with the factory teams based on talent rather than budget is how the sport should be managed, MA never seemed to get that. So that’s our aim and what we keep on doing and look that’s how you bring in new competitors to your premier classes because its new competitors that are the future of the sport and its growth. It’s not by having a few super-duper high cost factory bikes… if you have a look at the racing this year, especially in the superbike class, it’s the closest it’s been for a very long time and it’s exciting. And okay, they might not have another 30 horsepower than the old M.A. superbikes have, but the reality is has anyone noticed? Do they look slower or any less exciting? No, I would go as far as to say our racing this year has been even more exciting because of our rules and format.”

MCnews.com.au : Everyone that’s not on a BMW or a Kawasaki has noticed.

Terry: “Yeah, but, you know what? How many races have BMW and Kawasaki won? One, from memory, BMW has won one race. And that’s the great thing about this class, is there are strengths and weaknesses for every bike, at each track some bikes should dominate and at other tracks others should dominate.

If you go back to the original production racing… and look at when I first introduced FX… in 1996, I was asked a question by Bob Guntrip, the then editor of Two Wheels about Formula Xtreme and what it meant, what is it based on? And I said, ‘Well, Bob, have a look at these bikes. All I did was I took the six-hour production racing rules and I wrote a set of rules that legalised all the common things people were doing to cheat.’ And I said, ‘If you go and compare half of the last six-hour production bikes that were raced, these bikes are more often than not more standard than those bikes, because everyone used to cheat to buggery in that class and thats the problem with true production racing.’ And I said, ‘These FX rules are as close as you will get to proper affordable production racing, its production racing with noise.’

And that’s the formula that I believe has been the most successful formula in this country. Because production based racing is what made racing great here since the early days of the 70s, 80s. And that’s what really made the sport grow and that’s what I’m aiming to do again is take it back to those early great days of Australian production based road racing, with a modern twist to make it as attractive as possible for as many of todays competitors and spectators as I can.”

MCNews.com.au: Alright, Terry, thanks for the chat.

Trev’s Conclusion: Well across the three parts of that interview, you have a fair background that explains, in sometimes perhaps a slightly one-sided view, how we ended up in our current predicament of having two road race series, effectively fighting against each other. Some people will have alternative opinions on certain details, but from someone that has actually attended more than 90 per cent of the major road race events staged in this country over the past 15 years, this three-part interview is, in my opinion, a fairly good representation of how things have gone down through to where we are today.

For many, many years the only motorcycle journos at domestic road race meetings were myself and Ken Wootton (with photographers Keith Muir and Arthur Thornton), and through to the modern day it is still generally myself, and a staffer from AMCN. Other commentators on this sport hardly, if ever, go to any  road race events, and most certainly don’t go unless someone is paying them to go, but some still seem to think that gives them the right to throw stones from the outer while having  NFI…

From my point of view…. the greatest hope I have is that now with new people at the helm at Motorcycling Australia, the sport’s major governing body can get together with Terry to plan a new way forward. For the egos to be put aside, everyone perhaps take a little pain and eat a little humble pie for the greater good, and plot a new long term, sustainable future for road racing in this country. Is that too much to ask….?

Footnote: Later on the day of the publication of this final part of our three-part interview with Terry O”Neill, at the end of business on Friday, Motorcycling Australia put out a statement saying that ASBK events in 2015 will be run by M.A. in conjunction with the local club at each round. Thus effectively, taking us back to how things were done prior to 2003. Read the Motorcycling Australia statement on ASBK 2015 here.