Crescent Suzuki WSBK Insider Crescent Suzuki Team Press and Sponsor Liaison Officer Christina Bulpett reflects on her first full season in WSBK
Despite previously working in the World Championship for the past three years as a freelance journalist and researcher, January 2014 saw me begin my first official, full-time season within the Superbike paddock – as Press Officer to the UK-based Crescent Suzuki team. I’m not going to lie, when I was first offered the job I spent a fair few weeks pinching myself and I barely told anyone until after I had actually started, not quite believing my luck. Don’t get me wrong, I worked hard to get where I was, but to be given a staff job within a Superbike team, and the only one based in my home-country at that, was certainly my best Christmas present to date!
For many, the thought of the ‘off-season’ is exactly that, a break from racing and the demands of competition, but in reality it is quite the opposite. For a race team, the off-season is the busiest period of all, especially for those involved in the Superbike World Championship, with such a small-gap between the last race of one season and the start of the next. In the office the ‘down-time’ is spent finalising sponsor agreements, designs for bike, truck, hospitality and pit box liveries, leathers and team clothing. Website updates or re-skins need to be decided-on and implemented, hospitality booklets and rider posters for the coming season created, and launch events organised, while the workshop is diligently building and preparing the race machine in-line with new specifications ready for testing in January and all before the freight leaves for Australia at the beginning of February! Add to that learning a new role, and the start of 2014 was a fairly hectic whirlwind of events and information for me, but one that I wouldn’t have changed for anything.
The opening race of the season was another eye-opener, not least because it was my first trip to Australia and the delights of long-haul travel that accompanies it. A two-day test, the new year’s photography shoot – both for the team and the Championship – and my first taste of track action, race schedules and press demands as part of the inner circle, but what a way to start! Both Alex and Eugene shone in the Australian sunshine throughout the opening week, showing impressive pace and topping the times in the early sessions, with Eugene going on to claim the first victory of the year on his first attempt aboard the GSX-R. The excitement and jubilation in the team – it was Crescent’s first win in the Championship since stepping onto the world stage in 2012, and the first for Suzuki in 94 races – was however, marred by a roller-coast of emotion that weekend; the concern and anguish felt over Alex’s injury following his massive high-side on Saturday and subsequent tumbles during the races, and the disappointment following Eugene’s retirement in race two left an odd feeling come Sunday evening. On a personal level I was also disappointed to have missed-out on the celebrations in Parc Ferme as Eugene stepped out on the podium – the press officer is usually too busy escorting the rider to where they need to be (rostrum, TV room, journalist interviews) to actually enjoy the festivities, at least until you get home and watch it back on TV!
Having previously only worked within the European calendar, the continuing season ushered my return to many familiar locations, while providing the opportunity to visit the prized ‘flyaways’ of Sepang and Laguna Seca, but the familiar chaos and buzz of the media centre and the pit-lane takes on a slightly different view when seen from within a championship race team. A race weekend usually starts late on a Wednesday, depending on the travel plans, with set-up and prep, guest passes collected and allocated, rider schedules arranged and distributed and sponsor needs attended to. Thursday heralds the media day, encompassing the autograph session and Q&A held for the fans and a photo-opportunity to preview the weekend. Depending on the location these can be held on-site from within the paddock or the start-finish straight, or at a local event or place of interest. 2014 saw riders visit the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the Monterey Aquarium in California and the beach at Misano for a pedalo race, while Donington Park hosted the Riders for Heath auction from the SBK paddock show and Imola held a charity football match in the neighbouring stadium. The rest of the weekend is a schedule of media commitments, interviews, rider meet-and-greets and sponsor requirements, alongside the track sessions and press releases. Our Hospitality provision is another important element of the race weekend, hosting between 30 and 200 VIP guests per day alongside the normal crew at the nine European venues. The unit can be a base for technical or B2B presentations and networking as well as the all-important team and rider interactions and the weekend is often spent running between here and the garage, truck or media centre.
Each of the WSBK circuits holds special memories for me, both from this year as well as my previous endeavours – Magny-Cours was my first race weekend working in the Championship back in 2010 and will always feel a little like ‘coming home’ – but Misano and Laguna are probably my favourites. The Riviera de Rimini truly comes alive when the race-bikes head into town – the history, passion, atmosphere, great racing, and if I’m honest the sun and holiday vibe, make the Italian round a firm favourite for many in the paddock and one, in my opinion, not to be missed. And then there’s Laguna Seca! The Corkscrew – just the mere mention of it sets bike-fans going – and the spectacle it creates is clear to see from many iconic races, but the common phrase ‘you have to see it, to believe it’ has never been truer. I have been lucky enough to walk many of the iconic tracks to gain a greater understanding of the layouts that simply can’t translate via the TV screen, but until you stand at the top, and then the base of the Corkscrew, you really can’t comprehend the drop! Unfortunately for us it became far too apparent that weekend, during a heart-stopping race two.
The latter part of this season unfortunately proved a little of an anti-climax for many; the cancellations of two races and the ensuing month-long breaks between races this created, added to the closing battles being split between round’s 11 and 12 depending on the class, compromised some of the momentum and atmosphere felt in previous years. A European finale featuring all five of the SBK featured championships has proved spectacular in the past, but the floodlights and night race of Qatar was certainly a new and exciting experience.
With the freight packed-up and well-wishes sent to departing team members, thoughts immediately turned to winter testing at the end of November; there really is no let-up in the World Championship! The workshop has been a hive of activity since the final race of 2014 and with a few days off for the official testing ban, the team will be back on the tools straight after the New Year.
My first season as part of the Crescent Suzuki World Superbike team really has been a rollercoaster of hard work, excitement, disappointment, travel and celebrations in varying measures. I have been lucky enough to work with two amazingly talented riders and a team of people who love what they do and I can’t wait for the same again in 2015.
One thing I will say, although I swapped from working across five championships, covering all riders for three different freelance contracts, to one employer, two riders and a structured weekend schedule, I saw a heck of a lot less racing than I ever have before!
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