By Mark Bracks
It is an unwritten rule, adage, train of thought – call it what you will – that to be successful in the senior road racing ranks, a few years previous experience in dirt track racing, or competing in one of the junior road race programs or classes is mandatory to gain the necessary apprenticeship of race craft, getting faster and improving one’s ability to progress towards the “pointy end” on a regular basis.
Where there is a rule, there are no doubt exceptions. One exception to this well uttered “rule” is Supersport rider, Mark Chiodo.
At 18 years young, Mark, from Melbourne, has been riding a motorcycle for just on two years. 2016 is his second year in the Supersport category, his debut season last year was hindered by injuries.
We recently caught up with the emerging star for a chat, but first a bit of background on his meteoric rise…
Believe it or not, Mark’s first race in any form of motorcycle competition was as recently as June 2014, aboard his Dad’s Aprilia RS250, with his Dad, John beside him on the grid – no doubt adding to the occasion.
After a few club meetings on the awesome old two-stroke, and a few victories for a decent confidence boost, Mark made the jump to the 600cc Supersport category and with continued ride days, came to grips with the larger-capacity and much heavier four-stroke machine.
For 2015 Mark joined up with the successful Caterpillar Yamaha Team on a Yamaha YZF-R6 with another teenager, Nic Liminton in the team, owned and managed by brothers, Jon and Daniel Falzon with a lot of help and assistance from their folks, Joe and Kylie.
Last year didn’t start in the most promising circumstances when he crashed at very high speed at Phillip Island’s Turn One during a ride day. To be fair, it wasn’t entirely his own fault, there was a problem with the bike. As the drama unfolded he rode straight ahead off the track, kept it under control but unfortunately, had to abandon the bike to avoid hitting a tyre wall. In the ensuing tumble he broke his leg and ankle.
As such, he missed the opening round of the championship but decided to compete in round two at Queensland’s Morgan Park. Hobbling around, realistically he shouldn’t have been riding, but try telling a teenager they cant do something! Unfortunately, he crashed during the early stages of the second Supersport leg, and shattered his elbow in the process.
He battled his way back to fitness and ended up 17th in last year’s Australian Supersport Championships with his best result a fifth place. At the support races for the MotoGP at Phillip Island he was back to form, putting in a PB lap time.
For 2016 the decision was made to jump on the Triumph triple 675cc machine with two of Australia’s most successful crew chiefs and mechanics in his corner. Garry House and Geoff Winzer are two of Australia’s unseen heroes when it comes to race bike set up and the ability to get into a rider’s head. They also are quick with a retort and ‘taking the piss’ out of anyone and everything, particularly Winzer. The pair have a multitude of Australian Championships between them and the union between the three of them is gelling at each outing.
The union soon proved positive as Mark commenced the year in fine form, topping the time sheets in the Supersport class at the ASBK test, organised by Paul Free, at Phillip Island in February.
To prove it wasn’t a fluke, a couple of weeks later, he qualified second fastest for the opening round of the Australian Supersport Championship at Phillip Island run alongside the Superbike World Championship.
In the opening race he was in second spot when he crashed at MG Corner on the third lap but managed to salvage some from the weekend with a second in the rain-interrupted second leg. He actually high-sided going into Doohan Corner (Turn One) while in the lead, however, the red-flag was displayed simultaneously, and with the race results then taken back a lap with half points awarded, Chiodo scored a third place in the third race.
Soon after he made his second trek to Sydney Motorsport Park (Eastern Creek) for the opening round of the ASC titles. He finished off the weekend with his first win in the ASC Supersport class and also posted the fasted Supersport lap time.
This weekend (April 16-17), Mark returns to the place of his most recent success hoping to better his previous performance at Sydney Motorsport Park, as he competes in the third round of the YMF Australian Superbike Championships in the Supersport category.
Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to chat with us as we head to Sydney. So have you had some Interest in bikes all your life through your dad?
“I’ve had an interest but not necessarily a full-on interest except for the last two years or so.”
What brought the change?
“Dad was not working as much and he kept asking if I wanted to go for a ride so I went for a ride day and me not having an interest in any other sport I thought it would be good idea to jump on and have a ride. I went straight onto the Aprilia RS 250 road bike. It was awesome fun and went from there really.”
When was that?
“That was June 2014.”
So had you ridden any bikes before then?
“No, never ridden a road bike before then, but I had ridden a dirt bike about two times a year when I was five and six but then gave that up because I liked footy more.”
So what s happened to the footy?
“The footy’s gone down, as you realise when you get to 17 or 18 and you’re not going to make up . you want to find another interest and motorbike riding is another good interest because you can do it at all ages, I think, and not hurt your body too much, if you are careful.”
You haven’t done any dirt track or motocross so where do you get the feel for it; sliding and carrying on and doing all sorts of things with it?
“Well, I’ve always liked speed I guess. When we went go karting, whenever we have done anything with speed I have always adapted to it well. So I’ve always liked speed. And, the adrenaline, I love adrenalin.”
You have risen pretty quickly compared to other kids that have plenty of riding experience what do you put it down to?
“I like it moving around. I like, even though I do have crashes, I like learning from my crashes and it doesn’t faze me too much. As well as Dad not pushing me, it really helps me to want better myself instead of doing and not doing it for someone else, it’s all basically for myself and I just really enjoy it. And I realise if you want to get quick, fast and make up for the lost years because I haven’t done it before. I think that’s the only way.
“The crash last year at Phillip Island was a big one (Mark crashed at Turn One and subsequently broke his leg and ankle). I had a couple of big ones last year and that made me realise you have to train a lot. As I wasn’t really training last year. I’ve crashed a bit lately but after my crashes last year I didn’t crash for a few months and that was due to training and my mind could stay focused for more laps instead of wandering off and thinking about other things.
“The crash at PI didn’t put me off. I wanted to get straight back on the bike but also it was a scary crash to realise you can hurt yourself. Because I had so many crashes where I didn’t hurt myself, I didn’t get over confident, but I didn’t realise how much you could really hurt yourself It was a good eye opener to realise you can that it’s not the best way to do it.”
Tell me about the good old Aprilia RS250.
“That is a great little bike. I rode if for five or six track days before I decided to race it, and with dad. We did a local club meeting, we were up against then new proddies which aren’t really like anything close to that. We had to start from he rear of the grid and we would be running 1st an 2nd after a lap. It was excellent fun riding around with him.”
Did you learn much from your dad?
“Following, yeah I learnt a lot. Talking to him not so much as he I cant really remember what I do but following him around tracks has been great helped me heaps. And, just wanting to beat him made it interesting and it made me want to push harder as well.”
Anyone else giving you tips?
“Marty Craggill was giving me a few tips, although he hasn’t been to too any ride days lately. Riding with the Falzons helped a lot. That was very good for me just to learn what it takes to be at the front.”
Was that a good setup?
“Yeah definitely a good set up, riding one of the best bikes. One of the things was that I was on the best bikes; if you don’t do well you doubt yourself if you’re not up the front when the bike has been at the front and winning for three years prior and its hard to get your head around it and realise you just need to take it step by step instead of jumping straight up. I think that was the hardest thing about it. Other than that it was awesome to ride. It was always well set up and they were always so easy to deal with.”
What made you go one out this time?
“I really wanted to ride a Triumph because I rode at triumph at the MotoGP round last year and I did my best times and I felt way more confident and comfortable to go fast straight away. Me not riding many of the tracks I think that was a big thing to get on a different bike and be able to go fast straight away. and it felt like there was so much more room for improvement. The Yamaha didn’t feel the same and as you see the front guys that are on Yammies, they have all been riding them for three four years until they were winning races and wining championships. I didn’t want to spend three or four years doing that.”
Hooking up with Gary and Geoff this year, hows that?
“It has been a lot more structured because they have been there and done it many times. they are awesome I can tell them whats wrong with the bike and Ill go out and it’s completely different. and how I want it they know when it is right when i start going quick. Its a bit hard as I have never really done setup so working to do a setup is, I am learning that. Working with Gary he is awesome at that and Geoff always has great advice! They definitely take the piss out of me and i think it makes me try harder. plus, it is always a good fun weekend. with them. it is always a fun weekend riding anyway but it’s a lot of fun staying with them having your own mechanics. They are there for just you. I get along with them really we’ll so its even going better. I am pretty lucky.”
Certainly an advantage with those guys in your corner…
“A big advantage. Riding the Triumph for the first year and trying to get it set up, I don’t think I would’ve been able to with anyone else really. Its a hard bike to set up – as everyone says – it has the power. we still have it stock and its got the power already. We haven’t made too many adjustments to it at all yet and its already passing people down the straights which is really good.”
What are you doing to teach yourself about setup?
“Giving good feedback, I guess, because I have never really given feedback and said what it does. Sometimes I will obviously be wrong, I say it one way and it will be the opposite but it allows me to learn. Every time I go out I come back and talk about it which helps a lot to know what the bike is doing. If I say it is doing one thing it might be doing the other thing and I wouldn’t know so that helps a lot to have them to talk to and find out what they know. I guess so its helps a lot with corner entry braking. everything else I guess.”
How are you pushing yourself?
“Obviously want to do really well but sometimes like a track i never been to, like Wakefield I have to allow for not being there and just learn the track as fast as I can and work from there. I do push myself a bit but I have to allow for different things.”
This year was a bit of a surprise at ASBK test?
“Going into the test i didn’t want to disappoint Gary and Geoff. Well, I never want to disappoint anybody but especially Gary and Geoff so we were talking every day leading up to the test. it was great to go there and be fastest and go a second and a bit faster than I have ever been around there especially against the guys I’ll be racing against this year. It was really good to do that. Good to feel the bike move under me more than I ever have done. Great way to start off the year. It was a different experience. Everything goes a lot quicker, even when it’s only just over a second quicker you’re getting on it when you wouldn’t even think about. Basically it all came naturally which was really good. That’s been a key to every other track I’ve taken that into all the tracks. that test was a really good starting point.”
What are your aims for the year?
“Always be up the front as much as possible and try win a few races if I can, be on the podium as much as possible and just be able to race with the faster guys Also, learn a lot about set up about the bike and about riding and see what we can do next year. Not too sure what we will do next year, yet.”
What did you learn from Wakefield?
“From Wakefield? It was a fun track. I learnt that you need to stay on one line whereas at Phillip Island you can go on any line and you wont know what you are doing wrong. At Wakefield if you go off line you will go on the bumps and you will crash, as I learnt. I crashed twice but that wasn’t necessarily from being on the wrong part of the track; that was stupid mistakes but other times i went off line and had to stand it up because of the bumps, whereas at Phillip Island you can run wide and pull it back around. You will do a bad lap time and not realise it whereas at Wakefield you really have to stay on line and makes you realise what you are doing wrong.”
So you don’t mind admitting to your own mistakes?
“Yeah, well you have to otherwise you wont really improve . i don’t like blaming anything else besides myself, until I am only a little bit off the pace, thats when you can start talking about the bike.”
Going into Eastern Creek, you have had a good visit there earlier this year.
“Eastern Creek, we were riding on slicks in the FX series and I didn’t necessarily like the slicks but this time on treaded we will all go a bit faster which will be a lot of fun. I like the track a lot and I will be with a lot more riders that have been there and gone a lot quicker there. Should be good funI hope I can be up the front and be there for some podiums and maybe win another one. That race I won I also set the fastest time of the weekend too, so that was good to take away from there. We have a good base to start with.”
Didn’t like the slicks too much?
“I’d never ridden on slicks so it was hard. You work so hard on treadeds last year and the start of this year then you go on slicks and it’s completely different. It wasn’t necessarily that I didn’t like them but I hadn’t used them before, so I wasn’t too sure. The feeling is way different from treads to slicks.”
Are you doing both series this year?
“Definitely do the ASBK this year not too sure about FX series. Might Do selected rounds as practice. depends on a lot of things money, bike if I crash too much. Not too sure at the moment. Definitely doing The ASBK that is the main series to do.”
Long term goals?
“Get on an Aussie Superbike and do the best I can do there. From there, if the world was an option that would be very good but, obviously, it’s very tough and you don’t know until you get to that point where you can go that little bit further or not.”
How many years in Supersport?
“Not too sure. Depending how competitive I can get in Supersport. If I can win regularly in Supersport then we may think about Superbike but I have a bit to do here first.”
Thanks Mark, All the best for Eastern Creek and beyond, mate.
A father’s view
Mark’s father, John Chiodo is one of the better known identities in local racing. The owner of Monza Imports, John has been a major supporter of many up and coming riders doe decades and has continued an association with many who have gone on to national and international success. It is safe to say that without the assistance of John and the crew at Mona Imports, many riders would have found the going a lot tougher in their quest for success.
John was a pretty handy punter himself in the days of the 250cc Production category and what was the fledgling Supersport category and raced against many of Australia’s better known riders in Troy Corser, Mat Mladin Garry McCoy, Michael O’Connor and even Geoff Winzer! At one stage John had the 250cc lap record at Phillip Island, so there might be something in the genes. Nonetheless, it still surprises John how rapidly his son has come to grips with bike racing in such a fiercely competitive category.
How surprised were you at all this?
“Yeah it was quite sudden. I’ve always tried to get them to come and do a ride day, nothing serious but he was pretty similar to me when I first went on a racetrack. I absolutely loved it but yeah, I was surprised how fast he got, so quickly.”
Where do you think he gets it from to pick it up that quickly. Does he pick up things quickly?
“Yeah, I think he does. Generally he is pretty good at whatever he put his mind to. Plus he had me to follow. I would always go at a safe speed so I was able to help him in the beginning. Now he is a lot faster than me.”
Fun getting out there with him?
“Yeah for sure it was a lot of fun and a thrill to be out there. so did Anthony, my other son, he loved it but didn’t want to pursue racing or anything. He is a bit older at 20 years old.”
What do you put the big improvement down to this year?
“I think he’s been quick for a while but struggled with the bike and was trying too hard. He was experimenting also and so crashed a bit. I have always thought that if you are not crashing you aren’t trying hard enough but if you are crashing too much you are trying to hard, and not studying why you are crashing. It’s a fine line. He just seemed to get it together and then with Geoff and Gary preparing a bike that handled well and then able to communicate with him and just ease into it. It all just went into the right direction they have been a big help and they have a lot to do with where Mark is at the moment.”
How do you reckon he will go this year?
“I think he can run with the fastest guys – as far as lap times – he just needs race experience and bike skills. He is still learning that. The other thing I have noticed is that he is not shy about passing and getting up the front as quick as he can if he doesn’t have a great start. Whereas most people – including myself – in their first years would be a bit hesitant about just diving in there. He is not scared about doing that. It scares me a bit but if he is capable of doing it then that is going to help him get results.”
Do you worry much when he is out there?
“Yes. A fair bit. I didn’t intend for Mark to race motorcycles. I just wanted him to ride them. He seems to have the talent for it. He seems to be very fast for his experience and I presume he will just get faster. He analyses things, he listens and he is smart. Plus Geoff and Gary are just fantastic.”