At the Donington Park World Superbike meeting, I had the pleasure of speaking to former Grand Prix podium finisher and current team boss for PTR CIA Landlord’s Insurance Honda, Simon Buckmaster. In the 80s and early 90s, Buckmaster was a regular name on the world scene as a privateer but since retirement, he has turned his attention to team management. In this exclusive interview, I speak to him about his new recruit for 2018 – Andrew Irwin – and his progress, his own racing career and whether a move to World Superbikes is on the cards at any point.
It’s the first time this year that Andrew has looked like a solid top ten right the way through a race weekend. How does that feel after the injuries he has had?
Andrew came into World Supersport from British Supersport and he knows it is a learning year for him and he appreciates that, but after the first round in Australia when he broke his hand and in Thailand when he wasn’t really fit, he started to really progress. At Assen he was 12th and at Imola, which is a very difficult circuit to learn and even more-so because he hadn’t been there before, he was back in the points. At Donington Park, we knew he would be good and I must admit, we’d be disappointed if he wasn’t in the top ten at his home round. He rode a strong race throughout and now, I think we have to expect him to carry on progressing as the year goes on.
With the manufacturer you have (Honda) and the fact that there is no new 600cc bike on the horizon, do you find it an advantage to not have to learn a new bike at the start of the year?
I don’t really think it is an advantage or a disadvantage; if you look just a few rounds ago, everyone was saying that, ‘it’s a Yamaha cup’ and ‘you can’t do it if you’re not on a Yamaha’. Well, Rafaele De Rosa doesn’t think that, as he is riding the MV Agusta very well and Luke Stapleford has found out that it isn’t all about Yamahas either, after he left a competitive Triumph bike.
At the moment, all we are seeing is that the fast and experienced riders are all on Yamaha equipment; Jules Cluzel for me finished 3rd in the championship and he’d still be fighting for the title if he continued with me. The Yamaha is only a revamped model of what it was anyway beforehand anyway. Currently, we are happy with Honda and the team, as we are confident that we can give Andrew the tools he needs to do the job.
With WSBK down a bit on numbers and just a few Hondas on the grid, is it of any interest to you to step up to the World Superbike class?
Of course, everyone wants to play the game on a high level and if we have the opportunity – and by opportunity, I mean budget – then of course we would. I wouldn’t do it just to say, ‘oh look, I’m in World Superbikes’. If we can in the future then we would but we want to win a World Supersport championship too.
How has getting into motorcycle racing changed from when you was racing?
Hmm, that’s a good one. I’d probably say now that it isn’t as easy, purely because back in my day, you had quite a natural progression through 250cc, 350cc and 500cc. Motorcycle dealerships were selling a lot of bike at reasonable prices so we had it slightly better I believe.
You mention selling bikes – some would say that the Supersport class is on a decline, whilst others say that it isn’t on a decline in markets that World Superbikes are yet to visit. What is your view on it?
You absolutely have to have an intermediate class. I think it is great racing and it is a great breeding ground, as well as a stepping stone into World Superbikes or even Moto2 as Sam Lowes did. Jules Cluzel and Sandro Cortese on the other hand have done the opposite and come into Supersport racing.
In Europe, the market for 600cc motorcycles is not great at the moment but as you say, other markets around the world are much better and far more viable. I think in the coming years, the Supersport class will be in a better position and continue as the great class it has always been.
What would be a good end goal for Andrew come the end of the season?
There are some very fast riders and some very well prepared teams so to move forward from here will be difficult of course, but it is not impossible. I don’t want to make predictions but I think the next step has to be top six. We are just going to keep progressing with Andrew, as he is our long-term plan.
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