3 years into the job as Race Director MotoGP, Mike Webb updates us - a great read & sums up what we "don't see" behind these live worldwide televised events. Mike & his team have only one chance "Get it right first time!"
A Kiwi at the top in Moto GP
19th Sept. 2014 - Hi Tim,
As promised here’s a bit more background information for the motorcyclesport website
The last notes I sent you were in 2011 just as I was looking forward to leaving the MotoGP Technical Director role and taking over as Race Director in 2012. Nearly 3 years later here’s a little of what has happened since. I recently did a brief Q & A for a journalist so I’ll just follow that and then some pictures with captions.
Here’s a little follow-up from my last 2011 email to you about my journey from Kiwi roadracer and Matamata motorcycle shop owner to MotoGP mechanic, crew chief and then FIM Technical Director. I have now been MotoGP Race Director since 2012, a bloody steep learning curve but you could never say it’s boring!
Race Control, Silverstone 2014. Loris Capirossi, Franco Uncini, Carlos Pratola, Mike Webb, Stuart Higgs.
In the office, I spend most of my time as Race Director in Race Control in radio contact with track staff,
medical staff, IRTA, Timekeeping, Dorna.
What’s the job?
I work for IRTA (International Road Racing Teams Association) and Dorna (MotoGP rights-holder) in liason with the FIM. I am one third of Race Direction which is myself as Chairman, Javier Alonso as Dorna MD, and Franco Uncini (yes 1982 World 500cc Champion) as FIM Safety Officer. We also have Loris Capirossi as our Safety Advisor and he is an integral part of Race Direction. It’s a great team to work with, and the fact that we are all race fans makes even the tough days worth it.
Misano Race Control. A very happy Clerk of the Course, Race Director, and Communications Chief … we’ve managed to
handle a track invasion following a Rossi win at his home track. Not an easy thing!
What is a typical GP schedule for you?
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are meetings, preparation and track inspection, then Friday, Saturday, Sunday I am at my desk in Race Control any time there are bikes on track. The gaps in between practices and races are usually filled with meetings, so no chance to get bored. Then off home on Monday to attack the emails and get the laundry done, ready for the next one.
A proper track invasion, Mugello circuit. Love that Italian enthusiasm. The Valentino podium, 2014! Can you imaginewhat it was like when he won at Misano!
How long is the season?
Long gone are the days of a winter off-season. Between pre-season testing, 18 or 19 GPs, post-season testing, and writing the FIM rule book I'm kept busy for over 11 months. But that 12th month is great, January is... Kiwi Time! A quick visit to NZ to escape the European winter, to visit the family and my mates, and to ride all those gorgeous gravel roads and enjoy the scenery. Yee, and Har.
What does the Race Director do?
I’m responsible for the GP running safely, on time, and according to the rules. Basically I instruct all the local officials in the days before the track opens, then oversee them during the event.
Together with my Race Direction colleagues we watch every session and judge any incidents or breaking of the rules, handing out penalties and good old bollockings where necessary.
The permanent Race Direction means that we are the same people at every GP so the riders and teams know us and there is consistency to the rulings.
Once again Race Direction explaining ourselves to the motorcycling world. Motegi press conference 2013.
Every Friday we have the Riders Safety Commission, which is a closed-door meeting with Race Direction, the Dorna CEO and the riders, mostly it is the senior MotoGP riders who come every week, but all riders are welcome. No team managers, no minders, no journalists, the riders are free to say anything they want, what is said in the room stays in the room. It’s a great forum for us to get straight-forward feedback from the riders, and for them to know why we make the decisions we do. Mostly we cover track safety issues but there are no rules, anything can be discussed.
How do you get on with the riders?
Well I’m the bad guy who hands out penalties, and of course young kids are the same everywhere, they think they know it all. However there is generally good respect both ways. If I’m penalising them for something they are never happy, but mostly we get on well especially the more experienced ones who can understand the need for safety rules. The fact that I’ve been in the GP Paddock for over 20 years and know them all helps a lot.
At least someone can see the funny side.
My toys. M3, M4, M5, M6 all with lots of extra go-fast, and loud goodies. Oh, and flashing lights…how cool is that?
No cars allowed in Downtown Indy on MotoGP week.
Downtown Indianapolis, it’s taken over by bikes for 3 days. Mostly Harleys come to show off
with no interest at all in GP racing, but what a great atmosphere! Really there are thousands
of bikes of every imaginable type, and everyone having a great time.
Motorsport Icon, the Indianopois Speedway. Finally we got them to resurface and re-shape the motorcycle part and it’s now a pretty decent racetrack. Good work, Y’All.
Brno, Czech Republic. These are my office secretaries. Honest. Yeah right!
2011 : Many of our older motorcycle industry, retailers, road racers & enthusiasts will remember Mike Webb.
Just by chance I spotted his name on the Technical Regulations for next years Moto 3 class, so made contact. Here is his story & it is very comforting to know we have Kiwi as an architect of the very exciting Moto 2 Class, with major changes to Moto GP coming in next year. Well done Mike
Formerly from New Zealand, Mike Webb - MotoGP Technical Director, still loves his motorcycles, & here's a few of his toys, in the foreground a Z1 Kawasaki.
Hi Tim, from Mike Webb,
I'm just back from a very sad and trying Malaysian Grand Prix. Despite the dramatic improvements in recent years, we still get some unwelcome reminders that racing is dangerous. We'll learn whatever lessons we can to keep improving, and to continue with the sport we love. For now keeping busy is a good thing, so it's time for my overdue reply to you.
Just to reply to your questions, I don't really work for the FIM I'm actually employed by IRTA (team's association) and Dorna (MotoGP owners), but my job is to work together with the FIM to write the regulations. I'm based in Andorra in the Pyrenees, nice and quiet, central to most European races, and a bike-friendly culture - I can ride my trials bike down the main street and the cops don't bat an eyelid. My wife Rosanna is Italian-Australian so we spend time in both Italy and Australia depending on the time of the year - usually chasing summer around the globe! I owned the Motorcycle Centre in Matamata, another in Putaruru, and the Honda shop in Matamata also. Phil Martin now owns them, but we sold the Honda shop a while back.
No problem for me if you want to put something on your website, up to you. As far as more detail goes, I'm not sure what you want so I'll just do a not-so-brief rundown of how I got from Kiwi racer/bike shop owner to MotoGP race director. Just pick out the bits you want depending on what you want to put on the website.
Mike competing in a 2 hour Endurance road race at Manfeild 1985 on an RZ250 Yamaha & by the way the event was organised by Tim Gibbes & Manawatu Orion MCC!
I started working for Ginger Molloy in his Hamilton bike shop shortly after he returned from his European campaign in 1971. He was second in the 1970 500cc World Championship on a private Kawasaki, beaten only by Agostini on the factory MV Agusta, so you can understand how I soaked up a bit of European roadracing culture. The part-time job after school and between University courses soon became full time, and when Laurie Love bought Ginger's shop a little later I stayed on, and Laurie persuaded me to have a go at roadracing - he even gave me a Yamaha RZ250 to race when it was obvious my battered LC250 wasn't up to the job.
In 10 years of racing I had a play with various production bikes but fell in love with GP bikes, which at the time meant TZ250's. I managed to win the NZ Formula 2 championship in 1989 and 1990 and had a quick play "overseas" at the Aussie 6-Hour, the Australian GP at Phillip Island, and was 3rd in the FIM Pan Pacific Championship of 1991. The wild card GP appearances confirmed that while I was happily enjoying myself, the professionals were deadly serious and at 34 years old I certainly wasn't going to go any faster! It was time to quit racing, and on the way home from my last race at Manfeild I stopped in to say hi to Peter Clifford who promptly offered me a job in Europe as a mechanic on his new 500cc GP team. A few weeks later I had told my sales manager Phil to look after my three motorcycle shops "for a few months" while I went on a quick jaunt to Europe. On the next trip back to NZ in the GP off-season, I informed Phil that he was now the owner of the shops and could he please pay me at some time in the future? I had the GP racing disease, and so far no cure is in sight.
The early years in the privateer 500 GP team were great fun and a huge learning experience, but basically done for beer money and a place to sleep. With our riders Peter Goddard, Niall Mackenzie and Neil Hodgson on ROC-Yamahas we consistently finished as the top privateer team on the 500cc GP grid, and team owners Pete Clifford and Bob McLean looked after us really well. Then my old mate and former apprentice Simon Crafar asked me to join him as his mechanic on the Kawasaki World Superbike team. We had a good time with Simon and my fellow Kiwi mechanic Brent Stephens, but one year in WSB was enough and I was homesick for GPs. Luckily Wayne Rainey had decided to come back and run the Yamaha team, and he signed me up as crew chief for Norick Abe, a real privilege to work for them both. I had two years with Norick and then three years with Carlos Checa, a great time in a really great team. I had managed to persuade Brent Stephens to join me again, and he stayed on to be Valentino Rossi's mechanic after I left the team, and Brent is still working with Valentino today. 2001 was the last year of the 500cc bikes and with big changes in the Yamaha factory team it was time for me to move on. As it happened Jack Findlay had decided to retire that same year so they asked me to take over his job as Technical Director.
I have now been MotoGP Technical Director for 10 years, I work for IRTA (International RoadRacing Teams Association) and Dorna (MotoGP rights-holder) and work closely with the FIM writing the technical regulations, which I am also responsible for enforcing at GPs. I love 2-stroke race bikes and was sorry to have to write the regulations that saw the end of the 250s and now the 125s, but it's the sad commercial reality that none of our manufacturers wanted to build 2-strokes any more. Having said that, I am really happy with the way my Moto2 class has turned out, and if the racing in Moto3 can be anywhere near as exciting, I will be satisfied. Next challenge we are working on is to reduce costs in the MotoGP class and get full grids of competitive bikes, while still keeping a high technological interest. It's not easy, but we're on track and well under way.
I will continue working on the technical regulations in the future, but my day-to-day role will change next year as I take over as MotoGP Race Director from Paul Butler who is retiring at the end of this year.
I hope that is OK Tim. As far as photos go, I don't have a big selection here so I've sent one of the early racing ones from NZ, 1985, I guess that is Manfeild and a couple of recent ones from GP land, one from my office in Mugello and one from Phillip Island this year (the bloke in leathers is Paul Butler our retiring Race Director who had just been for a ride with Randy Mamola, and the other is Carlos Pratola our safety car driver).
Cheers, Mike Webb.
1990 : Mike at Phillip Island rode in the GP as a "Wildcard Entry" from New Zealand
Is it the Mike Webb from New Zealand?
Certainly is the same one!
It's good to hear from you again, and to know you are still in touch with the FIM information. I've been MotoGP Technical Director for 10 years now, I took over from Jack Findlay when he retired. Prior to that I worked as crew chief for the factory Yamaha team, first when it was run by Wayne Rainey then later when Yamaha Japan took it over again. And before that for a privateer Yamaha 500cc team run by a near neighbour of yours Peter Clifford, so it's been 20 years or more since I was in the motorcycle industry in NZ... wow 20 years! Next year I take over from our retiring Race Director in MotoGP, so I guess that means more politics.
I had a quick look at the website, very interesting. Particularly the upcoming Mini MotoGP where the school kids race the bikes they built themselves, I didn't know that existed n NZ.
MotoGP Technical Director until 2011