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EXCLUSIVE BSS: Michael de Bidaph (Gearlink Kawasaki) - Q&A

24 April 2013

By Christian Tiburtius

An exclusive interview with Gearlink Kawasaki team manager Michael de Bidaph, who is running Ben Wilson and Alastair Seeley in this year's British Supersport Championship.

New signing Seeley leads the series, with Wilson - a former title runner-up to Seeley - also making a strong start with three podiums out of the four races…

Crash.net:
What is 'Gearlink'?

Michael de Bidaph:
We are car and van manual gearbox specialists, hence the name 'Gearlink'. We do repair some bike gearboxes, but that's not our mainstream. I work full-time in the business when I'm not racing.

Crash.net:
Is the name 'de Bidaph' French?

Michael de Bidaph:
Yes it is, it goes back to my grandfather. We don't have a lot of information about it though, because he left my grandmother when my dad was only 3 so the name had to be resurrected.

Crash.net:
How did you start in racing, what's the motivation to put the hours in for your race team on top of a full-time job?

Michael de Bidaph:
I've always been in the motor trade and my father was a mechanic before me and taught me everything I know. I started my own business in 1976 specialising in re-conditioned gearboxes then moved from South Bucks. to the New Forest, in 1992 when I set up Gearlink and it became a very successful business. It's quite an unusual and stressful part of motor mechanics and I employ four to five people as well as myself, I am a “hands on person”, I don't like sitting in an office.

I used to be heavily into cars but in the late 90s I bought a Suzuki 750 'Teapot', after that I got more into the sports bike side of things and did a lot of track days with a mate who was a club racer, I just really got the bug. I loved it.

I wanted to become a racer when I got back into bikes but I knew I was too old. I've always watched BSB and particularly enjoyed the R6 cup, that was great racing.

In 2004, by chance, I bought a local paper, one which I had never bought before, and on the back page it said 'R6 rider looking for local sponsorship'. That was probably the most expensive paper I ever bought! It was that paper that got me involved in racing and in turn caused me to invest heavily into the sport.

The rider concerned was James Hillier, he had a couple of sponsors who couldn't see the year through, so we picked it up for him when they couldn't continue. We got to the end of the year and James was having difficulty getting a ride, we reckoned him as a rider, so I said to James that I loved the racing and wanted to be a part of the paddock so we would see how much it would cost to run our own team.

That was 2005, when they were just starting the Supersport Cup, that meant it was possible to be in the field at a reasonable budget. I think the kind of budget we were talking about for a year was £30,000. Needless to say, it went over that, but the fact that you only had to do 10 rounds helped. We had 2 bikes and we started with Kawasaki's.

That is how we started and I still love it as much now as I did then, it's an obsession that runs very deep. I do it purely for the passion of it.

In 2007 when we ran another rider, Guy Sanders, as well as James, we started getting some good results and then you get that bug where you always want to do better. You start to realise that you could actually win a race.

It gets more and more expensive, but by then you're hooked. We've only ever managed to get a couple of modest sponsors so we have to bear the majority of the expense ourselves. It's fair to say that if we don't find someone this season we may have difficulties before the end of it.

Our motivation now is to win races and championships, which shows how far we have come.

Crash.net:
Talking about your motivations, you sound exactly the same as the riders

Michael de Bidaph:
For the team manager and the rest of the team, winning a race feels amazing. The sheer exhilaration for everyone is hard to describe.

In 2011 we won 9 races, but the last race we won was as good as the first, what a buzz! You put so much into it, all the work behind the scenes, all the long hours and to have your rider on the winner's podium is a dream. I can't tell you exactly what the rider feels, but what I feel as the team boss can't be any less. I get elated.

Crash.net:
Do you think that the Gearlink team has a special feel to it?

Michael de Bidaph:
Most definitely, the team is a family and it certainly wouldn't be possible without my two full time mechanics, David Harris and Arron Phillips. They've both been with us for a number of years, and I would struggle to find two better people to be involved in my race team or even in my life.

They do whatever it takes, they never moan, work incredible hours, sometimes work unpaid and are always there. They're just not bothered by any of those considerations, they're totally motivated by passion for racing and the team.

I mention these two people because they are just an example of the members of Gearlink who all have the same desire. There's nobody in the team who isn't fully committed. Also now I've got a couple of new people, Dan Dadley and his dad, Andy, who are exactly the same. When you include Paul Kemp as an all-rounder, and Gill Greggor who helps on pit wall, I've got a really strong team around me.

Our data is handled by Akira Technologies, a French company. David and Arron e-mail data to them and act on any recommendations made by them. Akira build engines for us and the WSS team, they come at a heavy price, but they're the best we can get for Kawasaki engines.

My wife Norma comes to every race. She's much better at the PR, sponsorship and the social aspect of the team and most importantly, she feeds us!

She is very busy and over a weekend I don't think I've ever seen her sit down. I'm just worried she does too much, because she is always taking so much on, having said that though, the team couldn't function without her.

Crash.net:
Who is Joshua de Bidaph, has he got any connection to you?

Michael de Bidaph:
He's my nephew. My brother is bike mad and his son, Josh, used to watch us go racing and got the bug. He started going club racing last year using one of our bikes. Yes, he's family.

Crash.net:
What's with the green and orange colour scheme?

Michael de Bidaph:
I'm a firm believer that Kawasaki's should be green. We needed another colour though so we went for orange because it's Norma's favourite colour and it also ties in with Gearlink's company colour.

We presented the colours to Kawasaki Motors UK in 2008 when we became the official Kawasaki Supersport team and they said that they liked it and thought it was different. Whether you like it or not you can spot a Gearlink bike instantly.

Crash.net:
Take us through a normal race weekend?

Michael de Bidaph:
After finishing work, we'll arrive at the circuit first thing Thursday morning. Thursday is set up day and Friday is free practise, it is a very busy day on the Friday because we are now running Superstock 600's and Supersport bikes.

Every morning we're in the garage at 7am and if we're lucky, we'll finish at 6.30pm, though if we have a problem, it can be a lot later. Sometimes the boys can be working until 10 at night. Saturday is a very tense day because you've got qualifying and the first race in Supersport.

Comparatively Sunday is probably the easiest day because you've got more time on your hands. It's not that you're doing nothing it's just that everything that could be done has been done.

On Sundays I get very nervous, I'm absolutely dreadful. After warm up, the nearer it gets to the race, the worse I get. I'm just a bag of nerves. The riders are probably in a better state than me, they at least get the adrenalin rush.

We try to watch the races on the monitors, but at Thruxton I had to leave. I got to lap 4 and thought, 'I've got another 11 laps of this I just can't watch it'. It can be hard and sometimes you wonder why you do it!

It takes us 2 or 3 hours to get packed up after the race and then, if we're not staying over, we drive home and I'm back at work first thing Monday morning.

Crash.net:
Are there any riders in Gearlink's history that have stood out?

Michael de Bidaph:
It has been great working with all our riders, but one thing I can tell you is that Ben Wilson is a very genuine, down-to-earth person that I clicked with from day one and it's a real pleasure working with him.

Crash.net:
What do you look for when signing a rider?

Michael de Bidaph:
When we are thinking of signing a rider and you test them, it's not necessarily the quickest lap that is important. You have to look at their style and how they interact with the bike. Also that they work progressively rather than trying to go too fast too quickly.

Obviously their CV is important, having said that though, It's the overall feeling you get when working with them which counts.

Most riders that we have worked with have come from the BSB paddock anyway so we tend to already know them.

When we tested Ben, he had just come off the 1000cc bikes and needed to find speed on the 600s. It would have been unfair to judge him on lap times. Rather it was how he conducted himself that got him the ride.

In terms of style, once a rider comes to us they are usually pretty experienced so we only comment on their styles if they are doing something, which in our eyes, is obviously wrong. It's a different matter with young Superstock riders though, there we try to give guidance.

Crash.net:
Was it a conscious decision to recreate the incredible 2011 season within your team?

Michael de Bidaph:
I didn't set out to sign Alastair by any means, Alastair contacted me before the end of the season and we had our first meeting at Assen. We were also talking to a number of other top riders such as Christian Iddon at the time though so signing Alastair was not part of a long-term strategy.

Signing Alastair has given Ben that little competitive push and it means that we've got two strong riders pushing each other. Ben didn't have the season he wanted in 2012 and has shown huge determination in training and working over the winter and seems really psyched up for the season.

It is a good feeling knowing that top experienced riders now consider Gearlink to be a team to be contacted for a front running ride and we feel proud of that achievement. We may be a victim of our own success though because we are perceived to be a large team well-funded by Kawasaki and that couldn't be further from the truth.

We get a small budget from Kawasaki, but the rest of it we have to make up and even this year we're struggling.

Crash.net:
What's your assessment of your four riders?

Michael de Bidaph:
Luke [Hedger - Superstock 600] is coming on really well, for someone who's never raced a 600, he jumped on it and is qualifying excellently. Though I do think that he needs to maybe toughen up a bit in the race because the Stock 600 is such an aggressive class. At Thruxton he got bashed around a bit and lost a couple of places and he needs to give as good as he gets.

We signed Nicole [McAleer - Superstock 600] as a development year. She hasn't been in the BSB paddock for over a year and with her we are almost starting from scratch, I do feel that we'll make good progress over the season though. We're not going to push her, her competitive spirit will do that, with Nicole it will be more gradual.

The fact that she is willing to get stuck in, in a class as competitive as Stock 600s, is admirable on its own. Her enthusiasm and determination is fantastic and for a team like us, it's very rewarding to see a rider progress rather than signing an established performer. She also fits in with the family atmosphere at Gearlink.

With regards to Ben and Alastair, I think the results speak for themselves.

Crash.net:
How do Alastair and Ben get on?

Michael de Bidaph:
I wouldn't say that they're particularly friendly to each other, their relationship is more professional. They don't ignore each other but they aren't making conversation in the garage either. There's a great respect between the two.

Crash.net:
Would you impose team orders if need be at the end of the season?

Michael de Bidaph:
I can't really answer that as I would need to see the situation. It's just great seeing the close racing between the two and that's the way we want to see the season out.

Crash.net:
As a team manager, how do you deal with rider injury?

Michael de Bidaph:
We've had to deal with the worst that any team has to deal with when we lost Guy Sanders at Mondello Park. Norma and I got to a point then where we were asking ourselves whether we could carry on racing. We were both close to Guy right from the R6 days and it hit us really hard.

The way we took it was that Guy would certainly not have wanted us to give up and we felt the need to pick ourselves up from it and continue. You have to switch off to the fact that it can happen, the same as riders do.

I don't think that as a team boss I should be thinking in terms of injury all the time. We have to approach things professionally and say that if you are too preoccupied with the possibility of tragedy then you really shouldn't be racing. The whole paddock knows and accepts the risks.

Crash.net:
What kind of budget does a team like Gearlink operate on?

Michael de Bidaph:
This year it's going to be close to £200k. Kawasaki are very supportive and help us as much as they can and the general manager of Kawasaki UK comes to some races, but we have to find the financial budget ourselves.

We are getting sponsorship from Tim Todd Surfacing this season though and that's a great help. Ben has also brought sponsorship from Vale Livestock Ltd into the team which is hugely welcome.

We also get a good amount of product sponsors such as exhaust systems, brake discs and NGK spark plugs.

When people criticize teams for accepting paying riders or riders that bring finance with them, they really don't understand the way team finances work and the financial commitment you have to put in. Without that there might not be a grid.

Crash.net:
What are the future plans for Gearlink?

Michael de Bidaph:
I don't really want to go to the world championship because of how long you have to be away traveling. I wouldn't rule out British Superbikes but there are no plans at the moment. Having said that though, I never plan, I like to take things as they come. I'm enjoying doing what we're doing.

Crash.net:

When was your last holiday?

Michael de Bidaph:
Over 15 years ago!


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