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James Whitham - Q&A EXCLUSIVE

2 August 2008

As one of the most popular – and spectacular – riders Great Britain has ever produced, James Whitham certainly has a story to tell.

A former British and World Superbike rider, as well as enjoying a short stint in the 500cc World Championship, Whitham has also battled against – and beaten – Hodgkin's Disease in his life.

But there has been more to James' life than just bikes and illness, so in his new autobiography, 'What a good do!', he reveals a light-hearted look at a life that has experienced ups, downs and everything in between.

Naturally, Crash.net got hold of him for a chat about his book, his current role as a commentator and, of course, the current state of motorbike racing around the world...


Crash.net
What was the idea for producing a biography now?

James Whitham
It wasn't down to us. I had planned to do something when I packed in at the end of 2002, but I couldn't get a publishing house to be interested in it. It would have come at the back of a run of books from Hodgson, Foggy, Reynolds… so they weren't too interested in having another motorcycle racing biography. So it was put on the back burner until a got a phone call from Haynes to do more. They'd had quite a bit of success with the Reynolds one so they wanted to do more and my name came up. So it kick-started an idea of something I had about five years ago.

Crash.net
Did you have fun writing; how long did it take to write?

JW:
I haven't just sent a load of stuff to someone who has just re-written it, I have been living on a boat with Mac, so in that respect I was more hands on than most sports people would be on their biographies maybe. I did have a lot of fun though. I had a lot of notes written down of the stories I wanted to be in there. It isn't a book about how I bought this and then I raced this… the racing just binds it together but it is more of a story of what happened in between, the people I've met, the daft stuff, crashing of hire cars… in that respect it isn't a chronological racing book. The problem for us has been keeping down to the 120,000 words they wanted!

Crash.net
How strange is it having your life, which has certainly been an eventful one, displayed out like that?

JW:
It was strange at first but I've read it about 15 times because you have to re-read it to make sure they aren't any mistakes and it goes through the legal people too. I kind of know every bit of it now and it's not a shock to me.

Crash.net
What was it like going through the crashes again – are the memories still very real?

JW:
I know each crash. What you accept as a rider is that falling off is part of it and you are expected to find the limit – It's part of the job. I can pretty much remember exactly what happened, but looking back you don't have any pain. I have been quite good at brushing off pain and getting back on the bike, so in that respect it didn't hurt too much talking about them. It means I can laugh at them and pull the funny out of them, like the memories of waking up with a crowd around you and having a broken arm.

Crash.net
How difficult was it reliving your illness again through writing about it?

JW:
The cancer thing was a bit of a bigger chapter in my life because that thing went on for six to eight months. With a crash you are normally fine within a week, so the cancer thing was a bit harder to go over because a lot happened but even then I'm fine now, so alls well that ends well.

Crash.net
Have you wandered into a book store and see your face staring at you yet?

JW:
I am going to have a look. I know Foggy's made the best sellers list and I know that mine won't… but I'm more bothered that the people who buy it are happy with it, rather than selling a million copies and it not being a good book. If you get someone that is famous they can put anything out and it'll sell, because I've bought biographies and thought 'is that it?' At least with this one, for a motorcyclist, they can have a giggle.

Crash.net
How much are you looking forward to going on your book signing tour?

JW:
We have a few dates planned. I've already told them that at the first one, if there is me, a big pile of books and no people, then I am not doing it anymore! I am looking forward to it though. If I thought it was a weak book, I wouldn't be doing it, so in that respect I'm looking forward to it.

Crash.net
You are probably better known at the moment for your work with Eurosport – how much are you enjoying that?

JW:
Absolutely. It is so easy for a sportsman to drop out of the loop as soon as you've stopped racing and then you see five years later that they're paying to get in the gate as a punter. This way it is brilliant. If you open a restaurant after racing, or whatever, all that knowledge is wasted. With this I'm spending my time in the paddock bumping into old mates. As an ex-rider, you don't feel as important as you would if you were racing, but you have a job to do. The scary part is that the people I raced with are still in the paddock as technicians or, even worse, some of their sons are actually racing. That makes me feel old!

Crash.net
Does commentating or punditry provide a satisfactory replacement for racing?

JW:
The commentary thing is good in a way. There is no way I can go commentating on whatever, like presenters who do anything and read off an autocue, I want to talk about bikes. It is good for me to go in there and spot things that my co-commentator might otherwise miss. I am not stupid enough to think I have the job for any other reason. It is an easy job for me anyway because I'd be sat at home with a cup of tea shouting at the TV! It is the next best thing and you get to travel still, so I have a dead, dead lucky life.

Crash.net
Now to talk about your favourite subject – motorbike racing! Starting with MotoGP, what have you made of the season so far?

JW:
I haven't caught every race, but it has been good and not so good in parts. The best race of the season was the one at Laguna Seca, which was brilliant. Just to see two riders at the top of their game, egging each other on, was just fantastic. I am a Rossi fan – I don't know why -, but Stoner comes in for a lot of bad press. The problem these days is that the new riders coming through aren't allowed to be a character. They are PR savvy and they have to thank everybody because there is so much money involved. Rossi gets away with it because of who he is, so I was glad to see him win.

Crash.net
Perhaps the most recent question on most lips is the tussle between Vale and Casey at Laguna Seca – many have come out with opinions on the level of aggression, but what do you think?

JW:
I saw it as fairly aggressive, but brilliant racing. I honestly believe that Rossi doesn't have the machine that Stoner has, in that Stoner has clicked with that bike well. I almost see Rossi as a little bit of an underdog, so he is riding beyond the limit in a way. It is so good to watch though and to have someone who has been at the top for so long; it is great to see him continuing to stick his neck out. He was a bit aggressive maybe, although I think Stoner was a little bit sour grapes too. The last thing you should do is complain – you should keep your gob shut and ensure they f****** have it next time!

Crash.net
More relevantly, we have World Superbikes coming to town this weekend at Brands Hatch – with no full-time British riders, who will stand out for you this weekend?

JW:
The big British interest will be for the housewives favourite Chris Walker and I wish him all the best. He probably won't mind me saying the best years of his career are probably behind him, but you never know with him. He'll push and maybe even pull something out of the bag because that bike is better than many people think it is. Also, there is Tom Sykes, who is such a good young rider. He doesn't fall off much, but while people have criticised him for not pushing enough sometimes, that is just him being safe and not wanting to crash. He knows he won't win, but he is desperate for a good result. He has a big future in World Superbikes and people will be watching him.

Crash.net
Prediction time: Who do you expect will be the rider to beat this weekend?

JW:
You can never discount Haga. He is one of those riders that could finish ninth in one race and then go and win the next. You know how fast he is when things click, but you don't know when it will click. Also, Corser because that Yamaha is a brilliant bike now. They have made some changes that Corser has appreciated and the reason he has got his season back on track is because of this rear suspension change. He is really confident he can turn that into a win at Brands. As for Bayliss, you'd have to chop him into bits to stop him from being at threat! Biaggi went well last year, Neukirchner is doing well... but that is the beauty of the championship because there are so many riders out there who could win!

Crash.net
With Troy Bayliss retiring, who do you reckon is most deserving to replace him at Ducati?

JW:
They do talk about Shakey, which is good, but you look at their new guy, Canepa, who has been groomed through Superstock. If it was me, I'd go for someone like him. Trouble is, Fabrizio is not a guaranteed winner on the other bike, so they might not be able to afford to take a risk on Canepa. He is a quick kid though and he has the right attitude, so he has a lot going for him. There are Brits to look out for though, like Shakey, Camier and Crutchlow, although they are all a bit of an unknown quantity. As for Biaggi, he has had good bikes and is on a good bike, but he doesn't win very often and that is the reason why Bayliss will be such a hard act to follow.

Crash.net
Finally, the British Championship is enjoying a good season this year – beyond Byrne, who has stood out for you so far this year?

JW:
There is a lot to be happy about it you are a British race fan if you consider Camier, Crutchlow, Sykes... I think we are coming up to a strong patch and the next five years are going to be really good. Toseland has dropped off the pace a little bit, but already what he has done has been really good this season. I know Toseland and he would be a credit to any sport, because anything he wants to do, he has the attitude and the perseverance to make it work. He is not a man to roll over. A few bad results won't stop him from getting to where he wants to go. Good news for Brits in the 125 class too with Redding and Smith.


James' book, James Whitham – What a good do!, is available from all good bookstores now.


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