EXCLUSIVE Jeremy McWilliams - Q&A
4 July 2013
By Neil Morrison
It has been over six years since Jeremy McWilliams last took to the track in MotoGP, but racing still plays as much a part in his life as ever.
The Ulsterman is enjoying a busy 2013, balancing team manager duties for the Rivamoto World Supersport outfit with some racing exploits of his own.
The team's first rider Jack Kennedy currently lies eighth in the WSS standings - in what is his first year of World Championship racing - and has impressed with a string of top ten finishes around tracks he has not seen before.
Former 250GP winner McWilliams, who remained the last British rider to take a MotoGP pole until Cal Crutchlow's Assen performance, has complimented his duties as team manager by peppering his calendar with occasional racing appearances.
The 49-year-old took his first road race victory at this year's North West 200 and recently announced that he will attend the Armoy Road Races in July with Ryan Farquhar's Vauxhall KMR team.
Crash.net spoke with Jeremy during last weekend's World Superbike event at Imola, to talk about Rivamoto's season so far, his 'return' to racing, and the upcoming rule changes that will be implemented across the WSBK paddock…
I think it is fair to say Jack has impressed everybody with his speed so far this season. How would you rate the 2013 season so far in terms of his performance?
To be lying in the top eight in the championship is more than we expected from a rider coming from a national series. It's not just one-offs; he's been fast every time he's been on the bike. He learns tracks very quickly and he's got a very mature riding style. He rides with less risk than I've seen any other rider ride with before but he still manages to pull the lap time off.
We're in a good situation with Jack as he's doing everything he could be doing with what he's got. Of course we'd like to get him closer to the front but that's coming. It happened at the last race [at round six in Portimão] when we were just over ten seconds from the leaders.
Jack's maturing as a rider, it's difficult to come from BSB and to be fast. BSB is obviously very competitive; it's just over longer distance with new tracks and temperatures, things that you don't experience in 'Old Blighty'. I think he's adjusted very well and we're all delighted.
Because of Jack's quick adaption to the series, have you and the team adjusted your goals or expectations for the remainder of the season or are you still taking things as they come?
You mean do we expect him now to be jumping on the podium? There's no reason why it couldn't work out for him. On the circuits that he knows, you could see he was immediately fast at Assen, faster than he would have been anywhere else. He was in the top three or four all weekend.
For one reason or another we just didn't have it over race distance that day, but he knows in his mind that he's capable of pulling that off. But we're not expecting it, when it comes along it's an added bonus.
Have you got anything new to test or develop on the bike during the weekend or the post-race test?
I suppose we took it upon ourselves to give him a little more of a hand-up with the speed. I can't really say what, but we have some new things we are using and it's at least as good as what we have so far, we just need to stay on and develop it. We really needed for it to work this weekend but it's paying off so far.
We have a few things to try at the test to try and catch the real quick bikes. We're always just that little bit behind the outright top speed, but saying that Jack always does what he can with what we've got and he's doing a great job.
You had your first road racing experience at the 2012 North West 200 and you returned there this year with much success. You have recently entered the Armoy road races in the middle of July, how did this come about?
I suppose I choose things that I want to do. It's difficult to walk away from racing completely. I probably should have announced my retirement ten years ago but I never actually said that I would stop! Opportunities came along and sometimes when you look at it and weigh it up and you ask yourself: “Is it worth going out on a limb for a race like that?”
I think it is in every way for one race. It was the same at the North West, it was the right thing to do and it paid off. I looked at Armoy and I thought I like the layout and I have a friend who sponsors it and it's going to be a little bit of fun. I've got a weekend off so I'm going there to enjoy myself. I enjoy racing as much now as I did then.
If it works out all well and good, if it doesn't we'll still have fun. It won't be any different if we win or lose.
And you are also due to race a Harley Davidson at Indianapolis in August too?
I have another race in Indianapolis with Bloomington's Harley Davidson and I will be riding the XR1200 over there. I did that a couple of years ago and I won the British Championship on it. When these opportunities arrive they're just very difficult to turn down.
How much does it help adapting to the demands of road racing when you are with an outfit like Ryan Farquhar's impressively turned out KMR team?
When things are right then it's difficult to say no. I'm riding Ryan's bike again at Armoy. I know it'll be as well prepared as our little Supersport bikes. I wouldn't do it for anyone else, as you know when you sit on it that you don't need to worry; you know the bike will be right.
It's the same riding for Bloomington's at Indianapolis. They prepared an awesome bike the first time I did it [in 2011] and I can just turn up, not have to worry, turn up, jump on the bike and go. That makes it easier than having the headaches about the preparation beforehand.
Part of your job includes imparting some wisdom on to your riders. But what is it like being on the other side, when you have someone with Ryan's experience advising you?
Well, he would probably advise me not to do Armoy because it's quite technical! But I love technically challenging tracks. I said to him that I would do it and said “come along, give me as much advice as you can.” Because he isn't riding the course his advice is really helpful, even on set-up although he has quite a different riding style to mine.
At the North West 200 we had the Maxton suspension guy so he was able to go on my settings from last year. I had asked for some changes the first year I rode the bike and he had them there for me at the North West.
I was really impressed with that and it was more than I expected to be honest. I thought we were starting with a clean sheet again when I turned up yet he had something that we had been working on already the year before.
With the suspension set-up, everything worked for me and it's nice working with a team that have been in that game for so long. It takes the pressure off because it is nerve wracking turning up at a road race that you've never raced before, having to learn it.
But I suppose that's part of the fun.
You mentioned after this year's North West race that you felt you were riding within your capabilities. How do you have to adapt your riding style to cope with the demands of a road race?
Honestly, it's a completely different style of riding. I don't ride like I would on a circuit, I ride with an awful lot left in reserve. You've got to leave margins but of course that might change depending on who's on the grid beside me.
With the patchy conditions they ran at the North West it was the wise thing to do. Luckily I was able to do it without putting everything on the line and still pull the win off. I was pretty lucky, as I've got plenty of experience with the conditions when they aren't favourable.
There has been a lot of speculation over the future of the World Superbike championship as a whole and what direction Dorna will take with the new regulations. What measures do you think will be introduced?
I've heard lots of rumours but I've seen nothing concrete, just some suggestions. My primary concern is what they are going to do with Supersport. If there are cost saving measures to be had then of course they'll be welcomed but they have to be realistic cost saving measures.
You can't just cut the budget by a quarter and expect the competition to be as good as it is currently. The racing in World Superbikes is as good as MotoGP right now but we're all waiting to see where they go with it.
From your experience of running the team this year, are cost cutting measures necessary in Supersport?
The overall cost in this team is a little bit too high for what it should be just for Supersport 600 machines. The majority of the budget is spent on logistics, not the bikes.
The bikes cost a certain amount of money, as do electronics, the refreshments to keep the engines right. I don't see what you can do with the bikes unless you get rid of electronics altogether and even then it's only 15 grand saving.
The cost is what you see right here [in the garage]: These guys working, the dyno testing, workshop time, the time getting from the workshop to the track, and the flyaways are ridiculously expensive. Unless the organisers can help us in some way with that I don't really see how they can cut the budget.
Do you feel introducing more 'control' elements to any of the classes would benefit saving measures or the spectacle? Like limiting the use of electronics for example?
We wouldn't mind. We have a Motec system with a very good data engineer. He doesn't cost the earth to have here and he has a realistic wage. We bought the Motec system second hand with the bikes and you can see it works very well. We can use this electronics system for three years.
If you're talking about going to a control ECU, I'm not saying I'm against it but it would have to work with every team and manufacturer. It hasn't been tried or tested in Supersport. The wise thing to do would be to do away with the electronics system, like they do in BSB.
But we like the electronic aids. It helps Jack in terms of safety, it doesn't make him go any quicker, it helps him in terms of how the bike handles on the track and prevents him from crashing.
I shouldn't really say this but his crash rate has been so occasional that we have to say the electronics have something to do with that, and of course Jack's experience.
I came through with no electronics and then they started to get introduced. I have to say they worked for me in MotoGP. Now it's at another stage with what we've got here and it's better than what I was using in MotoGP. It doesn't hurt the racing and if they cap a limit on it - probably the best way is to put a price limit on the amount you can spend on electronics and then everybody can use what they want for whatever price that may be.