The 2008 season will see the British Superbike Championship enter a new era, with Jonathan Palmer's Motorsport Vision group taking over the commercial rights to the series at the start of a ten-year deal to run the biggest domestic bike series in the world.

The former Formula One racer readily admits that he was a bike racing virgin prior to taking control of Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, Snetterton and Cadwell Park back in 2004, but has since being converted by the all-action thrills and spills served up by the BSB brigade.

Ahead of the new season, Radio caught up with JP to see how he plans to take the BSB forward...
How exciting is the move to take over the running of the British Superbike Championship for MSV?

Jonathan Palmer:
It's very exciting indeed. The BSB is Britain's biggest national championship and the gates are even bigger than we see for British Touring Cars. However, it's no surprise, as the entertainment on track is outstanding. Bikes, as I found out when I took over the circuits in 2004, do provide fantastic entertainment. They overtake and they obviously have some pretty big moments as well. When a car spins off its one thing but, when someone drops a bike, it's a real heart in the mouth spectacle!

The riders in it though are such pros and, as a car driver, you have to have such respect for guys who can sit on a bike with 200 horsepower, a contact patch the size of your hand, no downforce and race shoulder-to-shoulder as they do regardless of the conditions. They are also good with the crowd and I feel it will be a very exciting era for us.

It's difficult and isn't easy to get the commercial rights to a series and develop them, the main burden being the costs of TV to promote it well. But that is something we have to deal with and I'm confident that we can move it forward; it's such a great championship.
Is that going to one of the main focuses for your ten-year period in charge? To secure a strong TV package to sell to the teams who, in turn, can then sell it to sponsors and commercial partners that they may have?

Jonathan Palmer:
Absolutely, the whole thing is a balance. We have to have a strong TV package, but we also have to make sure it works economically. It isn't a case of just buying the most, as that is almost certain to lead to higher entry costs and things that aren't necessarily good for the competitors.

We have to be careful and find a TV partner who really value BSB, want to be part of it, really put some effort into it and want to help promote it heavily. We also want someone who will make it a logical destination for fans to turn on the TV and find it.
Promotion of the series on the whole is something you'll also want to boost I assume, as MSV has always been strong at promoting its events in things like the local press. So is that something key to the agenda going forward?

Jonathan Palmer:
The real thing we have to drive with BSB is higher attendances at the gate. It is already big, but we want to make it bigger still and we want to bring in bigger TV audiences. To do that, there needs to great racing on track which is even more thrilling and entertaining, and the whole experience of visiting the circuits to see the racing live has to be developed further.

It is already very good, but we need to make it better and, if we do that, we will get the top teams, the top manufacturers - which we do have already - and the top riders. The whole thing has to be a mix that works well to everyone.
Do you also have a desire to try and take British Superbikes to a new audience rather that just hardcore bike fans?

Jonathan Palmer:
Very much so. For some reason, there has been too much inherent segregation between the bike fans and the car fans. I'm a good example, as I never went to a bike meeting and never would have thought of going to one before MSV bought the circuits. Now, I wouldn't hesitate and I think it's brilliant.

I attend every BSB event and I think a lot of the car racing fans would really have their eyes opened at how much action you get in bike racing. A lot of it is down to understanding it if you are alien to the sport, so if we can help people understand who the key riders, teams and manufacturers are and get that understanding, then I feel we can start to get an influx of people coming into the sport.
It's a big move to change the commercial partner for any series, so how important is the continuity of having Stuart Higgs remaining in the role of series director as you at MSV build a stronger relationship with people in the paddock?

Jonathan Palmer:
Continuity is very important. The most important part of the whole business is having events that run well and Stuart Higgs is a brilliant series director. He really understands how to run a slick event with a team that is relatively small compared to some of the teams that you see running car events. He just has what he needs and no more; and he really has his finger on the pulse in the biggest possible way.

The understanding of it all commercially is also very important for the manufacturers, he has a real feel for the business and that is something that I am learning. I have a lot more knowledge than I had a few years ago but, compared to people who have been in the sport and entrenched in it for a long time, I am a complete novice. People like Stuart Higgs and Jim Parker from the ACU are very eager and have a lot of experience, so it is important that I draw on that experience and listen to them.

I need to seek opinions and ultimately my job is to harness it all together and make the decisions to move it all forwards.
MSV had a big part to play in the BSB already, with half of the events being at your circuits, so, in putting this deal together, was there ever any concern on your side that people might look at it and think that there was a conflict of interests in the person in charge of the series also hosting so many of the events?

Jonathan Palmer:
I think that is a strength of it - that the guy in charge has seen it from a circuits point of view, has a very big vested interest in it from that angle and is certainly going to make sure that the deal for the circuits - who fundamentally own the championship - is better than it has been and better than it would be if a third party outside the circuits was running it. It is being run pretty much in-house now, which has to be a good thing, with the advantages that we are the biggest business in UK motorsport in terms of track operations.

A single circuit might find it to be a big financial gamble, and it is a significant financial gamble for us but, nevertheless, we also have a great depth of resource from people - be it PR, marketing, legal, IT, sales and finance - that we can draw on to run those functions of BSB.

I feel we can run it leaner that it has been before and that is something I feel will be important as, as with any business, if you aren't driving out inefficiencies and trying to use volume and cleverness to do that, then you will be left behind. I think it is important that we use every asset we have to help the thing thrive as much as we can.
So, if possible, how would you sum up how the British Superbike Championship will be under your control during the next ten years?

Jonathan Palmer:
I want to see the next ten years panning out with BSB underlining itself as the best national bike racing series in the world by a long margin. I want it to be a place where the manufacturers, the teams, the riders and the fans want to be, and a series that the TV viewer will enjoy even more than in the past.