Torqueing Heads: Talking Motorbikes

Superbike Sundays #1 (Stuart Higgs)

February 21, 2021 Stuart Higgs interview Season 2 Episode 1
Torqueing Heads: Talking Motorbikes
Superbike Sundays #1 (Stuart Higgs)
Chapters
Torqueing Heads: Talking Motorbikes
Superbike Sundays #1 (Stuart Higgs)
Feb 21, 2021 Season 2 Episode 1
Stuart Higgs interview

Welcome to a new sub-brand of Torqueing Heads, brought to you by BikeSocial.co.uk, this is the first episode of Superbike Sundays where we aim to bring weekly news, views and interviews from the Bennetts British Superbike paddock.
We start with the Race and Series Director, Stuart Higgs, who tells us about the current state of play with the championship dates, fans being allowed back to the circuits, his favourite livery of all-time (and why), plus the chances of him operating the championship remotely.

Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to a new sub-brand of Torqueing Heads, brought to you by BikeSocial.co.uk, this is the first episode of Superbike Sundays where we aim to bring weekly news, views and interviews from the Bennetts British Superbike paddock.
We start with the Race and Series Director, Stuart Higgs, who tells us about the current state of play with the championship dates, fans being allowed back to the circuits, his favourite livery of all-time (and why), plus the chances of him operating the championship remotely.

Torqueing Heads: Superbike Sundays #1 (Stuart Higgs i/v)

Chris Newble: [00:00:00] So, Stuart Higgs, thanks for joining us for today's podcast. I feel like I should give you an official introduction, but I think if you're a fan of BSB racing and superbike racing then I'm sure people know who you are, but if you don't, this is the Series and Race Director for the Bennetts BSB championship. Stuart, first off, how are you and sort of, how are things going at BSB HQ? Is planning well underway for hopefully a normal-ish season this year?

Stuart Higgs: [00:00:37] BSB HQ has had a burst water pipe, so I've had to decamp to the spare room. Yeah, I mean our chins are up because there's no alternative. They've got to be up, I mean, it is slightly groundhog day. I think in reality everyone is feeling perhaps that lockdown version three or whatever it is we're in now was while some restrictions would have been foreseen, I think the depth of the restrictions is perhaps more than most people thought they would be perhaps in October when you know, there was some assemblance of normality, but you know, this is a vicious savage disease, and the consequences of it are, are wide reaching. So I think, you know, gotta be grateful that best things are going well now, obviously the vaccine rollout is going very well, it would appear. And I think that is the the path out of this. And I think all of us, particularly in the, you know, we're in this hospitality, leisure and sport sector, you know, we are holding our breath for you know what will elude as the, the the roadmap on the 22nd of February.

But I think, you know, it's like anything is we've got to keep measured not immediately assume it's going to be a green light for everything. And just, and do what we did last time. I mean, if, if last year served as a as a good training session, it taught us to you know, really explore all the, all the possible options to keep everybody informed as much as we can, take decisions together and really understand the effect of decisions we take and not do things prematurely and go down a path of no return where you don't particularly have faith in something, but you're going to do it anyway and, you know, incur a cost and inconvenience of which that will be potentially much more damaging than, than any other time.

So, lots of caution, but lots of resilience, you know, there's lots of, you know, it's going through the motions. Some of it is overcautious, but I'd rather have every scenario catered for and be able to sort of apply the, the direction to the, the path that is the most obvious one when we can make that call.

And know, but the ambition is still there. We obviously already had taken a pretty safe course of action with the first race event being quite late in the year almost almost in June, essentially. And that still would point towards being a realistic ambition. So no reason to change that for the moment.

Chris Newble: [00:03:22] And in terms of like the cautious start to the season, we're looking at test period aren't we, starting I think it's April at Donington Park and that's, that's the sort of plan to I guess when we first see some superbikes on track this year, won't it? 

Stuart Higgs: [00:03:38] Yeah, I mean some incidental things have happened, obviously collectively as a championship, we all decided it wouldn't be a particularly good idea to go to Spain for testing in 2021 for not just COVID, there's obviously other, the obvious reason. But I think it's still the right thing to do. And, you know, cost of testing is a massive part of budgets and you don't see any immediate return for that, if any at all in some cases. So having a, a much more a much longer timeline to the first race event it's allowed us to do what may well be a blueprint for the future anyway, and having a series of test events, as we're calling them, that will give everybody a good chunk of track time.

On circuits that are obviously relevant to the championship. It's all very well going to Jerez testing and you get, you feel good that you're on a Grand Prix standard track you've seen many times and many other races, but you know, it's gotta, it's gotta be relevant. And this will be a good test again, of the systems if there are continuous or modify procedures to how we have to operate as a championship in terms of how to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID. Things have changed, obviously, you know there's new variants and things like that. There's other things have been slightly more relaxed and other things have stayed the same. So understanding exactly what we need to do in the sporting environment will be... will be very keen. We're going to have the best part of I think six or seven days testing in terms of all the events together. To put that into place. And so when it comes to the first race event which obviously is planned at the end of May, you know, we've got a good, good run at it. And obviously in the case of at least two of the first three rounds, we would have tested at the same tracks that we're going to race at so it gives us a great opportunity to meet with the local environmental health people who I'm sure we'll have a stake in some of the decisions and help us with how to manage events as they did in 2020.

And so that being able to do this at a test event is a far less pressurised environment environment than a race event. So that's a another reason for doing this.

Chris Newble: [00:05:56] I'm just looking at the calendar her, as I can see out of my window here, it's raining really heavily, I can see some welcome additions to the calendar this year; I'm looking at Cadwell Park on August the 20th, and some of the other circuits that were obviously absent last year. What's some of the thinking in terms of the calendar this year, we've got 11 rounds, three races at each of them... 

Stuart Higgs: [00:06:20] Well again Assen was the first event to be removed from the 2020 calendar and much of the same, the same reason, obviously. It's complicated enough in the UK even got to obviously governmental agencies in terms of the the English side, and the Scottish side of the border we'll be doing things slightly differently. So that's one variation and we don't really need to be going understanding what a province in Northern Holland's doing. And yes, there's obviously the, you know, the whole thing of BREXIT has changed things and it's just, you know we can deal with one thing at a time, we don't need to be complicating with the other things.

If there is some calendar movement, obviously it's a big chunk of time, the Assen event so it just takes away an event of some degree of logistic challenge and financial challenge. So we just get, again, just giving ourselves the best opportunity, but then scaling back. And we wonder the game, the lessons and the the outcomes of the 2020 season was the three race format.

And I think certainly it gave an injection of energy to the events. Obviously a lot of points on the board and ultimately when we were at a track and you do see things more differently when you are presented with the problems and the challenges that were faced, and you want to maximise the time that you're there with the sharp end of the content, I mean, in a regular season, in a time long before, COVID, you know, we would arrive early on a Wednesday or Thursday. And it seems almost incomprehensible now that you'd be there on your fourth or fifth day of being at the same racetrack, you actually see a, a BSB race. And oddly enough, you can now see even in Formula One they're talking about doing some pilot events where qualifying is going to be replaced by a sprint race on the Saturday.

But I mean, what we've actually done, obviously, I'm conscious of them just piling on track time, obviously, just by redefining the track time, you know, working out what's actually needed and consumption requirements and material requirements and staff requirements is that, you know, people, obviously the people who we skimmed it down very much last year just having a single session on the Friday, almost unanimously everybody wanted two sessions back on the Friday to give the best chance of getting deep into the weekend with a, with a direction of travel for set up, but actually making those sessions a little bit shorter. So just by 10 minutes or so, set up two 40 minute sessions on the Friday at reasonably relevant times to when the race events are. So again, the whole ambient temperature, things like that, people are actually doing free practice at a time which is relevant to the, to the race times, which is an important thing. And then a much shorter free practice on the Saturday morning, essentially a glorified warmup just to dial in for the rest of the day.

And then a revised qualifying format that actually would have started earlier in the weekend that those free practices on the Friday, as well as being obviously the first time to set the direction of travel for setup, they will carry validity for establishing the starting grid. At least by the fastest 12 from day one will directly graduate to Q2, which will be the lunchtime second part of qualifying. Two qualifying sessions, 12 minutes each, short and sharp. Everyone in Q1 except for the direct 12 graduates. And then the first six if memory serves, it's so long since I wrote the rule that I've actually forgotten. The first six, I'm pretty sure from Q1 will join the previous 12 from the Friday practice.

And then they'll, they'll go for the 12 minutes. Obviously, the, the fascinating things, obviously there's slightly variable weather conditions is that the guys in Q1 would have had some experience of the track and they'll be straight into it with some experience of what's happened. And then the direct graduates from the Friday would have had the early morning free practice three, as it would be now, and they're straight into to qualify.

And so that's going to add a bit of a dynamic. So it gives us a nice story for Friday that, you know, the story of the weekend is becoming known using the tyre allocation as well. Also being a bit in a bit more drilled down in terms of the detail on that - it's eight sets for the weekend, but it's a maximum of three sets for the Friday.

So you don't just get into a tyre war on the Friday. If someone's having a struggle, just going, look, we just got to boom some soft tyres into get us out of trouble to get us into the next day. You know, it's going to be a level playing field; three sets on the Friday, and then the rest of the tyre allocation is handed out on the Saturday and the guys that have to do the extra qualifying session will get extra set of tyres. So if you're in Q1 and you graduate you get an extra set, so you're at no disadvantage to the guys in Q2. 

Chris Newble: [00:11:18] Brilliant, I was talking to some of the riders last year about the three races a weekend. And I was thinking they must be knackered physically at the end of the weekend. And they've all fit as a fiddle, but they said, actually, it was sort of the mental tiredness, getting yourself prepped for every race or the routines they go through that say there's a real big sort of challenge for them to get their head around because every, you know, every race they go through that start procedures and on the grid and it's like all the emotions that are going through they said, actually, that's a big factor as well as a physical factor to their race weekend, I guess one other thing to touch on in terms of the formats and sort of structure of this year is the showdown, because this year we're moving from six riders in the final showdown to eight aren't we? And there's just a couple more tweaks that has been made to the showdown.

 Stuart Higgs: [00:12:03] Yeah, that's right. I mean, obviously everyone has made the obvious point that in the 2020 season it was really close, down to the final races without a showdown format. And yeah, that's what it exactly be. The situation that we expected when we you're dealing with six events, three races, 18 rounds, you can go back over many, many years of the championship and the position after 18 points-scoring races is, the season is still relatively condensed, but as maths and series evolves across the rest of the season, the gaps get bigger and any linear format of, of, of most motor sports, you know, it's pretty unlikely you get a big pack of people within a points range. There might be a, just about mathematical, but a real kind of points range to, to make a big, big shot at the title is long gone for most people, but it's very much setting the scene at the start of the year. We have a a grid of 28 riders is on the provisional entry list coming from 18 teams. Now you could talk to, I would suggest probably at least 14 of the 18 teams and ask them for their aspirations for the year. I think at least 14 of those teams would say 'we want to shoot for the top six' or in this case this year, that the top 8, and it's not an unrealistic aspiration.

And that's the reason for doing it. The format of the competition gives that as a something to aim for also for riders. And without it, you asked the same question, what you're hoping for? Well ok, we're hoping to be maybe top six or top eight at the end of the year, but that kind of loses its loses its kind of importance in it it's relevance because once you're in that P6 to P8 range certainly just outside of the last phase of the championship, you know, the emphasis changed. There's always going be a kind of a group that kind of perhaps establishes regular form and gets their ticket in the final phase before others, which is, which is good. That that's what happens in, in most seasons. But the, the, the real dog fight that exists from say P4, even up to P12. And more than that is a, is a great story for the championships is great phase of the championships, the focus of the events and the broadcast, and the chatter in the buildup to the events is distributed much greater than it would be in a series where you're just always focusing on the front and yeah, it's all very well in the purest part of the world point of view, to say so if someone wins it with two races to go, they deserve it. Blah, blah, blah. Yeah, they're probably right, but this is the reality we live in that events and competitions where the outcome and the final determination is made before the end of the competition they simply sink in terms of their attractiveness as events and interests. And that's just the facts and sorry, but you know, that's not a viable possibility or option that we wish to have further Bennetts British Superbike championship.

We want the outcome of the competition to be determined on the final day of it, as I've often said, you know, in the Wimbledon tennis tournament, the trophy isn't lifted on the, on the second Wednesday, it's the it's the Sunday. It will, that's when the, the competition ends. So having a motorsport does suffer in some ways it's very long season and having a very linear format of everything being equal.

Yes, it's all very well and does deliver a worthy champion in that format. But I don't think anyone can say that a champion that's established using the format that we've got is there any less worthy and, you know, using the podium points system I mean, championships have been lost and won, certainly in the last two or three years.

Redding on Brookes was a five point margin at the end of the year. And Brookes crashed in the last race before the showdown at Oulton, which was a five-point giveaway in terms of podium points, you know Brookes again, I think it was only three points off of Shane Byrne in the year that Haslam crashed on the final day.

So the points permutations are, are very interesting. Now the, the, the move from six to eight, because there is a, you could argue at the end, if you're seventh in the championship and you were really, really close to six, five and four, you know, after the final two thirds of the championship should you still really have much more to gain in terms of a finish of your position?

Debatable, but perhaps, and so by going from six to eight, we're saying, okay, it's eight and the championship it competitive, this is as good as ever. Having much more points scoring races that form the main season I think you know we're talking about obviously eight... 24 races points-scoring races over eight race events or form the first part of the championship.

So to have 24 races, there could be lots more people potentially with getting on the podium. And therefore, if we've got more people with podium points, that's the kind of incentive that they, if the podium points that count towards the final phase. So increased it from six to eight. So I would think is a reasonable balance.

But it does define our championship. And you know, I, you know, we know love it or hate it, it's the marmite subject. I don't know when we first introduced this thing in 2010, and we're still droning on about it in 2021 and for the, for good reasons. But I'm a, I'm a bit of an, I am an advocate of it but I'm also a purist and I get the argument, but I think on balance, the, the showdown format wins.

Chris Newble: [00:18:13] And it was this time last year, we were actually in London at the Shard seeing Paul Bird reveal his bikes and riders for the year. Feels a long time ago now, but how sort of happy are you with the grid this year? To me it looks stronger than ever and in a year that, you know, we've maybe financial difficulties and sponsors, you know, maybe not been able to commit as much as they used to it's it's really good to see it in that shaped, I think. 

Stuart Higgs: [00:18:40] No a hundred percent. I mean, it is remarkable as you say, Chris, I mean, you COVID was this thing you heard, you heard it on the odd news bulletin and you just genuinely didn't think it was going to be anything on your, on your radar. I think we would take, you know, any other news item that would be more of a threat, you know, when there's been a terrorist attack, you suddenly think, 'my goodness what if that happened in and around an event' or some even moreover, a weather catastrophe, you know, this seemed a million miles away. So to, to, to think that the mindset we were in on Feb 17 2020 was completely different to where we are now, but absolutely the, the, the teams and the partners of the teams have been incredible.

I mean this completely vindicates the decision to, to push on with the 2020 championship to give the visibility and, and everything that we needed. It certainly created the momentum that's carried as a thus far. There's still some way to go, but as I say, the message to all of them and everyone is working tremendously hard.

We're talking to everybody, every single day about multiple subjects and now everyone everyone's chins are up, but I think again, not having to worry about the, doing what everyone else is doing and running off to Spain to go testing has definitely given people some, some relief obviously where teams are run out of business environments obviously the the furlough scheme has I'm sure helped some teams with their internal arrangements. There's not as much pressure to do certain things in a certain timeframe. And when we go testing in the UK, that's just going to be a far, a far easier thing. But, you know, going back to how we structured the championship on face value, say 33 races as well, you know, you've pushed everything up, but I mean, again, this is it was quite a calculated thing in looking at the track time that was the previous case in a regular 2019 season of three, four 45 minute practice sessions, a three-stage qualifying format, whether it was a triple header.

The Saturday race was full length 20 minute warm ups on the Sunday. We've actually nibbled a bit from certainly the practice sessions and across the entire year. Now there's actually, you know, the best part of, I think it's about eight hours track time, less with the current format as to the old format, obviously we've taken a complete round out as well.

So on a, on a, just a pure track time situation, obviously appreciating that people aren't circulating for every minute of every single session, but, you know, I, I think it's going to come in a little bit under, I think that's that that's the the calculation that it isn't and won't be a burden on resources, but it's again, converting the and this is the thing for the teams converting the time, they're at events and the track time into the most valuable and promotable element of it. Races of course, by definition are far more interesting and promotable than, than practice sessions. And by also making the practice sessions count in more validity as the Friday ones will do, that will have a, you know, value, we'll see I'm sure quite a lots more media traffic on the story of the weekend from the Friday situation, a different quali format, which will be short, sharp, and bang on and then we're into racing and and the story of the weekend and obviously having races split over two days, variable weather conditions and other things, you know, someone has a disastrous first day, they've got the next two races to pull it back, or you get a surprise winner on day one can make convert that to more success on day on day two. So I that's that again, just adding all the time to, to the value that the, the sponsors and the partners of the teams can have without unnecessarily burdening the teams with extra costs and you know, basically is what we talk about and the more racing we do, the more we can talk about it, the more we talk about it the more the championship is valued. 

Chris Newble: [00:22:50] Touching on sponsorship and sponsorship deals, we're really pleased obviously to announce the Bennetts are on board for another two seasons. Just, just how significant is that for the championship?

Stuart Higgs: [00:23:03] Well, it's mostly significant that I've not got to go to Dainese and get about 200 more shirts done. So I'm delighted that everything staying the same, because in these challenging times, it means we don't have to do a branding refresh, but seriously, it's, it's great and positive. I mean, Bennetts now just pip everybody else as been the  longest serving partner of the championships on elapsed seasons when we take it through to the end of the current term. And it's great. It's not just a sort of sponsorship. Sponsorship is a very easy plain, vanilla word. I mean, I'd prefer to use now partnership.

We're embedded into what Bennetts do and Bennetts are embedded into what we do. It's the quality of the events, the presentation we really enjoy working with Bennetts on event content and create experiences for Bennetts customers, and on the flip side, Bennetts enhance our events. I mean, obviously your own personal  role on the BikeSocial side of things and the communications network that the Bennetts has you know it's a very powerful tool. So it's a great signal as well. And, and this I've been all about, you know, this is one of many things that's happened over the winter to symbolise confidence in the championship and you know, very early on, we saw, you know understand that Vision Track and Oxford and McAms, Synetic, Tyco coming back with their team as well, different sponsors from different teams all showing their commitment as well as obviously Bennetts as the title partner of BSB. And we're retraining Quattro group as a SuperSport and another lead partner picking up new ones all the time, you know, Completely Motorbikes, the big retail group, that's grown all the time. They've grown with us and that's been a success story. And there's other, again, other little pockets of sponsors and partners that are out there.

It's tough for everybody. But, if BSB can be part of their marketing mix we want to be there to, to show them what we can do and not just ask them the teams as well. It's a, it's a highly visible property. Just the, the media coverage and obviously the ambition to, to get the, the fans back in the tracks.

And there whilst there are bound to be challenges, there's also an incredible amount I firmly believe of pent-up demand. And when we get that green light to, to get, get moving again, I think outdoor events will be high on the list of what people want to do. And particularly if they're still a little bit of uncertainty over international travel and international holidays. So, BSB staycations, we'll, we'll all be for them! 

Chris Newble: [00:25:55] Brilliant! Yeah well, obviously we had a few limitations last season, but being their firsthand when we've been able to get our customers, you know, VIP sort of safety car laps, pillion laps. The VIP hospitality, some of the experiences that you guys have been able to get our customers to experience have been, have been truly fantastic. And I've almost been standing there videoing the experiences wanting to do it myself. So yeah, here's to hopefully, you know, many more of them experiences and, and some successful sponsorship years, we've got two more seasons. So that's, that's fantastic. And you touched on it there regarding support class support classes in the SuperSport class.

There's been a few changes to that for this season, including the addition of Triumph, Simon Buckmaster the World SuperSport Team Manager, they're bringing a Triumph factory-supported team into that, into that class this year. 

Stuart Higgs: [00:26:51] Yeah. I mean been a bit of a, I feel like a one man band banging on about what's happening to the middleweight class.

It's you know, far beyond all the commercial and organisational responsibilities. I just love that middle-class of racing. I love 250 GPs. Hated it when they disappeared, I've kind of embraced the supersport, Moto2 and all those sorts of classes and that tremendously important that middle, middle ground, I mean the age, budget, performance, and everything just makes for the best racing and obviously being production derived, it's come up against a bit of a sticky end now.

So we've intelligently tried to think around how we can prolong it with our GP2, which is obviously inflated the grid and given us a prototype feel to the middleweight class, which I think is absolutely right. And it's good that riders have that it's, it's, it's livened up the you know British industry and non-British manufacturers that can put bikes together. That's that's really important. But we're still, again, it still needs the manufacturer support. And obviously the realities are that the 600, 4-cylinder bike is not the weapon of choice in most markets in the, certainly in Europe with regulatory compliance and insurance. And general purchase volumes.

But obviously we started to see things that the R6 only being provided now as a, as a race bike, which is an interesting and quite a necessary development. And other bikes we're talking about manufacturers, just the six hundreds kind of still pretty ebullient over in Asia and the concept is beginning to sweep and it's something that both myself and Jonathan Palmer, advocated to the FIM as far back as 2012, something like that. So look, the writing is on the wall, whether anyone likes it or not, for certain categories of motorcycles as road transport vehicles, you know, there's some bling projects by manufacturers and things like that, but you've got to start looking at the realities of life that you know, motorcycles for sport and recreation use are, are going to be really one of the last remaining outlets for justification for, to produce some of these real good pieces of equipment. So the motorcycle essentially becomes a bit like a fishing rod. You know, it's a piece of sporting equipment being high end, but you know, if the volumes are there and I think if you combine all the track day and racing use around the world there is still a pretty good business case for making them, so if there's also underpinned by that our particular market in the world, that's got a retail demand or a street demand. Then that's even better. So if, for example, in Asia the 600 is still seen as a justifiable bike to market for road production, then it just seems entirely logical that enough of them have made and they're just like punted around the world into various regions, purely for sport, understanding emissions and knowing the road traffic regulations of the particular country well it, this isn't about that, this is about a sporting vehicle and a sporting tool. So that's where I guess what's happening with R6 and I think it's going to happen with the Honda CBR 600 perhaps. But moreover in that entire class, there's obviously other bikes now that carry the kind of the parameter or the brand of SuperSport and then the highest CCs, you've got the Ducati V2, there's an MV Agusta model and obviously there's you got some that Triumph with a slightly high capacity partner with nowhere to go. So we were always of the mindset that because a lot of stuff started to change, particularly with the 300 class, the Junior SuperSport class, where for the first time in, I guess ever, you've had racing classes that rather than be just really one or two max CC limit with you know, spending what you are obviously got superbike is 1200cc for twin cylinder, 1000cc for four cylinder, so obviously that understands that kind of balance and see twins. with the fours, let's just take it that step further by having multiple bikes with multiple configurations, but the difference being now that, you know, even as recently as probably five years ago, the balancing would be probably air restricter, weight and things like that. Whereas now with essentially control ECU and things like that, you can be quite invasive as to what you want to make the, the motorcycle do.

So you can almost map the performance with a desired kind of curve you want to reach, and that's what we're dealing with. We take the 765 naked bike essentially. And it will have a kit and so basically bikes outside of the, kind of the current SuperSport rules will race to something which will, as a project we're calling 'next gen SuperSport' and basically we will prescribe a bike and a kit and a performance kind of metric for it. And it will be sealed. So it's not a case of someone takes it away and starts tinkering with it, as the championship, we will basically not necessarily homologate, but basically approve for you say, particular bike, excuse me, to a particular standard and it will be sealed and that will be what you go racing with. And once we have proved the concept hopefully as we will with Triumph, we'll move on to the next model or models in that category. 

Chris Newble: [00:32:42] And I thought a good way to sort of end this podcast would be to, to maybe ask you a few of the questions we've currently got in our big Bennetts BSB survey that we running on rewards.bennetts.co.uk at the minute, and we're basically trying to settle those, those pub arguments that you, you know, you say, 'Oh, who's the greatest BSB rider of all the time?', 'Who's had the best livery or who's been the best team? So I thought we'd asked you if we put a couple of these questions to you and see what your... so the one of the lead questions is what, which has been the best BSB livery over the years in your opinion?

Stuart Higgs: [00:33:19] Well, it's kind of difficult o answer which is the best but it's kind of the one that was the most distinctive and, and, and for the, the right reasons. I mean, '96, I mean, there's probably not that many of us around the time that remember, I mean, it was such a political and operational and seismic change to races that, you know, the previous year '95 MCRCB was created, which to most people probably means absolutely nothing at all.

It stands for the Motorcycle Circuit Racing Control Board. And if I can put it into simplistic times, it was to motorcycle racing what the Premiership was and is to football. Prior to that, everything had been run very institutionalised. The national governing body, which still is today, but slightly different parameters was the ACU, that was run much differently than it was all essentially elected volunteers and hugely and furiously political.

And the racing championships of any particular year, largely were at the whim of whoever held the power in the position of being the top man at the ACU. And if the guy got voted out and the next person came in, the next person will generally undo what the other person did just because they didn't like him and the racetracks were sitting there thinking, no, this is crackers. We can't actually do anything with this. And then I think in one year, I mean, there might've been sort of three consecutive championships, all with different names and you couldn't actually tell who the British champion was because everyone who won something claimed that they were. And it was just a mess.

I mean, we had some stuff that was still not bad on TV. Like the Supercup sponsored by Shell, which pretty slick and that was good. But you know, over, over time that sort of drifted away and there was nothing, but meanwhile on four wheels the British Touring Car championship was getting something like, you know, 40,000 people watching the races at the track, eight manufacturers, 2 or 3 million viewers on Grandstand. It was just an a, a 30 to 40 minute highlights program, but it was consistent. You knew what it was, and it was fabulous. And the circuit owners were kind of like, you know, loving the fact that was happening, but everyone kind of intuitively knew that well, if you could do that for car racing, bikes should be easy because the product is essentially better, you know, racing and motorcycle racing is inherently more exciting than car racing. Always has been and always will be, not arrogant, it's just kind of just how it is. So my mentor, the late Robert Furnell and I put together a package in 95 after creating this MCRCB by saying look know we as the circuits are taking this on and you can be at the table or we're going to do it with somebody else in the ACU sat on the table and we now have a very good relationship and they look after all the licences still. And they the constituents of all club and other race all the non circuit racing side, but the circuit racing side went up to a new level and we were in control of our destiny. So the massive, massive step step change. But for 96, that was the big thing. In 95 was all about putting the pieces in place and in 96, it was launched.

And then to immediately have the first team that was announced was sponsored by Cadbury's Boost, you know, I'm going with this incredibly long answer to your question now, it appeared as a privateer team with Peter Graves on a private Ducati a year before, but this just suddenly was the championship that, you know, I put my heart and soul into, and it was the rebirth of it. And all of a sudden, and I know it sort of rocked the car boys a bit, but you know, in the first year we had as a Red Bull Kawasaki, that was an Old Spice Ducati and a Cadbury's Yamaha. And it was like, you have to give yourself a bit of a head wobble because it was everything you hoped it would be.

And I think that just that symbolic 'wow', you know, I was working in the championship as a weekend warrior, I was still Race Controller or Race Director or deputy something, but my regular day job was working in the city. I worked in IT and financial services and things like that. And sitting on the train, hearing people talk about, 'did you see the motorbikes on Grandstand?'

And then it was like, 'yeah, the Cadbury's bike and things like...' Wow, people outside of the sport actually know what it is and that for me was the first time I'd ever heard anyone talk about motorcycle racing. And obviously Foggy was just getting big as well. So there was, there was a bit of a they're knocking on the door and mainstream are taking a view again, this hadn't been the same since Barry Sheene in the, in the late seventies. So the Cadbury's revolution now was, was that, that kind of stands out. It might not have been the best livery, but as the most symbolic livery, I think for me, that was, that was the moment.

Chris Newble: [00:38:15] It's great hearing some of the, the memories and stuff you shared there, I was six years old, so I barely remember those...

Stuart Higgs: [00:38:21] I was only 10, Chris!

Chris Newble: [00:38:25] I was actually told this week, the, the numbers on the Boost bikes were like '8' and '0'. They were actually, they tried to like label it out so they said 'Boost' when they were lined up on the front of the grid or was that a lie?

Stuart Higgs: [00:38:38] For the first year, it was three and 13... MacKenzie and yeah...

Chris Newble: [00:38:47] but yeah, a couple more questions.

It was what has been the best season in your opinion, or what's been your favourite season over the years? 

Stuart Higgs: [00:38:54] 2000 was incredible rollercoaster. I kind of liked it at the time, but now I look back a bit frustrated because obviously the whole Hodgson-Walker thing, I think if that happened in I think if it happened in a, in a more modern time it would have been handled better.

And yeah, so it kind of leaves just little  bit of a sad face. I mean, I loved, I mean, for a final round, obviously Hopper and Hill was incredible. The one where Shakey won and where Leon didn't, that was incredible. The Redding year, even, even the year we've just done, I think the year we've just done was in many ways, one of the best, because there was a time not long after talking to you guys in probably about probably mid April, it felt maybe this has gone. And I said, it's on the final day of the championship in 2020, there getting quite emotional then about it. It was like, I think we've lost this. And if we've lost it this year, I ain't so sure it's ever going to come back.

Or if it does, it will be a while before it ever comes back into a form that you kind of recognise and so to actually have done it was, was, was, was pretty satisfying. But but even the first year, we'd go back to that first year in 96, it was it was the set. And I think we said perhaps differently, I see it differently because there's always, maybe a backstory that I know that isn't perhaps the populous one where you've been up against other challenges that have been almost overwhelming and you've got to, it's been years where there's been that big emotion in the championship where something's happened. So lots of different things, but I mean, for, for action, I'd say 2000 as a whole season. And then. Then get the hump about it. 

Chris Newble: [00:40:51] We've got loads of other questions on the survey, and if you're listening at home and you want to want to enter that survey, you actually there's a, there's a great competition.

One, one lucky winner will actually get to meet the 2021 Bennetts BSB champion at Brands Hatch, get put up in a hotel. I think, are you going to say for a safety car lap, Stuart or take them for a lap around the circuit? I'm sure. Hopefully we'll be able to, to get that included as well.

Stuart Higgs: [00:41:13] Yeah, no problem. 

Chris Newble: [00:41:15] Oh, there's one interesting. One of the last question on the survey is I'll ask it to you. I said, it says, will you be attending a BSB event this year? It says 'I would maybe come for one day', or 'yes, I'd like to make a round'. I think, I think there should be a separate column there for yourself; I think you're going to be there every day, every session, until late in evening as well.

Stuart Higgs: [00:41:35] Yeah, the one thing that didn't happen as a result of like lockdown was to have a foolproof method that I could actually run the events from home. There was a small COVID scare just before the Snetterton round. And I kind of needed to pat myself off and get myself tested again, and we could have to start the 'how much tech do we need to do this remotely?' And we got a reasonable way down on the line. There's nothing that beats being there for sure. 

Chris Newble: [00:42:05] Yeah, I think, I think last year, I think there's a whole separate podcast the involvement you had to get us racing last year, obviously I work closely with you on stuff and yeah, there were times that even of a one man band you managed to somehow pull out the season that you did.

So I think from myself and from the fans, thank you for that. Cause it was yeah, it was, it was what was quite dark year and it was BSB was real good, good outlet and a real great thing to watch, watch the weekends, but I feel that's a good place to, to end the podcast. So, yeah. Thanks for, thanks for joining us.

Thanks for sharing some of your stories and getting us excited for a set to be hopefully a great, great season this year. 

Stuart Higgs: [00:42:49] No, I just want to thank everyone for their support. You know, it's a great championship as the fans, as you were incredibly missed in, in 2020. And as I say, our absolute ambition is to, is to get fans back at the track.

You know, we'll be doing everything we can, some of it's out of our hands, but, you know, we will be moving mountains to give the best possible 2021 Bennetts British Superbike Championship, that's for sure.

Chris Newble: [00:43:13] Brilliant, cheers Stuart, 

Stuart Higgs: [00:43:22] thank you for that.