Recently inducted into the SBK Hall of Fame Roger Burnett was the first rider ever to score a pole position, at the opening round at his home circuit of Donington way back in 1988. He has, as rider, team consultant, rider manager and PR guru been part of SBK history almost every step of the way. With the memories of an epic Donington SBK weekend in 2012 permanently etched in the mind of all who were there to see it unfold, what better time to get the thoughts of an ‘old-time’ British ex-rider who still takes a keen interest in the modern day SBK paddock.
Q: How was the championship in the early years? Did you know it was going to be such a success?
A: I think there was a real excitement that global four-stroke racing was going to be on proper GP short circuits. Prior to SBK starting four-stroke racing was all about TT-F1, which took into consideration road tracks. So what we all got excited about was that and the fact that that it was going to be a full World championship of 12 rounds, with two races per event. That formula, back 25 years ago, was ahead of its day. Now MotoGP has had to go four-stroke so SBK was ahead. The formula of two races gives a fantastic day of entertainment, whether for the TV viewer of live spectator. Add in that the whole formula was production based, and therefore could be a real shop window or the manufacturers. That made it a brilliant, exciting, concept.
Q: How strong was the bond between racing and production machines?
A: The manufacturers joined in, with the first year of the Honda RC30 in 1988 a production-based model that we raced, then the Yamaha OW01 was in its infancy, so the manufacturers had models to promote and display – and hone into becoming better roadgoing products. I always understood in my racing career that I was privileged to be able to race bikes and the only reason I could do that I that people bought them for the road. So to be involved in the concept and initiation in a world championship that gave the roadbike audience something back was exciting and a real privilege. I absolutely love the Superbike World Championship and I love the people. There are people in there who have been there for 25 years. Racing is competition and with competition there can be a little bit of bitchiness from time-to-time, but generally speaking the camaraderie in the paddock and the atmosphere is so much better than the MotoGP paddock.
Q: Do you have any strong memories of those first races?
A: What was really surprising that Ducati wheeled out this bloody great big red thing in the first rounds; so noisy you could not believe it. Then Marco Lucchinelli jumps on it – and he was a god really. I do not know how old he is but in 1988 he was already pushing a decent age and he was a seasoned kind of racer. That Ducati was so good and it came from nowhere. Nobody anticipated that Ducati would have such a strong product for that championship from year one. And what has been proven is that they have had a strong, competitive product for the whole 25 years, which has been unbelievable.
Q: You did a lot of travelling in the early years, lots of fly-away rounds, so it must have been difficult to do all that even without the huge numbers of people in a modern-day SBK team?
A: We used to do a lot of it ourselves. Steve Parrish and I were always mates and when we did the back-to-back Canadian and American rounds we kind of shared travel together – because Steve was always good at organising and so on. We would freight the bikes over there, fly in from Europe, collect our bikes from the freight depot in a Ryder hire-truck, put our kit bikes into it at the other end – we did it ourselves with a forklift – and then drove to the first race. After that round we would re-pack the crate and drive down to America to the next round! In those days, across two teams, we had ten people – including the riders!