I was honoured and humbled when I was invited into the garage of the ePayMe Yamaha Team, which is run by Tommy Hill, the 2011 BSB champion. I was even more honoured to interview this incredible man about his past in BSB, his views on BSB and his future plans, including next season. Find out what Hill is thinking in terms of 2017 and also, what he wants from the remaining rounds of this years campaign.
What made you retire early in your career?
There wasn’t a definitive reason to be fair, there was a lot of factors contributing to it. I’d been riding a bike since I was six years old so the decision was massively difficult. There was a positive in finishing at the top of my game and also a negative; the negative being that you have to live with that and still feel like you could do a good job if you jumped straight back on a bike.
I’m involved with a new race team now, doing something completely different. I had a boy, got married and had a normal life really. It was a really difficult decision but I thought ‘I’m just going to have a normal life for a bit now’. Every day of my life was spent racing bikes or doing something around bikes. If I had a bad weekend and finished 4th, then I would be straight out the next day training and dieting and all in all, putting myself under a lot of unnecessary pressure. I wanted to know, myself as a racer, that I left that race meeting knowing I couldn’t have done anything more. It was lot to do with stress and I just fancied a break as it was taking its toll.
How has BSB changed from a riders point of view?
Every year something changes, whether that be a compound change in the tyre, a different spec of ECU, rule changes to make things simpler, but a lot of the rules were introduced for teams like ours so that it was more affordable. Some teams agree on the rule changes, others don’t. Generally, the people who disagree tend to be part of big teams with big budgets as it limits their spending and development to a certain extent. It makes it easier for teams like THM Yamaha to come into the championship and then challenge at the sharp end. To give you an idea on budget, in 2006 a top team was running on £1.5m a year and now the top teams are running on £600k. The introduction of the one bike rule has had a big part to play.
Did you find the one bike per rider rule pressurising?
100%! You over think it a lot more with just one bike and obviously it puts more pressure on the crew but that’s when you rely on the crew to work quickly and use all the spare parts. However, budget determines how many spare parts you have and how many pre-assembled parts you have too. It doesn’t take the risk element away so much, as when you go out there on track, you still have a job to do and you will push to the limit and do whatever it takes. If you go down then you go down, it is what it is.
Why is BSB so close?
Well there used to be more competition between tyres, ECU etc but now that is all controlled, it has made the series closer. Everyone is on the same tyres, ECU, most teams use the same suspension and all that together makes the times better and that hopefully creates a better spectacle at home.
What is the difference between management last year to ownership this year?
Last year, I was supposed to have ownership of the team as well and that’s mainly the reason why I wanted to do it. I wanted to make sure that we have something at the end of it all, as there isn’t a lot of money in this sport anymore. You’ve got to try and make a business out of what you have outside of the racing. I had a lot of the stresses last season, as I was loyal to the team, the budget and our sponsors. I helped secure pretty much all of the sponsors last season, so I was loyal to them too and a lot of my sponsors are my friends and part of my history. For me, it is very similar to last year; I’m honest to myself, to my team and to our partners and at least at the end of the year I can say, ‘well, I made the right decisions for the right reasons’. There is no major difference as long as you are loyal and honest.
Strengths and weaknesses of the Yamaha?
The Yamaha has a fantastic chassis; it turns well and finishes the corners really well but sometimes the only downside is that Yamaha will never produce the most horsepower but the overall package is very, very good. With the championship so close this year with the rules, it makes it harder for our riders to get to where they need to be, which is when you rely on the rider to do a bit more and the crew also. It’s all about making the most of what you got.
How do you think your riders have been this season?
John is really pumped up now, he’s been great in the last couple of races but it’s getting to the point now where we need to start seeing results. Whether we put pressure on the riders or not, we need better results. We know we have the package, the team and the rider and it really is a matter of ‘when’. It’s been majorly frustrating as nothing has come to fruition. Everything looks good, feels good and now we just need that final product. One positive is that when John crashed out of the last round, he was up the field and battling for the podium, so the pace is there. It has been annoying because we have had different riders, who have different styles so therefore it’s hard to gather reliable data, but it is what it is.
Does your team enjoy having a control tyre supplier?
There is another front compound of tyre, however that is only available in the WSBK paddock. We have two specifications of front and rear but in WSBK they have four. We are working with what we have but it could be a lot better if we could get access to the other spec of front tyre. When you are trying to find 0.2/0.3s, then a different tyre could be better because it can give you half a second! We would rather see more variation in the control tyre supplier than more tyre suppliers and less variation within that brand. We are working with the best we have but we believe that there are better compounds out there.
What are the plans for 2017?
I signed a two-year deal with ePayMe at the start of this season and also a two-year deal with Yamaha, so that will stay the same. We hope that Yamaha could step up a bit more and give us more technical support and hopefully more financial support to move us a bit further up the grid. For me, we may be doing a good job as a new team but I think we could be doing better. We aren’t in talks with John yet but there have been riders calling me, which is great! One of them is an ex-British champion and for me that is quite reassuring to know that riders want to ride for us. I have also asked a few questions about Brad Ray but that is the most I’m saying on that!
How does your previous rivalry with John impact on your working relationship?
No not really. I respect John for losing the championship really. 0.006s later and it could have been me. I respect him and all the other riders but deep down we want John further up. Whatever it takes, I want him to win. As a rider, what you have to do is go to the bar, have a pint and think, ‘well this year wasn’t the year but next year will be’. It would be a dream for John to have won the championship with me this year; at the start of the year we genuinely thought that we would be in for a good season, but for whatever reasons, things just haven’t worked out. As a rider you need confidence, and as a team we are working well and the rider is working well with the team, so now all we need is a decent run of results.
Photo credit once more to Gareth Davies