After a crash-fest on Friday morning, Knockhill has come under scrutiny from British Superbike riders and fans, with the precedent being set that the circuit needs investment in safety. Whilst some riders like the track and enjoy it’s challenges, others have slammed it, with riders such as Josh Brookes in the Superbikes and Ryan Vickers in the National Superstock 600 class saying that a change has to come. Here’s what some notable people in the paddock had to say about visiting Knockhill.
“I like Knockhill! This circuit has always been really good to us and I actually really enjoy it”, said Luke Mossey, who now leads the BSB championship. “Yes, it’s a bit far from my home town but it’s just one of them things really. Like I say, it’s been good in the past and will be good again I’m sure”.
Also fighting the pro-Knockhill corner was Superstock 1000 ace, Danny Buchan. “I think Knockhill is safe enough, for sure. It depends on the nature of the crash”, began the ‘Basildon Bullet’. “Glenn Irwin’s crash was very unusual and could’ve had the same end result if it happened at any other circuit. If they took it off, we’d just have to adapt”, said Buchan, speaking pragmatically about the circuit’s future. “It’d be gutting for the guys in Scotland, like it is for the guys in Ireland with no Mondello Park”.
Pete Extance, team owner of the JG Speedfit Bournemouth Kawasaki Team was far more balanced in his response. “The circuit itself gives some great racing, riders enjoy it and yes there’s been a few accidents but the riders have to ride within themselves and the levels of the circuit”, Extance stated, having had his rider, Leon Haslam, wiped out of contention for the weekend by a cold circuit. “I think if you start considering Knockhill being removed, you’ve got massive problems. You’d have to start looking at Brands Indy. I think we should continue coming up north. It’s down to the organisers and the circuit to improve the safety”, although Extance goes on to say that the medical facilities are fantastic.
“One thing that is for sure is that BSB is the safest championship to be in. Great medical care and I think they are certainly very careful within safety”, he continued. The Bournemouth Kawasaki Team Owner did however acknowledge that there are improvements needed for the circuit. “There are some areas around the circuit which need more run off, whereas there are others that have sufficient amounts”.
Extance finished by looking on the brighter side of things at Knockhill, saying, “I’m not sure we can blame the circuit for the incidents on Friday Morning. Also, it’s a national championship and the tents that have been erected at the end of pit-lane, whilst not ideal, aren’t a bad working structure.
However, Ryan Vickers branded the circuit as “needing development”. It definitely needs development and their first port of call is to resurface the circuit”, said the 18-year-old. “The bumps into the first turn and then into the final turn are horrific. Things like the chicane, the bikes have outgrown it, even for a 600cc. I had a little run on in practice but because the distance from the circuit to the barriers are so short, I had to lay the bike down. The track doesn’t cater for mistakes”.
Vickers continued, saying, “I wouldn’t really miss it judging by this weekend but it wouldn’t be good for the people of Scotland. Knockhill needs looking into within the next couple of years, because it’s about rider safety at the end of the day. It’s not safe with the bumps and the cambers.
Former champion Josh Brookes back up the opinion of the National Superstock 600 riders, saying, “I would not miss this circuit if Stuart Higgs took it off the calendar”.
Brookes continued, also mentioning how the series itself needs to help Knockhill improve, with more funding required. “I kind of want to say that it needs to be on the calendar but it’s not like we are short for space. Why doesn’t Stuart Higgs get in with Jonathan Palmer and make some sort of business plan and sort the circuit out. We can have a bit of extension, buy more land to make more room and have some more circuit. Widen the track, resurface the place to take the bumps out and all of a sudden, you’ve got a pretty decent circuit and a round of the championship that everyone is looking forward to”.
The Australian also said, “This year, more than any, has illustrated that there needs to be change here. It’s not because we don’t want to come to Scotland, it’s because the circumstances are what they are. Something has to change. I’m sure that there is enough money between the big people of this series to invest in the track”.
The general consensus speaking to others around the paddock is that as much as it needs improvement, it would be a disaster for the Scottish people if they had no circuit to come to. However, improvements have to be made in order to keep everyone and every rider happy and safe. Whilst tradition is key, British Superbike directors will have to think carefully about whether it should override the modern times and demands of the modern bike. If a 600cc bike has outgrown the circuit, then investment will need to be required as soon as possible.
Having said all that, there are plenty of people who are enthusiastic about coming to the circuit itself. It is not far from the nearest town, Dunfermline, which is a massive plus compared to somewhere like Brands Hatch, which is similar to Knockhill if you compare them with the Indy layout. The circuit provides excellent racing and history suggests that there’s rarely been a serious accident at the circuit.
In 2013, Matthew Polanski was killed at the circuit, whilst a second rider was airlifted to hospital from a separate accident a day later – although it may be worth noting that these accidents occurred whilst running the circuit in the opposite direction to the BSB riders. This was only the 2nd time in 25 years that a rider needed to be airlifted to hospital. Knockhill’s safety record is far superior to the likes of Cadwell Park, Brands Hatch and Silverstone. This highlights that Knockhill, while some say it is dangerous, is no more dangerous than anywhere else and that in fact, is one of the safer circuits on the calendar.
Whilst this may not have been at British Superbike level, the fact that it was only four years ago will be alarming. As bikes get quicker and riders push limits, accidents are inevitable. However, it’s how you limit the risks and narrow the vulnerability of a rider on circuit that matters. The bottom line is investment is needed at the circuit, before there are any snap decisions to remove it all together.
Image courtesy of Impact Images, from JG Speedfit Kawasaki.