It’s a common thought amongst fans, that the British Superbikes series races at some of the best tracks in the world. With the likes of Cadwell Park set in the Lincolnshire countryside, Brands Hatch in the heart of Kent and Knockhill up in Scotland on the calendar, it’s hard to argue with the facts.
But what makes these tracks some of the best is not the countryside its set in, but the viewing and the experience for the fans. Spectators being able to get up close and personal with the riders, not only in the paddock, but also when the bikes are on track. Having visited a number of the circuits on the calendar as an amateur photographer, I have noticed there are two distinct types of tracks. Those with catch fencing and those with single wire fencing.
Now, I love the wire fencing which surrounds many of the BSB tracks, the fact that so many people can get close enough to the action to be able to get great photos, without having to have an access all areas media pass. But after recent races the question has arisen over the line between spectators viewing and safety?
At Oulton park, Tommy Bridewell suffered a terrifying crash during race one on Saturday which saw his Halsall Suzuki launch over the single wire fencing and land where a small number of spectators had been moments before. Luckily for those spectators involved there were no injuries reported, but the situation could have been a different story had the spectators not have seen the bouncing Suzuki coming towards them.
However, this was not the only incident of the weekend which could have ended a whole lot worse.
Jake Dixon’s lap 5 crash in race three was a horrific experience for the Brigg BMW rider who suffered a dislocated, fractured and chipped hip but many people, including myself, missed what happened to the rider as they were too focused on the path of his BMW which took off towards the crowd. After re-watching videos of the crash, it’s clear to see that the BMW was just inches off going over the top of the single wire fencing and straight into the crowd of people who laced the circuit.
So why are there so many tracks using the single wire fencing around the majority of their perimeters?
The first and foremost reason for any type of fencing around race tracks is to keep spectators off the track and away from danger. Single wire fencing is most commonly found around sections of track which either have a large area of run off, which will stop the bikes from reaching the spectator area, or are in sections where there are generally no crashes. This type of fencing allows spectators to be able to have an uninterrupted view of all the racing, which is perfect for all those aspiring photographers, or those wanting a great view of racing. While they offer the best viewing, they offer no protection from debris or stray bikes. And this is the problem which track owners are facing; with many championships getting tougher and riders being able to push the limits of their bikes further and further, more people are finding their limit at unusual places.
So what are the alternatives?
When visiting tracks which hold a lot of car racing, which run different lines and have different types of crashes at different places to bikes, such as Brands Hatch and Donington Park, you tend to find higher fencing known as “Catch Fencing”. This type, as the name suggests, is a minimum of 8ft high chain link fencing used to stop any object, which is out of control from entering the crowd, which sounds perfect for solving the problem of safety concerns.
Yet many spectators dislike catch fencing purely for the fact it makes for an annoying distraction when watching racing. In particular, for me as a keen photographer catch fencing causes many problems including lack of focus ability, difficulty in panning and often simply missed shots. Another aspect of catch fencing which I witnessed on a recent visit to Donington Park, was that for young fans of motorsport, catch fencing means that they are unable to see anything without a boost from someone else. This is because catch fencing often has a solid concrete base to hold it in place and keep it stable in the event of a bike or car hitting it at speed, meaning the young children are unable to see over the top of it.
Where does this leave track owners and spectators?
For the time being, it’s difficult to see any major changes happening, with catch fencing costing hundreds of thousands of pounds to line an entire track, and the threat of losing fans due to restricted viewing aspects, track owners simply won’t want to run the risk or pay the price. What we can hope for is that safety commissions look into the incidents which occurred last weekend at Oulton Park and take into consideration what could’ve happened and apply changes accordingly, be it extra run off or catch fencing in those affected sections.
In the future, as bikes change, racing develops and crashes happen, it may be a different story. Unfortunately for spectators, it may be a serious incident which causes change to happen across the country.
Hannah Louise Betts @HanaLouise21