Other countries have done it, other federations have been very successful at doing it, we in the UK have even tried it before, but with the introduction this season of the British Talent Team and the British Talent Cup, there is now a real platform for su
Cast your minds back to the early 1990s and you may just recall some young upstarts by the names of James Haydon, Karl Harris and Nick Hopkins among others aboard red, white and blue liveried TZ250s, mentored by the likes of Ron Haslam and the late Robert Fearnall whose aim was to unearth ‘the next Barry Sheene’.
Patriotically championed as Team Britannia initially, the powers that be decided that a more sedate ‘Team GB’ was more appropriate, even in those non-PC days, and while the concept was good (primarily funded by the ACU), the flame flickered for a while before being extinguished for good when the cash (and perhaps the enthusiasm) ran out.
Various initiatives have since followed to champion talent in the UK, mainly through promoting race series rather than specific projects (Yamaha R6 Cup and Superteens for example), but apart from a couple of significant exceptions, it’s more or less been a case of get on with it yourself, folks, if daddy’s rich then all well and good, and if you can flog your granny on eBay, all the better. And from Barry Sheene’s swansong in the mid-1980s, that’s how it was for 20 years. Not a lot to shout about really.
Leaving World Superbikes out of this particular argument, it’s really just been over these past 10 years that Brits have come to the fore in Grands Prix and as well as regular GP winners these days, we have riders capable of challenging for, and indeed winning World Championship titles. Many of them have come through the traditional proving ground of BSB, others via the Spanish CEV route and some a mixture of both. And while the mainly Spanish and Italian domination continues at GP level (and the reason for that is the considerable investment by the respective federations in order to nurture domestic talent), here in the UK there have been relatively slim pickings. But all that has changed with a new Anglo-Spanish concept with one fundamental difference, and that is it has the official sanctioning of MotoGP™’s promoters, Dorna Sports. And if Dorna say they’re going to do something, you’d best listen up!
The men behind the team
Indeed, the British Talent Team and British Talent Cup, launched in London a couple of months ago, has one of the sport’s most
influential names behind it. Alberto Puig (pronounced Pudge) has guided many a prodigy to the top, including the likes of Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Toni Elias and with the grand title of promotion director, the Spaniard is the key link to making this latest initiative a success.
It’s all part of Dorna’s Road to MotoGP™ and is designed as a stepping stone for riders from the British Isles to get onto the world stage, providing an opportunity like no other for young talent to grow and progress, while outlining Dorna’s commitment to the future of motorcycle racing in the UK and British Isles.
As well as Puig, there are two fundamentally British elements to this, and like a good joke, it starts with an Irishman and a Scotsman. The vastly experienced Ulsterman Jeremy McWilliams, himself a Grand Prix winner, and talented young Scot John McPhee, who has also topped the podium in Brno last summer, hold the key to its fledgling success. McWilliams acts as talent scout for the project while FIM Moto3™ World Championship rider McPhee has already shown this year he is capable of challenging for the championship with, at the time of writing, a couple of podiums to hold an impressive second position in the standings. “I’m really happy to have this opportunity in the team and I’m looking forward to the season to see what we can do,” says McPhee.
“We’ve made a good start and it’s important to continue this on and be in a position to challenge for the championship. Representing the UK and British Isles on the world stage, as well as the Team and Cup, is a big responsibility but I’m working hard to get the kind of results we’re aiming for, and I’m delighted we’ve got this new project off to the best start. Thanks to everyone for the opportunity.”
McWilliams adds: “It’s fantastic to be part of this project and to play a role in the future
of motorcycling in the British Isles. It’s an important project to be involved in and I’m looking forward to showing what kind of talent we have. John has made a fantastic start to the season and holds second place in the title race already so we are absolutely delighted, we just need to keep it up.
“The British Isles has a long history of motorcycle racing and motorsport that I’m proud to have been part of and it’s an honour for me to now again play a role in it, just with the difference that this time, I’m not on the bike.”
Dorna have been deeply involved in young rider programmes since before the turn of the millennium, beginning with the FIM CEV Repsol and the Movistar Junior Cup, before going on to include initiatives such as the Asia Talent Cup and the Red Bull MotoGP™ Rookies Cup.
The Red Bull MotoGP™ Rookies Cup began in 2007, creating and continuing to develop riders of incredible talent such as Johann Zarco (twice Moto2™ World Champion) and reigning Moto3™ World Champion Brad Binder. Both have joined FIM CEV Repsol graduates and subsequent World Champions such as Marc Marquez and Maverick Viñales on the list of young rider successes to have come from these initiatives.
More recently, the Asia Talent Cup was born in 2014 and is now beginning to see champions such as Ayumu Sasaki emerge onto the world stage whereby the 2015 ATC champion and 2016 Red Bull Rookies Cup champion made his debut in the Moto3™ World Championship in 2017.
The British Talent Cup is the latest addition to this honour roll of young rider support and talent promotion, with selection set to take place in 2017 and the engines ready to fire up next year. Designed to develop British riders who would otherwise struggle to gain an opportunity to showcase their talent, the Cup will race at Dorna-run events including the British round of World Superbike Championship at Donington Park and the British GP at Silverstone. A range of circuits in the UK and Spain form a tentative base for the proposed calendar, and the bike will be a Honda NSF 250R Moto3 machine. Riders coming through the new Cup also have the incentive of seeing the British Talent Team in Moto3™, knowing there is a programme designed around their journey to the FIM World Championship with Dorna supporting British talent on every rung of the ladder.
The first ever selection programme for the Cup will preface the 2017 Octo British Grand Prix at Silverstone, in the week leading up to the event. There, prospective riders will be put through their paces and the best offered the chance to race in the Cup’s inaugural 2018 season. Then riders are on the Road to MotoGP™ ladder, potentially to the top. The application process runs from May 5 to June 18 this year, and riders who will be invited to the selection process will be informed before July 21.
As well as duties with McPhee’s bid on track, McWilliams and Puig are tasked with helping to find and develop these riders for the future, with Puig bringing his knowledge
and experience from the Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup to the party. Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna Sports, says: “After the incredible success of the Asia Talent Cup we are very proud of this amazing initiative as part of our Road to MotoGP ™. With the long and illustrious history of racing in the UK and British Isles, it is the perfect place and the perfect time to begin another
chapter of the UK’s two- wheeled story, and we are proud to have John McPhee on board in the Moto3™ World Championship as the first stage in this project.
“His great victory in Brno last season was an astonishing achievement that proves his fortitude. The experience of Dorna, Alberto Puig and Jeremy McWilliams will be pushing to make both the British Talent Team and the British Talent Cup successful additions to our commitment to talent and riders of the future.
“I think it’s interesting to create these kinds of programmes in all sports, that can help young guys get into the sport and develop,” says Puig, “especially sports like ours, because racing is very expensive. I think they are also very welcome to everyone who can gain access to these types of series. We chose the British Isles because it has been a key part of racing history, with manufacturers and riders. We believe now that to do this here is something needed so the purpose of the team is to give riders in the Cup a goal. The target is, if they perform well in the Talent Cup, their final destination will be this supported Moto3™ team.”
Flying the flag from Britain, wee McPhee is doing us all proud in Moto3.
A right bunch of thumbers!
It might look like a club racing bike, but the British Talent Team’s Honda is causing plenty of upset on the fancy world scene.
John’s used to being stalked...
The calm before the storm.
It’s not been completely rosy for McPhee. Not finishing at Jerez cost him big time.
Danny Kent showed the world us Brits could win in Moto3. Could John back that up?
Jeremy McWilliams (above) will be keeping a watchful eye on McPhee in 2017.