Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta looked up in surprise at the leather clad figure, helmet under arm, advancing through his Misano office door.
Not that the MotoGP supremo wasn’t used to men in leathers, it was just that it was not the mode of dress he expected from the Managing Director of the British Racing Drivers Club.
Yet Stuart Pringle, the Silverstone top honcho, has been riding bikes for 25 years. A phone call to Ducati and he was fitted up with a bike on which to spend a few days in Italy, including a visit to Misano for MotoGP as as part of the charm offensive to win back the British round.
When the contract was lost to the Circuit of Wales, the parting of the ways was not particularly convivial, and with the might of Motorsport Vision pitching for Donington, its new aquisition, a lot of effort was required to give the Northampton circuit a chance. And it was not simply about money because neither circuit was going to pay anything like the fat fee offered by the now defunct CoW.
Weeks later, at Valencia, it was announced that Silverstone had won. Ezlepeta was obviously happy, the teams were happy and MSV took it on the chin. The fans had mixed feelings. A little while later BSN sat down with Mr Pringle at 8am (his suggestion) to find out what he was going to do:
BSN: Good morning. You’re obviously a bit of an earlybird?
SP: “We got hold of this business three years ago when it was at its lowest ebb. One of the biggest issues was the culture. People just weren’t working very hard. If you get everybody cracking, get them focussed there isn’t a problem. We try to get a couple of hours in before the phones start ringing. It’s amazing how much more we’re getting done.”
You mentioned culture and Silverstone is seen as a car racing circuit by many in the biking world although that is obviously by no means all. What do you think of that?
“I agree with you but I think we have a lot of advocates and my challenge is to convert those who still have question mark over our suitability.”
But there is the inevitability of a kind of motor racing culture because Silverstone is seen as being all about Formula One. It’s quite difficult to change culture in five minutes or maybe at all because that is what you are. And you’re owned by the British Racing Drivers Club which used to be called the string-back brigade. Perhaps a bit insulting and a long time ago…
“Well, it certainly came across as a bit dated. Yes, of course there are guys from the fifties and sixties who are members and some of them legends. But the BRDC nowadays is about young drivers doing great things and there are hundreds of members under the age of fifty or, indeed, forty and we have worked really hard to make the club relevant.”
What has been the response from members – all 800 of them – when you announced the MotoGP contract? You had about a hundred responses in the first hour didn’t you?
“Yes, and they haven’t stopped coming. What’s interesting is that they talk about real racing and many of them have made a comparison with F1. And a comparison that’s far more favourable to MotoGP than F1 as real sport and a sporting event to watch. There’s huge support for MotoGP among the BRDC members.”
But the real question that fans want to know is what are you going to do to make it a better event than it has been. People complain that it is very large and featureless – it is an ex-airfield – and you talk about having lots of grandstands. But they’re expensive. What do you have in mind to enhance spectator experience.
“Sounds like you have an inherent bias towards Donington. It is a long lap but only 30 seconds longer than Donington. And we do have some great viewing even from the general admission areas. The price difference between standing on a bank and sitting in the grandstands is as little as £10 going to £44 on the race day, depending where you sit, and I think that is pretty good value.
“The race day general admission ticket will be £55 going to £85/£119 for a weekend ticket depending on location but including grandstand.For an international event this level of pricing is there or thereabouts, certainly for a family? A lot better than spending 90 minutes watching a game of football for the same amount of money.
“In the general admission areas you see the bikes for a long period of time. I was really interested to walk round Misano and Valencia, a couple of really tight circuits where you can see a lot. But actually you don’t see anything like all of those circuits from a single vantage point. So I don’t think we’re particularly disadvantaged and where we are we have spent considerably more than other MotoGP circuits in making the track visible through giant screens, 14 of them, so you can actually follow the race really well. FM radio broadcasting is free to everybody, you don’t have to buy earpieces just bring your radio from home, so you get a full race commentary, watch it on the screen and be able to see large areas of the track from normal vantage points. Or spend another £20 and have a grandstand seat with exceptional viewing.”
All that sounds great, perhaps it is the perception that at 3.6 miles, the longest circuit, it takes the bikes a long time to get round and you get rather fewer laps.
“Perception – and this is where I want to be clear with those whose views carry weight – is something I understand. But the flipside is that this long, fast circuit, and the slipstreaming opportunity it provides produces, fantastic racing and we have had some fantastic races here.”
You do have shorter circuits within the Grand Prix track which presumably you could use. But you have decided to stick to the longer track?
“In my discussions with Dorna they made it very clear that as the championship grows, bigger and bolder, as a World Championship they want it to be on world class circuits and they see the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit as a world class track.”
No doubt Mr Uncini has told you that you have to do a bit of resurfacing here and there…
“We know we have work to do and in the meeting with Franco a schedule of work has been agreed.
What is interesting is that the ripples on tracks which share with F1 is caused by the cars themselves with their incredible downforce and the wider tyres recently adopted. It used to be truck racing which was blamed but not so and you don’t have it, of course, but you do have F1. But you won’t want to blame them, you have enough trouble as it is…
“Ours isn’t so much rippling, it’s just age. And we’ve done a lot of patching over the years. Franco was very clear that is was better to reduce the areas and ages of the tarmac so that the riders, with the speed they are carrying nowadays, know where they stand. Very logical and we were happy to go along with it.”
You’re calling the event a Festival or family weekend with children in free. Haven’t you done that before?
“It didn’t happen last year because the Circuit of Wales didn’t want reduced prices. They needed the money. We’re doing children 10 and under free on race day and on Friday and Saturday, for practice and qualifying, we’re extending that to children 15 and under. We hope that should be a great encouragement for families over the Bank Holiday.
And what about entertainment other than racing? F1 at Austin had Taylor Swift and Usain Bolt among others.
“At a cost of a million or a million and a half! We’re going to have music every evening, there will be entertainment on the stage. There’ll be fanzones and, of course, Two Wheels for Health will be doing their famous auction where you can see the world’s top riders on the stage doing their stuff for charity. And there’ll be lots of activity on the camp sites, a big top, pop up shops and a pop up pub. Lots of fun and games.
What about getting in and out?
“The volume of traffic we expect means we will be taking special measures. We will be implementing a quite expensive traffic management scheme which will include more one way traffic, particularly for getting out.”