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A WorldSBK Race Weekend from a Mechanic’s POV

A WorldSBK Race Weekend from a Mechanic’s POV

Becoming a mechanic at the highest level of motorcycle racing is a dream for many; having your hands on beautifully crafted machines, travelling the globe, making life-long friends, getting acquainted with the world’s best riders and ultimately playing a huge part in race wins and title conquests, but just how do you reach the top and what does life look like when you get there? Pete Bancewicz and Russ Joyner of the Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK Team talk us through the satisfaction and the stress…

“I was going to become a doctor, I went to medical school…then I fell through the door of a motorcycle dealership and here we are” begins Pete, Andrea Locatelli’s mechanic, with a laugh. Although perhaps he’s still along similar lines, with the precision and steady hands required to fine-tune a race winning machine no doubt feeling like a particularly stressful game of ‘Operation’ at times! He went on to explain the best way to keep things running smoothly: “Everyone has their specific job, routine is everything and it really speeds things up as you’re not having to think about who’s doing what.” 

“That’s true” adds Russ, Toprak Razgatlıoğlu’s mechanic. “I’ll usually concentrate on the front end of the bike, while my colleague will focus on the clutch and a few other engine parts. But equally you have to be flexible, we’re all capable of doing each and every thing on the bike, so from time to time we will switch…” 

The most notable time when it’s ‘all hands to the pump’ is following a crash, something a mechanic dreads almost as much as a rider. “The worst moment is a when your rider has a crash, and you have minimal time to repair the bike. We’re lucky in that our bike very rarely has technical problems, so the tensest time would be a crash. You must quickly prioritise and decide in your mind between getting the rider back out on track, and safety. You can’t be afraid to say: ‘sorry boys, that’s it, it’s over.’” Explains Pete, as Russ agrees: “A crash situation where you’ve got to rebuild the bike really quickly is tough - everybody is in the garage, there are camera crews and photographers all watching you and you feel a lot of pressure, in that moment it’s not a nice environment to be in.”

But even in times of extreme stress, there is calm to be found in the methodology of how this championship winning team works. The spare parts are ready and waiting, each component is as pre-assembled as possible, each person knows exactly where they should be and knows the R1 so intimately that going through the rebuild is a slick and impressively fast process…

“We can do it in 25 minutes. A lot of parts are pre-assembled and that helps us tremendously, but we do have to make a calculated decision of ‘is this bike retrievable?’ and if we deem it to be, we’ll go at it and work like crazy to get it done. The only downfall is if the bike is in two pieces or there’s chassis damage, and then we need to get the spare bike and take it from there.” States Russ in a matter-of-fact tone, despite the surprisingly quick time frame being startling to most mere mortals. Much of this is down to the long hours put in at the circuit, with the mechanics’ race weekend actually starting on a Tuesday, when every member of the team arrives and gets stuck-in to set-up which involves unpacking two articulated lorries, assembling the pit box, organising the tools and finally unloading the bikes.

“When we first get the bikes out we need to do general preparation on them, this usually follows the same pattern every weekend unless we had a crash at the end of the previous race weekend, and then we have a bit more work to do. The biggest part of our preparation is to change the engine – we run a higher mileage engine on Friday, and then remove it on Friday night.” Pete reveals. “From there the weekend really gets going, because we’ll tweak things on the bikes after each session to try and get the set-up working just how the rider wants it, although this is all straightforward stuff for us. Saturday is the most intense day because it’s busy with a lot of sessions. The key things we do on Saturday is to make sure the fuel load is as light as possible for qualifying, then obviously the qualifying tyres, and sometimes we also adjust the suspension to best suit the softer tyres.” Adds Russ.

After all the efforts to prepare the bikes, it’s time to truly put them to the test in three races over the course of the WorldSBK weekend. While the rider gets ‘into the zone’ and surrounds themself with calm, the mechanics have one last vital push to do, and in a very limited time window…

“When the bike arrives on the grid we take both wheels out and put fresh tyres in, we then have around four or five minutes left to carry out anything else that needs doing. We take a trolley with us, it has capacity to carry four wheels, the tools needed for those wheel changes, and then a small selection of other tools just in case. We occasionally change a rear shock on the grid, but that’s super easy, no drama.”

In fact ‘no drama’ sums up the attitude of these two laidback but incredibly skilled mechanics, who along with their colleagues use all their expertise and knowledge of their riders and their bike to bring Yamaha to WorldSBK race wins. So what final advice would they offer an aspiring mechanic?

“Be prepared to work for free, just get to your local circuit and offer to help, learn as much as you can and find out if you actually like doing it. It’s an unforgiving sport, and you need to know what you’re doing, you’ll have to learn fast and work your way through the ranks. If you want to do it, be prepared to deal with disaster after disaster, but plenty of great things too… or stick to medical school!”*

*Disclaimer: Pete Bancewicz didn’t actually go to medical school. However, everything else in this article is true!