I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be a full-time, factory motorcycle racer. And it’s something that I fantasise quite a lot about, at times like this; on the run up to a big race like the TT, where I’ll be competing against the pros on my own little bike as a complete and utter privateer. I’ve convinced myself over the years that racing for a factory team has got to be a better way to go racing, although having never been in that position, some might argue that I’m in no position to say. But I’m going to tell you what I think anyway. This is what I think the differences between a factory racer vs a privateer are.
When you’re doing it by yourself, you’ve quite often got to fund it by yourself. And bike racing is expensive. If you’re a privateer with a massive bank balance, or you’re dad’s a Saudi prince or something you might be alright for cash, but most of us struggle. You work as much as possible to get the cash in that you need to go racing, and when you’re not working (or working on the bike), you’re trying you’re best to find sponsors to help you pay for it, or doing what you can to keep the sponsors you’ve got happy. Most people will tell you that one of the hardest things about racing bikes is finding the money to do it in the first place.
If however, you’ve got some factory support, things can be slightly different. If you’ve got a factory team budget, you’re probably not going to worry too much about how you’re going to pay your tyre bill. That means when you need new tyres, you’ll have them, rather than making do with the old worn out set that’s already on the bike.
But being a factory rider doesn’t mean you don’t have to spend time working with sponsors. The sponsors you and you’re team will have are likely to be much bigger than they were in your privateer days, so chances are, they might be quite demanding. They’ll have you attending corporate events, meetings to arrange contracts, all manner of things. Still, it’s probably not as demanding as 12 hours at the coal-face.
When you’re racing bikes on a weekend, you’ve got a fulltime job during the week, and a family to appease in the meantime, finding time to maintain a decent level of fitness isn’t that easy… especially if you’re really not that ‘into’ it. And being fit does help when it comes to racing bikes.
If you’re a full-time factory racer, keeping fit is part of your job. You’re essentially getting paid to go to the gym, or go cycling or whatever it is people do to keep fit these day. And if that isn’t motivation, I don’t know what is.
Bike racing might not be considered a team sport in the traditional sense of the word, but to do it at a reasonable level, you really do need a team of good people around you. Most privateers turn up to have a crack at it with some family and a few mates, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but their family and friends are probably not professional race technicians, or data engineers. They might be brick-layers, plumbers or private investigators; all noble professions, but not the constituents of a MotoGP-spec race team.
Your factory boys most likely will have professional suspension technicians, data engineers and crew chiefs round them. That makes a big difference. It means that when you get off the bike, you can discuss every aspect of your bikes setup with people that understand what you mean, and have got a good idea what to do, to resolve any issues. And that’s how the fast get faster.
There are some benefits to ‘doing your own thing’ and racing as a privateer. There’s a lot less pressure. If you have a shit result as a privateer, you’ve only really let yourself (and maybe your mates and a couple of sponsors) down; but nobody’s going to loose their job over it. It means you can enjoy every race you start without too much external pressure. The only pressure will be the pressure you put on yourself, which if you’re a competitive person will be not inconsiderable.
When you’re a factory boy though, it’s a different kettle of fish. As well as the pressure you put on yourself, you’ll be getting it from every angle. The lads in the garage will be dying for a good result so they can get on the beers later, the sponsors in the fancy corporate suites will be expecting a result (because they’ve paid for you to get results), and the management will be needing a result so that they can badger the sponsors for even more money next year.
And then of course there is your own bank balance. If you’re a full time factory racer, you might need the prize money or the podium bonuses to pay the bills or put a roof over your family’s head. If that’s not pressure I don’t know what is.
I think the positives of being a factory racer definitely outweigh the negatives, although it’s worth bearing in mind that the majority of factory racers will have had to spend a decent amount of time rising through the ranks, as privateers, before they ‘made it’.
Racing bikes is hard work, whichever way you do it. It’s especially hard work when you’re a privateer. But in all fairness, most of the kids with factory rides deserve to be where they are, so good luck to ‘em. Us privateers will keep trying our best to compete with them, keep trying our best to beat one or two of them, and maybe one day, we’ll get our chance. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.