But as on and off track results have steadily improved, and a programme of continuous development between Kawasaki and team staff has started to head in all the right directions, this relatively new union of team and manufacturer has already proven to be a success.
Which is good news for all involved in Kawasaki’s racing efforts, and team owner Paul Bird. Few people who ever got involved in racing have been as committed to success as Bird, who is the leader of an effort which is based in his native Cumbria, far into the north of England.
A former top-level motocross rider, Bird started his interest in running a race team way back in the mid nineties. As a successful businessman, he had the funds and the motivation to make an early impact in the British racing scene.
Said Bird of his early racing involvement “I started out helping John McGuiness and Steve Patrickson in 1996, and away we went. I was a motocross rider, but I broke my leg and lost my enthusiasm. I started to go and see some of my mates who were road racing and I liked it. In 1996 I realised that I wanted to start a team properly.”
And properly it has been done, as Bird can count on British 250cc, TT, and BSB Championship victories, plus two WSB wildcard wins in the history of his team.
With so much BSB success behind him Bird decided to move to WSB last season, on privateer Honda machinery, and in his mind at that time it was going to be an experience to savour, but not much beyond that. “We really only came to World Superbike for a year in 2008 and I expected to be driving my rally car this year, just having a bit of fun.”
How things have changed, as it’s clear from even the mention of running a factory level team that Bird is enthusiastic for success as he ever was in his most trophy-laden BSB years. “This has been a fantastic opportunity for us,” he enthuses. “The biggest task is making things better than they have been and we are already doing that, and every week it is getting better and better. Just sometimes we have not had luck on our side. This is a big project and we have to do everything we can to move things along. We just need to keep focused, keep making progress every week and every time we make the bike easier to ride the riders are happier.”
One of the chief requirements to make any successful team, in any level of racing, is commitment and that commodity simply pours out of Bird and his band of brothers.
“I think we will bring more determination than anybody else,” says Bird. “The guys in our team live for going motorcycle racing. Nothing else happens. They live for it and the team. If you look at a lot of them they have been with me for a long time. We want success but it is hard to get in the WSB paddock. The quality of riders, teams and machines is really tough. Nowadays if you get a result in the top ten some people are happy about it, whereas years ago maybe it would have been top six. I think a top ten now is a lot harder to have than a top six was five years ago. The lap times from fourth to 18th are usually so close.”
A new aspect for the fiercely independent Bird to deal with in 2009 is the fact that instead of being the ultimate decision-maker, his efforts are now shared with one of the biggest motorcycle manufacturers in the world, Kawasaki. That means close co-operation with Kawasaki personnel at and between races, and that aspect has come with relative ease, and Bird explains why.
“Our relationship with the Kawasaki personnel has been fantastic,” said Paul. “The guys in the team are such a great bunch it would be difficult not to get on with them. We are still a small team, but the most important thing for us is that we are getting bigger, and Kawasaki is helping us to get bigger. We have made a huge investment on our own in building a new workshop, and Kawasaki can see that we are investing in the future. The Kawasaki personnel are going to help make the job a little bit easier for us.”
The only obvious downside of having a race team in a largely European-based championship run from the north of England is simple geography. But for Bird, this is simply not an issue.
“Not a problem at all because we have all the right people in the team,” he asserts. “We have great truck drivers, the right co-ordinators, they all do a great job. Obviously it would be easier to work in Europe, but I love where I live. There is a major world rally team even further north than we are and they do not seem to struggle! Logistics are just something we play into the game.”
And in parting Bird even sees having a team based in the UK as a definite advantage, in one peculiar way as well. “I think the reason why British teams that come and compete in WSB do quite well is that we are no good at football,” joked Bird. His final comment is more serious, and delivered with a glint in his eye… “But we can make motorbikes go quite fast.”