Learn more about the background of the vital trackside safety and medical service, staffed primarily by passionate volunteers.
The Australian Superbike Championship has been in safe hands for many years thanks to the service and support of the dedicated Suzuki Racesafe team. It’s a vital element of the race meeting and, at one time or another, all riders will call upon its services, many for minor aches and pains and some for treatment after a more significant crash.
CycleOnline spoke to Suzuki Racesafe founder Simon Maas about the makeup of the organsation – where it came from, why it was established, and the role it plays at a typical weekend.
Bring us up to speed on Suzuki Racesafe. We’re all very familiar with the big yellow truck in the paddock – it’s a fantastic resource for riders and obviously an invaluable part of Australian road racing. When and where did it start?
Suzuki Racesafe celebrates its 16th year of operations this year, which we’re very proud of. It started from fairly humble beginnings looking after both car and bike events at Winton Raceway down in Victoria, that saw us interacting not only with the touring car championship, as it was back then, but back with the old Australian road racing championships and some smaller bike events.
Our beginning comes from moreso of a four-wheel background in safety and medical services but we quickly made that transition across, and after a few years of looking after events around the country, Ron Kivovitch, who was president of Motorcycling Australia at the time, came to me looking for a more permanent solution for the medical support for the Australian Superbike Championship, under the AUSCO joint agreement, and of course we’ve been involved ever since.
You’re personally very passionate about safety and medical services. What was your background in the industry before Racesafe was formed – was there any particular reason for branching into this specific service?
I’m the founder of Suzuki Racesafe, my background goes back well over 20 years of motorsport safety, having worked in the US and overseas on international events, and I co-ordinated the medical teams for the MotoGP and World Superbikes events here in Australia for a number of years, and was passionate about safety in Australian motorsport at all levels, and used my resources and my background from a safety perspective to try to improve wider safety here in Australia. I was determined to try to raise the profile of medical services for our racers, we’ve consistently, for many decades, produced the world’s best riders, and our domestic championships here continue to produce international class riders, and I felt it was important that we gave them international-level medical support here.
Of course Suzuki Racesafe isn’t just an integral part of the ASBK events. It’s well known and widely utilised at a number of motorsport events across the country. What does a typical calendar year look like for your team?
Over the past 16 years the popularity of Suzuki Racesafe has grown, and our expertise has been recognised for the international level of medical support that the team provides. We also look after the Australian Motocross Championship, and during the summer months, the Australian Supercross. We do projects like the Red Bull X-Fighters and occasional projects with the Nitro Circus. We’ve looked after a number of V8 Supercar events over the years and we continue to be the medical and safety team for Winton Raceway after 16 years. And very much, on a weekend to weekend basis, there are projects around Australia somewhere that we’re looking after. It’s a huge commitment by the volunteer medics that come along and are involved.
There are familiar faces within the operation that we see from round to round, but a big part of the service is its volunteer element. Can you explain the staffing structure of Suzuki Racesafe and tell us how you recruit the volunteers?
It’s a volunteer program, so we’re really fortunate to have volunteer emergency doctors, orthopaedic surgeons, general surgeons, intensive care paramedics, emergency nurses and physios who give up their own time. I think Australian motorcycle racing is incredibly lucky to have the passion of these people involved, they are at the absolute elite level of their medical professions, to have them as passionate motorcycle enthusiasts at the track, helping out the way they can, is amazing. A number are ex-competitors and recreational riders, so they do come with that love of bikes and bike racing. These people absolutely love racing, that’s the fundamental difference in our team. There’s a small number of us looking after day-to-day logistics, but the nuts and bolts of the team are volunteers.
Tell us about a typical round. What goes into the preparation and planning for an event, prior to it beginning, and then over the course of a race weekend?
An ASBK round actually starts up to two months in advance, with emergency management planning, coordination with ambulance services, coordination with rescue helicopter organisations and obviously a detailed planning process with the large hospitals and emergency departments in the vicinity of each round. It’s really important that we not only provide the care at the track, that we can ensure that riders that are taken to hospital can get the right care. Closer to the event we’re doing briefings and final planning with these organisations to ensure that in those critical moments the whole process can run smoothly. I think one of the greatest compliments to the service is when people don’t really notice what we do as it all runs smoothly in the background.
We’ve got a huge statistical database of crash history, showing us where crashes occur at certain tracks, the levels and styles of injuries. That’s really important to us, that helps us determine where to park the vehicles at the round, particularly on corners we know where crashes could occur. All of this allows us to minimise the response time if we need to get to a rider quickly. Our goal is to be responding to an injured rider within 30 seconds and to be able to give them immediate medical care. Once we arrive at the track we’ve got the Suzuki Racesafe medical unit which is only possible thanks to our Suzuki Australia and our safety partners, the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere so we’re incredibly fortunate to have it and the resources it provides. It’s fundamentally a mobile emergency department on wheels.
The team arrive and we go to work. The team is broken up on race day into parts, there’s the on-track component, which is our intensive care paramedics in our medical chase cars. Most people would see the chase car behind the back of the grid and getting around the track. Their focus is to immediately treat an injured rider on track as soon as possible. Behind the scenes there’s a team of orthopaedic surgeons, emergency doctors and of course the somewhat famous Mark Backway, our chief physiotherapist.
I know a lot of the riders appreciate the ability to drop in for an occasional ‘tune up’ at Suzuki Racesafe. Can you tell us about that side of the program?
A very popular part of Suzuki Racesafe is the sports medicine program, which is led by Mark, he provides a huge amount of support and assistance to the riders for things like arm pump, massages, physio work, just trying to deal with those minor aches and pains, and injuries that occur at this level of sport. The goal is to keep the rider on the bike and going as fast as possible. The arm pump is a popular complaint. We’ve got some great techniques to both assist them in the short-term at the track and the longer term with orthopaedic surgery. Mark himself is an ex-competitor, he rode a 125/250, so he has first-hand experience of what it’s like on the bike, so he’s brilliant at giving support for that. Just in general too, some of the riders get a bit tight, from hours sitting on planes or just needing a general tune up. Sometimes you’ll get guys coming back in with smaller injuries, niggling things from small crashes earlier in the weekend, and they need a bit of attention too.
Thanks and best of luck to you and the team. The sport is in great hands with you trackside!