Features 17 Jul 2014

Industry Insight: Motorcycling Australia's Robert Dunt

ASBK organiser on Phillip Island and road racing future.

Attention will be cast on Phillip Island this weekend as the final round of the Australian Superbike Championship (ASBK) plays out. The event will be the first run in an in-house capacity by Motorcycling Australia (MA), a move the governing body has made to ensure a viable short and long term future for the sport. CycleOnline spoke to Robert Dunt, MA’s event co-ordinator and former staff member at previous promoter International Entertainment Group (IEG), for a chat about the event and what we can expect to see.

Image: Russell Colvin.

Image: Russell Colvin.

Rob, things essentially came to a head with the ASBK in its former structure after the first round, with MA taking over the running of the series after the announcement of Darwin’s cancellation. Can you talk us through the process over the last few months?

Obviously when it became a little bit clearer that things weren’t working out it was imperative to us that the final round go ahead, and we’ve stepped in to run that. Personally I’m in a unique position of understanding the championship, so with myself leading we’ve put together a bit of a team and moved forward with the planning side of things with series official and RACESAFE. It has been a busy time, but productive, and a result we’re looking forward to the round this weekend.

Can you tell us about the team behind the event?

It has been primarily myself, though there has been a bit of involvement from Peter Doyle and Bron Sorensen on various issues, the general things that crop up in any event lead up – rules, technical issues, and so on. There’s also the Awards Night to organise.

It’s no secret that 2014 has been a tough year, specifically for the MA-sanctioned series. Looking at the final entry lists today the numbers do look positive; did you expect so many to commit to the event?

Given the context and environment of road racing, not only right now but also over the last five or so years, if you go back through the figures, to be looking at the numbers we’re looking at has far exceeded expectations of anyone, myself included. I think it’s a credit to the competitors for getting behind the championship as they have, it has been fantastic and really positive to see. The feedback we’ve had from competitors, officials and fans, has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s fantastic. Having this positive feel to things and a good outlook to the future is very promising. Despite everything that’s been going on, and the negative connotations that have surrounded things in the past, we feel like things are really turning around.

We spoke to Peter Doyle a month ago, and he provided us with some great insight into road racing and his thoughts on the championship moving forward. Obviously he will form a significant piece of the puzzle moving forward as MA looks to stabilise this series?

His experience is in road racing in the States, which is valuable. Ultimately Peter’s role and the value he provides is through the entirety of the sport. The technical knowledge he possesses and what he’s able to put in place for all disciplines I think will be invaluable going forward. That was the primary reason for getting him on board.

Are there plans to host any kind of formal or informal rider forums this weekend to get input from the competitors taking part?

Whether there’s a forum specifically, that hasn’t been decided, but definitely, we’ll be going through the paddock and talking to all of the competitors about their experience of the event. We’ll be doing the same with the officials; from the flaggies to the clerk of course, they’re all stakeholders and they’re all giving up their time and footing their own bills as well. For us it is important for everyone to be comfortable. We’ll essentially be consulting everyone.

Image: Russell Colvin.

Image: Russell Colvin.

The gate prices for the event seem quite reasonable, is this a way to ensure the event is accessible to as many as possible given the unique challenge of the location and the competing events?

Phillip Island is a tough one, historically it always has been for a national road racing championship. It’s unique in that it is a saturated market for such a small town. You have World Superbikes, MotoGP, V8 Supercars and everything else that goes on down there. It is very difficult to draw a good crowd to an event like this because the options for spectators are just so great throughout the year. It’s difficult to get that foothold. Expenditure on promotion, particularly for this event, doesn’t necessarily yield an increased gate. The focus there is for those who come along to provide a good experience. They’re generally very passionate followers and we want to recognise this.

Much has been made about the changes at the top level of MA, with 2014 seeing new both a new president and CEO appointed. Have the new members had any direct input into this event or is their focus the longer term?

They haven’t had too much involvement in that respect. Being an executive group where those changes have taken place we’ve had consistent consultation and discussion about the event. But really, the day to day of this event has been left up to me to organise. Their focus is on the strategic direction moving forward for road racing, and securing its future.

We’ve moved past the mid-year point now, and what I imagine is a crucial time for decisions about the championship to be made. Is there any news you can share with us at this stage in terms of structure or promotion for 2015?

There’s a number of options on the table, all of them viable. Obviously it’s a decision that the executives need to make. Myself I haven’t been too involved with that. This event is the first step forward for 2015, and beyond, in making necessary changes to road racing for the future. And really the objective of this event is to start that positive discussion and mindset moving forward that is inclusive of all. We’re working towards a bright future.