Mike Webb is the MotoGP Race Director, the man who sits above the pits and punishes professional racers for misbehaving. This is how he earned the right
There are very few MotoGP stars who haven’t been summoned into the headmaster’s office for a good telling-off. This is the most public aspect of Mike Webb’s job as MotoGP Race Director, because the punishments he dishes out can have a huge effect on race results. Most famously he has sent Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi to the back of the grid for being naughty boys, which makes him a very powerful man, but this isn’t what his job is all about.
MotoGP’s book of regulations describes his duties thus: “The Race Director is responsible for ensuring proper observance of the regulations and efficient running of practice and races… The Race Director shall have overriding authority in the following matters: a) The control of practice and races… b) The stopping of practice or races if he deems it unsafe to continue… c) The starting procedure… d) The use of medical cars/fast interventions vehicles.”
That’s a lot of responsibility, crowned by that all-powerful moment when he flicks the switch at 2pm on Sunday afternoon to launch two dozen 250-horsepower MotoGP bikes towards the first corner (although he recently delegated this duty, so he can be up in Race Control to keep an eye on the critical first lap).
Webb has been Race Director since 2012, having spent the previous 10 years as MotoGP Technical Director, when he dealt with the arrival of MotoGP bikes and the explosion of four-stroke racing technology. Before that he was chief engineer for Carlos Checa, Simon Crafar, Niall Mackenzie, Neil Hodgson and Peter Goddard. And before that he was twice New Zealand 250cc road racing champion.
Webb grew up in the rural hinterland of New Zealand’s North Island. “My godfather was a farmer, so he had a farm bike,” says Webb, who is now 60. “I roared around on that, which is where I got a taste for it.”
Webb’s family hated motorcycles, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him. While studying geology at university he got a job at a bike shop owned by Ginger Molloy. Molloy had recently returned from Europe, where he had finished runner-up to Giacomo Agostini in the 1970 500cc World Championship riding an air-cooled Kawasaki H1-R triple and an overbored Bultaco 350 single (really!).
“I was surrounded by racing people and thought, this looks fun,” recalls Webb. “So I started roaring around on motocross bikes, enduro bikes and then roadrace bikes. I bought a secondhand RD250LC and started in 1982.”
By the late 1980s Webb was the main man in New Zealand, dominating the national championship on a TZ250.
“In 1989 I won every race, so I thought I was quite good. I got a wildcard entry for the first Australian GP at Phillip Island, borrowed a bike off an Aussie bloke and didn’t even qualify. That was a light-bulb moment – these guys are serious, I’m just having fun.”
He returned to Phillip Island the following year and did qualify for the 250cc Grand Prix, but was lapped by winner John Kocinski. He retired at the end of 1991.
“I started noticing things at the side of the track that I’d never even seen before – ‘Hey, that wall looks close’ – so I realised it was time to stop.”
On his way home from his last race he stopped to visit a friend, former racer and journalist Peter Clifford, who was setting up a 500cc Grand Prix team, backed by American businessman and enthusiast Bob MacLean.
“Peter said, ‘Great, perfect timing! We could do with a hand.’”
Read the full story in the current issue (Vol 67 No 17) of AMCN on sale now
Words Mat Oxley
Photography Andrew Northcott, Don Tustin, Steve Green, Dave Anson and Webb archive