Posted: 10 Apr 2013
Having started riding motorcycles competitively in 1995, Tom Tunstall is a well-known face in the BSB paddock. But while many will know him as a racer for Doodson Motorsport Honda, his role has developed over the years and this year he took the strategic decision to put his racing leathers to one side for a few months. We caught up with him to see how he coped at the opening round of the BSB at Brands Hatch knowing he wasn’t going to be the one on track…
“I have always had an involvement with running the team, not just riding,” he explains. “At Brands it was just like any other race meeting we’d been to, but I didn’t get to race which was the downside! I came back from the round buzzing with adrenaline that I normally would have burnt off by racing on Sunday.”
In 2011, Tom had an accident at Snetterton which resulted in a snapped pelvis, but instead of putting the Hudderfield-lad off racing, it just motivated him even more. “I knew after the crash at Snetterton that we [the team] had a responsibility to the fans, to the sponsors and to ourselves to keep the show on the road,” he continues. “We had been looking at expanding the team anyway and I decided to concentrate on the management side of things.”
It was in 2012 when Tom took a dual role in the team, becoming a rider as well as the team’s manager – no small feat as each brings a number of challenges and pressures. “The toughest thing for me was being able to concentrate 100% when I was riding the bike,” he says, “and on seeing the bike of your team-mate/rider cartwheeling into the gravel, my head was automatically writing the cheque for the damage! It was hard not to get distracted.
“2012 was an incredibly tough year and quite frustrating as I know I wasn’t riding at my best and knew I could do better.”
Having the experience of being a rider does have its benefits though as Tom can understand what the team needs. “Every rider is different and one of the challenging things of being a team owner is dealing with all the different types of people and getting the best out of the team,” he says. “I am empathetic towards the riders’ needs and know when Robbin [Harms] needs encouragement and when he needs space.
“It is important that Robbin is always happy. He is extremely driven and motivated and a fantastic professional racer – a genuine good guy to work with. I think it’s important for there to be a level of mutual respect when you’re all working together in a stressful environment.”
There used to be podium finishes on Tom Tunstall’s ‘to-do’ list, but is there still? “My list is extremely long – I know that” he continues, “but you get out what you put in so it’s just flat out! My goals change during the season as in the off-season I want to build the team, financially, in terms of equipment and staff, while during the season it’s all about getting the best package for the rider and of course getting the results.
“Robbin is capable of some very good things and I think he will surprise some people. My personal goal is to give Robbin the best opportunity that we can as a team. You can never stop learning off the back of a weekend.”
While a racer can be off the circuit for a while, you can’t take the racing out of a racer… “If you asked me whether I prefer being a rider or manager, it’s not hard to think about it,” he says. “Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s racing. Riding and racing motorcycles is what I love doing and it’s what I have been doing since I was three years old and was first lifted onto a bike.
“That passion continues with running the team, but I think there’s still a future with me riding bikes. I don’t see myself hanging up my leathers just yet!”
The competitive spirit comes in handy too… “It’s not something you can switch on and off, it’s something that’s either there or it isn’t,” he explains. “For sure, it’s the same for everyone in the paddock, you enjoy it but you’re there to be as competitive as possible, to win and get strong results for your hard-work.”
With a pile of paperwork to complete and the next round of the BSB to look forward to at Thruxton this weekend, we leave Tom to get on with it. With two solid 11th place finishes by Robbin Harms at Brands Hatch, we have the feeling that the team is one to watch and who knows, maybe Tom might be back in the saddle on his #21 bike again soon!