Cover Photo: JP-PhotographyUK
Team Manager and Crew Chief for Gearlink Kawasaki
During his ten years (2010-2020) with Gearlink Kawasaki in BSB & BSS, and a short stint in WSBK Arron Phillips has worked with some of the most successful up and coming riders in modern British motorcycling. Arron’s British Super Sport experience began in 2010 as a mechanic at Gearlink Kawasaki, before making the jump to World Super Bikes with Mahi Kawasaki in 2014.
The now 30-year-old Hampshire lad spent a year working with Fabian Foret in WSBK in the 2014 season and then returned with Gearlink Kawasaki to British Super Sports and Super Bikes at the end of 2014. He has worked with North West 200 record breaker Alastair Seeley, BSB stars the Irwin brothers, BSB legend Michael Rutter, rising Aussie star Ben Currie and Gearlink Kawasaki household name Ben Wilson.
Arron has been part of the team through its highs and its lows, he has gone from mechanic to Team Manger and Crew Chief with the Green Team. Let’s find out what makes it a special team and hear what the hopes are for the team this year.
Q: Hello Arron, I hope you’re keeping busy and safe in this period (COVID-19), what’s happening in the team and the series at the moment regarding the current situation?
Arron: Hello mate, I’m trying my best to keep busy whilst being at home. Slowly doing bits on my car and slowly packing the house up, as we were suppose to be moving house about now. As for the racing were just waiting on updates, so far the first three races of the series have been postponed. So we’re just waiting really, but everyone is in the same boat and to be fair there’s more important things happening in the world then the need for racing right now. Hopefully we can get back to it soon but i’ll be honest if the ban on large gatherings doesn’t get lifted I cant see much racing happening this year.
Q: As Team Manager and Chief Mechanic, what are your main duties within the Gearlink Kawasaki Team?
Arron: It’s my job to build the bikes and make sure everything is ready to go for a race weekend. I have a guy that works with me part time (Phil) and he keeps track of the race truck, i.e maintenance, stock of parts in the truck. He also helps me prep the bikes between rounds. Phil then drives the race truck to the track while I take the bosses motor home. Once we get to a race weekend Phil and I build the garage for the weekend, then from there it’s my job to over see our mechanics and sit down with the riders after each session. I go through the data with them and make changes to the bikes, ready for the next session. Then once the weekend is over, we pack the garage away, drive home and normally Monday morning is spent taking stock of parts used and reordering, that is if we’re not still travelling back. Then I crack on prepping the bikes ready for the next round.
Q: What is the most difficult part of your job?
Arron: Honestly, its probably when you have a problem on the bike. Be it a set up issue that you can’t seem to sort out even when you seem to think you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to get better, like when your fault finding an electrical issue. It is very difficult and when you’re trying to do it in a live session it can get a bit stressful. But other then that I love my job! So there is nothing really difficult, you just have to find ways around stuff if that makes sense.
Q: What is your favourite memory from your time working with Gearlink Kawasaki?
Arron: There’s a fair few to be honest, either my first podium with a rider in my first year as a proper crew chief in 2013, or the year we took the record number of wins round the North West 200 with Alastair on board a bike that I built. Or the win at the North West 200 where, again with Alastair, we started from the second wave of riders due to having a disaster in qualifying because we had a stone go through the rad. We managed to get a new rad on in a session but didn’t qualify well, the race is all done on timing and I think we were something like 13 seconds behind going into the last lap! But then he went and won by something like 6 seconds! It was funny seeing the look on the peoples faces when he came across the line, especially as the guys from the first wave had already started celebrating the win but we took it from them.
Ph: Matt Mackey/presseye.com & BBC Sport Northern-Ireland
Q: And your worst memory?
Arron: Again there are a few, loosing young Ben Gautrey at Cadwell Park was probably one of the hardest race weekends to drive home from. He was such a nice kid and very talented, he was riding one of our satellite bikes, when we had a satellite team in 2011, and unfortunately he crashed over the mountain and was struck by another rider and sadly passed away. We also lost the Supersport championship that year by 1 point which was heart breaking. Just like in 2013 we lost the championship by 2 corners because of a red flag.
Q: How many hours do you spend at the circuit during a race weekend?
Arron: We tend to get to a circuit on the Wednesday afternoon of race week, and once the lorry is parked up and the garage flooring is down then we stop around 9pm to have some dinner. Then we’re back at it the next morning getting the boarding up and everything else set up, then from there we’re in the garage at 7am and probably finish around 7-8pm in the evening depending on how the day has gone.
Q: Obviously, this year Gearlink welcomes back Ben Currie and James Westmoreland. How do you think they are going to do when the races come back?
Arron: I think its going to be an amazing year their both super competitive riders. James proved what he can do on the bike and showed us that the bike wasn’t right, so we got straight to work trying new things. Ben is Ben, always fired up and ready for it! So once he gets going again he’ll be super strong like before.
Q: How would you describe both your riders?
Arron: Their two completely different people on and off track,. James is very quite, chilled out and a great person to have around the garage. Then Ben is typical Aussie, loud, very confident and again great to have in the garage and they get on well to which is great. We’ve had it before in the past where riders don’t get on and it just creates tension. On track both James and Ben have two different styles, but ultimately both are very quick.
Q: In the SuperSport class you race alongside MOTO2 machines, how do you think the Kawasaki will compare this year?
Arron: To be fair we don’t think about it to much as they are a completely different machine, plus they don’t score any points in our championship but they can get in the way sometimes. They are able to run slick tyres and when you get a chance to look at one up close they are a work or art, they are basically a mini superbike with what you can change on them. So as long as they are not in the way to much we’ll be fine, but to be fair there are some good riders on them so we always expect them to be up there and more so at certain circuits that are more like Moto GP circuits.
Q: Out of all the riders you have worked with, who has impressed you the most and why?
Arron: There’s two for this question, one is Andrew Irwin. Just because of how he developed in our team. My Boss (Michael de Bidaph) is very good at managing riders and giving them what they need to develop, and helping them sort where there going wrong and Norma was the same, when she was around. They both see the good in people and build on that. When Andrew first started with us he was known as a “crasher”, and people didn’t really want to be on track with him. By the time he left the team he had his first podium in Supersport. Which is something pretty impressive and now he’s riding along side his big brother in the factory Honda British Superbike team who also rode for us.
The second has to be Ben Wilson, he had and awful crash at the North West 200 where he lost something like 6 inches of bone from the top of his leg back in 2016. To be fair I won’t go in to to much detail but lets just say he’s lucky to be here. He was always determined to defy what everyone was telling him (that he will never ride again), well last year he did a full season on our supersport bike and was running 4th in the championship for a while. Until a crash at Thruxton broke his tib and fib on the same leg, but he was back for Assen! Somehow! He then had another crash on Friday morning practice and still carried on for the rest of the race weekend, again somehow and I really am not to sure how! As Ben doesn’t show any emotion or pain, but you could really see he was hurting and I’m sure 99% of people would have been happy not to ride again, but not Ben. For anyone wondering what he went through go see his Facebook page its all on there.
Q: What would you say is the worst nightmare for a team during a race weekend, rider injury aside?
Arron: Like I mentioned earlier an electrical issue can plague you all weekend, but also having a massive crash and having to repair the bike between sessions is stressful, even worse is if it happens in warm up as the race isn’t to long after it.
Q: How has the job of a mechanic changed since you started, has it?
Arron: It kind of has, but the bikes are pretty much the same other than running the new 636 engine as of last year. We are just trying to get our heads round little bits that are different with the engine i.e power characteristics. The chassis is still the same and with Ohlins slowly bringing new bits out it’s always improving and their at track support is amazing, so if we ever get stuck we can call on them guys to help out. The electronics tend to change a little but again its all the Motec system which is a pretty user friendly system.
Q: You have worked with some well-known names that have won at BSB level and more. What separates those riders from the rest you have worked with?
Arron: It’s purely all down to how much they want it. The riders that we work with that want it and are at the front, winning, devote there lives to this sport its not just a fun weekend away for them. Their whole life outside of racing IS racing, they train super hard are on strict diets all the time. Where as others treat the weekend as a get away and are off drinking, up partying and their the ones that will struggle to get where they want to go. I’ve always said you can normally tell which riders have talent and want it and which don’t. The ones that do are typically the ones rocking up in a transit van with a bike that you wouldn’t want to ride to shops on because they have next to no money and they go and win or run at the front with 2 race weekend old tyres.
Q: Are there any internal changes to the team, or changes in approach off-track for the new year that you feel are going to be key to a successful year?
Arron: In the off season we have been working hard with our tuner and engine builder on making sure the engines are all ready to go, whilst also working on power delivery as we feel this will help. Other than that we’re fortunate to still have the same team around which is always a bonus, as the riders are confident they know us and the bikes.
Q: Is there a feeling in the team that you have a point to prove after coming so close to winning the Championship on multiple occasions?
Arron: Yes we always go out to win and always go out chasing a championship. I think if it ever comes a point where we’re not doing that then there’s not much point going in my opinion. It’s the same for the mechanics as it is for the riders, like I said earlier our riders want it and don’t go out drinking over a race weekend and neither do our mechanics. That’s something that we stress right away when we look for new people, that if you’re here to watch racing we’re the wrong team for you. We’re here to do a job, don’t get me wrong the people we have on board are good fun but mainly extremely focused on the job, which is what we want and they all share the same passion with us and the riders which is to win.
Q: There are two riders in the Gearlink Team capable of winning races. Do you think that affects the riders’ performance and their approach to the team and teammate, or not? Does this competitiveness benefit both?
Arron: Yes, if you ask any good rider in the paddock what they want in a team mate, it will be someone that can beat them. As this will make each rider up their game, as in certain areas or circuits some riders will be stronger than others and if you have two riders that get a long and help each other then that will make them a better rider overall.
Q: Why do you think it is that young riders look to Gearlink as a team that will give them the tools and direction to improve their careers? Do you think this is true?
Arron: Like I mentioned earlier I think its because of the support they get from the team especially Michael, and Norma when she was around. Norma used to make you feel like part of the family right from the get go, and Michael will try everything in his power to get the best from you. That’s not just for riders but the mechanics also. Plus we don’t charge massive money for a ride, like I know some teams do, as everything we get goes straight into the bikes and racing.
Q: If you had the opportunity to work with your dream team and rider who would it be?
Arron: It would have to be the factory Honda MotoGP team and Marc Marquez, just to see what goes on in that garage would be amazing and the new technology constantly coming through would be something else.
Q: Finally. Can you tell us what a race day is like for a chief mechanic?
Arron: Umm, very nerve racking especially the closer you actually get to the race. Most weekends we’re still thinking, all the way up to the last moment, what we could do to improve the bike. Even when the bike is on track your nervous watching.
Q: Any parting words?
Arron: If you have something your passionate about then follow up on it. I’ve always worked with my hands. Ever since my dad could put a spanner in my hands I’ve worked on cars and always loved racing and things that go fast. I had to learn to work on bikes when I got my first one and it just carried on from there. So if your good at something and want to make a career from it, then chase it!
Arron: Thanks for reading and sit tight I’m sure we will be back racing soon. Hope everyone stays safe in what seem like very strange times.
A big thank you to Arron for his insight in to the team and the behind the scenes of racing. We wish the best of luck to Gearlink Kawaski and the whole team.