Giving MotoGP a voice – Exclusive Interview with Gavin Emmett, Part II

 In MotoGP, News

The new season is just around the corner and no matter if you live in the United States, Australia or just anywhere with an internet connection – If you’re a fan of MotoGP then chances are that you’ve heard this commentator’s voice a lot of times before, bringing you the latest news from the track and the most interesting tidbits from the paddock.
Gavin Emmett has been around the MotoGP circus for almost a decade now, making his mark from early on. We had the chance to talk to Gavin at the 2010 Valencian Grand Prix and tried to find out a bit more about the man behind the voice.

In this second and final part of our exclusive interview with Gavin Emmett, we talk about the rise of Twitter, the necessity of technical knowledge in MotoGP and how After the Flag was born.

If you missed part one of the interview, you should read it first here.

Twitter recently became pretty popular among MotoGP insiders and fans. You’re also very active on Twitter, has that changed the way you work?
A little bit. Definitely. I got into it right at the start and tried to coach others into it and some people didn’t quite understand what the heck this is all about – which I guess happens a lot with the internet, because it’s all constantly moving on. But I think it is a nice way, especially for some of the riders, to interact with fans while keeping their distance. In the paddock you see some of the riders just being mobbed completely and they don’t like that, but behind the screen and on the other side of the phone line it’s a great way for them to still interact.
For me it’s good for information sharing. It’s great to get the latest news, not just on bikes but also on other sports and just the latest news from around the world. It’s a great medium and it’s changing everything, because it’s all instant now. I remember when I first got on Twitter, people were complaining about me posting results, they didn’t want to be spoilt. And I was saying then that you shouldn’t go on Twitter when you don’t want to know the results, because that’s exactly what it is all about, it’s that immediacy. It’s probably not great when you work at a magazine, because you have to think of other ways… You have to get information out quickly and when you don’t do that, then someone else will, because there’s always a little bit of competition amongst journalists.
But it’s that immediacy which is great and that the fans can be right on the pulse of MotoGP, be at the heart of the sport.

It does have a bit of an “insider” feeling to it when you follow the MotoGP riders, mechanics, commentators…
Yes, completely. Especially as it’s not that many people doing it, relatively speaking. Because we got millions of people watching the races every Sunday while on Twitter Jorge [Lorenzo] has around 100.000 followers which I think is the most in the sport and he actively promotes it as well. So it’s only a minority of the people who are watching on Sunday that also follows us on Twitter. And it’s nice that those people can feel like they get a little bit of an insight and can go “Yeah, I know what they’re talking about”, I really like that. It’s nice as a fan to have that, those little tidbits and little extra things that make you feel like you know a little bit more and have that extra bit of knowledge of the sport.

Do you ride a bike in your free time?
No, I only ride a scooter, not a bike or anything. I’ve ridden bikes when I lived in Spain, ridden off-road also. But I don’t have a license to ride a bike, I drive a car. But I’m making my license this month now after I moved back to the UK. I always wanted to do this since I was a kid. Matt [Roberts] and I talked about this a lot and he just passed this year, doing the GetOn project and I’m about to do it later this year.
But we both have policemen as fathers and they have seen so many of those accidents that they wanted to stop any thoughts of riding a motorbike in the bud from an early age, so we were not allowed. When I moved to Spain I wanted to do it, but I refused to do the theory test in a foreign language, because I knew they would try to be sneaky and trip me out on some kind of question and I didn’t want to be an idiot and fail. [laughs] So now I’m back in the UK. But in Spain we could ride up to a 125cc bike, so I used to ride the 125s around Barcelona, that’s really the only way to get around in Barcelona. But yeah, hopefully I’ll get my full license by the end of the year.*

What is it for you about MotoGP that makes it the most interesting?
It’s the pinnacle of the sport. But what it is about it… To me, the way I try to explain it to people, because in Britain Formula 1 is such a massive, mighty thing, is this: Look, you have the F1 guys and you see the little head bobbing around, but when you watch the bikes you can really see why those guys are talented, because you can actually see them, they’re there. They are exposed. Not only to the dangers and the elements, but they expose their skills that they’re using and you can see all the different styles. And that’s really what it is for me. And I haven’t met one person who I got to switch on MotoGP and then hasn’t watched it again or who I’ve brought to a race track and then didn’t want to watch it when they’re at home or come back again to the track. Even my Gran, she’s 88 now and she watches it every weekend!
Don’t get me wrong, I do like Formula 1 too, but this here is much more visual. Because you can see so much of the riders and how hard they’re working. You can see when they are annoyed, you get so much feedback on the bike. You can see when they’re tense or like Stoner this weekend is just amazing to watch, you can see he’s free and just pushing hard.

Working in the paddock for so long, does it change the dynamics of a commentary team much when people leave, like Matt going to BBC, or new ones coming in, like Azi Farni this year?
Well, it’s always nice to have the group freshened up. But most people in the paddock get on well with each other really. In fact, there are not that many British people in the paddock and most of them do stick together and you end up… like if you’re British you might eat a bit earlier or drink a bit later or I don’t know what. [laughs] But I think it’s a good group and generally good groups all over [the paddock] of different people who hang out and it doesn’t matter where they work as long they are enjoying themselves and enjoying the work they do here in the paddock. And I’m happy for them. Especially if it’s Matt who’s now at BBC or Azi who’s now doing very well for us at Dorna, so it’s great.

You’re also the face of After the Flag and therefore are a bit more exposed to the viewer’s eye than most other people working behind the scenes in the paddock. Did that work change things for you, do people come over and ask for your autograph?
No, it doesn’t change. The whole thing really started when me and Matt Roberts were doing the content of the website and when podcasts came about. We thought we just have to do this, we wanted to do an audio podcast. It took a while to get through the systems, but we thought that this is a really a good way to do things. It’s all valuable content. So we started out with the audio podcast which then turned into a video podcast which then turned to After the Flag. For us it was the possibility to look at the races in a different way from an official capacity. So it’s still content, the sport’s official content, but it’s a bit of a sideways look, it’s a little bit different. You notice it in most of it that it is just cheeky. As I said I’m good with all of the riders and have the utmost respect for them and everyone involved, so it’s always generally quite positive, just a little bit naughty. It’s a way to get a different product out. Because the main reason we did it was because back in the States at the time, especially in the States, there wasn’t a lot of motorcycle programming that is not American Chopper or based around Custom Bikes and such. And YouTube was growing so big over in the States, a lot of people were watching it, so it was an opportunity to get out a little bit of race footage with some interviews, with a bit of extra information that you usually couldn’t get. Because Speed TV used to be only lights out and chequered flag and nothing else. Adverts in the middle, but that’s what you got: a race. So it was a chance to give them an interview or a little bit more information for free. It took a while to convince Dorna, but in the end they were really sure that this was a positive thing to do.
I mean, we get good downloads on Itunes and the Weblog; on YouTube not so many people are watching it nowadays, there are actually more people seeming to come to the website to watch it. And people seem to enjoy it and I really enjoy doing it. One of the things I enjoy most on a race weekend is doing that and having sort of a fun look at some of the things we’ve seen and you might have not seen at home. So I do enjoy it.

How much technical knowledge do you have?
I think I’ve got a fair amount of knowledge. Not *that* much, I’m definitely no Neil Spalding or anything, I openly admit that. I’m not an engineer, but I’ve a got a good logical understanding of mechanics and these kinds of things, so it’s a decent understanding coming from reading and research and working and speaking to riders and mechanics and engineers. You pick up that knowledge over the years, but I’ve always been a logical thinker and how engines and bikes work, it’s just a logical process and thinking.

And how much of that do you consider necessary for doing a commentary?
I think you need a base knowledge, but I don’t think you need too much. There are people who love the technical side of things and want to know that, so you have to account for that and Ian [Wheeler] provides a lot of the technical information for us. I think that’s nice, because we actively have that and it’s nice to get the information directly down from pitlane.
But it’s a sport as well and it’s entertainment and a lot of times it’s just about getting that across. Most casual viewers don’t ride a motorcycle. I know there are hardcore viewers who do and love the technical side of things and we try to give them a good proportion of that. But not everyone wants that and there are also a lot people who just enjoy the drama and the excitement and you have to cater to those people as well. And they are open to learning things, so you can throw some technical info in their direction.
However, for us especially… we go out to around 50 or more different channels around the world. While in Australia it’s a free-to-air channel, in America it’s Speed TV, a motorsport channel, so you have to cater to very different sorts of people and you just have to find a balance there.

Final question: With the 2011 season knocking on our doors, what tracks do you usually look forward to the most?
I love Mugello and Phillip Island. Those are the two that I really look forward to above all others. Mugello is just a great circuit, a great place with a great atmosphere. There are too many tracks to mention, but Phillip Island I really do like as well. The flyaway races are special in a certain way and it’s just a fantastic place to watch, it really is an amazing place to watch. Those two are the ones that I really do look forward to and can’t wait for the races to come.
And of course Qatar, the first race of the year. Because usually you leave Valencia and think “Thank Goodness, that’s done for another season.” We’ve had eight races over eleven weeks or something, now you can sit back and relax. But then you get to the stage, usually in January or February, we’re you getting a little bit tired of doing season reviews or preparing guides and information for the new season etc. You really just want something to talk about that is happening instead of just this or that *might* happen. You want to report on what *is* happening. That’s why I really look forward to Qatar as well.

We’d like to thank Gavin Emmett for taking the time to talk to us at Valencia.

Interview and photo by Vroom Media.
Screencap taken from After the Flag, Copyright Dorna Sports SL.

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