JONATHAN Railton is aiming for the top after finishing 13th in the 2012 Metzeler National Superstock 1000 championship standings.
The 21-year-old motorcycle racer, who lives in Grafham, was closing in on his first championship podium at Brands Hatch two weekends ago, when his race – and, ultimately, his season – ended when fellow racer Lee Costello came off his bike and took Railton sliding across the tarmac.
In the 16-lap race, in front of a crowd of 50,000 plus fans, Railton had almost effortlessly moved through the field from 14th on the grid to within a whisker of third place.
It was a disappointing end to a season which has seen the former Hinchingbrooke School pupil gain a positive reputation in the sport as one of the brightest up-and-coming stars – and the crash has only boosted his ambition to succeed.
“I think the best thing for me to do is stick with Superstock and have a really good crack at the championship,” he told me when I visited him at the weekend.
“I think I am in a strong enough position now, if we do it right from the start, having learned from a few technical issues that we had this year, that I have a really good chance.”
There were 12 races in the Superstock 1000 season, which is a support class for the British Superbike Championship. Held over weekends at circuits throughout the United Kingdom, including Silverstone and Donnington Park, there are two qualifying sessions for each race, and the field of almost 60 riders gets whittled down to a starting grid of 40 for each final showdown. Races last for approximately 25 minutes.
At Thruxton, earlier in the year, Railton recorded his best result when he qualified for the race second on the grid, and finished in fifth. That’s not at all bad for a non-factory team rider.
“It’s the most competitive field out there and when you look at the time sheets you see that the racers are only separated by tenths of seconds,” said his father David, as we sat in their kitchen on Sunday morning, watching British Eurosport’s coverage of the race on an iPad. “That just shows you how unbelievably competitive it is. It’s probably the most competitive of classes – even more so than Superbikes.”
When we watch Jon careering across the tarmac, his father says: “He was unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Costello apologised afterwards – he didn’t do it on purpose, it was a racing incident. That’s racing.”
Jon raced karts before following in his father’s footsteps and switching from four wheels to two. David was a successful motorcycle racer himself in the 1970s and 1980s and the double garage at their Grafham home probably hasn’t housed a car for quite some time. In fact, it resembles – and indeed smells – like the kind of garage you would come across in a pit lane, rather than one in a rural Huntingdonshire village.
There are trophies galore and the walls are hung with memorabilia from both father and son’s careers in the sport.
The pair are now talking to teams ahead of the new season, which will begin in April next year. As well as sorting out Jon’s future in Superstock 1000, they are also considering an offer to double-up on race weekends and take part in another support class, the Ducati 848 Challenge series.
“Nothing is confirmed yet – we are still talking,” said Jon, with his father adding: “To see his progress over the years and for him to get to this level has been really good.”
However, progression doesn’t come cheap – and, although the young rider has strong backing from the In-Moto motorcycle dealership based in Croydon, London, as well as many other businesses, it costs around £30,000 a year to take part in the sport at this level, let alone mount a serious challenge on the end-of-season Superstock 1000 title, won this year by Keith Farmer of the Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki team.
Jon rides a Kawasaki too, albeit without the backing of a team. His father David is Jon’s team.
“We have been doing a lot of networking and talking to people,” said David. “We have spoken to teams but that’s not the way to go. We want to keep control.
“We fully expect to be given a bike for next year by somebody, either by BMW or Kawasaki.
“Some of the smaller teams can’t operate without your money ... the bigger teams can, but the smaller teams need money from the riders.”
So it’s a costly business, this bike racing thing – but there is no lack of passion, and the drive and ambition of this father and son team is palpable as they pose for photos alongside Jon’s stripped-back Kawasaki.
And when I leave, having been fed and watered with cake and coffee, the pair remain in their garage, working on the bike, and planning for the future.