An impressive debut season in the UK has fuelled Bendigo’s Mark Wilkinson’s dreams of an elite motorbike racing career.
The 23-year-old returned home after re-signing with his team Seton Tuning Yamaha for next season and he is determined to continue improving after placing 20th overall in the British Superbike Superstock 600.
Wilkinson has set his sights high, hoping to consistently finish in the top 10 and to push for the title next year.
“Ultimately, I want to make a career of racing motorbikes, whether that’s in Australia or overseas,” Wilkinson said.
“If I have a good year next year, it’s not very far away at all.
“You’ve got to be lucky, obviously there’s only a certain amount of paid rides available, but if you impress the right people at the right time and present yourself well, you never know what might happen.”
If Wilkinson finishes in the top three of the under-25s series next season he would automatically move up in class, closing in on his goal of a paid career and all the trappings that come with it.
This season the young gun had to fund his position to the tune of $60,000 and he bought a caravan to take with him across the UK to the 12 race meetings from his base in Colchester.
All the competitors camp at the track, Wilkinson said, but some live more luxuriously than others.
“Obviously the superbike riders that ride for the factory teams have bus motorhomes and most of the bigger teams have big hospitality trucks,” he said.
“You pull up in my little caravan next to someone who’s just been a world champion or a British champion and you look at their massive motorhome and you think in a couple of years that’s what I want to achieve.”
Living out of a caravan at race meetings was only one of the new aspects he had to adjust to.
Some of the rounds attracted crowds of up to 80,000 people, while the professionalism of the series and wet race conditions were eye-opening.
“Absolutely everything was new to me; the team, the bike, all the tracks, the environment, all the race meetings, everything was completely different,” he said.
“I really enjoyed the lifestyle over there and the racing scene over there is absolutely amazing, there’s a crazy amount of spectators and fans at each event.
“I only did one race meeting for the whole year where I actually didn’t have to ride in the wet at some stage over the weekend, so you’ve got to jump straight in the deep end there.
“We do ride in the wet over here, but nowhere near as much as they do over there and, obviously, all the UK lads are used to riding in the wet and you’ve got to catch up with them.”
Wilkinson’s ability to quickly adapt impressed his team.
The Bendigo racer finished 10th – his best result – three times, while only finishing outside the points on three occasions.
“I’m riding 10 times better than I was before I went over there. You have to, because the level of riders over there, if you’re not riding 100 per cent each session you’re down the back of the grid,” he said.
“I’ll be a lot more comfortable and everything will be a lot more set up for me next year, and I’ll have a bit of a focus on trying to bring home the championship.”
While he’s home, Wilkinson plans to train up to four hours a day until he returns to the UK in February and last week he worked with some of the best coaches and riders in the country as part of the AIS’ Elite Riders Program.
Wilkinson could barely take part in the program last year after only recently breaking his back, but his recovery has been remarkable and he intends to get even fitter for next season.
In the meantime he is enjoying catching up with family and friends in Bendigo while planning how to raise $40,000 to fund his next season with Seton Tuning Yamaha.
Wilkinson is working at his father John’s mechanic shop to save money, but is also on the lookout for sponsors.
“If there’s anyone out there that’s willing to help feel free to get in touch with us,” he said.
Wilkinson thanked those who helped him raise money to chase his dream last season, including Plaza Auto Sales Bendigo, Romp Design, Oil Warehouse, Cumagutsa Clothing, Johnson Painting Group, DH Engineering.