Austin MotoGP – Definitely Moving the Needle
Story and photos by Whit Bazemore
Two weeks ago at the Circuit of the Americas outside Austin, Texas, the international superstars of MotoGP arrived in town to throw it down. Honda rider Marc Marquez‘s series title hopes got a major boost on race day when he guided his Repsol Honda to his fifth consecutive victory at the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, a race that saw him duel teammate and countryman Dani Pedrosa for six laps before pulling away for another easy Texas win. Nobody has ever beaten the Spaniard on the twisty Texas track.
The race enjoyed the biggest crowds in the five-year history of the event and it’s no wonder why. While MotoGP is thriving, other forms of professional motorsports have been somewhat neutered in comparison.
The relentless search for higher performance, “the” unfair advantage, and the application of modern technology has by and large forced sanctioning bodies to develop artificial means to enhance the actual racing. Formula 1 has DRS (drag reduction system) to make passing possible. Without it, it seems likely that after the first several corners of the first lap, and cunning pit stops, there would be zero passing in modern F1. NASCAR, many years ago, has among other things, created the “countdown” in an attempt to maintain excitement in the Championship.
NHRA has done the same, all the while embracing driver aids which have rendered the driver of the nitro-burning land based rockets even more irrelevant than they once were. Indy Car, specifically the Indy 500, is cool, but let’s face it, the days of household names and heroes are long gone at the Brickyard and the cars have wheel pants! Like NASCAR, the corporate influence has left the “stars” somewhat bland. Where is AJ Foyt and his temper when we need him?
None of the above applies to MotoGP.
First, the actual racing is more than alive and well, and certainly second to none. It is intense. Seldom is there a race without multiple lead changes, often on the same lap! The norm is riders passing each other, and re-passing, and re-passing some more in a hi-speed ballet of sorts. And the term “rubbin’ is racin” applies to MotoGP too. Yep – these guys lean on each other, bang into each other, and take each other wide into corners, all on two wheels with zero protection at speeds in excess of 220 mph on the straights! It’s incredibly dangerous – at a level unlike any other form of motorsport. Intense is an understatement.
The bikes themselves are beasts, untamed for the most part. (Yes, there are “rider electronics,” but unlike other forms of racing, the sanctioning body reduced the scope of the aids last year in an attempt to put more emphasis on the rider and less on the machine, without totally compromising safety.) These things accelerate like a fuel car. Put simply – they haul ass! And they stop on a dime too. All on a contact patch the size of, well – a motorcycle tire. They drift, slide, and spin the tire. They do all the things we used to see and still love, in every form of motorsport. They get sideways entering turns – almost like sprint cars – and the skill required to do so is truly beyond all mere mortals. If you’ve ever driven a car on a dirt oval, you know that a balanced application of throttle can get you in a nice drift fairly easily. Want to try the same maneuver on a 250 horsepower motorcycle on asphalt? No? We don’t either.
As for the sport’s heroes, they are international rock stars on par with our biggest American sporting celebs. From South East Asia, where the MotoGP fever runs high, to the homeland of Europe, Mark Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, and now Maverick Vinales are all household names garnering almost as much tabloid press as they do sports page coverage. Consider this: the sport’s biggest star, Italian superhero Valentino Rossi, has over thirteen million Facebook followers. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the most popular racer in America, has just over three million, and 7-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson “only” one million Facebook followers.
When Grand Prix legend Niki Lauda said last year, “F1 and other forms of racing need to be more like MotoGP,” it means one thing – All of us need to tune in to get our fix of the last form of “real” racing left in the world. Here stateside, MotoGP coverage is available on BeIn Sports network. Check out your local listings.
Next stop on the MotoGP World Championship Tour is Spain and the Circuito de Jerez. Details at motogp.com