Tag Archives: MotoGP

Phillip Island MotoGP 2013 – as seen by a spectator

I have been lucky enough to be able to attend the last three MotoGP events at Phillip Island. This year, the added challenge was that I could claim to have started the journey to the track from New York – arriving home in Melbourne on Saturday afternoon, before completing the journey on the Sunday morning. Anyone who has been to the track spots the irony in the pit-straight banner proudly proclaiming “Melbourne!”. The track is nowhere near! It takes over an hour from my house travelling the flat plains and countryside to get to the Island, before a further fifteen minutes is spent crossing the island to reach the track.

To keep me company (and prevent serious jet lag overcoming me whilst the race went on) I went with a fellow motorcyclist and friend from work who had not been to the event. As a Formula 1 follower, it meant the spectacle of pit stops and their possibility of helping decide the race outcome was nothing new to him. To me, it seemed like the organisers had come up with the best compromise they could have. It gave us a race, reduced the danger to the competitors as much as they could and still fitted in with the global television time slots. Not ideal, but better than sending the 31,000 spectators home without seeing the main event.

One thing about the Phillip Island circuit is that it is vast! As a general admission spectator, only the outside of the 4.5km track is accessible. Devoid of grandstand, corporate or media passes means you are left walking to get from one spot to the other. On foot, it takes a huge amount of time to circumnavigate. As such, picking a spot and staying in that vicinity is realistically your best option. This year, the organisers felt it appropriate to drop the “cloak room” facilities, which meant we were left lugging our motorcycle gear around all day. For once, the weather was kind and it was warm enough to wear no more than T-shirt and shorts. So we had a lot of gear to lug around! Wasn’t happy about that…

So, limited by luggage, we went to Turn one, near the marshals’ bunker. This is an excellent spot to spectate from. You are close to the action and the bikes are very near full speed. If you pick wisely, you will also be able to see Turn 3, watch the bikes through Turn 4 and up to Siberia, meaning you will witness plenty of bravery and overtaking. It is also the position of one of the super-screens so you don’t miss the action when the bikes are travelling around the other postcode on the opposite side of the track. Have I mentioned how vast the circuit is? Sure, photography from here requires a fast auto-focus or a lot of luck, but I can go stand on any street corner and watch motorcycles go by at slow speeds… And after three weeks of holidays lugging my DSLR around, I didn’t even bother to take it this year.

Before giving my commentary on the race, I feel I should divulge my allegiances that normally only the television gets to hear. I have been a Marc Márquez fan since his days on the 125s battling with Pol Espargaró. It was obvious he is a new crowd favourite. Unlike many riders, Rossi still gets the cheers he deserves, but so does the new kid. It is funny that two years ago, Márquez was the villain to most of the crowd, after the appalling crash into Ratthapark Wilairot at the end of free practice. I witnessed that crash and have meant to blog about the circumstances leading up to it. Unfortunately, Marco Simoncelli’s fatal crash happened a week later and that reduced my enthusiasm for blogging about motorcycle racing and partial justification of accidents.

About that race…
Even in such short “sprints” the racing appears to settle down as a pattern is established. Initially, it appeared that Jorge Lorenzo was capable of holding the two Respol Honda riders at bay. The Hondas are stronger under brakes, and would close a little into Turn 4, but by the time they were next at that point on the track, Lorenzo would have clawed back the ground he lost. Just prior to the pit-window, it appeared that the titanic struggle was slowly tipping in Márquez’s favour. The crowd could sense he was closing. Whether the stop watches would agree with us, or whether it was just wishful thinking from the spectators, I do not know – but, that is how it appeared.

Then the pit-stops unfolded. First Dani Pedrosa came through. We watched the super-screen replay of Pedrosa demonstrating how quickly you could stop the Honda, unaware of any dramas surrounding the new point at which the speed-limit took effect. The next lap Lorenzo came in. Some – including myself, were slightly mystified that Márquez stayed out. Wasn’t there only a two lap window in which you could pit? There was a feeling of “they know what they are doing”. Mercifully, we could not hear the track-side announcers over the noise of the bikes. No matter what you think of Gavin Emmett and Nick Harris, they are infinitely better than guys who get to cover one race a year when the MotoGP circus comes to town. Spoken commentary is not a skill that I have, but neither do they…

As Márquez reappeared from the pits, down the infinitely long pit-exit lane we all held our breath in anticipation. We could see it would be close… Lorenzo and Pedrosa closing, Márquez anxiously looking over his shoulder… I was willing him not to turn off the speed limiter early… Don’t spoil what will be an exciting finish! And out he exited. Perfect timing, in what if it were scripted would appear corny, melodramatic and unrealistic. Except it wasn’t! The first corner clash between Lorenzo and Márquez happened less than 100 metres from our vantage point. The way I saw it, neither party was innocent. Lorenzo was clearly wider than normal and Márquez came across further than he needed to. They both looked like they were trying to jockey for position in a bluffing game – in a schoolboy-macho type of way. Neither party was particularly guilty either and that matter should be put to rest.

After the pit-stops, racing resumed with Lorenzo leading Pedrosa and Márquez coming up to speed in third. In this second part of the race, Márquez looked to be clearly faster. He passed Pedrosa under brakes into Turn 4. It did not appear that Pedrosa had conceded the position and we were unaware of any penalty Pedrosa was apparently serving by dropping the position. He pushed on and there was a genuine sense that we were going to watch a classic race unfold. He looked to be catching Lorenzo and we were going to witness an epic battle! And then we weren’t… Márquez was slowing, he was coasting into the pits. No hurry, no excitement. The crowd was notably quiet – voices speculating as to what had just happened. MotoGP went back to its recent worst… Just a high speed procession for a few laps until the end.

As I stated earlier, I am a Márquez fan. But for the record, I think:

  • Intentionally or otherwise – he broke the rules.
  • He was disqualified for doing so.
  • The punishment fit the crime.

Quite simply, the rule he broke was for the safety of everyone: riders, marshals and spectators. Considering the safety of others is a lesson Márquez has yet to learn. It has been two years since the incident with Wilairot, but I cannot see any signs of him maturing in that respect.

In the end I was left with a sense of being robbed of a great race. Had Márquez not got himself disqualified, I think we would have seen one of the races that would have been remembered as a classic to rival Laguna Seca, 2008. But, as a race fan, every dull race makes the next exciting one, one closer.

Casey Stoner

Casey StonerSince witnessing first hand Casey Stoner’s utter domination of the Australian MotoGP round last year, I have been meaning to write a post about him. Now, with the announcement of his retirement at the end of the season it seems even more timely. 

In 2008, I had described Stoner as one of the “upper echelon” of riders – a status that appeared to be too “high-brow” to catch on.  The four I named in that post (Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Rossi and Stoner) went on to earn the nick-name of “the Aliens“.  I wasn’t alone in recognising that they were a cut above the rest.  How good are they? Since the beginning of the 2008 season, “the aliens” have won 72 of the 74 races held. On their day, any one of those four riders would be untouchable.  Plagued by injuries and bad luck, Dani Pedrosa is the only one of them not to win a World Championship in MotoGP. (yet?)

There are a lot of fans in MotoGP who only begrudginly accept Sonter’s ability.  Ironically, it has been Rossi’s dismal performances on the Ducati that have served to highlight just how good Stoner is.  The problem that a lot of fans have with him appears to be that Stoner is “just a racer”.  He isn’t the showman and extrovert that Rossi is. Stoner’s detractors have nick-named him “moaner-Stoner” which personally, I feel is unwarranted.  The thing I have enjoyed about the “off-track” Casey Stoner is that he is always honest about things.  When he did not do well  he would answer the press questions as truthfully as he could.  Some fans saw this as “making excuses” and maybe it was, but the answers were never phrased as why he didn’t win, only why he didn’t do better.

Stoner attracts fans based on one thing only –   His raw talent and speed on the bike.  He has never been about beating the record books, nor winning admiration of fans through off-track theatrical performances.  As a marketable product, that puts him at a disadvantage, but marketing people are clever and the best work  with what they get. When I wrote about Valentino Rossi, I mentioned that not many former world champions re-win a championship after they lose a couple.  Rossi and Agostini were rarities.  Now, you can add Casey Stoner to that list.

If you are a fan of MotoGP and your home event has not happened yet this season, grab the chance to witness one of the fastest riders the sport has ever known.  Until you see him riding live, you can’t fully appreciate his extraordinary talent.

When Worlds Collide

I watched in abject horror as Dani Pedrosa weaved violently from side to side of the track, at the rear of the field as the rest of the competitors disappeared from his view. Pedrosa was travelling dangerously fast for the next corner and way off the racing line. The bike slowed imperceptibly as though the brakes had air in the lines. In an act of pure desperation, he pitched the bike over on its right side in a vain attempt to make the corner. That the bike would run wide and off the track was a given. What wasn’t so expected was the fact that with in excess of fifty degrees of lean angle and still heavily on the front brakes the bike didn’t “wash-out”. Rather, it merely acted as though the grass was covered in sticky glue, retarding the bikes momentum far more effectively than the brakes had.

Of course, I was Dani Pedrosa and this was the demo version of the game “MotoGP 10/11”. I must admit I enjoy a good racing simulator and as a motorcyclist was desperate to like this game. You can’t expect an X-Box controller to map accurately to the controls of a motorbike, so “realism” in such a game is always going to be a subjective term. The demo version of the game starts with all the usual assists you can expect in a modern racing simulator, including a “racing line” indicator that both indicates where you should be and how fast you should be travelling by its colour.

If you were to paint a line on a racetrack and ask me to travel at whatever speed I felt was appropriate but to stay close to the line, I reckon I could do a reasonable job. Asking me to do so in the game proved close to impossible! I think the largest problem with motorcycle games and a controller is judging a lean angle via the thumb-stick. Maybe I am just a n00b, but it seems difficult to use the thumb-stick and push it to an exact angle that is not at its extremity. Minor corrections are an impossibility as the only steering mechanism you have acts as a giant inverted pendulum. Dani gradually leans from one side to the other, meaning all direction changes need to be planned well in advance.

If I was allowed to call the shots for future development of the game, I would love to have a custom controller that mimicked handlebars and utilise the Kinect sensor to allow for body positioning on the bike. That way, body movements could provide minor line corrections, similar to what happens in real life. A less ambitious idea would be to use the second thumb-stick to provide this line-correcting behaviour. This presumably would have the advantage of being easier to port to the other game platforms.

On the positive side, the game is gorgeous to look at. The visuals are stylised rather than attempting and failing at photo-realism. The result is stunning. Screen shots look like an oil painting. Playing it makes it look like err… a moving oil painting! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the demo only allows access to what must be the most picturesque circuit on the current MotoGP circuit – Mugello. Although it is even more absurdly difficult to play in “first-person” view, this really does bring out an excellent feeling of realism as your view is buffeted about by the wind rushing past you.

Strangely enough, you don’t hear the wind though. Mind you, this is not a bad deviation from reality, as you are missing out on 90+ dB of white noise blaring out of your television… The noise the bikes make is probably a fair approximation of a MotoGP bike. It certainly is not awful enough to be detracting from the game.

As for an overall verdict based on the demo version, well the jury is still out. I enjoy a challenge in a game and if I had “won” the very first race I attempted, it would not have been a game that appealed to me. However, there comes a point where wobbling around behind the rest of the field loses its appeal. Do I have the persistence to keep playing until I reach the point where I can challenge Alvaro Bautista and Mika Kallio for fifteenth and sixteenth place? I can tell you that unless that happens soon, I might have to just consign this game to the “too-hard” basket and wait for a revolutionary Kinect enhanced version of a motorcycle racing simulation.

Moto2

For those of you who do not follow the MotoGP series, there is a new second tier class this year.  After sixty years, the 250cc category was replaced this year by Moto2.  The change from 250cc two strokes, to 600cc four strokes has divided opinions on the Internet forums. 

The new class has a “control” engine supplied by Honda and “control” tyres, supplied by Dunlop.  I suspect the rules for the category were finalised at around the time of the Global Financial Crisis and have been heavily influenced by the desire to keep the costs of this class down.  As with the earlier change from 500cc two strokes, to the 990cc four stroke in the premier MotoGP class, this change in formula has generated a renewed enthusiasm amongst the racing fraternity.  As a result, around forty-three riders are partaking in the formula. 

The rules, plus the sheer number of bikes on the track have made for some quite interesting racing in the opening two events this year.  The knockers are quick to point out that the lap times are slower than the 250cc two strokes they replaced, but racing where plenty of overtaking takes place overrides this concern. 

When a new and significantly different category of racing starts, it ‘levels the playing fields” between the different teams.  Data gathered from previous years is no longer relevant and so, most teams feel they have a fighting chance of being “up at the pointy end of the field”.  Unfortunately, this only really lasts for one season.   The introduction of 990cc four strokes in MotoGP  saw renewed enthusiasm from manufacturers with Aprilia and Kawasaki fielding entries, and Ducati following the next year. 

Several years later, Aprilia and Kawasaki are gone.  Without good results, sponsorship is hard to come by.  Somehow, Suzuki still field bikes despite their lack of decent results.  Will the same fate of shrinking numbers on the grid befall Moto2?  Given the current huge number of bikes in the competition, you would expect some reduction in numbers over the next couple of years.  Hopefully the measures put in place to restrict costs will stop the wholesale decimation of the grid numbers.

As for me: personally, I am just hoping to see a good season of close racing and maybe witness the rise of a new champion in the sport.  Bring it on!