In The Paddock

Michael Scott | April 13, 2017

Darkness, Money And Missing The Point Of Racing

In The Paddock, Darkness, Money And Missing The Point Of Racing

There was a signal demonstration of the truth about modern racing in the desert night at Qatar.

No, not the sheer hubris of running a race in the desert, unnecessarily at night, in a country where local interest runs at somewhere between zero and zilch, and that the big race came within an ace of cancellation. Nor Dorna’s trousering of masses of Qatari cash.

Well, all those things, too. But also a revealing side show.

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It was a product launch in the VIP area at the track—one of very few places in Qatar that one could get a glass of beer, which, to be frank, was the major factor in my own attendance. The new MotoGP version of an existing cash-back card did not itself quicken the interest.

It began with a feel-good film, which felt hours long—youths surfing, girls shopping, women at the workout parlors, third-world mothers embracing babies, all grinning maniacally. You know the sort of thing.

Then we moved on to the meat of the occasion: The new MotoGP card, which shoppers become eligible for cash back when used. At certain shops.

The chairman spoke briefly. The signal thing about his company, he said, was that “it makes people happy, and this makes the community stronger.” Nothing about making money. Just a sense of a world bound together in love and happiness. By some very small discounts.

Patently bogus, but more revealingly he forgot to mention the MotoGP connection: that henceforth MotoGP tickets and merchandise will be eligible for this discount. Rather missing the point of the whole exercise.

Missing the point is my theme. Starting the season at Qatar is doing this to a huge extent. Except for the money.

To take it one flaw at a time, there’s the racing at night. This made some sense when the race was midseason, in the middle of Qatar’s blazing summer. But the desert sheikhs were prepared to pay handsomely to become the first race of the season, and the March date means the conditions are much milder.

But by now the lights had been installed. So it must be done at night. In that short window between darkness falling and the dew settling on the track.

Otherwise it would be pointless having the lights, no? (About as pointless as the circuit’s habit of turning them on midafternoon.) And—if you like further irony—the race weekend spanned the World Wildlife Fund’s “Earth Hour,” when from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. solidarity is expressed by turning off all unnecessary lights.

Then the decision that it would be impossible to race under lights in the rain was thrown into doubt by an impromptu test in February, with Loris Capirossi on a street bike following Franco Uncini in a rental car on an artificially wetted track. For them, it was fine. It needs to be verified with a track full of proper racing bikes. But the chance to try it out at pre-season tests was missed. Instead we waited in the hope that some rain might fall at a convenient time during race weekend.

Well, as we know, rain fell in profusion, but not even slightly conveniently. Quite the reverse. It overcame track drainage designed to cope with average rather than biblical downpours. Not a bike was able to turn a wheel the whole of Saturday—although the lights stayed on throughout.

It left plenty of time to wonder what we were doing in such a ridiculous place and absurd predicament. And the answer was not far away. Where once racing was about sport, it is now about money. Or was it always that way?

Well, there was a time when individual fat cats, usually circuit owners or operators, mercilessly exploited the enthusiasm of riders, underpaying them, failing to guarantee starting positions, and sending them out on blatantly dangerous circuits. And they trousered the profits.

Now the exploitation is concentrated within Dorna. But if the point is still to make money, there are several ameliorating factors—guaranteed grid positions for the members of the closed shop being just one of them. Vastly improved safety another. Along with financial viability.

A hugely profitable race like Qatar not only enriches Dorna, but it cuts some slack for less well-heeled venues. Argentina, say. Or Brno. In fact, it helps to support the whole series. As does a Dorna that makes profit.

So instead of caviling, I guess we should be grateful, and turn a blind eye to the careless greed behind the visit to Qatar.

And simply be glad that, by sheer luck, MotoGP got away with it. Just. There was an excellent MotoGP race, narrowly sandwiched by rain. Whew.

Because there is another point to racing. And that is to have a race. CN



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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.