In The Paddock Column

Michael Scott | December 4, 2019

In The Paddock

COLUMN

The Spanish Championship came to a climax in Valencia in November. The dominant national hero Marc Marquez took all the attention again. Whoops. Sorry, that was actually the World Championship. The Spanish national series is called only “the Junior World Championship,” and that only in Moto3.

Forgive the confusion. GP racing is nowadays so Spanish, with four of 19 races on Spanish soil and slews of Spanish winners. Although one of the three 2020 World Champion is not, Moto3’s Lorenzo Dalla Porta is the first from Italy to win in 125/Moto3 since Andrea Dovizioso in 2004, in a class that once belonged to Italy.

It’s not just the riders. The management of grand prix racing, Dorna, is an entirely Spanish company. Exclusively so, and observably nepotistic at the highest levels, with CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta not shy of installing his children in management roles in both MotoGP and World Superbikes.

If this is starting sound like a xenophobic anti-Hispanic rant, please bear with me. It’s actually the opposite. About face!

I recall writing in 1987 under the headline “Only In Spain” about events at the newly built Jerez.

In The Paddock
Spain seems to be the current home of MotoGP, and it all began at the new Jerez track back in the late 1980s.

That first Spanish GP there, won by eventual champion Wayne Gardner by a massive 20 seconds, was hilarious, a memorable hoot and a proper shambles.

The Sunday traffic jam was so bad that riders ran across open fields in their leathers to get to the track in time for morning warm-up. Leaving the track on Sunday evening was no easier.

The telephone network was also totally overwhelmed—no mobiles and no internet, so it was a problem for journalists trying to file copy by phone or fax.

Jerez itself and most of the local towns were swamped with manic helmetless bikers, all seemingly intent on crashing head-on into one another at massively high-speeds.

And a crowning glory—a police car whose handbrake failed rolling into the crowd, causing several injuries. Overlooking this scene, a booted and spurred Guardia Civil policeman mounted on a large and shiny horse, severe uniform capped by the weird medieval-looking three-cornered leather hat, paid no attention. Why would he, when he looked so splendid silhouetted spectacularly against the skyline?

This article gained me little favor among the growing Iberian contingent, but I like to think it had a small but important effect on the total transformation since.

It didn’t take long, for example, for Jerez to become a model among contemporary venues. The crowds got bigger, but new roads (thanks to EEC funding) and a well-planned associated infrastructure coped in exemplary fashion. Small changes to the circuit layout also speeded up the lap and improved the racing, too.

New circuits followed—Montmelo outside Barcelona and subsequently, Motorland Aragon carried standards forward in all sorts of areas, including safety. (Least said about Valencia the better, though to be fair the pocket-handkerchief venue offers spectacular viewing akin to stadium motocross.)

Dorna took over GPs some four years after the birth of Jerez, and along with wealthy and well-focused Spanish sponsors like Repsol and Movistar started fast-forward programs to develop national riding talent. These have borne fruit ever since, and continue to do so, in what is dubbed a conveyor belt of Spanish talent. The first 500cc-class Spanish winner and the subsequent champion was Alex Criville in 1999, paving the way for Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Marquez, and company. Not to mention a raft of winners in the smaller classes.

Dorna was itself pretty xenophobic at first, financially grasping and seemingly small-minded and destructively self-protective in all sorts of ways. Since then, however, the company has gained self-confidence in so many ways.

This shows in matters of promotion and, most notably, TV production. Dorna also weathered the loss of tobacco sponsorship and the financial meltdown of 2008. They also took forceful control of rules that previously favored one or two big-spending factory teams, to engender more competitive racing and attract more entrants. Hence today’s statistics, with six factories in the premier class, eight races with a winning margin of less than a second, and three of those inside a 10th of a second.

Along the way, Dorna had become a forward-looking company embracing internationalism.

This is not undermined by having four races in Spain but reflected in the expansion of the calendar from 1987’s 15 rounds to next year’s 20, along with the move into the booming bike market of South-East Asia. There are more to come, with expectations of expansion to 22 races a year.

More importantly, the program’s recruiting and developing youthful talent has gone global, with the Red Bull Rookies Cup joined by Asian and British series, the first two of which already reflected in the winners’ circles.

Yes, motorcycle GP racing is overwhelmingly Spanish. And at the end of a great season, it’s hard not to say that it is overwhelmingly positive. CN

 

The Spanish Championship came to a climax in Valencia in November. The dominant national hero Marc Marquez took all the attention again. Whoops. Sorry, that was actually the World Championship. The Spanish national series is called only “the Junior World Championship,” and that only in Moto3.

Forgive the confusion. GP racing is nowadays so Spanish, with four of 19 races on Spanish soil and slews of Spanish winners. Although one of the three 2020 World Champion is not, Moto3’s Lorenzo Dalla Porta is the first from Italy to win in 125/Moto3 since Andrea Dovizioso in 2004, in a class that once belonged to Italy.

It’s not just the riders. The management of grand prix racing, Dorna, is an entirely Spanish company. Exclusively so, and observably nepotistic at the highest levels, with CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta not shy of installing his children in management roles in both MotoGP and World Superbikes.

If this is starting sound like a xenophobic anti-Hispanic rant, please bear with me. It’s actually the opposite. About face!

I recall writing in 1987 under the headline “Only In Spain” about events at the newly built Jerez.

That first Spanish GP there, won by eventual champion Wayne Gardner by a massive 20 seconds, was hilarious, a memorable hoot and a proper shambles.

The Sunday traffic jam was so bad that riders ran across open fields in their leathers to get to the track in time for morning warm-up. Leaving the track on Sunday evening was no easier.

The telephone network was also totally overwhelmed—no mobiles and no internet, so it was a problem for journalists trying to file copy by phone or fax.

Jerez itself and most of the local towns were swamped with manic helmetless bikers, all seemingly intent on crashing head-on into one another at massively high-speeds.

And a crowning glory—a police car whose handbrake failed rolling into the crowd, causing several injuries. Overlooking this scene, a booted and spurred Guardia Civil policeman mounted on a large and shiny horse, severe uniform capped by the weird medieval-looking three-cornered leather hat, paid no attention. Why would he, when he looked so splendid silhouetted spectacularly against the skyline?

This article gained me little favor among the growing Iberian contingent, but I like to think it had a small but important effect on the total transformation since.

It didn’t take long, for example, for Jerez to become a model among contemporary venues. The crowds got bigger, but new roads (thanks to EEC funding) and a well-planned associated infrastructure coped in exemplary fashion. Small changes to the circuit layout also speeded up the lap and improved the racing, too.

New circuits followed—Montmelo outside Barcelona and subsequently, Motorland Aragon carried standards forward in all sorts of areas, including safety. (Least said about Valencia the better, though to be fair the pocket-handkerchief venue offers spectacular viewing akin to stadium motocross.)

Dorna took over GPs some four years after the birth of Jerez, and along with wealthy and well-focused Spanish sponsors like Repsol and Movistar started fast-forward programs to develop national riding talent. These have borne fruit ever since, and continue to do so, in what is dubbed a conveyor belt of Spanish talent. The first 500cc-class Spanish winner and the subsequent champion was Alex Criville in 1999, paving the way for Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Marquez, and company. Not to mention a raft of winners in the smaller classes.

Dorna was itself pretty xenophobic at first, financially grasping and seemingly small-minded and destructively self-protective in all sorts of ways. Since then, however, the company has gained self-confidence in so many ways.

This shows in matters of promotion and, most notably, TV production. Dorna also weathered the loss of tobacco sponsorship and the financial meltdown of 2008. They also took forceful control of rules that previously favored one or two big-spending factory teams, to engender more competitive racing and attract more entrants. Hence today’s statistics, with six factories in the premier class, eight races with a winning margin of less than a second, and three of those inside a 10th of a second.

Along the way, Dorna had become a forward-looking company embracing internationalism.

This is not undermined by having four races in Spain but reflected in the expansion of the calendar from 1987’s 15 rounds to next year’s 20, along with the move into the booming bike market of South-East Asia. There are more to come, with expectations of expansion to 22 races a year.

More importantly, the program’s recruiting and developing youthful talent has gone global, with the Red Bull Rookies Cup joined by Asian and British series, the first two of which already reflected in the winners’ circles.

Yes, motorcycle GP racing is overwhelmingly Spanish. And at the end of a great season, it’s hard not to say that it is overwhelmingly positive. 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.