International MotoGP race at the Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas, April 11 – 13, 2014.

38A new track constructed specifically to lure the Formula 1 for the World Championship of Drivers circus back to the USA. The track is immaculate, beautiful and specifically constructed for fans to see and absorb as much as possible from any vantage. Very fan-pleasing.

My medical credentials allowed me pretty much full access, but not necessarily into the “seats” where I could sit, have food and drink. That was “extra” but I managed to finesse my way in, at least on Friday where there weren’t too many people.

My buddy Billy Fanstone of Brazil and I wandered around the track all day and each site was as good as the next, although we nor anyone else can never get too close to the actual track. Double levels of fence.

The track is huge, biggest track I’ve ever seen. Something like 3.5 miles from one of the six parking lots to the main gate.  And of course, extremely expensive to get tickets US$1000.00 or so for the three-day race weekend including parking and a seat.

The Formula 1 circus directors liked this track and so the Formula 1 motorcycle series was a natural to add to its itinerary.  There are paramedics on the track but not doctors. The safety director is my old friend from CART Lon Bromley and we had a nice reunion. Long time CART medical director Dr. Steve Olvey is the Medical Director and there are several other doctors around under his direction.

This is the big leagues of two wheel racing, three separate series- Formula 3 (250 cc engines), Formula 2 (600 cc engines) and finally the big boys at 1000 cc, 220 mph on the straights.

It’s difficult to accurately describe the phenomenon of a flat-out motorcycle on the front straight. It’s so incredibly fast it’s difficult to understand how a human can retain control. The rider tucked in behind the diminutive windscreen…..then sitting upright to catch wind (slowing down), followed by clutching the side of the bike like a spider as it tilts to an impossible angle in a corner at speed.  And most of these riders are kids. It’s just ridiculous.

We wandered though the pits watching engineers and techs correlating virtually everything the engines do on a computer. On the actual track, each machine has a shack full of computer monitors that follow every stroke of the piston and turn of the wheel. Each rider has a tiny air conditioned apartment” for sleeping and resting during the day. They hang their tracksuits out to sun.

Then though the paddocks where T-Shirts and other memorabilia are hawked with a blood lust for money that would embarrass the Whore of Babylon. Of course I couldn’t resist picking up a couple of t-shirts, even at blatantly rip-off prices.

The state of motor racing in the new millennium continues to amaze me. When I was there in the 60s, we drove our MG-A’s, Triumph TR-3’s and Porsche 356’s to the track, taped the headlights, fitted a tubular roll bar behind the front seat, raced all day, uninstalled it all, then drove home. The few people that showed up had a good time and went home with full wallets.

Now it’s a big business indeed. Every square centimeter of space on a race bike is filled with an advertisement. Riders and drivers are forced into indentured servitude from their sponsors, the females, of course, encouraged to exhibit as much sexuality as they can pull off without looking “too” much like Playboy centerfolds. The money gleaned from everything and anything associated with racing is parceled out by intricate contracts.

Interestingly, the “fans” have little or no access to the really top riders.  I had a medical pass which allowed me to go anywhere I wanted and I never got anywhere near Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden or Valentino Rossi. Their pits were carefully sequestered and closed to everyone and anyone not directly related to them. I got some shots of Rossi coming and going out of his pit.  If they do address “fans”, it’s briefly and very meticulously orchestrated with lots of sponsor visibility.

The MotoGP speeds are difficult to process. Any accident at these speeds would be reliably fatal. Each rider on swinging around the final turn before the main grandstand goes out of their way to lift he front tire for a while just to show their control at over 100mph. Their control of the machine if phenomenal.

All this forces the question of whether MotoGP is a “Sport” or an exhibition. In order for it to be truly a sport, the skill of the rider must exceed the inherent performance of the machine. Of course, the more money put into the machine, the faster it goes. A skillful rider can theoretically overcome limitations in the machine’s performance by simply taking more chances than the next guy.  This potential stoked by the sponsors’ demands to go faster presents a very dangerous situation indeed and transcends skill.

I think that nine time world champion Valentino Rossi is technically the fastest rider that ever lived, but is in the process of lugging a really uncompetitive machine. So, it’s unclear at this point how many chances he’s really willing to take before he cuts his losses and changes teams. .

Unclear also how any of this applies to open-wheel motorcar racing where driver’s ability is less than the car’s performance in a situation where passing is difficult or impossible. In Formula 1, the first cars on the grid usually finish first. Not so much in MotoGP as there is more room to pass.

This race was won by Spaniard Marc Marquez, who started from the poll, let the entire race and set the track record. The Honda team came in first and second, making them pretty much unbeatable so far. He looks like he’s ten years old and started shaving yesterday. Rossi finished 8th, complaining of tire issues.

The actual race is typically colorful and exciting. The fans can see much of the action from good vantage points. I think you have to see it live at least once to fully appreciate the unique ambiance. Then the best seat in the house is always in front of a nice, big high resolution TV screen. I was happy to have had the opportunity to experience this adventure.

 

 

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