Monday, November 5, 2012

Phillip Island’s MotoGP: Part One

The past few weeks have seen many interesting developments in the Formula 1 paddock. Ferrari announced that they have renewed their contract with Felipe Massa, Lotus have confirmed that they are sticking with Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg has been picked up by Sauber, strengthening all of those paddock rumours claiming that Ferrari is watching him. Sauber’s reserve driver, Esteban Gutierrez looks set to take the second seat in the team next year after filling in for Sergio Perez during India’s first Friday free practice session. Apparently Sergio was suffering from some sort of super cold that was enough to keep him out of his car but not out of his team’s garage. During the session, camera crews focused in on the glum-looking Mexican who appeared more irritated than unwell. “Had a fever yesterday, but I’m all right today. It’s a team decision.” He clarified on his twitter. Watch out for an announcement in the coming days confirming either Gutierrez or current driver, Kobayashi. Finally, what update wouldn’t be complete without a random comment from Lewis Hamilton who once again left me speechless when he claimed that his childhood love of curries means that he feels quite at home in India… surely he’s kidding right?

But enough about Formula 1 for now, last weekend I took a break from my favourite motorsport to check out one of the most exciting forms of racing out there, namely motorcycle racing. I’ll admit it, I’m not an avid MotoGP enthusiast, in fact aside from watching the occasional race with my boyfriend who is quite passionate about it, I don’t really think about it that often. Sure I know the major players and yes the races that I have seen have been nail biting but I guess I have always told myself that there isn’t much room in my life for another form of racing aside from Formula 1. Despite this prior belief, however, I couldn’t resist a weekend of live racing at Phillip Island when the opportunity presented itself.


Bundled up in a massive yellow jacket which made me resemble a caterpillar of sorts, I made my way to the circuit via coach and was immediately thankful for my ridiculous attire upon arriving at my destination. Don’t let the latex mini skirts and cropped tops that the grid girls wear fool you, Phillip Island is absolutely freezing! Shivering in the freezing rain, my boyfriend and I made our way to our seats, stopping along the way to watch the Moto3 bikes.



Although we had purchased grandstand tickets just opposite the podium on Gardner Straight, it was a joy to watch the bikes from different general admission areas along the track. One major difference between Formula 1 and MotoGP has to be the quality of viewing from these relatively inexpensive areas. I was amazed how close I was able to come to the track and the sound of the engines was truly magnificent. The angles and speeds that the riders approach the corners at are quite frightening and when two or more bikes enter a bend at the same time the whole manoeuvre appears to be a well-choreographed dance. 

There’s something pure about motorcycle racing, something in its essence that I feel as though Formula 1 has lost. When I stood at the exit of the final corner at Phillip Island it finally hit me what that something was. One by one, as all of the powerful 1000cc MotoGP bikes passed me by, I noticed them kick their riders hard in their own unique way. Some riders had to contend with a small wobble, while others appeared to be on the edge between control and disaster. It seemed as though no one was really in charge of their machine and yet instead of timidly backing off, they all pressed on, harder and more committed than before they had even entered the corner. I wondered if the whole lap was like that and indeed as I stood at various vantage points, I discovered that it was.
You would think that a man who would willingly skate on such a fine edge would be careless to the point of recklessness and yet one thing impressed me almost as much as the fearlessness that the riders seemed to possess and that was the respect that they had for one another. There was no blocking, no swerving, no games like we have witnessed in Formula 1 in recent years. The slower riders made way for the faster ones and everyone gave each other room. One got the feeling that these riders could easily regulate themselves without the need for steward interference and ridiculous penalties for racing incidents. As morbid as it sounds, perhaps the fact that all of these men have witnessed tragedy in their careers and risk their lives every time they jump on a bike has made them better racers. Modern- day Formula 1 drivers could learn a few things from these men.

Watching them pass before me one by one, pushing to the limit and seemingly defying gravity made me think about men like Tazio Nuvolari, who started his career on a motorcycle and suddenly I understood the fascination. These men are the real deal; racers at heart who live for that feeling of adrenalin that they get pushing themselves beyond what many believe to be possible. Just like watching an acrobat, your heart is in your mouth the whole time. Instinctively you look away and yet can’t resist but to turn back and watch the show. Writing about that feeling makes me think of Enzo Ferrari and what he described as his “terrible joys”. Through MotoGP I was able to understand this contradictory feeling and experience its magnetic pull firsthand.


After my first taste of live motorcycle racing, my boyfriend and I took a moment to explore the area and check out some of the merchandise. The atmosphere was very laid back and I got the feeling that this must have been what Formula 1 was like thirty years ago, before the meticulous organization of modern-times. Most notably absent were all of the glamorous celebrities who regularly fight it out with one another during a Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend for a few precious moments of camera time. I definitely did not miss the big screen focusing in on Nicole Scherzinger jumping about like a deranged lemur every few moments that’s for sure.

The people in attendance seemed all equally passionate about the sport and many wandered around in motorcycle leathers and carrying helmets, having arrived at the track on bikes of their own. There were many banners expressing love for Australian native, Casey Stoner, who will retire at the end of this season. There was equal support, however, for legends like Valentino Rossi and many fans sported tributes to the late Marco Simoncelli, who died tragically in a race last year. As I left Phillip Island after the first day, I was full enthusiasm for Sunday’s race and had developed a definite respect for MotoGP.


Be sure to check out my blog in the coming days for part two of my MotoGP experience as well as more pictures from Phillip Island.

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