Commentary on MotoGP: Not the Best Anymore?
July 27, 2007
Chaz Davies, former 125/250 rider, given a Formula Extreme ride and recently slotted on the Pramac d'Antin Ducati for the just concluded USGP.
Kurtis Roberts, contested in 125 class, rode the Proton for KR Racing, a splash in AMAs, and recently named "human speed bump" by Valentino Rossi.
Miguel Duhamel, one of the winningest AMA riders in Honda history dropped out of the USGP because he couldn't "hang".
Roger Lee Hayden given a wild-card ride on the ZX-RR is in AMA Superbike and currently #1 in the standing in AMA Supersport, finished 10th.
Fabrizio, Bayliss and other riders given a one-off ride or temporary ride in MotoGP. When did MotoGP become so accessible to riders in different "lesser" classes? Isn't MotoGP the "Top Gun" of motorcycle racing? The class of racing reserved for the top 1% of riders in the world?
With all the recent influx of riders and watching the 800cc races, I am starting to wonder if MotoGP is the top gun of racing anymore. With many riders stepping up from MotoGP 250cc like Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner, we are seeing the doors open up for riders like Jorge Lorenzo. As posted earlier today, AMA Superbike reigning champion, Ben Spies, is now slotted for a factory GP ride. Not that any of these names equates a lack of talent. There's plenty of talent there. But here's what I am thinking:
I remember the days when the 500cc GP bikes were wicked, flicking riders off because of the surging power delivery of those two-strokes. Those bikes were difficult to master and a beast that was hard to tame. Not any rider could come up the ranks and master those 500cc GP bikes. It took the most talented, adaptable riders to even get the bike from start to finish, much less a win. Names like Doohan, Schwantz, these are names of legends.
Then, with technology and the need to assert its dominance as the world's pinnacle of motorcycle racing, in came the 990cc bikes. Without the aid of traction control and all of the numbers of computer trickery, these bikes weren't the uncontrollable beasts like the 500s, but they were equally hard to ride. They'd demolish tires and trying to put the enormous amount of power to the ground required a smooth, carefully manipulated throttle hand.
The vicious high-sides of the 500s became spectacular rear wheel spins on corner exit. Speeds were incredibly high and so was the action. The rider who could control this 990cc beast had to be smart, talented and adaptable, able to ride the bike when it stuck, and keep it on two when the tires went off and began to slide.
Those were days when Valentino Rossi dominated and everyone else was a pretender. Not that they weren't talented, but they didn't have the skill set of the top 1% of riders. One blip in the way of Kenny Roberts, Jr. and Nicky Hayden mars the otherwise Rossi dominated 990 generation.
Fast-forward to today, with a myriad of technological gadgets and tidbits. We have the 800cc bikes. Roger Lee Hayden said he overlayed his computer data with the other Kawasaki riders and the difference was that the practiced GP riders got on the throttle and got on it hard. He then said, "Do that on any other bike [that doesn't have such intrusive traction control] and the results aren't the same."
Colin Edwards has been quoted to say that it's harder to ride his R1 streetbike than his M1 racebike. Nicky Hayden has said that he enjoyed the "old days" when you could hang the rear out and the power was more difficult to control because it proved to everyone what kind of rider you were...
The best of the best. The "top gun" of motorcycle riders.
Now, the bikes are so "easy to ride" that speed-bumps like Kurtis Roberts can plop his enormous body on a GP bike and run in a race with a great like Valentino Rossi. It makes it much easier for 250cc riders like Pedrosa and Stoner to come up and adapt SO quickly; Dani demonstrating last year how rare it is for a rookie to go so fast on a "GP" bike.
So, is MotoGP not the best anymore?
I take a glance over to the other World motorcycle competition, WSBK. The riding out there is so ragged, so raw, so edgy. It looks and feels fast, tough, hard. The bikes are tossed, muscled and forced into corners. The racing, in short, is EXCITING! Come back to MotoGP and it seems the races are watered down, proper, graceful... almost ballet-ish. In fact, that's what it is: MotoGP is like ballet as WSBK is like football.
I guess my question is: Since when was it so easy for riders from "lesser" classes to come into GP level racing and do better than those who have been in it for years? It shouldn't be so easy. A 250 racer shouldn't be able to handle, control and manipulate a GP bike so easily, so quickly. What happened to growing pains?
Rossi and Hayden have said they'd like to see less computer control in the current bikes because they say it "helps riders go fast too easily." Whereas a talent like Stoner is a proponent of it (obviously) admitting that it helps you stay on the bike when you make a goof. But isn't that the indicator that you aren't as good as you think you are?!?
Shouldn't you have to learn the hard way instead of just pinning the throttle and letting the computers save you and keep you on two? The extensive intrusion of computer trickery has saved tires, but I say, ultimately, has diluted the talent allowing "speed bumps" like Kurtis Roberts and short learning curves from 250 riders succeed too early.
MotoGP isn't the best anymore, in my opinion. Some of the riders are quite special, but it's no longer an closed grid where the cream rises to the top. It's an open grid where just about anyone can win a GP race. And if you just so happen to have the best tire and the best bike on the grid... Well, you win many more.
Last thought... The current 800 races have allowed me to appreciate THAT MUCH more the talent of Valentino Rossi, (the underappreciated) Marco Melandri and yes, Nicky Hayden, who despite the limitations of their machines, can operate them at such a high level and at or near their maximum.
If I want to watch state-of-the-art technology, I'll watch MotoGP. If I want to watch exciting motorcycle racing, at or near its purist, give me WSBK any day.
"It´s not easier to ride, but I don´t need something easier, I need something faster." - Nicky Hayden #69
Next Track Days (NESBA): September 10 - Summit (Main)