Is MotoGP more like Formula 1 auto racing or NASCAR? Is it the riders or the machines? I just noticed an article over at Popular Mechanics where they spent the weekend at Laguna Seca and made this observation:
for many fans the sport is more like NASCAR, because it’s all about the racers: Valentino Rossi and his Yamaha M1 have expanded the sport’s appeal with his seven World Championships, while Australian wonderkid Casey Stoner is attempting to steal the show on his Ducati GP7 and reigning champ Nicky Hayden is struggling to stay in the top 10 on his Honda RC212V.
I would be willing to bet a large percentage of the fans, if asked without seeing it, could not identify the company that builds the RC212V or even what it is. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. The popularity of racing at this level seems more personality driven than machine driven. Though MotoGP certainly has a high tech similarity to Formula 1, even the Formula 1 fans are personality driven.
Over the years, for many racing venues, what you see on the track and what you can buy is getting farther and farther apart. Race on Sunday, sell on Monday doesn’t work. A stock car is nothing of the sort, they are purpose built machines with as much similarity to showroom cars as a Formula 1 car, save for pseudo bodies that carry an impression of the factory look. What does a MotoGP bike compare to? Except for Ducati selling a few Desmosedici machines, after they are no longer current, nothing in the showroom is on the grid.
World Superbike and the AMA racing in the U.S. are where the factory bikes get a chance. Some classes are still highly modified but the bike ridden by Ben Spies has a lot of similarity to what’s in the Suzuki showroom and most fans know exactly what a GSX-R is. In a way, I think the fans for these classes are different than the MotoGP group. The Rossi fan club is huge, in Europe he attracts crowds like a move star, racers in the other classes don’t have that problem, they’re popular and sign lots of autographs but they’re treated differently.
The only time you root for the machine, regardless of who is on it, is when it is so different or cool or the company is small or brand new, or there is something else unique about it that you want it to have an impact by winning or placing well. For motorcycles, the Britten is one of the best examples. Harley Davidson attracted a following when they briefly went racing with their VR1000 and the Harley faithful really wanted to see it do well. Sometimes, just being different technically creates a lot of interest, whether it wins is a side issue. Auto racing is filled with examples, years ago Jimmy Clark showed up at Indianapolis with a rear engine Lotus, Andy Granatelli brought a couple of turbines and in drag racing Don Garlits put the engine in back. Fast forward to today and you see the KillaCycle electric dragbike running low 8 second quarter miles and a Lexus hybrid just won an endurance race not to mention Audi diesels cleaning up in the LeMans series. Those events get the technical juices flowing, who was the rider or driver? Without looking it up, I don’t know but the machines are cool.
Could MotoGP make a technical change so dramatic the riders would not matter as much? The drop to 800cc this year was a big deal but it didn’t take the attention off the riders. I’m solidly in the tech camp, I like to see what makes the bikes tick, who is on them is less important and I thought the NASCAR comparison in the article I referenced, interesting.
So what do all of you think? And what are some examples of technical changes that focused your attention away from the riders and on to the bikes?
Link: Popular Mechanics