The 2010 MotoGP World Championship gets underway at the Losail International Circuit this weekend after an agonisingly long off-season period. It has been five months since the curtain fell on the 2009 championship in Valencia, but the Qatari night race will literally put motorcycle racing back under the spotlight once more.
There have been few big name moves over the winter with Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo resuming battle in the divided Fiat Yamaha garage, Casey Stoner partnering Nicky Hayden at Ducati, and Dani Pedrosa alongside Andrea Dovizioso at Repsol Honda for a second season.
However, there has been a serious injection of fresh blood into motorcycling’s premier class this season with the arrival of a batch of enthusiastic 250cc graduates in the shape of Alvaro Bautista (Suzuki), Marco Simoncelli (Gresini Honda), Hector Barbera (Paginas Amarillas Aspar) and Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda). The youthful composition of riders in this year’s championship makes 30-year-old seven-time world champion Valentino Rossi look positively, well, veteran in comparison.
The age gap has certainly not flustered Rossi, whose pre-season form has been scintillating. His position at the head of the timesheets has been threatened only by a resurgent Casey Stoner aboard the Ducati who took top honours in the recent night test at Qatar. Not that seeing Stoner’s name in first place is any shock, particularly at Qatar where he remains unbeaten since 2007. With Jorge Lorenzo still in recovery mode following an off-season hand injury and the Hondas struggling for outright pace, it looks as if 2010 will be another Rossi/Stoner double act.
Off-track and MotoGP’s Spanish rights holders Dorna have been busy evolving the sport for the new season with some notable announcements in recent weeks. First of all, there is good news for armchair fans with the confirmation that MotoGP will go HD in 2010. Formula One fans are still patiently waiting for HD broadcasts, so MotoGP has stolen something of a march on its four-wheeled counterparts.
A word from Dorna’s Manel Arroyo on the subject: “Working alongside the most recognised sports broadcasters worldwide and being one of the leading motorsports championships, we have a duty to stay abreast of all the emerging technologies which help us to capture the speed and adrenaline of MotoGP”. Enough said.
A lot of MotoGP’s other developments appear to stem from a ‘home is where the heart is’ approach. Of those rookie riders we mentioned earlier, two are Spanish, bringing the total number of Spanish riders to five out of a field of 17 (note, there are also five Italians). MotoGP is unsurprisingly popular in Spain. The Jerez MotoGP event on race day is something akin to Mecca for motor-racing fans – whether two-wheeled or four.
One of Dorna’s recent agreements revolves around promoting Spain as a tourist venue. When the 2010 calendar was unveiled – with the three existing Spanish races all in situ as expected – there was the introduction of a fourth Spanish venue as a back-up should any particular race not proceed as planned. Lo and behold, when the already postponed Hungarian GP could not progress due to track development complications, the position on the calendar was duly given to the Aragon Motorland, an impressive looking facility in northern Spain.
So five riders, four races and ‘Visit Spain’ logos adorned wherever there is blank space, the MotoGP world championship is the world’s fastest moving Spanish postcard. It is a shrewd deal and makes sense for both parties. Certainly Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is pleased: “For years, the three Spanish GPs, now four, have already served as an attraction to foreigners to visit Spain, and with this agreement we hope to continue to draw more people, not only to watch the races but to discover everything the country has to offer,” he said.
However, it is worth asking whether an overwhelmingly Spanish championship character puts off other brands looking for truly international exposure for their brands. Or does its Spanish flavour give MotoGP a distinctive character and appeal that sets it apart from other worldwide sports? If the objective is simply to “Visit Spain”, then Dorna’s job is done.