A resourceful group of MotoGP fans, fronted by Gadget Show presenter Suzi Perry, failed to let the Eyjafjallajökull volcano put a cloud over the cancelled Japanese MotoGP race last weekend. Instead, they turned to the power of Twitter to establish the world’s first ever virtual race, #TwitGP.
In what was arguably the first of its kind in recent sporting history, a postponed sporting event was salvaged and transformed into an online gathering of loyal enthusiasts and web junkies. The result was a bizarre yet intriguing fan-led celebration of MotoGP past and present which underlined the sphere of influence within the Twittersphere and the sheer appetite for online sports campaigns.
The concept for #TwitGP was started within hours after the official cancellation of the Japanese Grand Prix, as Suzi explained to me on the phone from her #TwitGP HQ: “We were all so disappointed that Motegi was postponed, that we started this as a bit of fun, just to see how far it would go,” she said. “We were amazed that in less than 24 hours we had almost 2,000 people on board, including riders, mechanics, teams, press, IT and even a few celebrities, including Ross Noble.”
Day-by-day, the #TwitGP phenomenon spread quicker than a volcanic ash cloud and in less than seven days, the @TwitGP account had close to 6,000 followers – not far from the 7,302 spectators who physically attended the actual season-opening Qatar Grand Prix just a few weeks back. The initiative also attracted the interest of top bands Stereophonics (@stereophonics) and The Prodigy (@the_prodigy) and genuine MotoGP racers Jorge Lorenzo (@lorenzo99) and Nicky Hayden (@nickyhayden69).
The rules of #TwitGP were deliberately loose to allow fans and contributors the chance to shape the next development, but the skeleton format replicated an actual race weekend with free practice, qualifying and the race itself from Friday to Sunday. Contributions ranged from MCN Sport editor @guyprocter producing a mock-up magazine cover to promote the race to @madmark99 acting as a virtual Photoshop advert with his creation (and admitted oversight in not copyrighting) of the TwitGP logo.
Racing driver and TV star Tiff Needell took it upon himself to design the virtual ‘Twitegi’ circuit (Motegi being the real name of the Japanese GP circuit for those not well versed in motor racing venues!), while racing legends Max Biaggi, Mick Doohan and Kevin Schwantz all ‘virtually’ dusted off their leathers to join current superstars Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and the aforementioned Lorenzo and Hayden in Twitegi battle.
As the sessions progressed with live updates from @TwitGP, contributions came in from actual MotoGP presenters and team members giving the public a rare opportunity to converse with those in the paddock’s inner sanctum. The race unfolded on Sunday afternoon with Kevin Schwantz taking an unexpected and unlikely victory ahead of @Lorenzo99 and Rossi.
Once all the race day celebrations had eased off, Suzi gave us her post-race debrief:
“The anticipation for race day emulated an actual GP!” she said. “Messages came flooding in all day; people asking about the weather so they could wear the correct clothes, to questions about how the riders were feeling! It was as if it was actually happening. Of course it was all just a huge amount of fun and wordsmith daftness, which everyone seemed to love and relish, to the point of tweeting their thoughts and tech/bike mash vocabulary! We broadcast the event live, uploading appropriate pictures and it was a wonderful experience to be covering a ‘race’ again…and of course, to see “Revvin” Kevin Schwantz on top of the podium!”
It was a completely bizarre end to an utterly unpredictable week in the world of MotoGP and Twitter. But should we really be surprised by the power of Twitter?
As Suzi herself sums up: “Twitter is such an amazing medium and its power never ceases to amaze me.”