CHANGING A WHIMPER INTO A BANG
It cannot be argued that that the final race of the MotoGP season was less than gripping. Indeed, it was only the lack of grip, bringing down Lorenzo, Crutchlow et al, which made it remotely interesting. Oh, and the brilliance of Marquez in Moto2.
But Wolf has a stunning idea. Million dollar SuperMotoGP, the Grand Finale! Yes, the motorcycling equivalent of Superbowl with the top ten riders from World Superbikes taking on the top ten from MotoGP.
Already I hear the chorus of negativity/disapproval rising. It can't be done, the MotoGP guys will win hands down, what will they ride etc. etc. Well, in the world of showbiz anything is possible and what a great season closer it would be.
Why would it be possible and why could it be an intriguing and stunning showpiece?
1) Both championships are controlled by the same promoter Dorna.
2) It would be a €1m purse with €500,000 to the winner.
3) It would be in a country prepared to fund a tv showpiece; a circuit favourable to Superbikes; and with a good chance of sunshine, ie. probably not in Europe.
4) Fifteen riders from each series would be paid to enter but only ten from each would qualify.
5) As with WSB it would be a two race event with the winner being an aggregate score but the points being weighted towards winners.
And now the interesting bit:
Qualifying would be to decide which riders made it to the grid on race day. Grid positions would be decided by ballot, ie. DRAWN OUT OF A HAT.
To the traditionalists (stuck in the muds) who object to all this and are horrified by the latter I say this: Motor sport is battling against an increasing number of people who object to noise, gas-guzzling and anything which encourages risk. It is costly, it's audience is getting older and it's market share against other forms of participation (eg cycling) and entertainment (eg football) is falling. As women's participation in sport is increasing, as more sports are gaining Olympic recognition, where is motor cycle racing.?
So radical ideas are required to attract new young audiences. And television coverage is critical. What would having a ballot for grid positions do? Well, qualifying on the track has become pretty boring despite the variety of attempts to tart it up. Even Eurosport seem to have lost their enthusiasm for live coverage.
But watching the riders draw for their grid positions with half a million quid on the line would be fascinating television, it would also give every rider a more even chance and would, in theory, have the potential for exciting final laps.
PS: If all this is a bit too much for the world to take on board, perhaps the creative thinkers at British Superbikes who, after all, brought us the Showdown might like to consider the ballot idea to liven up their series next year. A small fee would be welcome.
SIMPLY THE BEST?
The media are often accused, sometimes rightly, of building people up in order to knock them down again. But this time the game has been kicked off by none other than Cal Crutchlow. And the victim is Marq Marquez.
Following his sensational victory in the Moto2 race from a back-of-the-grid starting position at Valencia, Marquez was described by Crutchlow as "the best in the world" while adding rather more sensibly that he was capable of winning one or two races in first MotoGP season.
But Crutchlow was at least on the right track. The Marquez ride was indeed sensational and he is undoubtedly the outstanding up-and-coming rider. Doubts have been expressed as to the strength of the Honda team for next year, not least in this column, but with Pedrosa showing he knows how to win (and, sadly, how to fall off) and Marquez showing he has the quality to be a world champion at the highest level, then Yamaha have reason to worry.
One thing is for certain. The Honda garage with Pedrosa and Marquez is likely to be a lot more united than Yamaha with Lorenzo and Rossi.
LEST WE FORGET
The TT Riders Association lunch being held this week at the Motorcycle Museum near Birmingham's NEC is a wonderful gathering of the great and the good where stories of daring deeds both on and off the track are recounted and seem to get more amazing and/or funnier by the year.
Achievements are recognised and anniversaries remembered. One such, which has so far gone unnoticed, is the 50th anniversary of the death of the great Bob McIntyre. The tragic accident which killed him took place not on the TT circuit but at Clay Hill, Oulton Park, in August 1962.
The Flying Scot was, and is, a TT legend - the first man to record a 100mph lap on his 500cc Gilera when winning the 1957 Senior TT. It was one of many great TT rides - who could forget his sensational opening couple of laps within a whisker of 'the ton' on a 250 Honda four in the 1961 Lightweight TT?
McIntyre never won a world title - Libero Liberati, also on a Gilera, won the 1957 crown - but he was an absolute hero to thousands of road racing fans and to the many great Scottish riders who have been inspired by him since.
FIRST IN... FIRST OUT?
It is difficult not to admire the bravado of those behind the plan to build a new race circuit in Wales. It is also difficult not to pose the question: "Have they taken leave of their senses?"
The path of those who try to turn their dreams of gleaming new sports facilities into the real thing habitually turns into a minefield as costs soar, completion takes longer and the bank manager starts calling.
This is not to say that the Welsh government and its development agencies are unaware of the risks attaching to a £250m development. And it is not just a racing circuit they are proposing to build. It would be the centre-piece of a huge scheme to attract industry to Ebbw Vale and create jobs in one of the most deprived areas in Wales.
The ambitious plans include staging MotoGP and WSB on the 3.5 mile circuit and, on the rest of the 830acre site, commercial and leisure developments including advanced engineering in motor sports and green transport related businesses. Plus a race academy for up and coming riders and drivers.
An admirable and ambitious vision, remarkably like the one announced by Silverstone a year ago. No, we must not pour cold water on big audacious goals because faint hearts never achieved anything. But raising money for these ventures, as Silverstone have discovered, is not easy and they already have a circuit and three world championship events.
As the creators of golf courses, sports stadia and new infrastructure in general often often find out to their cost, it is often the second or third owner buying them out of bankruptcy who make the money. These are the smart guys. One such is Jonathan Palmer who acquired Brands Hatch, Snetterton, Cadwell Park and Oulton Park, for a figure probably less than £30m. They were not by any means bankrupt but the US parent company desperately wanted to sell. Since then he has probably spent another £30m or so making them into first class racing facilities but with much of the profit coming from non-race related activities.
The Welsh project is still some way from getting a complete green light - planning permission still to be obtained etc. - and external finance will presumably still need to be raised. But good luck to them. Who thought we would get the Olympic Games and look what a triumph it has been, putting all the doubters firmly in their place.
PENSIONERS GO RACING!
The eye-watering amount paid by a Canadian pension fund for a stake in Dorna has surely silenced the doubters, including this scribe, who questioned the value of MotoGP and the way it was being run. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, already an investor in Dorna so it knew what it was doing, paid a reported 400m euros for 39% of the company thereby valuing it at something approaching €1bn.
Smart fellas those beancounters at parent company Bridgepoint. More than just numbers jugglers. First they buy Infront, the marketing company in which World Superbikes was an orphan, dwarfed by football and tennis; then, after assuring the FIM that WSB and MotoGP would be kept separate, they sacked the bosses of WSB and moved it under the Dorna umbrella - still being run separately, of course.
But in one foul swoop, more or less, they now have two world championships under one boss; costs of administration will be reduced; competition between the two series is eliminated or, at least reduced; and they get all their money back while still owning a majority stake in the business. Even Rupert Murdoch would be admiring their chutzpah.
It has also bought the owners more time which the new investors will need to make a good turn on the new money they have put in. There is much to be done to transform a series which star turn Valentino Rossi describes as "boring" to one where winning is not confined to four riders. It is unlikely we will see much change next season although Rossi on Yamaha is the wild card. To see him on top of the rostrum again would probably exceed even Camelo Ezpeleta's wildest dreams.
So more radical moves are likely. MotoGP has to be made more competitive(a deal with Honda is now more likely to put more Honda-powered machines on the grid); more attractive to new teams (subsidy from the promoters); and more money to riders (the rumoured minimum of £250k per season).
And finally a series which has true international appeal either by stars who transcend boundaries(Rossi) or local heroes capable of winning(Stoner attracting a record crowd at Phillip Island). Such is the current Spanish domination and their lack of star quality or international appeal that nobody outside Spain is in the slightest bit interested.
JOHN BROWN - A GIANT OF HIS TRADE
The recent death of John Brown has deprived motor cycle journalism of someone who, like Norrie Whyte before him, could be described as a proper reporter. They had earned their trade in local newspapers; recognised that the best and most interesting stories were about people; and were trusted by their contacts while not being afraid to run stories on the basis that news is often what someone somewhere does not want to see published.
This is the legacy left by the immensely likeable JB and journalistic wannabes, whether they be jumped -up road testers or youngsters starting out, should pay attention. JB never forgot who he was writing for or where the stories were likely to be found, ie the paddock as opposed to a PR person in the media centre.
A true character who will be greatly missed.