AS I WAS SAYING ............
before we were so rudely interrupted, the world seems to be going to hell in a handcart. First it was some tabloid motorcycle newspaper proclaiming that Ducati was in crisis simply, apparently because our hero (Rossi) had performed less than adequately in his first race on the iconic Italian marque; then the Doctor aimed some rudery at Lorenzo and Stoner, pretty well par for the course; then the Roman Emperor (Biaggi) gives Italian upstart Melandri a podium slapping for not showing sufficient respect(he overtook him); and finally Rossi takes Stoner off the track, one way of winning a world championship which has worked for him before(remember Gibernau?)
Now we have World Superbikes boss Paolo Flammini announcing that his machines may well have headlights next season!! I can't believe it! Talk about losing the plot.
But with the immortal quotation "Don't panic Mr Mannering" still ringing in our ears from our own minor irritations, we conclude with the perspective that Ducati have always been in some sort of crisis and, actually this isn't one at all; and riders like Rossi and Biaggi are less than matey with challengers who can beat them.
The headlights idea has promoted a deal of mirth from cynical hacks - "What's next Paolo, wing mirrors" - but it is an attempt to reinforce WSBK as a production-based series, particularly in the light of MotoGP moving to 1200cc engines next year. Flammini is convinced they will have to be prototype engines because that is what the manufacturers want but obviously still feels threatened by it.
The headlights, by the way, will probably lookalikes in the form of decals of the sort used by NASCAR in the States. We shouldn't be too stick in the mud about it, it is one little innovation which might make a small difference.
What is more important is the imperative to reduce cost. Superstocks provide exciting racing at half the cost; further standardisation of tyres (what is the point of qualifying tyres?!); pump fuel; and a simplification of the formula with all it's expensive electronics requiring personnel with degrees in computer sciences.
If Mr Flammini is such a fan of NASCAR, and he obviously is, he should look harder at what they do to level the playing field in what appears to be his life or death struggle with MotoGP. He should also get his new owners Infront, the sports marketing experts headed by Philip Blatter(son of Sepp), to start thinking about promoting their Superbike series. Such is their fixation with football their effect on WSB, since taking it over, has been somewhere between nil and zero!
BETTER THAN SEX?
A well known jump jockey - that's horse racing you at the back! - called Mick Fitzgerald wrote a book called "Better Than Sex." Hmm! Well, he had just won the Grand National which rather like the TT some people would like to see banned. But that's how we think about ours isn't it?
The trouble is there are fewer of us and we are getting older. However exciting we think bike racing is there are a lot of people, particularly at the younger end, who think this business of going round in circles is rather dull.
It is certainly true that sponsorship from energy drinks companies like Red Bull and Relentless do want to put their money behind extreme sports of which bike racing is one. But they, and many other companies, want to back sports which attract younger audiences. Events like the X Games, in the States, which includes Supercross, is meat and drink for them.
European promoters and the governors or motorcycle sport have to take a longer view. The sport has to reach out beyond the core audience, which is ageing, and young stars have to be found - Valentini Rossi is now in his 30s!
Rightfully, a lot of attention - and money - has been spent on facilities and track safety. Now is the time to have a long look at the product and simply having three races rather than two may not be enough.
PS - a bright spot on Monday morning! BBC TV sports news carried Jonathan Rea's victory at Assen, with pictures, ahead of Lewis Hamilton winning the Chinese F1 GP. Hurray.
THE OLD DOGS HAVE IT!
At the start of the season there was a wave of optimism, in this column at least, that the old order in World Superbikes would change. The younger guns, especially the Brits, would topple the geriatrics such as Messrs Biaggi and Checa. What has happened?
The old order remains, at least for the moment. And, we have to say, it looks like staying that way even though Jonathan Rea's victory in the first leg at Assen was convincing. Carlos Checa, who must surely go down as one of the best riders never to have won a world championship, looks like he is set to break his duck.
The thing about great riders is that they never lose their enthusiasm. They never get bored with winning. And Checa's enthusiasm at beating Biaggi on the last lap was unbridled, launching himself into the arms of his fans in victory circle.
It is not just about the riders, and those two near-40 year olds are class. They are backed by two of the best teams in the paddock with bikes to match. Interesting that they are Italian?!
But what about the challengers?
The combination of Melandri, Laverty and a proven Yamaha setup looked powerful and may still be. Binning it doesn't help but improvement required. Ten Kate Honda were delighted with Rea's performance but it is their home track and he likes it. One has to feel sympathy for Leon Haslam because he is having to ride so hard and his chances of a title are diminishing fast . BMW promised so much and, quite frankly, haven't delivered. The less said about Kawasaki the better. Sykes must be frustrated after good qualifying times and the bike is fast. Time for a rethink. Equally frustrated must be Leon Camier. Left on the start line in the first leg at Assen, he rode really well to get fourth in the second.
All these guys have potential and are contenders. But consistency wins by both team and riders. So far they haven't shown it.
Overlooked in all this are great performances in World Supersport. Chaz Davies rode brilliantly to win at Assen after the race had been stopped twice. Sam Lowes is a champion in the making and recovery from a broken collar bone shouldn't take long. Gino Rea tries so hard and while he often looks like an accident waiting to happen, which it occasionally does, he is improving all the time. And James Ellison, if he could just maintain pace, is in with a shout. And the racing is great!
If, as has been suggested, promoters need to make bike racing more appealing to a wider, and probably younger, audience then the season-opener at Brands was a cracker. MSV can't take credit for the weather (brilliant) and won't want to for the crashes (spectacular) but it was great entertainment.
The short circuit at Brands is not liked by everybody, the riders in particular, and the circuit is
pretty crowded but that first Superbike race must go down as one of the best ever. It was fast and frantic. Spills make thrills. Whether we like it or not that is what people like to see. Nobody wants riders to be seriously hurt and the safety precautions seemed to stand up pretty well. All who bit the dust will be racing at Oulton this weekend.
Most of all people want to see exciting, competitive racing with their heroes going head-to-head, taking risks and winning. And if they get a good looking girl on their arm at the end, all the better.
Let's have more of it.
A couple of further observations from Brands: 1) Full marks to the promoters for providing excellent family entertainment. Making it a good day out for the kids as well as the mums and dads is important. They are tomorrows fans. 2) Lower, or no, marks to some riders who still seem to regard the pit-lane walkabout and the signing session for fans as a pain in the backside and something that has to be endured. These are the people who pay your wages, whatever they are. It is very important PR. Watch how the Doctor does it.
RECESSION - WHAT RECESSION
There did not seem to be any diminution in the number of luxury motorhomes dominating the paddock at the weekend. "Bit of a change from the old days of Transit vans," observed one wizened race follower.
Of course one supposes it is a bit of a big willy contest among macho males. The line-up did promote a rather more perceptive comment from one more financially attuned observer: "if you relate the size of the motorhome to the amount of money each rider makes (not always reliable) then the road racers (ie the TT, North West and other Irish meetings) seem to be winning!"
Interesting isn't it!