In the background of MotoGP, a quiet battle has been raging since the Australian GP at Phillip Island. A venue always threatened with inclement weather, the Australian track always manages to muster sunshine on race Sundays, despite the fact that they have all the makings weather-wise for a good regatta, not a motorcycle race. Despite this reality, the issue of running the Australian GP earlier in the race season comes up every time MotoGP gets a whiff of rain, wind, or kangaroos that could threaten the coastal track, as the late scheduling of the GP has historically been during the country’s rainy season.
Pressure to move the Australian GP to earlier in the season seemingly found its stride this past season, as Valentino Rossi and a number of other riders openly expressed their frustration with the circuit’s weather, and the pending safety concerns it meant for the riders. Talking during last season’s race, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta seemed all but certain that the venue would find an earlier slot in the calendar for 2011, despite the scheduling conflicts with WSBK and Formula 1 in the earlier months of this new year, and the nagging problem that Phillip Island doesn’t want to move the venue date.
Fielding questions at the Ducati/Ferrari Wrooom event, Ezpeleta again was asked about the issue with Phillip Island, and his response to the track’s position that its contract with Dorna prevents a change in the calendar positioning (PI is contracted until 2016). Talking to the assembled press, Ezpeleta fired a clear warning shot across the bow of the Australian track when he said the track’s homologation could come into question if calendar changes aren’t accepted. “We are talking with them. It’s true, they have a contract, but their circuit is subject to homologation,” said Ezpeleta. “If it (the Phillip Island track) is not homologated, the contract will be void.”
The reading between the lines on this one is pretty clear, as Ezpeleta is saying that if Phillip Island doesn’t comply with the wishes of MotoGP race series promoter, the track would foreseeably find itself without an FIM homologation certification in the future, and of course no FIM license, means no MotoGP contract, which means no MotoGP race. That’s what we call in the legal biz a loophole, and a very big loophole indeed for Phillip Island.
Technically speaking Dorna has nothing to do with Phillip Island’s race homologation, as that’s under the purview of the FIM (a very important point as that clause in the contract would likely be found to be illusory in many countries). But the reality is that since Dorna is the FIM’s licensed promoter for the MotoGP World Championship, the international regulatory body generally defers to the Spanish media company on what direction would be best to take the series.
There’s also the issue that Ezpeleta, along with the Rider’s safety commission, have considerable unofficial sway in the homologation of new tracks to FIM standards that historically seems to go past just an advisory position. Without going into legal mumbo jumbo, how much defacto control Dorna has over PI’s homologation could be a central issue should the contract dispute go to court.
A glaring conflict of interest inside GP racing? You bet, but there is some hope for Australian race fans, namely the fact that Dorna cannot afford to leave the island nation off its schedule for 2012. The drawing power of Australia’s rabid fans is too big of a market to ignore from a media perspective, especially with an Aussie fighting for the podium each Sunday. If Phillip Island calls Ezpeleta’s bluff, the move could come back to bite them, as we wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Dorna looking to other Australian tracks.
Time will tell on how this one plays out, but Dorna is certainly playing hardball with one of the most famous tracks on its calendar, which never bodes well. One thing is for certain though, if we were Australian or Kiwi racing fans, we’d make out voices heard on the issue, because after all Dorna’s success is linked to fan attendance and participation.