The casual MotoGP fan may not realize just how much Grand Prix motorcycle racing means to the British. Similar to the long tradition of success for American riders, British motorbike history includes some great champions and an important legacy of cultural contributions to top level racing.
It has been a while since the British had a premier class champ, but just as America dominated for over a decade with Roberts, Spencer, Rainey, Lawson, and Schwantz, the British once ruled the two-wheeled world with such legendary names as Sheene, Read, Surtees, Duke, and perhaps the greatest of them all, Hailwood.
So the British Grand Prix is simply a weightier affair than a MotoGP race in a country without decades of tradition haunting the grandstands and paddock. This is especially true when there are British riders contending for victory in their home race.
Perhaps Cal Crutchlow wasn’t a favorite for victory, but many in the paddock feel that if any current rider is going to join Ben Spies as the only other non-alien to win a dry race, it will be Crutchlow, and if that is to happen, where better than at Silverstone?
With so much happening at the front of all three races at Silverstone last Sunday, it is easy to overlook the battles behind. Especially when those battles seem to be falling into a fixed pattern, repeating the results of previous races.
A glance at the results of the MotoGP race Silverstone gives you a sense of déjà vu. While the top three swapped places, positions four to six were identical to their finishes at Brno, places seven to nine differed only in the riders who crashed out, and Aleix Espargaro took tenth spot, as he did in the Czech Republic. A pattern is definitely starting to form here.
If you haven’t heard of Riders for Health, it is the official charity of MotoGP, and also happens to be Asphalt & Rubber‘s favorite cause to support. Last year I had the supreme opportunity to attend Rider’s biggest fundraising event, the Day of Champions, which was held the Thursday before the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. While unfortunately I missed this year’s event (David and Scott got to attend though), I was very pleased to hear that British MotoGP fans raised £216,249 (over $336,000) for the charity.
That money will go towards helping Riders for Health to improve access to healthcare in Africa, where the charity relies on motorcycles to help bring healthcare professionals to remote villages, as well as reliably transporting medical samples, vaccines, etc. to places where four-wheeled drive vehicles cannot reach. I won’t go into a huge spiel about how awesome Riders for Health is, but if you want to read more about the great work these people are doing, you can read about them here.
While many in the MotoGP paddock have given endless amounts of support to Riders for Health, one standout supporter of this great cause is Valentino Rossi. During last Thursday’s rider auction, Rossi helped to raise £13,250 in just 20 minutes with nine items, which included a unique clay hand print, knee sliders, and the baseball hat he wore onto the stage. In total, the auction raised £77,090 for Riders, making Rossi’s star power account for over 17% of the money raised.
Over 75,000 paying customers came to watch the races at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on Sunday, and each and every one of them got their money’s worth. Three classes, three winners, battles to the very end, and serious consequences for all three championships, with two thirds of the races done.
The day got off to a great start for the home crowd with a calculated and determined performance from Scott Redding to win the Moto2 race. Redding had come to Silverstone with two goals: to win the race, and to further demoralize his main rival for the title Pol Espargaro. He succeeded totally in both objectives, much to the relief of the British fans.
When Redding turned up at his home track with a special patriotic livery, the Union Jack splashed all over the fairing of his bike, fans feared the worst. Bad memories of previous years when British riders had sported patriotic color schemes were imprinted fresh on their minds, and they feared that Redding had jinxed himself.
Redding disagreed, and demonstrated his point by running in the top 3 in every session but one. He made sure that he always finished ahead of Espargaro, and once he qualified on the front row, posting a stunningly consistent string of fast laps in the process, he had the job half-done.
Marc Marquez has been sanctioned with two penalty points for ignoring a yellow flag in the morning warm up. The Repsol Honda rider was penalized after crashing at Vale, just moments after Cal Crutchlow had gone down at the same spot. Marquez was penalized as the marshalls at the spot were waving yellow flags, along with the oil flags.
Speaking after the race, Marquez said he had not seen any yellow flags at the corner. “I didn’t speak with [Race Direction] but they said there was the yellow flag and the oil flag, and I know that with the yellow flag you need to slow down, especially when you see the oil flag, you slow down a lot, but I didn’t see them. I cannot say many things [about this]. The rules are there, and so if they gave me points, it’s because the flags were there, but I didn’t see them.”
Why do we keep watching motorcycle racing? Because sometimes magic happens. Today was one of those days. Two riders took their sport to the known limits in qualifying at Silverstone on Saturday, and then pushed at the edges to see what was beyond.
What happened then took the breath of the crowd away, and left the press room sitting in stunned silence. And shutting the media up takes some doing.
Veteran broadcaster Dennis Noyes described the atmosphere in Parc Ferme after qualifying like being in a church. There was an air of awed reverence, quietness almost, as the teams of all three riders on the front row showed their respect for what they had just seen happen.
Jorge Lorenzo had put on a display of as near perfect riding as it is humanly possible to achieve, destroying the lap record in the process. And then Marc Marquez had gone faster still, with almost effortless ease.
As Lorenzo stopped in Parc Ferme after qualifying, he gave a little shake of his head. He knew what he had just done – afterwards, he would say the lap was one of the best of his career, and that there was really only one sector where he could have found more time – and it had not been enough. It doesn’t really matter what Lorenzo tries, matching Marc Marquez seems to be impossible.