It’s been a long summer break. Three consecutive weekends without racing – four, for the returning Moto2 and Moto3 classes – means that the MotoGP riders return well-rested and raring to get back on to a bike again.
Some, of course, have already spent some time on a bike over the summer, with both Yamaha and Ducati testing (more of which later), but for the most part, they have had an all too brief vacation cut short by a return to training. Training never stops for a motorcycle racer.
The location they make their return is a spectacular one. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the true home of American motor sports. It is a vast arena, a sprawling complex set inside a two-and-a-half mile oval (though it is more of a rectangle with rounded corners than an oval), housing an eighteen hole golf course, a magnificent museum, and acres and acres of space to roam around in.
It can seat up to 400,000, which it regularly does for the Indy 500. It oozes history; like Monza, everywhere you go, the ghosts of racing legends are at your side. In the shadows, you can hear them whisper.
The problem of having MotoGP at the heart of American racing is that to most Americans, motorsport involves four-wheeled vehicles. Americans love motorcycles, but the motorcycles they love are mostly American.
The real American motorcycle racing fans can be found on Saturday night a few miles away, at the Indiana State Fairground, where American motorcycles turn laps on an oval made of dirt. Those American motorcycle racing fans – hard working men and women come to watch the most blue collar of sports – are joined there by a large part of the MotoGP paddock, entranced by this most quintessential piece of Americana. The Indy Mile is just one of the things that make this weekend so very special.
Sadly, the road course inside IMS’s spectacular facility is not one of them. Originally designed to be run in the opposite direction for Formula One, the track which MotoGP uses is tight, with most of the corners closing up instead of opening out, as they were intended to be run the other way. The asphalt – though resurfaced – is a bit of a patchwork, with four different types of tarmac as the track runs onto and then off the oval, and through the center of the massive facility.
Last year, there were a lot of complaints that the new tarmac had no rubber on it, which led to a large number of serious crashes. The worst of those hit Casey Stoner, who effectively ended his season and his title defense there when he broke the bones in his foot and ankle. This year, the track should be a little better, now that it has had cars lay down a little rubber on the surface, but it remains a finicky and difficult track to ride.
You have to wonder if the memory of last year’s crashes will linger with the two men tipped to win the title this season. Both Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa return to action at Indianapolis still not fully recovered from their broken collarbones, and at the start of a triple header of three races on three consecutive weekends.