Valentino Rossi’s amazing run of nine world titles was aided, in some part, by the level of those whom he had to fight for wins. With all credit given to Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau, his two main rivals until the modern class of “aliens” arrived in MotoGP, neither of these two riders was on the same level as Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, and Jorge Lorenzo.
My colleague David Emmett has commented several times that these three riders came up through their development years knowing that to win they would have to beat Rossi. They alone managed to elevate their skills to a level that could challenge him over the course of a season, where as Biaggi and Gibernau, as good as they were, could not manage the same growth as mature riders.
I’ve often considered how, to win as many titles as Rossi and Agostini have done, you need some help in the opponent department. Agostini benefitted from Mike Hailwood’s career choices and own bad luck when it came to finding a good fit on a competitive bike.
Rossi benefitted from arriving in MotoGP long before riders as good as Stoner, Lorenzo, and Pedrosa were around to fight him. If those three had been present in 2001 and riding at their full potential, it’s a safe bet Rossi would not have seven premier class titles in his pocket.
It’s easy to forget that motorcycle racing is a sport for children. Their courage on track is remarkable, and even more so because of their young age. They start at five, four, sometimes three, riding their tiny motorbikes around the paddock or on dirt tracks in rural towns and lonely desert spaces and sometimes in organized series such as the Cuna Campeones Bankia.
At this moment there are thousands of kids either on their little machines or wishing they were riding, counting the minutes until they get to put the helmet back on and ride, perhaps just for the joy or perhaps with dreams of a world championship.
They have various levels of support from adults, ranging from the tolerant, to the indulging, to the demanding. As in all endeavors, most of the individuals either don’t reach their potential due to other demands on their time, energy or budget, or they approach that potential, and are judged to have too little talent in their bodies and minds to warrant moving to the next level.
Those who have the talent and desire, and are lucky enough to be recognized as such, might receive the support to compete at higher and higher levels. And sometimes by the onset of adolescence these kids are worldly and experienced in the ways of competition, travel, sponsorship, and so on.
With all three world titles settled as we head to Valencia, some find their attention more focussed on the test that follows the season’s final round, rather than on who will win any of the weekend’s three races.
Certainly Rossi’s future reunited with Yamaha and Jorge Lorenzo as teammate is a subject of great interest, as is Marc Marquez on a factory Honda. But also there’s the future of Ducati to ponder, as a returning Nicky Hayden is joined by Andrea Dovizioso, while Ben Spies and Andrea Iannone join up to ride for the factory’s junior team.
Here are four gifted riders with several world championships between them. But as good as they are, none of them is Casey Stoner. And none of them has the financial backing of Valentino Rossi, who was able to ask for major changes to the GP11 and GP12 designs, none of which resulted in a package that would allow Rossi to return to the front of the pack.
This past weekend at Phillip Island was a memorable experience in two distinct but related ways. It was my first visit to this famous track, and I arrived with high expectations, but figured I’d be at least a little disappointed. For all the hyperbole heaped on Phillip Island’s GP course, how could it be that great?
But as I explored the track, which immediately reminded me of one of my favorite courses in the world, Donington Park, I found that once again, TV fails to deliver the full picture. Phillip Island not only has interesting and exciting turns and elevation changes, but is also set in a gorgeous landscape of green and blue.
It has few of the eyesores than usually adorn race tracks. There are no giant wire fences, very little Armco away from the pit lane, few trackside porta-potties or trailers, and from what I saw, no orange cones. Instead there are lush grasses and dense forests of trees, or blue ocean water with sea birds in the air.
Spectators are allowed close and unobstructed views of the track and we photographers are allowed even closer. If a TV stand or food vendor is spoiling your background, you can often move to a different position and make the distration disappear from the shot. When I first arrived I asked in the Media Center for a map of the Red Zones, places around the track they don’t want us to go.
I got a puzzled look and this reply: “Ummm, I don’t think there are any. Just go where you want unless a marshall objects.” There seems to be only one general rule: if you see a row of tires, don’t stand between the those tires and the track. If you can respect that amount of common sense, pretty much anywhere else is available.
So working there was a pleasure and I seemed to be in a land of nearly endless possibilities for images. I can imagine it would take years of shooting there regularly to be confident you’d found most of the really good perspectives.