The more time I spend photographing MotoGP, the more fascinating the riders become. In the past few years I’ve come to believe that, while superior physical differences (their reflexes and fine motor skills) are significant, it’s the mental differences that are the most interesting.
I suppose anyone who has ridden a motorcycle even a bit beyond one’s comfort zone can appreciate some part of the physical aspect of riding a racing bike. For most of us, even the speed of racers in local events is impressive compared to our street riding.
By the time we consider Grand Prix riders, their level of performance is so high that I suspect most of us have very little idea how challenging it is to move a motorcycle around a track that deftly.
While the skills with throttle, brakes, and balance are on a level similar to the best athletes in other sports, I think that what really sets motorcycle racers apart is their ability to overcome fear.
As Randy de Puniet heads to Japan to test Suzuki’s 2014 MotoGP bike, the possible availability (some won’t be convinced it’s a reality until a pair of Suzuki motorcycles appear on the grid in Qatar next April) of two new factory seats has spawned a Silly Season unto itself.
If that possibility entailed another satellite prototype team, the furor would be considerable, but that it’s a new factory team means reason and rationality are running for their lives.
So once again we have the chance to observe the unique mindset of the top level motorbike racer. To that mindset, at least in this modern era, the factory ride is the Holy Grail of motorcycle racing. It’s easy to see why this has happened.
After the days of the 500cc two-strokes, when a highly-developed formula meant a privateer team could compete with the deep-pocket teams, the four-stroke era has seen costs skyrocket, and factory-deep pockets dominate the win column. It’s for very good reasons that riders feel you have to be on a factory bike to win races. But the thing is, not all factories are equal.
Marc Marquez stole several things this past weekend at the Circuit of the Americas. Freddie Spencer lost two records (youngest rider to set pole and youngest rider to win a premie-class GP race), and Cal Crutchlow lost a great deal of attention he deserved for a fantastic performance, in some ways his best since coming to MotoGP.
So many members of the media were focussed on Marquez’s record setting that few of us gave due attention to how remarkable a job Crutchlow was doing on his first visit to this new facility. Marquez, Pedrosa, and Lorenzo were fastest in qualifying, helped by the experience at COTA that was gained during the pre-season test in March – also along for that test were Valentino Rossi and Stefan Bradl.
But, Crutchlow did not make that trip, and thus put in his first laps at Circuit of the Americas on Friday. Those first laps were after a garage fire had dealt Tech 3 the wild cards of drenched equipment that, though thoroughly dried by the hard-working crew, remained of questionable reliability given the soaking they had received Wednesday night.
While Marquez rightly had the majority of our attention, consider the performance of a satellite rider on his first weekend at a new track.