Indianapolis-MotoGP-Tony-Goldsmith-LTD-7

Depending on who you ask, MotoGP’s summer break is either too short, or too long. For the fans, three full weekends without MotoGP is a painfully long time, though both World Superbikes and BSB have done a pretty good job of making MotoGP’s absence much more bearable.

For the teams, riders and staff, the four weeks between the Sachsenring and Indianapolis pass in an instant, seeming way too short to qualify as a break.

In between PR appearances and negotiations for 2016, riders are lucky to grab five days R&R before getting back to training for the remainder of the season.

Team staff, on the other hand, spend their time catching up with all of the stuff they didn’t get done in the first half of the season, and try to get a head start on the second half.

What were supposed to be 23 days away from it all get eaten up by a myriad of minor tasks that had been neglected, and before they know it, they are on a plane again and heading for the next race.

Not that they mind: for 99% of the people involved in MotoGP, they are driven by a passion for racing, and being at a race track is their idea of heaven. That is why they are paid so poorly, and what makes the paddock such an inspirational place to be.

Indianapolis is a pretty good place to get back to racing, too. Downtown has a real motorcycle buzz, with bike-related activities going on throughout the weekend. Indianapolis Motor Speedway remains one of the most special motorsports facilities in the world, drenched in legend and racing history.

Getting in and out of the circuit is a breeze, in contrast with other races, meaning you don’t have to get up at insane o’clock if you want to get to the track in time for the start of morning warm up.

It has its downsides too: in a facility as gargantuan as IMS, the crowd of 60,000 or so MotoGP fans just rattle around the place. The layout of the track, housed in the circuit’s infield, is limited by the exigencies of its location.

The changes made for 2014 were a major improvement on the previous road course, making it a lot more flowing than it was, but it remains flat, with corners that have been designed rather than evolved. This year, it also lost the link with the Indy Mile, at the Indiana State Fairground, the legendary flat track race being held a month earlier.

The event has not attracted the masses of bike fans from the eastern seaboard, as had been hoped, nor has it had much of an impact in expanding the fan base of MotoGP in the US.

The circuit and the city may love MotoGP, but the surrounding area remains indifferent. The fans at Indy are often the same faces as at Austin, and at Laguna Seca too, when the race was held in Northern California:

America’s band of rabidly enthusiastic MotoGP fans, prepared to go to any lengths to see a race in their country, even if it means using up all their brief vacation days and spending their hard-earned money on watching racing on home soil.

That failure means that this is likely to be the last ever race at Indianapolis, as Dorna is forced to concede that the fan base and finances can only support a single race in the USA.

It will be a shame to lose it, as Indy was always the best US event in terms of the fan experience. But harsh economic realities and the lure of new markets make its demise inevitable.

The Indianapolis track will come as a blessed relief to the Repsol Honda riders. After a difficult start to 2015, kicking off the second half of the season at a track where they have won the last five editions offers a chance to move the momentum from the Sachsenring up a gear.

The lack of a flowing layout means that the biggest weakness of the 2015 Honda RC213V (or the hybrid version being ridden by Marc Márquez) does not rear its ugly head. Braking for corner entry is mostly done in a straight line, the rear sliding relatively controllably.

If a Honda has won here for the past five years, who take victory in 2015? If Marc Márquez has any hope of retaining his title, he will have to win here, and keep on winning.

Márquez has a strong record here: he has not been beaten in either Moto2 or MotoGP, having won the last four times he competed at Indy. Victory at the Sachsenring gave him a major morale boost, and he will carry that on to Indianapolis.

He will have to beat his teammate, though, as Dani Pedrosa’s season is on an upward trend. Pedrosa has also won here twice, and before last year, had not finished any worse than second at Indy.

The arm pump issues which plagued Pedrosa all last year have now been cured, and his physical rehabilitation is very close to complete. Pedrosa has not won a race for nearly a year, and is eager to buck that trend.

Indy is the first in a string of tracks where the Spaniard has traditionally excelled, so kicking off the second half of the year with a win could presage great things to come.

The biggest problem for both Márquez and Pedrosa come in the shape of a brace of Movistar Yamahas. The Yamahas have been inching closer to ending the Honda hegemony in the heartland for the past couple of seasons, and 2015 could see the year they finally prevail.

The Yamaha M1 is the best bike on the grid at the moment, and both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo are in peak form. Both men have won here, and both men know that the title will be decided between the two of them.

Beating their teammate will be their main goal, preferably by putting as many of their rivals between them.

Will it be Rossi or Lorenzo who seizes the advantage at Indy? Given the high stresses placed on the tires, and the fact that Bridgestone were giving serious consideration to bringing the extra hard rear which made its debut at Argentina to the circuit.

In the end, they decided against it, and will supply the medium and hard rear tires instead. Both Lorenzo and Rossi raced with the hard last year, and it is a tire which Rossi prefers.

But Lorenzo got to within a couple of seconds of Marc Márquez in 2014, so it is not that much of a handicap. Just as at the rest of the remaining nine circuits, there really is very little to choose between the two of them.

What of the Ducatis? Indianapolis could be a circuit where they can excel. The factory Ducati team halved the distance from the winner between 2013 and 2014, slashing the gap to Marc Márquez from 40 to 20 seconds.

If they can take another 20 seconds off their race time, well, you do the math. The problem for Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone is that while the Desmosedici GP15 is a massive step forward over last year’s bike, the other bikes – and especially the Yamaha – have improved as well.

Though it looked like the GP15 had allowed the Ducati catch the two leading manufacturers at Qatar, since then, Yamaha and Honda have moved the goalposts again, leaving the two Andreas floundering in their wake.

Gigi Dall’Igna and his engineers have had another four weeks to come up with improvements to help catch them. Indianapolis is a good place to try.

The challenge for Suzuki and Aprilia is much greater. The layout of Indianapolis is the epitome of everything the Suzuki hates: a long front straight entered in a low gear, followed by a lot of tight corners connected by straight lines.

The strength of the Suzuki GSX-RR is its incredible agility, but when a circuit does not reward agility, the bike suffers. The lack of a seamless gearbox exacerbates the lack of both horsepower and acceleration, meaning that Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales face a weekend of being left for dead out of the corners.

Their first real hope of salvation will probably only come at the test at Brno, when Suzuki is due to bring some upgrades, hopefully including a seamless gearbox. For now, Espargaro and Viñales must grit their teeth and hope for the best.

Things are much tougher at Aprilia, but now that Stefan Bradl has been drafted in as a permanent replacement for the melancholy Marco Melandri, the whole project should at least take on a more positive path.

The problem is that the RS-GP remains an interim project, a bike evolved from the RSV4, modified to compete as a CRT within the MotoGP class. The CRTs are gone, and Aprilia faces a full prototype onslaught, though the Open bikes are hampered by the subpar Open class software.

While the data from Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl is being used to shape the all-new, fully prototype bike being designed by Romano Albesiano, their current bike is far from competitive. Slow, heavy, still using a wet clutch, the bike does not want to enter the corner or turn like a Yamaha or Honda.

While Bautista is gritting his teeth, Bradl will at least be glad to have saved his season. The demise of the Forward Racing team – whether their appearance at Brno is merely temporary, or they will be able to complete the rest of the season is still something of a mystery – left Bradl out in the cold.

Jumping in to replace Melandri puts him in the hot seat for the Aprilia ride next year. His first few races will be instructive, and give him an idea of whether that is where he wants to be.

What of the satellite riders? The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha partnership of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro head to Indianapolis on a high, still elated after their victory at Suzuka. The win should provide the Tech 3 twosome with even more motivation to start the second half of the season in style.

The question mark is just how much the sweltering heat and intense pressure of the Suzuka 8-Hour race took out of them. Can Bradley Smith continue his rock solid form from the first part of the season? Can Pol Espargaro turn his year around on the back of his 8 Hour win? Indianapolis gives them a chance to find out.

As for the Hondas, Indy should prove very instructive. Cal Crutchlow heads to the US looking for a good result, and hoping to close the gap to the Repsol Honda riders. Crutchlow has adapted well to the RC213V, but past results at Indy do not bode well.

His hopes rest on the strong result he had in 2013, when he finished as the best satellite rider aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha. Finishing fifth against as strong a factory field as the 2015 line up would be a very decent result indeed.

Scott Redding is perhaps the rider most eager to get back to work at Indianapolis. After a very difficult start to the 2015 season, struggling far more than he ever expected on board the Honda RC213V, Redding showed signs of real progress at the Sachsenring.

A first-lap crash left him frustrated and annoyed, yet still confident that he had made a step forward. Often, the summer break can serve as a chance to reflect on the lessons of the first half of the season, and to start to internalize that knowledge.

At Indianapolis, he has a chance to confirm his progress at the Sachsenring, and move on even further. His yardstick will be the gap to the front. First, that must fall, then he can start to think about results.

Adding spice to all of this is the advent of silly season. With no factory seats of any significance up for grabs, it has gotten off to a slow start. The implosion which has occurred among the private and satellite teams has made things even more complicated.

The future of Forward Racing is far from certain, to put it mildly, after the arrest of team boss Giovanni Cuzari. LCR look likely to lose their link with CWM, as CWM boss Anthony Constantinou comes under ever growing legal scrutiny and faces multiple charges of sexual assault.

Losing CWM’s backing would force Lucio Cecchinello to go from two bikes to just one, with Jack Miller likely to move to the Aspar team. Aspar, meanwhile, are strapped for cash, and struggling to stay afloat for next year.

Despite the many difficulties, Indianapolis could see the first few loose ends being tied up. Bradley Smith looks set to extend his contract with Tech 3 any day now, and Indy would be as good a place as any to announce the deal.

Teammate Pol Espargaro must negotiate his deal with Yamaha rather than Tech 3 boss Hervé Poncharal, and looks set to take a pay cut to stay where he is. Espargaro’s deal is a little further away than Smith’s, but he is just as likely to stay put as his teammate.

Cal Crutchlow’s contract extension with LCR is a formality, but there are hoops still to be jumped through. Sam Lowes is rumored to be close to a deal with a MotoGP team, a deal which could also be announced at Indy.

All things considered, what is likely to be the final running of MotoGP at The Brickyard promises to be one of the best editions yet. Enjoy Indy while you can, US bike fans, for you will miss it more than you realize once it is gone.

Photo: © 2015 Tony Goldsmith / www.tonygoldsmith.net – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • Jack Meoph

    I’ve ridden motorcycles my entire life, starting at the age of 5, and I don’t find MotoGP that interesting. If you’re not on the #1 team factory bike you’re a circulating billboard. Usually 2 bikes break away, if you’re lucky, and that non-sense on the last lap at Assen pretty much put me off MotoGP for good. That wasn’t racing, that was just a pathetic assault on the leader (and luckily eventual winner) made out of desperation. And reading how other people were trying to justify MM’s vulgar pass attempt made me realize that the sport, and what people want from it, have passed me by.

  • Ian Miles

    Thanks for that. Time to buy a Harley?

  • Moon

    MotoGP, the BEST racing in the world! Some people just don’t get it

  • XL2C

    “Not that they mind: for 99% of the people
    involved in MotoGP, they are driven by a passion for racing, and being
    at a race track is their idea of heaven. That is why they are paid so
    poorly, and what makes the paddock such an inspirational place to be.”

    Anybody knows what being paid poorly is to those who work for teams/factories? Somehow I think 90-99% of them make well above Walmart/McDonald’s wages/salaries. Hard to believe they make what Everyday Joe makes.

  • rmcmac

    Couldn’t disagree more with Jack M. The technology of these bikes are amazing. The balls it takes to compete at this level is amazing. I’ve been going to INDY since 2008 and it’s not just the racing but the atmosphere with my buddies that I enjoy. Hopefully Jack can find a hobby he finds more interesting.

  • BlueS

    Wonderfully insightful from David Emmett, as per usual.. I really enjoy the background and greater detail and which means I can better appreciate the goings on in the MotoGP circus and races. Sorry to hear Jack Meoph’s comments, but not really following them. I mean this is a really great GP season with many new/revised bikes that are doing really well and a championship much more up for grabs than some other years. Kudos to Suzuki for making such a rideable bike out of the gate, and I am sure the power and gearbox, etc. will follow. The Yamaha’s are amazing – Honda is smart enough to revert to a frame that was better, and if the other new/revised bikes were not so fantastic, the new Ducati would be the fastest bike… what’s not to like… too bad Aprilia was stuck for half a season with such a curmudgeon of a rider in Melandri, who did not even want to ride..!!! Now there is a rider that is hard to comprehend..

    Didn’t realize we were this close to losing another GP round in the US. Very sad, indeed. Indy is a great location for the event and I can even ride there in a reasonable amount of time from near the East Coast. A big loss to all motorcycle enthusiasts in the US, and for MotoGP.

  • Christopher Ring

    You’d be surprised, some of the teams are basically writing hot checks during different points of the year because they don’t have the finances to cover all expenses. Its not unheard of for the riders to pay the mechanics out of pocket so that they actually get paid instead of going without.

  • Christopher Ring

    Indy should be a ideal location there are probably about 25+ million people living within a 5 hour drive to the racetrack (Chicago, Detroit, Louisville, Cincinatti, Lexington are all within driving distance). But 99% of the people in the area have never seen a motorcycle race in their lives so why would they got to a motogp event where almost all the racers are foreign. You have to get local events where people can see them if you want to generate interest in the sport. Track Days are nice but they only attract people who are into the sport already if you want new people you have to have events at county fairs and that kind of thing.

  • Bruce Steever

    Come at it from a different angle: The riding gods themselves “only” make a few million USD per year, and they are risking their lives every day.

    Compare that to the absolutely stupidity and lunacy that is pro ball sports in the USA, where second-stringers command multi-million dollar salaries, and the pay for the whole MotoGP circus seems pretty damn low.

  • Jason

    Indy drew more spectators than Austin did last year, 132K vs. 118K. Even compared against other international races Indy still did better than 10 other circuits. I understand the decision to only have 1 US Moto GP race but if we are going by the number of spectators, Indy is the race to keep.

    http://www.motogp.com/en/news/2014/11/17/crowds-grow-as-motogp-pulls-in-close-to-2-5-million-fans-at-2014-grands-prix/165696

  • Bruce Almighty

    Good point. Thanks for the link.

  • Jason

    You’re welcome. I’ve been to Indy for the Moto GP race and the stands look empty. However, that is due to the fact that Indy is HUGE. It is the largest motorsports circuit in the world with seating for 270,000.

  • durandal1

    This doesn’t make sense to me. It’s like being interested in Tennis, but claiming all matches are boring because there’s a dominant player on the tour. I could certainly just sit and watch Lorenzo do laps on an empty track for hours. Just watching his incredible precision, and incredible technique and completely impeccable riding. Screw MM, he doesn’t interest me either, his technique while undeniably fast, is not my role model for how riding should be done, it’s way too messy. Lorenzo on the hand. Amazeballs.

  • Jake F.

    Mr. Emmett is doing what he does best, speculating. Those of us that have followed the MotoGP races at Indy since 2008 know that rumors of its inevitable demise are almost as old as the racing itself. He believes it’s the same faces in the crowd regardless of where in the US the race is held because that’s who he sees milling around the paddock. I would argue that for every super fan that travels to the race no matter where it is held there are 100 times as many people who go see MotoGP at Indy because its conveniently located to home.

    I’ll believe MotoGP is over at Indy when I hear it from the source and not a moment before. This is one boy that’s cried wolf a few too many times.

  • John Walker

    @ Jack –

    Now now, to be fair I have seen VR stuff his front on another. They both are guilty of this, perhaps it was Rossi’s turn. I actually thought MM was rather gentle last time around

  • John Walker

    I prefer watching the riders doing the tango with each other in the Ball Room.

    The more Drama in the dance the better the event.

  • John Walker

    Even some riders have to pay to race in Moto GP . I would love to see a documentary about the team and equipment behind the racer.

  • John Walker

    Yup

  • John Walker

    And if Hayden goes….

  • John Walker

    They should charge less and get more fans in the gate. Let kids IN FREE

  • John Walker

    I’d like to see DP win Indy. This would stir up the points

  • Gearsau

    Hayden has had his day, and that was years ago.

  • John Walker

    Yeh, this most likely will be his last year

  • crshnbrn

    MotoGP is like the circus in that the pay depends on whether a person is a main attraction or at least on a main attraction’s team.

  • Jake F.

    I think a Danilo Petrucci win is a bit of a long shot. ;)

  • I dislike golf. Have since the age of 5, and I don’t go to golf websites, presumably read the articles, then inform the readers that I dislike golf. But different strokes for different folks I guess!

  • Campisi

    It’s like with anything else these days: there are those making it work, and those making the money. At least the riders are (usually) well-compensated.

  • George Hart

    I’ve been following motorcycle road racing since the days of Gary Nixon, Cal Rayborn and Yvonne Duhamel. I found the time and the money to somehow get my family from Maine to Laguna Seca to see MotoGP. Indy has zero attraction for many of us. Great place for Indy cars and NASCAR. There are some tracks which elevate the sport of motorcycle road racing by their spectacular and challenging layout. The Corkscrew and what has happened there time and again is legendary. All that Indy has handed out are some vicious crashes for Hopkins and Stoner. For Dorna to turn its back on the one state that is synonymous with high end road racing bikes (Cali) is as dopey as that state’s refusal to put money into a track that would make it back if promoted and run properly. With Rossi, Marquez, Lorenzo and Pedrosa at the top of their game this is a Golden Age. It’s a shame Americans can’t see them here on a track worthy of their talents. This problem can and must be fixed.

  • Belga Dear

    If it’s not that interesting, why read an entire fracking article about it and then comment on it?

    All of your other observations on MotoGP could be applied to other sports just as easily. Time to take up knitting, I guess.

  • Jim Race

    http://www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com/events/motogp/buy-tickets

    3-day ticket is a great bargain on the GP calendar, and kids 12 and under get in free.

  • dmclone

    Indy has always seemed a little boring to me. I still can’t believe they got rid of Laguna Seca before Indy.

  • martin m

    it will be a shame to loose indy. Raceday attendance way up this year, nearly 70,000 on race day and an overall great motorcycle experience at track and downtown.