Photo of the Week: Here’s to the Unsung Heroes of MotoGP

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

This, race fans, is Danilo Petrucci, one of the brave souls trying his luck on the future of MotoGP hardware, in his case the doggedly underpowered Came IodaRacing Project machine. Not on a (relatively) zippy Aprilia ART, or a Honda-powered FTR, Petrucci qualifies on the same grid as Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo, and brings to this gunfight a knife that packs a whopping 185 bhp, compared to the factory prototype engines that are rumored to be around 260 bhp.

As I photograph a race, I see a much different version of the event than TV viewers. I watch the recorded TV broadcast later, and can tell you that there is a lot going on with the Claiming Rule Team bikes that doesn’t make in onto TV. I’m generally moving the entire time (when I haven’t stopped to photograph a turn obviously), so I see the entire field go past, lap after lap. Since Qatar I’ve noticed that most of the CRT talk has centered around the machines, and that no one I’ve seen has talked much about what the CRT riders are going through.

Though we currently have in the sub-set of MotoGP bikes a group of machines that are less expensive to run and correspondingly less impressive in the performance category, the fellows riding them are not similarly handicapped when it comes to racing spirit. They aren’t trying half as hard because they have no chance to win. Much of the time it seems just the opposite; because they don’t want to be six seconds a lap slower, they are trying that much harder merely to get within four seconds of the fastest times.

The current CRT rider list is as follows: Colin Edwards, Randy de Puniet, Aleix Espargaro, Mattia Pasini, Michele Pirro, Yonny Hernandez, James Ellison, Ivan Silva, and Danilo Petrucci. That is a group of racers, not a list of hacks who’d otherwise be digging ditches if CRT hadn’t come along. But if you think it’s tough to be stuck on a satellite bike and racing against Stoner and Lorenzo, try lining up on Sunday with a chassis that can barely handle its measly 185 bhp.

Some will say that these CRT riders are lucky to have spots on the MotoGP grid, are being paid to perform a service, and that we shouldn’t feel too much pity for their situations. And there may be truth to this opinion. But when I pass by the CRT garages and see these riders waiting to go out on track, I don’t see men happy just be to part of the MotoGP show. I see racers who know they’re going into battle without a fighting chance.

If these riders got more TV time you might also see just how hard they are riding their ponies against the thoroughbreds. There is some part of the racer’s mind that can only be so philosophical about being on a overmatched machine. Each of them wants to exceed the expectations of his motorbike, and while they speak about battling for top CRT as their goal, I suspect that this achievement represents the minimum level of satisfaction.

Beating a factory prototype is much more of a goal for the rational parts of their brains, while the irrational/racer part doesn’t give a flying handshake about the CRT element and wants a podium. On the grid at Estoril, Aleix Espargaro was interviewed by Azi Farni of the BBC, and when asked what his plan was as best-qualifying CRT bike, he said “Just try to be with Pedrosa and Stoner during the race, then win on the last lap.” He then laughed at the hilarity of his joke as Ms. Farni replied, “Brilliant, good luck with that.”

Though spoken tongue-in-cheek, Espargaro’s joke is telling about his situation. Top CRT is simply not that exciting when it’s also 12th place. When you’re riding your heart out, as all of these guys are, and you come in dead last, and a lap down as Petrucci did in Estoril, it’s got to be difficult to console yourself by saying, “Oh well, my bike is 30-40 kph slower than the prototypes and 10-15 kph slower than the other CRT bikes. I did pretty good!” No, I suspect that only one word means anything among the list of mitigating circumstances for a racer: last.

After three races it seems to me that not enough credit is being given to the CRT riders. They are being asked to race on machines that can’t possibly win (even a satellite prototype can’t win unless a series of unusual events takes care of the factory bikes), and then trust that their performances will be judged in context. Espargaro finished 12th at Estoril, top CRT, a minute and twenty seconds behind Stoner. But as I watched from trackside, he and the other CRT riders were wringing every bit of performance out of their bikes, risking their lives for no glory whatsoever.

So though they don’t get much TV time, have no chance at a podium, and do very well indeed to finish a race on the same lap as the leaders, I count their efforts as heroic. I’ve always liked to cheer for the underdog, and with 2012’s CRTs, we’ve taken ‘underdog’ to a new level. Hang in there, Danilo. Your bike is a slug, but you’re doing a great job with what you’ve got.

Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blogTwitter, & Facebook.

All images posted, shared, or sent for editorial use or review are registered for full copyright protection at the Library of Congress.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved