It is a given that I love motorsport. But there is also no doubting that my interest is primarily in cars, especially single-seaters. Over the past ten or so years I have always kept an eye on MotoGP, but it is a relationship that blows hot and cold.
Last year in particular was a pretty poor year for MotoGP in my view. It was all too predictable. Even the prospect of someone other than Valentino Rossi winning the World Championship was not enough to reel me in. The reality was that Rossi’s mid-season injury made the championship a shoo-in for Jorge Lorenzo.
It had all just become a bit boring and predictable. But I hadn’t even realised that was the problem — until this year.
2011′s big MotoGP shakeup
MotoGP in 2011 has a very different feel to it. The pecking order is very definitely different. Valentino Rossi has switched to the temperamental Ducati bike. Casey Stoner has moved to Honda, who have stepped up to the plate. Meanwhile, Jorge Lorenzo has become the definitive team leader at Yamaha. This has all given MotoGP a fresher feel.
Last weekend’s MotoGP race at Jerez was an absolute sizzler that had it all. In damp conditions, there was more action in that race than the whole of last season. Everything that MotoGP has been lacking recently was here.
An amazing race
Valentino Rossi, struggling on his Ducati, started from the middle of the grid, and slowly worked his way up. Out front, Stoner was struggling more than form would suggest.
Sensationally, Marco Simoncelli took the lead on the satellite Gresini Honda. The fancied youngster has a great record from the more junior categories, but up to this point his best race finish had been fourth. I am a Simoncelli fan, and I was personally getting quite excited at the prospect of a race victory for him.
Stoner had dropped to second, and Rossi was up to third. In an audacious move, Rossi overtook Stoner — but fell off his bike, taking out Stoner in the process. Rossi rode on, but needless to say, Stoner was not too impressed.
This was a moment of high drama that only the likes of Rossi can produce. I probably haven’t been so excited about a moment of MotoGP since Rossi’s incredible last-corner move on Lorenzo at Catalunya in 2009.
From there it should have been easy for Simoncelli, but he fell off his bike of his own accord in the damp conditions.
This allowed Lorenzo, who had been unspectacular for the whole race up to this point, to breeze by into the lead. The race became a Lorenzo masterclass. A study in precise riding — reaching the edge while never exceeding it.
It could even have been a Yamaha 1-2, as Ben Spies was also able to capitalise on all the mayhem, as well as passing Dani Pedrosa, to run in second. That was until he, too, fell off his bike. Colin Edwards was then running in third when he beached it in the gravel.
All the while, there were developing issues with Pedrosa’s pace dropping off as he continues to struggle with arm issues from a crash at Motegi last year. It was the opposite story for Rossi, who, despite the big accident earlier on in the race, managed to fight his way back up to fifth again.
MotoGP has all the ingredients for great racing
I loved the race not just because of the madness or the wet weather. I was hooked even before riders started falling off left, right and centre.
What struck me was that I was watching racing. It wasn’t a procession by any stretch. But nor was it an overload of devalued overtaking that bike racing sometimes seems like to me.
I saw riders fade in and out of contention. They slipped away because of fatigue. They fought through in inspired bursts. They defied the odds. They raced tactically, and with no mandatory pitstops in sight.
And there was no need for an “overtaking working group” to come up with half-baked and ill thought-through ideas like F1′s DRS. There was no contrived nonsense about tyre compounds. No flexi-wing controversies. No stewards’ decisions.
I love Formula 1. But right now it looks like MotoGP has the right recipe for racing excitement. And what is most promising about it all is that it is not contrived. It is so free of gimmicks. It is pure racing, and I am looking forward to taking it all in this year.
Because even when everyone was getting excited about the magical combination of Casey Stoner and Honda dominating rather than the Yamaha routs we had become accustomed to, Jerez showed that the reality is much more complicated than that — and more exciting too.