MotoGP Outsider – Silverstone 2012

June 19, 2012
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
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Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

As motorcycling’s premier website, our team of correspondents get VIP treatment wherever they appear. From product launches to World Championship races, our journalists are treated like the media superstars they are. Then there is Melling, our resident peasant, who isn’t. This is the story of MotoGP without the “access all areas” passes as Melling pays his entrance money and visits Silverstone for the British round of MotoGP.

06.00: Big, over-fed, obese rain drops splatter lazily on to our roof. We actually hear them landing like 747s made of Jell-O. With English weather, this has the potential to test even the best riding gear so we chicken out and decide to take the car. This isn’t much of a problem. Except for the first 25 miles it’s six-lane highway all the way, so an easy two and a half hours will see us rocking up to Silverstone’s palatial entrance.

Bored spectators provided their own entertainment.
Bored spectators provided their own entertainment.

09:30: It’s been a relaxing journey with, incredibly for Britain, almost no traffic. Now, eight miles from Silverstone, we discover that it’s not only us who has decided that the car is the way to go today. There is a worrying absence of bikes with 80% of spectators arriving in cars. This is not good for the health of the motorcycle industry.

Fortunately, the English sense of humor shines through. A group of friends – one on a bike and three in a car – provide entertainment for everyone in the traffic queue with a series of excellent stunts, the best of which has to be an umbrella cover for the bike rider when the rain starts.

10.00: Five miles from the entrance. Silverstone is one of the most sophisticated motorsports’ facilities in the world and yet they can’t get their customers into the circuit. I have never seen so many “traffic control” staff – more accurately, traffic jamming staff – in my life.

Question 1: How come we can walk straight into a huge Paul McCartney concert, having parked our car 100 yards from the venue door, and Silverstone still cannot get its audience to the show in under an hour?

Question 2: Why do the staff need to undergo such thorough discourtesy training?
Us: “Where do we park, please?”
Traffic Control Officer: “Dunno mate, it’s the first time I’ve worked here and I haven’t got a clue what’s happening.”
Eventually, we wave down a VIP bus and its driver, immaculately dressed and sharper than a razor, couldn’t be more helpful. We get the feeling that with an impossibly expensive Gold VIP badge, we could have a really good time here.
11.15: Not that we are missing a good time as it is. On the contrary, Silverstone is a wonderful venue. It is absolutely vast but the spectator facilities are excellent. There are ample clean, well-maintained restrooms, which is always a critical factor when visiting a race track with a female companion, and pedestrian access is safe, easy and pleasant.
Thanks to our good friends at Pole Position Travel (, who really are the world experts on race tickets, our general admission, peasants’ tickets have been transformed into a pair of very pleasant seats in the Woodcote Grandstand. From there, with the assistance of only a pair of very powerful binoculars, we can see the last three corners of the track before what was the old start and finish straight.

20-20 vision is essential for viewing at MotoGP.
20-20 vision is essential for viewing at MotoGP.

The distance from the track is a central problem with modern racing and is a key reason for the drop in attendances throughout the world. Yes, the tracks need to be safer but if you can get within 200 yards of a bike on a corner these days you are considered to be part of the action. Truly, if you want to see “real” motorcycle racing, watch one of the premier classic events.

11.30: Moto 2 is spectacular racing. It is difficult to articulate just how good these riders are – brave, impossibly skillful and determined beyond belief. Englishman Scott Redding has the home fans cheering as he battles for the lead before settling for a well-earned second place.

The racing is close, fast and has us on the edge of our seats. Yet, there is something missing – and that something is variety. British motorcycle racing fans are some of the most knowledgeable in the world but even they don’t understand the difference between a Suter and Kalex chassis. And if you don’t, or can’t, identify these esoteric nuances you are faced with 30 riders who all look almost the same, riding bikes which sound identical – even shifting gear at precisely the same time and at identical rpm.

The argument is that spectators today just want the show which is provided by ultra-close racing. This may well be the case, and I am reluctant to criticize for fear of becoming a grumpy old GP purist, but if MotoGP becomes – through the medium of CRT – completely sanitized, I do fear for the future of the sport.

12.15: My wife Carol is the veritable Valentino Rossi of the sandwich making world, so we enjoy a gourmet lunch – and luxuriate in not having to pay $11 a portion for a small goldfish and three French fries which is being sold under the guise of “Traditional English Fish and Chips.”

Our friends Dez and Mike have travelled to Silverstone from the north of England and they are dining with us on a picnic prepared by Mike’s wife. They have paid $120 each for general entrance tickets which is the base price to get into the event. A further $70 worth of gas, and $12 for a program, has made this an expensive day out and the reason they are here? One name: Cal Crutchlow.

British fans turned out en masse to see Cal Crutchlow.
British fans turned out en masse to see Cal Crutchlow.

12.20: It’s interesting how religions can change the rules God(s) sets as He goes along. MotoGP is just the same. If you don’t ride in Qualifying Practice you can’t participate in the race. It’s black and white clear and there are no exceptions. No qualifying – no ride.

Well, not quite:

Cal Crutchlow had a bad fall in free practice and therefore didn’t ride in Qualifying Practice. A lot of spectators were following the story online and, on Saturday, a huge number were still undecided as to whether they should be at Silverstone or if watching the event on TV – and keeping $200 in their pocket – would be a better idea.

As a modest estimate, there were probably 15,000 undecided fans – and that’s a minimum of $2 million plus – hanging on whether the young Englishman will make it to the grid. Now $2 million is a lot of money so when Cal – who is titanium hard – decides that, against all the odds, he can limp to his bike, MotoGP management heave a sigh of relief which can be heard all over Britain. Naturally, with this amount of money at stake, the rule book is torn up. For $2 million, Cal can start from the back row of the grid – or any place else in Silverstone he chooses.

Cal’s injuries cannot be understated. Not only has he fractured a bone on the inside of his ankle, he has dislocated it too. The dislocation is the worst sort of injury to have. I dislocated my shoulder once in a racing accident and it quite literally hangs there loose and limp – and goodness me is it painful!

Crutchlow said: “The doctors said they could operate and put a pin in it but the guy who I saw on Saturday, who is an ankle specialist, said it would make it worse.”

Cal Crutchlow was hero.
Cal Crutchlow was the hero of the day for many British fans.

“The doctors told me I was not allowed to put any weight on my foot for eight to 10 weeks but me being a typical motorcycle rider, that’s 8 to ten hours. I drive motorcycles for a living.”

“The bone is quite badly broken on the inside. I’ve also fractured the inside of my ankle and I dislocated it.”
For Cal to have injured his ankle so badly and not be in a hospital bed is incomprehensible. For him to even sit on his bike would be an act of incredible courage and if he did a single lap, then miracles would have happened at Silverstone.

13.00: Whatever the faults with MotoGP, the lack of empathy with spectators and the contemptuous disorganization, I would still urge you to see at least one Grand Prix race in your life. Accept being robbed at the ticket booth. Accept that you will need the Junior version of the Hubble telescope to view the racing and that you have more chance of meeting an honest politician than actually getting within a mile of a real MotoGP rider because nothing, but nothing, compares with MotoGP. Wear no ear protectors and, instead, delight in being aurally battered by 4000 hp of screaming, wailing, engineering excellence as the world’s best riders show why they deserve that title. Quite simply nothing compares.

The word from the expert spectators in the packed grandstands is that Stoner has lost the killer edge. Yes, he is sublimely skilled but how much is he thinking of retiring to Australia rich and in one piece as he bangs fairings with Lorenzo at 180 mph?

I can’t make a judgment but certainly Jorge Lorenzo is in a class of his own and drops Casey and the factory Honda for dead.

Jorge Lorenzos and Ducatis booths were noticably empty.
Jorge Lorenzo, Nicky Hayden and Ducati’s booths were noticably empty. Rossi’s charisma still attracks many fans.

Poor Ben Spies leads and then somehow loses the plot. Truly, motorcycling racing success lies in the rider’s head.
And then there is Crutchlow. Somehow, despite the pain, and defying logic, he has started from the last row of the grid. We watch the giant TV screen opposite us and the whole grandstand erupts into cheers as the CRT bikes are dismissed one by one with almost contemptuous ease.

It’s not only that Crutchlow is riding at all but it is the aggression and determination which he shows that has us on our feet. He exits Woodcote Corner not with care and thought for his injury but with the back end of the Yamaha hanging out at 140 mph and a 100 yard long streak of rubber being left on every lap. Towards the end of the race, he is lapping faster than Stoner who finishes second.

Then, on the final lap, Cal passes Nicky Hayden for sixth place in a display of courage and determination which shows the best, the very best, of motorcycle racing nobility.

15.00: If MotoGP gives you a reason to believe in bike racing, Moto 3 doesn’t. We sit in a deserted grandstand to watch tiny, but brilliant, riders drone round on machines which are so tightly controlled by regulations that it is impossible to decipher one from another. The bikes and riders weigh the same with a combined mass of only 325 pounds; they operate to an identical maximum 14,000 rpm limit and have the same number of gears which are shifted at precisely the same point, to the millimeter, on the track. There’s more spectacle in watching condensation running down the outside of a beer glass – and more pleasure with the end product too.

Here’s how to fix things. Make the minimum weight for the rider 140 pounds – that’s a decent size for an athletic, standard issue human being. Have the bikes weigh a minimum of 250 pounds – a credible weight for a modern motorcycle – and let them have 500cc, single-cylinder engines. Then you would get a real spectacle.

Rossi is still the personality king in MotoGP.
Rossi remains the personality king in MotoGP.

17.00: We wind our way back to the car in the soft English summer sun, disappointed that we had not come on our V-Strom. It’s been a great day but there is one last nagging problem. Look at the lines of vendors and the only ones doing any serious business are those with Rossi merchandise. Vale has had only a walk-on part during the weekend’s theater and yet his fans outnumber the rest of the entry by three to one.

Jointly, Lorenzo, Stoner and Pedrosa do not have 10% of Rossi’s charisma and this is a big problem for MotoGP. Valentino is staying in MotoGP for two more years and his presence is vital.

Cal Crutchlow, non-media trained, sparky, pugnacious and smiling might just be the savior which the motorcycle racing world will need to fill Vale’s huge media space. I’ll bet that there are some prayers being said at Dorna’s headquarters that he is.