MotoGP Outsider: Silverstone 2015

MotorcycleUSA Staff | August 31, 2015

Silverstone MotoGP 2015 – An Epic Race and One in Which Melling Almost Becomes a Footnote in MotoGP Racing History

Being a professional writer I am, of course, far from shy when it comes to plagiarism. If Shakespeare ripped ideas off from every source he could lay his hands on then literary theft must be acceptable practice for a humble Moto Journalist like me.

In this case I refer to my friend Gordon Howell and the strapline for his company Pole Position Travel: “Nothing Beats Being There.”

There are few occasions in motorcycling history where Gordon’s words were more appropriate than this year’s MotoGP race at Silverstone. Truly, not the best TV coverage in the world could compare with the high drama of this dark, wet afternoon in England.

Marc Marquez Silverstone 2015

Marc Marquez contributed to the MotoGP drama at Silverstone by demolishing the lap record in near perfect conditions during Saturday’s qualifying.

The drama began with Saturday’s qualifying which was fascinating. The weather was definitively perfect with conditions bone dry and warm, but not hot.

Marquez was in storming form, only 0.234 seconds over the impossible two minute barrier for the super-fast 3.66-mile circuit.

Boy Wonder set a new lap record, breaking the old time of two minutes and a mere 0.691 seconds which he set back in 2013. However, young Marc was still not a happy racer.

“It was a good qualifying session but when I did the first lap I noticed that if I put together the perfect lap, maybe I could get very close to one minute 59 seconds.

“But I was right on the limit a couple of times, and especially in the last sector I was missing a little something under braking.

“In the end what counts is that we took pole position. You can always improve, but it was a very good lap.”

It certainly was and Marquez looked ultra-comfortable on Silverstone’s high-speed corners.

Lorenzo, another contender for the “Mr. Race Smoothly of the Year” award, was as elegant as ever and only 0.288 seconds behind Marquez whilst Dani Pedrosa was also on the pace in third, half a second slower than his Repsol teammate. Rossi trailed a mammoth 0.713 seconds behind the Pole sitter.

Now a momentary digression. Silverstone is a truly great circuit but it was built on an old WWII airbase and still retains two traits from its heritage. First, it is blisteringly fast. There is no circuit in the world which has so many high speed corners because the course effectively runs round the perimeter of the airfield.

Secondly it is as flat as a pancake and when it rains, water stays on the surface. In heavy rain, which is all too common during English summers, it takes a very special rider to pitch a motorcycle into a corner at 175 mph – a very, very special rider indeed.

If Saturday qualifying was blessed with the most benign weather, you could taste the nascent rain in the air from first thing on Sunday morning.

Moto 2 ran in the dry but the sky darkened like the prelude to Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” as the MotoGP grid formed. To the west, we expected to see the Valkyries ride in through the ever-blackening clouds.

Race Control declared the race to be dry, which it was as the crews left the grid – but only barely so. As the wall of MotoGP noise cascaded down into the grandstands, it was carried on a cloud of ever denser rain.

Silverstone MotoGP 2015

As the weather turned just prior to the MotoGP race, drama intensified as the entire grid came back to the pits for machines prepped for the wet tarmac.

This was high drama and truly nothing did beat being there.

After the formation lap, rider after rider streamed into the pit lane to change bikes from dry to wet set-up. One lap had convinced the whole field, even those who normally would have no hope of a decent result and might therefore be willing to take a chance on tires, that it would have been suicide to venture out on slicks.

Now, the whole field was in pit lane and the starting lights were on. If just one rider had gone on to the grid then the race would have had to be started and the whole of pit lane would have been a chaotic, not to say extremely dangerous, melee as riders began the race from outside their garages.

Fortunately, no one broke ranks and so Race Direction made the good call to restart the whole race and declare it “Wet” from the outset. As the rain increased in intensity there was a collective sigh of relief that at least every rider would have the protection of full wet tires.

When the red lights did go out, the rain was now marching down the track in grey sheets and this would be a race decided not only by being the bravest of the brave but the winner would have to demonstrate motorcycle racers’ art at the highest level. This MotoGP race could only be won with finesse, discipline and delicacy.

Jorge Lorenzo, arguably the most balletic of all the GP riders, led but could not maintain his advantage in conditions which were becoming more horrendous by the minute. He blamed misting of his HJC helmet – allegedly the second time that this has happened in 2015.

Rossi is the master of pressure and, despite the conditions, eased past Lorenzo as did Marquez. Could the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) hold off the most talented rider of the current generation? It had fans on the edge of their seats.

Valentino Rossi Silverstone 2015

Valentino Rossi getting ahead of his primary title rival in 2015, teammate Jorge Lorenzo, at Silverstone.

This being Silverstone, Cal Crutchlow had to walk on to center stage. He passed Lorenzo for third position and of course the partisan crowd went crazy. Crutchlow, he of the truly ginormous cojones, in front of his home crowd, riding in the wet. We weren’t quite seeing Cal on the podium spraying champagne – but the vision was there.

Then, Crutchlow was in the gravel – taken out by his 20-year-old team mate Jack Miller. Cal is a seriously bad loser and so his reaction was surprisingly generous. He said: “I wasn’t angry with Jack though – it was a racing incident and I’ve done it before and I’m sure I’ll do it again. I was more angry at Aleix [Espargaro] when he did it to me than I was with Jack, even though I felt like I could have got a good result today.

“It’s easy to say, but I had a great feeling when I got taken out, and I had a great feeling on the bike this morning.

“Feeling that good is a rarity, but there are some races where you feel untouchable, and that was one of them. At the time, I was cruising around wondering why they were going so slow, even though we were all right at the limit. I felt like I had a little in the tank and thought that I could have gone with the other guys – and that was always the plan.”

Knowing Cal, this was an amazingly relaxed reaction. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to be reading that Crutchlow was about to appear in court on a “Grievous Bodily Harm” charge so the Australian rookie really has got off lightly – even if Race Control gave him a one point penalty.

LCR team owner Lucio Cecchinello was less forgiving to the young Australian and “spoke to him…” – and you can be sure that they weren’t discussing the quality of champagne supplied to the podium by Dorna.

Cal Crutchlow Silverstone 2015

Disaster looming for LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller.

Meanwhile, Danilo Petrucci was having a fabulous ride on the Pramac Ducati. Danilo is an ex-motocross rider of some considerable quality and likes riding in the wet. As he chased down Marquez and Lorenzo, the impossible began to have a glimmer of credibility. A satellite rider on a Ducati winning MotoGP? Surely not.

In fact, the hot money was all on Marquez. Mile after mile he stalked Rossi. We were all waiting for the last four laps when Marc eased past and went on to win. Except he didn’t. With eight laps left, Marc got a tiny bit too much power to the rear wheel and down he went.

Meanwhile Rossi continued like a racing automaton. For the fans, it would have been a better spectacle to see him and Marc battling it out all the way to the line but for the purist, there could be nothing finer to than to watch a master of the art of motorcycle racing at his very best.

Even in this field of Moto Gods, none were as methodical and delicate as Rossi. He placed his Yamaha on precisely the same line, lap after lap after lap, and braked and accelerated with the same nano particle accuracy.

Elegant, disciplined and, as it appeared from the outside, effortless, I would have walked the 150 miles from our house to Silverstone and stood unprotected in the torrential rain to see such a demonstration of the motorcycle racer’s skill. Truly, nothing could beat being there.

Valentino Rossi Silverstone 2015

The methodical and delicate Moto God Valentino Rossi celebrates a well-earned win at Silverstone.

Half the grandstands emptied after MotoGP which was a shame because there was a second demonstration of high art in motorcycle racing in the Moto3 race. Every year, some up and coming rider is tipped as the next Rossi, Marquez or whatever and they rarely live up to their hype. Perhaps Danny Kent is different.

The 21-year-old Englishman now leads the Moto3 Championship by a not inconsiderable 70 points and the way he won at Silverstone, with metronomic competence, had very strong Rossi overtones. There was no drama or heroics, simply lap after lap of ruthless efficiency giving an eight-second cushion at the end of the race.

It was a very impressive performance and explains why he has had offers to skip Moto2 and go straight to MotoGP for 2016. Added to his ability on the bike, Danny is polite, articulate, PR savvy and hard working. MotoGP podiums are a long way distant but I do think that he is a rider to watch.

Danny Kent Silverstone 2015

Danny Kent emphasized the fact that he’s a rider to watch after a masterful performance in Moto3.

And now we come to the most important part of the whole weekend – how MotoUSA’s fat, bald, old wrinkly avoided embarrassment which would have been so life destroyingly shameful that ritual suicide on Silverstone’s starting grid would not have expunged the stigma.

The Circuit of Wales, the rights holder of the British round of MotoGP but who, somewhat confusingly, are holding the event at Silverstone until their track is built, organized a parade of classic GP bikes on the Saturday evening before Sunday’s racing. I was lucky enough to be invited to ride in this.

Our Seeley was on its best behavior and I set off with a happy heart behind the pace car. Everything was going wonderfully and I was enjoying every inch of Silverstone’s 3.66 miles of immaculate tarmac.

Frank Melling Silverstone 2015

Melling’s life is about to get very exciting…

Then I eased the bike into the right hander at the end of the F1 Pits’ Straight and got into the Mummy and Daddy of all slides. It’s not only Danilo Petrucci who was grateful for skills which come from being an off-road racer. I used to be a half decent enduro rider and so caught the full lock slide and stayed, only just, in the saddle. Trying to work out what had happened I looked down and, to my horror, saw that the right hand expansion chamber was dragging on the ground. Our lovely, atomic clock reliable Seeley had chosen this time, and this place, to fracture an exhaust bracket.

To be honest, I took Cal’s attitude. Yes, I was mortified that the exhaust had broken but so grateful that the wonderful Seeley chassis had let me save the slide and ride back to the paddock intact. Truly, nothing does beat being there!

My thanks to Silverstone and Pole Position for their hospitality and for getting us a pair of the best seats at the circuit.