So riders, are being disqualified for over- taking and colliding with each other? But surely that's what racing is all about, says Mike Scott
It was Suzuki's team manager Garry Taylor who first exhumed an old but still serviceable idea in the wake of the Pacific GP at Motegi - that GP bikes should be converted to two-seaters. Then each rider could carry a lawyer on his pillion.
Someone else suggested that bikes should be fitted with proximity sensors, and they could cut the ignition if anyone gets too close. Yet another proposed that the racing should not take place at all, but the results decided in the courts. This could be done once a year, but would be more exciting for the fans on a race-by-race basis.
The trigger for this and many other mordant examples was a quite extraordinary aftermath to an exciting and incident-packed GP race. It all kicked off soon after impressively aggressive Japanese rider Makoto Tamada had enjoyed the first-time thrill of standing on the rostrum after finishing third, and at his home GP, a position won by a hard outbraking move at the last possible opportunity on fellow Honda rider Sete Gibernau.
This move was a classic, and the sort of thing that makes one love racing. Photographs later showed that Tamada was definitely angled towards Gibernau after pulling alongside at a hard downhill braking area. A collision course. And sure enough, they collided, twice, and the second contact squeezed Gibernau's front brake, sending him swerving off the track, lucky to regain the tarmac after losing two places.
Gibernau complained that Tamada had pushed him onto the white line, leaving him nowhere to go. The same photographs, however, showed that in fact he contributed to the collision by declining to give way. He had a fair bit of track beside him when they clashed, but elected to defend his position instead.
Declining to give way? One rider trying to force past another one? Sounds a bit like motorbike racing to me. But the race officials, perhaps inspired by a rather maudlin series of Kato commemorations at the Japanese circuit, saw it differently. Tamada had barely stepped off the rostrum before he was called to the Ivory Control Tower, and after a reportedly rather vigorous argument with Race Direction was disqualified.
Flushed with success and by now clearly getting excited at this new-found task of making an example of riders, Race Direction then looked for another victim. They picked on Suzuki rider John Hopkins, who had by then already shouldered the blame for an over-impetuous start to the race. He charged into the first corner way too fast, and ran straight into Checa's Yamaha. Both fell, and Bayliss's Ducati piled into the wreckage. The final outcome was that Hopkins was also disqualified. But since he'd crashed out of this race, he was forced to miss the next one, the Malaysian GP, instead.
The cold light of day highlighted different aspects. Firstly, that in the opinion of almost everybody else in racing, both of these were just racing incidents, nothing more and nothing less, and a time penalty at worst would have been appropriate.
For two reasons. Firstly, because there was clearly no malice or deliberately dangerous riding in either case - just hard racing. Secondly, because there isn't a man jack in any one of the three classes who hasn't done the same thing at some time or another, and more than once. So why should they go unpunished, but Tamada and Hopkins be hit by this draconian punishment?
We'll have to wait and see. Give the last word to Kenny Roberts Senior. Asked his opinion at a pre-Malaysian press conference, he replied: "In my day, they didn't have the TV cameras. You could knock people off anywhere you liked."
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