Mike Scott Column - Sep 2005

Thrown to the wolves

Posted: 1 September 2005
by Mike Scott

Mike Scott - MotoGP - Gibernau versus Rossi
Gibernau's entourage - male or female? Hard to decide..

Sete Gibernau is riding like a true champion. At almost every race he lops the qualifying and the race lap records. His race average times are majorly faster than last year. For the past two years he has been the only rider to pose a consistent challenge to Valentino Rossi. And what does the gentleman racer (and world-class girly poser) get? Scorn and ridicule. All because he has the misfortune to be racing at the same time as the all-singing, all-dancing modern racing genius.

And to be Spanish. Which is odd. Being Spanish used to be racing's best meal ticket. Many would say it still is. Dorna run the show, and they are Spanish, while the three Spanish GPs - Jerez, Catalunya and Valencia - have the biggest crowds of all.

So why have the Spanish press and fans turned against their top rider? It's a huge change since they were mad about mild-mannered Alex Criville. Criville was very average for many years, though the Repsol sponsorship meant he remained blessed with the top Honda gear while he gradually got better. But he became Spain's first World Champ only after Doohan spannered himself in 1999. Criville faded directly away.

Gibernau is suffering for events in front of his home supporters. Victim to a ferocious last-corner attack by Rossi at Jerez, something similar, if less brutal, took place at Catalunya. He led most of the way, only to be mugged by Rossi at the end. A British rider doing as well as Sete would be a national hero. Likewise in, say, Holland, or Germany, or the USA. But in Spain the tide has turned against Sete. He can't fight, they say. He's not good enough.To make matters worse, circumstances have conspired to curse Sete with a thrusting new team-mate in Marco Melandri, and enough bad luck to mean he is not even top Honda rider any more.

A Spanish passport and a modicum of talent still attracts big money - look at Carlos Checa, creaming it with Marlboro Ducati, and even Ruben Xaus, 17 crashes so far this year! But it doesn't guarantee unquestioning loyalty from the fans.

The change has come via the smaller classes. Toni Elias is already in MotoGP and looking good; his former 125 rival Dani Pedrosa is on the way, via dominance in the 250 class. New to 250s, Jorge Lorenzo is afraid of nobody and must soon win a race. Then there's Hector Barbera, and others...

This level of talent means the Spanish fans - a vast body of people, second only in number to football fans - can now afford to be fussy about who they will support.

Disney design co.

If you missed the Dutch TT, you missed a turning point - the track's last ever GP. Hurry along to the SBK race there, for a final drink in the last-chance saloon. Europe's last great circuit is to be garrotted.

The planned survivor will be a shadow of its former self, with an extraordinary first section with three 180° corners in succession. More like a cycle-stadium than the Cathedral of motorcycle racing.Mugello is a special case; there remains only one true-blue fast and challenging track: Phillip Island, which takes over from Assen (pole lap speed 112.79mph) as the fastest track of the year. Last year's Australian pole speed was 110.404mph.

But not all modern tracks are Mickey Mouse. Brno remains vast and grand, giving the 990s a chance to haul ass; Catalunya has fast corners and a special challenge; Donington retains subtleties - Craner Curves is one of the most perilous and difficult corner sets of the season.

Don't miss the last of Assen, because something irreplaceable will now be gone.

The innards and outs

The more money MotoGP makes, the more 'professional' it becomes. Happily, some things never change - like the garbled press release, written in a special language called Prenglish. Tradition was kept alive at Assen when the Konika Minolta Honda team invited the press to the launch of Makoto Tamada's Batman paintjob. Or, as they said, 'please come and see when Tamada shows his new Batman liver'.

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