11 April 2010 – the start of the new MotoGP season. So important to the BBC (who trailed the opening F1 race for weeks) that it was relegated to Freeview only on BBC3.
What a shame and what an opportunity missed by the broadcasters because while the opening race of F1 was a drone fest, the first race of MotoGP2010 was a belter.
Last season saw the man widely accepted as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), Valentino Rossi, winning his ninth World Championship, and he has indubitably stamped his not inconsiderable personality all over the last decade of motorcycle racing.
Indeed some younger fans may not even remember a time when Rossi did not top the headlines at every single race meeting. Younger fans may even have thought that the old man might have retired at the end of 2009 due to the plethora of young talent that has been making an impact in the sport.
Such young fans would do well to remember that the old man is only 31 years old.
So hello the new season. Hello not a lot of news about pre-season testing making it to the papers or broadcast media. Hello the Losail circuit in the desert of Qatar.
Welcome to the night race.
Last year was quite literally a wash-out. With only four days of rain a year, the bikes copped the lot and had to run the race on the Monday. Stoner won it. Again. Stoner, in fact, has won the last three races and was bidding for a fourth win with a great pole lap. Everyone hoped for a dry race and that’s how it started. Stoner on pole, ahead of Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.
Nerves got edgy before the start – wondering if weird desert weather would intervene again but everything got off well. No rain, no problems, but some started better than others. Rossi got a blinder as did little Dani Pedrosa. Casey, pole-sitter and odds-on winner, took a couple of laps to take the lead but put some ace moves on and was breezing it. Then, as commentator Charlie Cox would have said (if he’d thought about it) – “he needs that like a third armpit” – as Stoner folded the front end on a sandy line and chucked it into the gravel trap.
Guess who was waiting to pick up the pieces. Yup. The GOAT.
Rossi rode the next laps like a demonstration. He had a lot of high-speed chasing going on – Dovizioso was dangerous. The Honda horsepower on the straight a constant threat. Nicky Hayden doing his best to keep Ducati honour alive and in the later stages, Rossi’s team mate Gorgeous George putting in the most amazing performance.
For the last five laps it was a performance of preservation of tyres and fuel par excellence by Signor Dottore – only after the race finished did we know how close to the bone Rossi’s strategy was (he ran out of fuel on the warm-down lap).
It was though, a five lap sprint of derring-do for George. Stuck behind Hayden and Dovizioso lap after lap he had to be brave. And was he brave! He is suffering with a broken hand but who would know it as he toughed it out – last of the late brakers to take them both – on a circuit notoriously hard for overtaking.
George gave Yamaha the season opening one-two that they could have only dreamed of pre-season and poor Nicky (it’s always poor Nicky) lost out by 1000ths of a second to Dovizioso because the Honda has the grunt in a straight line.
If Stoner hadn’t have crashed out, it might have been a done deal for Ducati to win, but this is MotoGP and as Charlie says “the one thing that is predictable in this sport, is the unpredictable”.
All is to play for. One race, one winner. Rossi.
In two weeks we will convene in Japan, at Motegi – a track with so much history and atmosphere one can almost smell the leather and rubber now.
I just hope that the broadcasters will find it easier and more pleasurable to publicise the bike racing. Obviously this weekend, we were up against Tiger Woods and his first public golf outing since his personal life meltdown. Well that’s as may be and I’m sure they got lots of viewing public but I can’t help but be rather happy that in MotoGP we don’t get those kinds of headlines.
With bike racing, what you get is fine and exciting on track racing and pretty much bugger all for the front pages.
Watch and enjoy and, honestly, if anyone thinks that Rossi is too old to do this, well, just think again!