- Peter MacKay
Moto GP Qatar 2010- The race that kick started a lifetime passion
As we embark on the jam packed autumn schedule of motorcycle racing, with all major championships racing towards their conclusion, I find myself thinking back to the genesis of my passion for motorcycle racing of all forms. Since childhood, I have been obsessed with four wheel motorsports, in fact, I still am! However, my adulation for motorcycle racing, only surfaced in 2010, at the age of 20.
Looking back, Sunday the 11th of April 2010, was a watershed moment in my life. At the time, I was being rudely awoken from the dream of pursuing a career in professional golf and coming to terms with the reality that I had to pursue other avenues for gainful employment. On this particular Sunday, I was reluctantly watching the conclusion of the Masters golf tournament, unable to shake the feeling that I was only tuning in because it was the thing to do, if you were supposed to be following a career in golf. Before long, I was flicking through the channels, looking for more stimulating entertainment, and boy, did I find it. I stumbled across the opening round of the Moto GP world championship, held under the twinkling floodlights of the Losail International Circuit, in Qatar. At the time, Moto GP races were broadcasted live, on free to air television on the BBC. Had I been flicking through channels in the current, pay TV only era, there is a strong chance I wouldn’t be writing this article at all.
The spectacle that I stumbled across, was absolutely mesmerizing. BBC’s commentary team, Ex Grand Prix rider Steve Parrish and former racing driver, Charlie Cox, lit up the broadcast with engaging insights and infectious enthusiasm. Cox, most known behind the microphone for his electrifying commentary on the super touring era of British touring cars, added so much colour and excitement to the broadcast. Parrish, calling on decades of hands on experience at the coal face of the sport, possessed a wonderful ability to give in depth insight on what was unfolding on screen but crucially, in a way that a novice viewer could easily understand. Cox and Parrish were the perfect pair, for Sunday afternoon, terrestrial TV broadcasting of Moto GP. Without question, they will be personally responsible for engaging a band of new fans of our sport, during the tenure of BBC broadcasting Moto GP races.
Nowadays, the kind of wheel to wheel action exhibited during this particular race at Qatar in 2010, is common place in the current golden era of Moto GP. But back in 2010, the fickle 800cc Moto GP prototype machines were infamous for strangling overtaking opportunities and led to quite dull, processional racing. For those now accustomed to Moto GP races where thirty seconds covers the top fifteen riders, consider that back in 2009, a rider finishing fourth could be thirty-two seconds behind the winner. However, the opening race of a season, that Jorge Lorenzo would go on to decimate the competition in his own metronomic style, bucked the trend and was a non-stop thriller from the drop of the flag.
Valentino Rossi, now a 9 times world champion, had proved to the world that he was still the benchmark of the sport, following a pair of world titles in 2008 and 2009. After the heartbreak of 2006 and the bruises from Casey Stoner’s 2007 championship triumph, Rossi had responded and cemented his place as one of the all-time greats of the sport. Sworn enemy and Yamaha team mate, Jorge Lorenzo, had exploded onto the Moto GP scene in 2008, with 3 podiums and a win in his first three races in the premier class. However, a string of brutal crashes had hampered the health and confidence of the young Mallorcan, leaving him yearning for a championship crown in 2010.
Lining up on pole position, Casey Stoner, was unanimous favourite for the race win following devastating pace in free practice and qualifying. The 2007 world champion, had a very clear score to settle in 2010. Having been on the receiving end of Valentino Rossi’s mind games on more than one occasion and having grappled with chronic fatigue which plagued his 2009 season, the hard charging Australian came out swinging from the green light of the 2010 season.
Despite setting the fastest lap of the race on the fifth circuit of the brightly illuminated Losail Circuit, Stoner’s 2010 championship challenge was thwarted as he lost the front end of his Ducati Desmosedici, only a few laps later. Notoriously difficult to ride, the Bologna built machine, was often dragged kicking and screaming up on to the podium by the super human talent of Stoner. As Valentino Rossi found it to his cost in 2011 and 2012, Stoner’s unique fast and loose style seemed to be the only way to produce any kind of result on the Italian steed. Sadly, for the divisive Aussie, this race was not going to be one of those heroic performances.
With Stoner back in the garage, contemplating the race victory that had slipped out of the grip of his Alpinestars gloves, Valentino Rossi on his beloved Yamaha M1 was able to control the race and clinch a valuable opening race win of the season, in doing so rubbing salt in Stoner’s wound. Towards the closing stages of the race, Rossi’s lead was challenged by fellow Italian, Andrea Dovizioso, who deployed the far superior horsepower of his Repsol Honda machine to reel in Rossi on his sluggish Yamaha. Nevertheless, Rossi quickly stymied the efforts of his compatriot by utilising the rock steady braking stability of his sweet handling M1 as both riders threw out their carbon fibre anchors, heading into the slow first corner.
With a few laps to go, Rossi managed to make a break away from the snarling pack behind and cruise home to victory. American world champion Nicky Hayden, Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo were left to scrap over the remaining two steps on the podium behind Rossi. These few laps alone, lit the touch paper that ignited my love of motorcycling racing. Fighting a Ducati, noticeably down on top speed on his rivals, something that has been completely overturned in recent years by the Bologna factory, Hayden rode with incredible courage and precision. Despite his valiant efforts, Hayden would be pipped on the line by Dovizioso on the rocket ship Honda, cruelly denying him a desperately needed podium finish. Having been accustomed to Formula 1, this level of final lap paint swapping was so novel and exhilarating. These four brave competitors, put on a show for their sport, that has had me gripped ever since.
Following the revelation of the Moto GP race in Qatar, I sniffed out every slice of motorcycle racing action I could find like a prized truffle dog. The Isle of Man TT, British Superbikes and World Superbikes came to my attention and all played their part in the ever tightening grip on my fascination and interest for motorcycle racing. Within two years, the initially casual hobby, had gone completely mad, as I found myself wobbling around Knockhill at a track day, on my GSXR 600 sports bike, having the time of my life. Recalling the feeling of pulling on my Dainese leathers and Valentino Rossi replica helmet, with an ever climbing heart rate, ready to go for a summers evening blast, still gives me shivers to this day. The balance of sheer terror and unadulterated adrenaline, whilst riding my bike on circuit, is an experience I have yet to replicate. The aforementioned GSXR sadly ended up in the gravel trap at the infamous Duffus dip turn at Knockhill, reminding me that, no, I am not Kevin Schwantz. Since that wet, October day in 2012, I have accepted my position in an observatory role, marvelling at the skills of those who make a career out of our wonderful sport.
All motorcycle racing fans will all have a race that started it all, what was yours?
Contact me via twitter @mackaypodcast or in the comments below, I would love to hear your story of where your motorcycle racing passion began!