Baker's Dozen: Austin MotoGP
1 May 2013
What are your thoughts on the Circuit of the Americas facility? What makes it special?
It's a spectacular circuit with excellent facilities. The layout of the track suits the F1 boys more, but that said, the track is really exciting to view with many long straights and sweeping corners.
It appears that no expense has been spared, and the one thing that stands out in particular is the friendliness of the people of Austin towards the fans and those within the paddock.
The unique viewing tower is an incredible experience for the brave of heart! It is incredibly high and you can see the whole track, the skyline of Austin and half of Texas. The flooring has a glass bottom, so not for those who suffer from vertigo.
There are some exceptional people running the track as well. In particular, the former team manager of Team Roberts, Chuck Aksland and also Mel Harder who brought MotoGP to Indy. With these two at the helm and with their experience, this race stands to be smoothly run for years to come.
How special do you think Marc Marquez is? Can he fight for the title this year?
I spoke to two prominent senior managers from other manufacturers and both agreed that Marc is an exceptional talent, but that he is so on the limit that it is only natural that he will also go over that limit at some point.
The question is how often and will it affect his chance of taking the title. Only time will tell, but he has a great team behind him and I believe that if he keeps it upright, he will be right there fighting for the title in his rookie year.
What does Marquez's race-winning form mean for Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo?
It means business as usual for Jorge. One alien [Casey Stoner] leaves as another joins. Jorge knew that Marc was going to be strong and is ready for the challenge. Pedrosa on the other hand must be feeling the heat. This is his eighth year with the Repsol factory team and no world title at the top class. When he joined Repsol Honda he was to be the next Spanish champion, but pretty soon, this mantle was taken by Jorge and now he has perhaps his toughest team-mate to date and what is more, he is also Spanish. The heat is on!
Looking over all three classes, what were your main thoughts on race day?
It seems that the race in Texas is an appropriate place to bring up the headline “There's a new kid in town”, because Marc Marquez was spectacular and rode a perfect race. In only his second race, he did precisely the right thing and that was to follow his more experienced team-mate and learn so much from him, before making his move and showing him a clean pair of heels. No doubt the start of a very illustrious career in the MotoGP class. Welcome to the Aliens!
Moto2 and Moto3 were really entertaining races with great battles all the way through. Being such a long track, there is always the fear that the field will pan out and a procession will ensue, but thankfully this was not the case. Let's not forget the Red Bull Rookies as well who also put in some great races.
I have to say that it became a bit monotonous hearing the Spanish anthem for the third time of the day - that is now six Spanish wins out of six, include the three race winners in Qatar.
How nice it will be to hear the British National Anthem playing for Scott Redding in Moto2, that might just be around the corner!
The one negative hanging over COTA is the Kevin Schwantz situation…
I was with Kevin at the initial launch and Kevin had certainly put his heart and soul into the whole project. For it to end up without him there was such a shame for the sport as a whole.
That said, there are two sides to every story and it wouldn't be going through litigation unless both parties felt that they were in the right. So I just hope that the conclusion can be done in a dignified manner - in my view, the best way would be behind closed doors and without unnecessary bad publicity for the individual or the sport.
Have you heard any more about Suzuki's plans for a MotoGP return?
I worked closely with the Suzuki team when I was working with Chris Vermeulen and know a lot of the team well. I am aware of a handful of them working directly for Suzuki on a GP project, but nothing has been confirmed as to when or if they will be back. The sooner the better!
How is the ongoing global financial situation impacting on the paddock? What changes have you seen from a commercial point of view?
The global financial situation is very clearly impacting the paddock, and this can be seen right away when you walk down the paddock - basically, by the lack of change! There are very few new sponsors and this is badly needed.
We need known quality brands that lend themselves to the quality of the sport and I am convinced that once they dip their toe into such a market, they will be pleasantly surprised.
It is also extremely important to activate such sponsorships in the right manner and for the teams and riders to go above and beyond to fulfil the sponsors' desires. This way the word will out that MotoGP is really the place to be and more such companies will jump on board.
There are now three races in America, what is the general level of interest? How should MotoGP measure 'success' in America?
The level of interest can only really be measured through the TV figures and crowd attendance. The sport is currently only broadcast on Speed TV, which means it is being broadcast via cable only to those that are already fans.
It is crying out for a mainstream network to pick it up and educate the potential audience about the riders, the bikes and the sport in general. With three races there is a golden opportunity but Americans are very patriotic and without US riders at the front end, the audience will dwindle.
More worrying is the total lack of Americans coming through the classes for the future. As for attendance, there were in excess of 60,000 people at COTA, which is a good start but something that will need to grow for the future.
Should there be less races in Europe?
This is a bit of a catch 22. With so many Spaniards involved in all classes, it is understandable to have four races there. Ideally, we should take a step back in order to go two forward and introduce new countries to the calendar. I know that Dorna are looking at new venues and I believe that the schedule will broaden over the next two years.
Where do you think most future MotoGP sponsorship come from?
As the sport broadens its schedule, the chance of attracting sponsors from those new countries will naturally increase. In addition, there are companies looking to advertise in such countries and this will give the sport the opportunity to create partnerships, which might not have made sense otherwise. Look at F1 with Force India and Marussia to name two. The same should apply to MotoGP as it develops in other such countries.
The new qualifying format seems to have worked well in terms of 'the show'. Are there any other changes you would like MotoGP to make?
Like all things new, it takes time to adapt, but the new qualifying appears to have been well received and shows that the FIM, Dorna and IRTA are continually striving to improve the overall package, which I think they have done and are doing admirably.
How big a boost is it for MotoGP to have Rossi back in contention? What will MotoGP do when he retires?
It is fantastic to see Vale back at the front and fighting for podiums. He has not lost the touch and the fans still turn out in their droves to support him. It was amazing to see that in the paddock in Texas, the largest number of fans by far were hanging outside his pit waiting for him to appear. He is truly the global star, even when not winning.
That said, I still believe that the sport is much bigger than any one individual and feel certain that when he decides to hang up his helmet, the championship will continue to grow and will keep its appeal and fan base.
Honda and Yamaha will now be supplying customer machinery from next season, how significant is that? Does it prove that the CRT concept has served its purpose?
It is such good news that we have two manufacturers prepared to throw their weight behind bringing more competitive teams to the forefront. Both Honda and Yamaha are investing in the future of the sport, which is so good to see. It would be equally good to see BMW, Aprilia, Suzuki and Kawasaki in the paddock along with others. That is what we need, and I believe that the organizers are trying to do this in a realistic and cost efficient manner. I think it is a great step forward and personally believe that the future looks bright for MotoGP.