The star letter in one of the world's leading car racing magazines last week was from a fan singing the praises of excitement generated watching the Czech Republic MotoGP Grand Prix on television.

His views on overtaking and excitement, look to be shared by millions of others, with the attendance figures at the first nine MotoGP events of the season showing a ten per cent increase on the previous year.

It's a tough time for international motorsport - with the world economy still stuttering after the events of 11 September last year and the discovery that some of the big business players have not been quite so honest about their finances as their balance sheets would have us believe. Also, the level of excitement on the track in some major championships has not matched the intrigue and media coverage of events away from the circuit, and attendance and television viewing figures are not as good as a couple of years ago.

So why is MotoGP bucking the trend?

This is a very big transition year for the sport, and the actual racing in the new MotoGP class has not been as close as it was last year when the 500cc two-strokes were fighting it out. However, the transition has been to the booming 990cc four-strokes and, as more of them arrive, the racing gets closer. Massive factory involvement in the new series, at the expense of other championships, has ignited worldwide interest among the fans, while a certain 23-year-old Italian world champion has propelled the sport into areas where it's never been before. It's only going to get better.

The West Honda Pons team will have one of the all-conquering RCV five-cylinder 990cc four-stroke Hondas for the final four grands prix of the season in Japan, Malaysia, Australia and Valencia. It's a well-earned reward for the team that has battled so hard with its two-stroke NSR 500cc machines this year, and it will be fascinating to see how its fares, after watching the brilliant performance of Daijiro Kato on his first ride on a similar machine in Brno.

The current 250cc world champion finished second in the 22-lap race and vowed he would have a great chance of winning the Portuguese Grand Prix in Estoril next weekend. The fact that he'd never ridden the bike when the tyres where starting to slip and slide was the reason he could not challenge Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi for the lead, but Kato has vowed that that will change in Estoril. No wonder the crowds are flocking to the circuits....

Attendance figures at those nine races are impressive. The total attendance numbers 1,129,772 - an increase of 113,247 on last year. The biggest attendance of the season so far was, unsurprisingly, at the Spanish Grand Prix, where 201,418 fans flocked to Jerez for the first sight of the four-strokes in a European round.

Also impressive was the increase in spectators in countries that have not experienced MotoGP success for many years. Fans in Spain and Italy are brought up on the recent exploits of Alex Criville and Valentino Rossi and are expected in number to turn up in Jerez, Mugello and Barcelona. But it's the fans in England, France, Holland and Germany, who have been starved of championship success in the premier class of grand prix motor cycle racing, and who could been forgiven for staying away until they have a champion, that have created the welcome jump in the figures.

The lure of listening and watching the four-strokes proved a greater incentive than national pride with the biggest increase in crowds in England, France and Holland. England has been nicknamed 'Superbike Island', with the WSBK-winning performances of Carl Fogarty bringing tens of thousands of new fans into the sport at the expense of MotoGP, but suddenly the tide has turned.

The three-day crowd at the British Grand Prix at Donington Park in July was a staggering 93,595 - with over 20,000 extra fans on race day compared to 2001. The last British world 500cc champion was Barry Sheene in 1977 and he was also the last British rider to win a 500cc grand prix - some 21 years ago in Sweden. The lure, therefore, must be those four-strokes.

There were over 13,000 extra fans than last year on race day at Le Mans in France, and there has never been a French 500cc world champion - although Olivier Jacque did much to push the sport when he won the 250cc title in 2000. In Holland, they still talk about grand prix winners Wil Hartog, Boet van Dulman and Jack Middleburg, but they were winning races 20 years ago. Since then, there has been no Dutch success, but still a crowd of 146,594-packed Assen to watch the likes of Jurgen van den Goorbergh over three days this year.

Only one German rider has won a 500cc grand prix, and that was way back at the Nurburgring in 1974 when Edmund Czihak won his home grand prix. Alex Hofmann, replacing the injured Loris Capirossi in the West Honda Pons team, at the Sachsenring certainly had something to do with a three-day crowd of 184,850.

Kawasaki and Ducati join the fray next year and there will be more Honda and Yamaha four-strokes to join Suzuki and Aprilia. This year, the fans have voted on the success of the new MotoGP class with their feet. Next year, expect plenty more letters in those car racing magazines.


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