Motorcycling's Grumbling Primadonnas? Motorcycling's Greedy little Pr*cks? Motorcyclists who are Grossly Paranoid?..
A couple of weeks ago, someone emailed me to feel me out about a writing job in which I'd cover MotoGP . The position on offer, it seemed, would have been a dream assignment for me a few years ago; full accreditation and paid travel to races. It was just an exploratory email, and we never got to the negotiation stage, because basically... I'm not interested.
I'm still - at least in principle - interested in MotoGP races. But the World Championship really isn't that good a place for journalists these days. I mean, it's all managed press conferences where everyone hears your questions and the surly, robotic, or flippant responses they provoke. I'm not really interested in waiting two years for my chance to have a five-minute interview with Valentino Rossi, with a couple of PR minders hovering to ensure that I don't ask him any really interesting questions or that if I manage to blurt one out, that he doesn't answer. There may still be some 'Mark Gardiner' stories in the MotoGP paddock - in fact I'm sure there are lots of them - but the structure of the situation ensures they'll never be told.
And besides that, although there may be a couple of exceptions, most MotoGP riders are a bunch of fucking primadonnas.
This was driven home over the last few days, as virtually all of the active riders have said they'll boycott the Motegi round, on the grounds that attending the event may expose them to radiation from the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear powerplant.
Really. I'm not making this up. A group of professional motorcycle racers are afraid of a radiation dose smaller than they'll get from an X-ray. I won't belabor the irony of this, because others, like Julian Ryder have already covered this subject. (Read the second paragraph of his excellent 'Ryder's Notes' column on Dean's World, here.) Suffice to say that this boycott, if it comes off, is a direct slap in the face to Honda (which owns the Motegi circuit) and adds insult to the injuries incurred by all the Japanese manufacturers and Japan as a whole.
I know what I'd do in response if I was Takanobu Ito. First, I'd contact Hiroyuki Yanagi and Osamu Suzuki, and convince them to boycott MotoGP. Then, collectively, we'd contact riders, teams, Dorna, IRTA and the FIM and transmit a six-word message: It's over. We're invoking force majeure.
Do the Japanese OEMs have contracts that oblige them to field MotoGP teams and pay riders? Sure. But there's plenty of quid pro quo written into those contracts. No judge anywhere would rule against the Japanese OEMs if, through no fault of their own, they were denied a home Grand Prix.
The Japanese OEMs should send this message loud and clear: Any rider who doesn't come to Motegi is dead to us. If MotoGP doesn't come, MotoGP is dead to us.
I worked in the ad business for years. Before I became addicted to motorcycle racing, I was the vice-president of marketing for a $200 million company. So although I don't have the statistics to prove what I'm going to say now, I'm not just talking out of my ass...
For all the hype within the motorcycle media about MotoGP; for all the endemic mags that cover it, websites, and television broadcasts; for all the hubbub and bullshit surrounding Rossi & Co., it's not that easy to make a business case for any manufacturer's participation in the sport. The motorcycle business is still weak globally and while the U.S. might've hit bottom already, Europe now looks increasingly shaky. The electronic-rider-aided 17-bike show's not that great and it's not at all certain that MotoGP inspires enough motorcycle purchasers to justify the investment. Outside sponsors aren't coming close to covering the gap. There's no indication Kawasaki's been hurt by it's recent decision to withdraw.
In short, Honda doesn't need MotoGP. Neither do Yamaha or Suzuki. Honda and those guys participate because they love racing. Not because they need racing. Forget about that 'Racing improves the breed' bullshit too; some pretty ordinary street bikes now incorporate too much technology for a good racing show.
No, Japan doesn't need it. But MotoGP sure as hell needs Japan.
MotoGP riders all stuck their 'sympathy for Japan' stickers on their bikes after the tsunami, but when the time came to actually show a little solidarity they showed their real colors - every shade of yellow.