There are only two MotoGP events that I insist you visit and a few others that are worth attending. The rest, to be honest, are as well watched from the comfort of your armchair. The season-opening Qatar GP, for example, has as much atmosphere as a dentist’s empty waiting room.
I judge each event via a strict formula, drawn up over several decades of diligent research. The criteria are: circuit character, atmosphere, surrounding countryside and quality of local hostelries.
The jewel in MotoGP’s crown is Mugello, a venue so perfect that if heaven exists this would be its racetrack. Mugello is an Italian masterpiece that scores a full house of tens. The circuit itself is breathtaking, with a dizzying mix of fast corners that twist and turn along the sides of a verdant valley in the Tuscan foothills.
The main straight used to end with a first-gear right-hander, but not any more. The left kink that precedes turn one was flat out on a 500 without a moment’s thought. At over 210mph on a MotoGP bike it is quite a corner complicated by a brow that kicks the front wheel into the air. Riders hold their breath and sit tight as they wait for the front tyre to regain terra firma before braking for turn one. You can’t help but hold your breath when watching here.
The Italians get very excited at Mugello. Not only is this Valentino Rossi’s home GP, it is also Ducati’s home event, so the crowd throngs the hillsides, making one hell of a racket. Their custom was to bring ageing and unsilenced car engines into the spectator areas and rev them to destruction, day and night. Finally the polizia intervened because the paddock wasn’t getting any sleep. Now spectators rev their own motorcycles to oblivion Lord forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Hostelries? You don’t need me to tell you that you can wine and dine well at any local trattoria. And with Florence a 40-minute drive and Bologna (along with the Ducati museum) 60 miles away (along the Mille Miglia roads, if you wish), Mugello is unsurpassable.
Jerez in deepest Andalusia is my other MotoGP must-do. The Spanish GP feels more like a bullfight than a motorcycle race, with the local fans working themselves into a patriotic fervour. They certainly have enough riders to support.
The atmosphere is wonderfully chaotic, both at the track and amongst the whitewashed splendour of downtown Jerez, which is packed with great little bars and tapas joints. Before the circuit access roads were sorted out you needed to be inside by dawn to avoid the gridlock. A popular Jerez commentator transformed this arduous early start into an eerie, unmissable event by playing Pink Floyd’s Shine on you Crazy Diamond as the sun came up over the circuit. Sadly, this custom is now forgotten.
Other rounds worth a visit include the Czech GP, Catalunya, Valencia and the Sachsenring once a lethal street race, now a well-run and hugely popular meeting on a short but thrilling circuit. For WWII aficionados, Colditz is just 30 miles away. California’s Laguna Seca is also good a dazzling rollercoaster of a circuit and a great event if you can put up with the gun-toting security gorillas who treat you like they’re averting the next 9/11.
Phillip Island is probably MotoGP’s greatest circuit – a series of swooping, wide-open bends that all but kiss the Tasman Sea on Australia’s south-eastern tip. The Aussie GP is very earthy in its charms – no five-star VIP treatment here.
In the past I would also have insisted you visit Assen, a unique serpentine of a racetrack that once kept MotoGP’s medics busier than anywhere else. And Spa, the greatest of them all. But bike GPs stopped going to Spa after 1990 and Assen was emasculated a few years ago when half the circuit was sold to settle debts. For good reasons and bad we’ve lost many classic venues. With MotoGP engines likely to be restricted from 2013 reducing speeds at Mugello’s scary kink and Jerez teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, experience their magic before it’s too late.