Dorna: un favor, por favor


Here’s a special MotoGP request ahead of this weekend’s Jerez GP

I’m often a bit mean about Dorna, because they’re the people in charge of MotoGP, so they’re in the firing line. But they are big enough to take it. I fully realise that much of the time they do great work, but I’m only a journalist, so, as Pavarotti once said, “when a journalist write about the positive he write fives lines; when he write about the negative he become a poet”.

Dorna’s greatest act over the past year or so has been to admit that MotoGP is too expensive to survive entirely on outside sponsorship, so it has wisely and kindly decided to underwrite the poorer end of the grid for the foreseeable future. This is in stark contrast to Formula 1 and top-level football, where those in charge only seem to care about the headline teams.

Dorna’s plan to bankroll the back half of the MotoGP grid for the foreseeable future could raise its annual investment in the class by a massive £20 million, which will be spent on those teams that run the twelve non-factory riders on the 24-strong grid. This investment is necessary because the poorer teams have always struggled. And if Dorna can keep those teams fully competitive, the racing will be better, so the show will be better, so more people will turn on the TVs, so their investment should be repaid.

So, major props and big-ups to Dorna. They are great people, honest. But why I am being nice to them? Because I’m after a favour…

This is going to take a bit of explaining, but my request involves Pink Floyd’s brilliantly weird album Wish You Were Here, which has been part of the soundtrack to my life since it hit record shops in the summer of 1975. By sheer fate, the album is now part of MotoGP’s soundtrack, because Valentino Rossi chose the title track to make a heartfelt tribute to his late friend Marco Simoncelli at Misano in September 2013. That weekend his AGV was decorated by Aldo Drudi, using Storm Thorgerson’s stunning album artwork, and emblazoned with these lines from the title track:

How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
Wish you were here.

It was a beautiful, heart-rending tribute from a man who must daily feel the churning anguish of not only having lost his best friend but having been blamelessly involved in his death. Even before Rossi chose Wish You Were Here to remind us what he feels for Simoncelli, the lyrics of the track always cut deep with me, because they were written by a man mourning the loss of a great friend, just as Rossi mourns the loss of his best friend.

Floyd lyricist Roger Waters wrote the song in tribute to Syd Barrett, the band’s erstwhile leading light, who had burned his brain and torched his talent by ingesting way too much acid during the early 1970s. Barrett was still alive at the time [he died in 2006] but he was so far gone that the band had to leave him behind, just as Rossi left Simoncelli behind. And there’s something else in the song that cuts very deep: a huge, nagging sense of guilt.

Wish You Were Here tells us that all that really matters in life is love, an emotion that has little place in the MotoGP paddock. My own personal feeling is that Simoncelli’s death explains why Rossi is more emotionally involved in his racing than ever and why he will go to any lengths to win another world title, to make the ultimate gift to his deceased friend.

But I digress, because my request to Dorna refers to a different song on Wish You Were Here, the opening track Shine On You Crazy Diamond, another a paean to Barrett, but which could just as well have been written for Simoncelli. This track has a special significance with the Spanish GP, which takes place at Jerez this weekend.

Jerez was the first Grand Prix venue of the modern era to attract enormous crowds. It hosted its first GP in 1986 and by the late 1980s more than 200,000 fans would attend the event, making the pilgrimage from all over Spain to witness the nation’s new racetrack heroes – Sito Pons, Joan Garriga, Aspar Martinez, Alex Criville and Carlos Cardus – win more glory.

Getting into the circuit became such a nightmare, with total gridlock for miles around, that the only way to ensure you were safely inside the circuit before race-day warm-up was to stagger out of your hotel room at 5am and get to the circuit before the sun came up.

Anywhere else, this would’ve been a grizzly business, but not so at Jerez, thanks to the fine mind of circuit commentator Baldomero Torres, who transformed it into an unforgettable, haunting experience.

Torres hailed from nearby Seville where his day job (in fact, his night job) was leading a flamenco blues band called The Sharp Knives. He was also the best commentator ever, turning his job into something of an art form. He pretty much sang his commentary, hailing the burgeoning successes of Spain’s home-grown talent by gloriously rolling his Rs – Joan Garriga! Alex Crriville! Asparrr Marrrtinez Carrrlos Carrrdus! – his treacle-rich voice rolling around the packed hillsides until most of the fans lost their minds with excitement.

But the real genius of Torres came upon us as darkness gave way to dawn on race morning. At this spookiest of hours he climbed into his commentary box, turned the PA system up to eleven and placed a copy of Wish You Were Here in the CD player.

The spooky, surreal sounds of the album’s opening track Shine On You Crazy Diamond drifted through the chill morning mist, creating one of those moments which you immediately know you will take with you to your grave: it was a prog-rock dawn chorus, not so much for us, driving our rentacars into the circuit with thudding hangovers, but for the massed ranks of fans trudging through the darkness, pouring over the hillsides that surround the racetrack, like an army preparing for a dawn assault, except they weren’t laden down with guns and ammunition, but with whole jamons and slabs of beer.

This invasion was a sight to take your breath away: the silhouettes emerging into the creeping daylight against a backdrop of the purple, pink, turquoise and blue of an Andalusian dawn. Between them, Pink Floyd and Torres turned an achy early morning into a spine-tingling experience.

Of course, Torres doesn’t commentate at Jerez anymore. Dorna sacked him (hey, you can’t stop progress) and we no longer to get to hear Shine On You Crazy Diamond on race morning.

So that’s my request to Dorna: please do us a favour and play Shine on You Crazy Diamond on Sunday morning? I’ll even lend you my CD.

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