The thrill of new MotoGP flyaway races, from Buenos Aires to Buddh


Each new MotoGP flyaway race brings new challenges and adventures: guns, snakes, monkeys, all-nighters and slow-cooking riders’ feet at 60 degrees

Start of 2023 MotoGP Indian GP

The first Indian MotoGP race. Little promotion was done because the organisers were too busy making sure the event actually happened. Nevertheless the crowd wasn’t small


It’s always an adventure when MotoGP goes racing in countries where it hasn’t been before. Freed from the routine of European grands prix (where the paddocks are all the same, so occasionally you look up from your lunch, wondering if you’re in Spain or Italy) you feel invigorated by new sights, new smells, new sensations.

Freed from the Old World and thrown into the New you find yourself swimming in the deep end where strange things happen: guns, snakes, monkeys, all-night parties, ladies of the night and so many great tales, some of which can never be told.

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MotoGP first ventured overseas for the finale of the 1961 season, when a handful of hardy Continental Circus players parked their rusty little vans (and caravans, if they were lucky) and boarded a plane to Buenos Aires, Argentina, via New York.

Only six riders started the premier 500 GP at the Autodromo Juan y Oscar Galvez — built to celebrate the country’s Formula 1 car legend Juan Manuel Fangio — and most of them were locals.

Frank Perris was one of the few Europeans on the grid. The Brit raced for the win, until his Norton’s gear lever fell off, so he rode the rest of the race in third gear. He still finished on the podium, albeit ten laps behind local winner Jorge Kissling.

The real interest was in the 125cc race, because this was the only championship still up for grabs. Honda sent a small armada of its RC RC144 125 twins to Buenos Aires to help its Aussie rider Tom Phillis beat East German MZ rival Ernst Degner to the title.

Degner had led the championship on his factory MZ but had just defected from his communist masters, so he borrowed a British-made EMC (basically a copy of the MZ) for the title decider.

Ernst Degner with motorcycle racing team mates

Degner (second right) lost his 1961 world title chance when his bike failed to turn up for MotoGP’s first-ever flyaway race, in Argentina


Degner was convinced that East Germany’s murderous Stasi secret police were after him. And with good reason, because the Stasi had a habit of killing defectors, pour encourager les autres. So he bought a handgun in downtown Buenos Aires.

Degner’s championship hopes evaporated when the EMC didn’t turn up. He believed the Stasi had made contact with old Nazis hunkering down in Argentina to make sure the bike got no further than New York.

MotoGP’s next flyaway was Daytona, for the first United States GP of 1964. Skint Brit privateer Alan Shepherd was convinced he would have a chance of winning the 250cc GP if MZ loaned him one of its missile-fast tandem twins.

The local Yamaha importer had bribed customs staff and hidden Kawasaki’s freight

However, the Americans wouldn’t grant a visa to genius MZ engineer Walter Kaaden (this was the height of the Cold War) so Shepherd drove his little van the 900 miles to the East German border, where Kaaden wheeled an MZ 250 through the Iron Curtain and Shepherd set off for Daytona alone.

The MZ was super-fast, at least it was when Kaaden was around to solve the conundrum of jetting, ignition, squish bands and so on. But he wasn’t, so the bike was a slug. Shepherd was so desperate he telephoned Kaaden before final practice. The call cost £1 per minute (£20 today), money Shepherd didn’t have.

Kaaden quickly gave Shepherd the jet sizes, ignition settings and squish measurements required for the conditions and the Cumbrian won the race, lapping everyone else.

In the late 1970s MotoGP returned to South America, for the Venezuelan Grand Prix. The 1978 event was significant, because it marked Kawasaki’s first full-factory attack on the world championships, with its brand new KR250 and KR350 tandem twins (another design stolen from Kaaden).

Beauty contest judged by Randy Mamola and Wayne Gardner

The parties were bigger than the racing at the Brazilian GP in Goiania. Judges on the beauty contest panel include Randy Mamola and Wayne Gardner


However, when Kawasaki mechanics arrived at customs to collect their bikes they weren’t there. The team’s local fixer soon found out what was afoot. The local Yamaha importer had bribed customs staff and hidden Kawasaki’s freight in a dark, dusty warehouse in the outskirts of Caracas, so that young local Yamaha star, Carlos Lavado, could win the 250cc and 350cc GPs.

More guns. The KRs were only released after the fixer had driven into the warehouse car park, firing warning shots in the air.

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In 1987 MotoGP was back in South America again, this time at a track outside Goiania in Brazil’s hinterland. There’s never been a grand prix like Goiania. The carnival went all weekend, with factory riders struggling through morning practice sessions with nasty hangovers, after falling into their beds in the early hours.

My first season as a grand prix correspondent was 1988, working for British weekly Motor Cycle News, so I was very much looking forward to Goiania. Until Eddie Lawson unexpectedly wrapped up the title at the previous race. MCN’s editor told me he wouldn’t be sending me to Brazil.

So I went on holiday instead, because Goiania sounded too good to miss. And it was. No guns this time, but beautiful girls, mad parties, the city square transformed into a full-on drag strip. The fun, debauchery and late nights pretty much eclipsed the racing. Sunday evening’s Marlboro party in particularly was legendary – the hotel pool like a bloodbath, dyed red by mechanics swimming in their Marlboro uniforms.

Later that evening Marlboro Yamaha team owner Giacomo Agostini and his wife retired to bed in their five-star hotel. While they waited for the lift a bellboy approached Agostini and told him it was against hotel policy to allow guests to take, ahem, ladies of the night, to their rooms. Whoops.

Jumping in swimming pool at MotoGP Goiana party

Most nights at Goiania ended like this – it’s a real surprise that any racing got done


At the nearby nightclub, factory riders danced semi-naked, making the most of their final night. It’s a shame we never went back to Goiania after 1989, it’s such a welcoming place.

In the 1990s MotoGP once again returned to South America – the sport has had a real love affair with the place, can’t think why. This time to the Jacarepaguá circuit outside Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. And nowhere knows how to have fun like Rio.

Rio was unforgettable, for all kinds of reasons. As soon as first practice for the 1996 event got underway there was a power cut, so practice was stopped. The circuit hadn’t paid its electricity bill, so the electricity company had waited for the right moment to cut the power. The debt was quickly paid and practice resumed.

Paddock bad behaviour was the norm, not the exception

The same weekend – or it might’ve been a different year, it’s all a bit of a blur – the Jacarepaguá media centre caught fire. We all rushed out, clutching our laptops. The fire was quickly extinguished and the electric fault fixed, kind of. For the rest of the weekend a worker stood by the electricity board, ready to flick the switch if it overheated again.

That Sunday night, a factory rider, who shall remain nameless, wanted to celebrate his race result, so he hired two ladies of the night. Unable to keep up he called one of his mechanics in an adjacent room to come and help out. These were wild days, when paddock bad behaviour was the norm, not the exception.

On the Saturday night of the 1998 Argentine GP I went straight from nightclub to racetrack. There may have been other times, I can’t remember, but on this occasion I had made friends with a local girl in a Buenos Aires art gallery on the day before practice started.

Riders at Shah Alam circuit in 1995 MotoGP Malaysian Grand Prix

Malaysia’s Shah Alam circuit, site of MotoGP’s first Southeast Asian venture. The track has now been swallowed up by Kuala Lumpur


This girl knew everyone and everywhere, so she introduced me to all her favourite night-time fleshpots: from heavy-metal clubs to techno clubs and from gay clubs to a grand mansion where the Buenos Aires glitterati preferred lounging around on heroin to jumping around on something else. Thanks but no thanks – I’ve got to head to the track for morning warm-up.

Earlier that decade MotoGP headed to Southeast Asia for the first time, to the Shah Alam circuit, just outside Kuala Lumpur.

The track was challenging, the paddock was somewhat ramshackle, but fine, while the toilets were very interesting. So interesting that Mick Doohan – then on his way to dominating the 500cc class – drove back to his hotel after each morning practice session and morning warm-up to avail himself of the hotel’s more luxurious facilities.

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Shah Alam – now swallowed up by the city – was carved out of the jungle, with trees overhanging the track in places. Monkeys sat on branches, idly watching bikes and riders go round in circles. No doubt they wondered, ‘What’s wrong with these humans?’.

And snakes too, occasionally slithering across the asphalt. Doohan’s Aussie mate Daryl Beattie suffers from ophidiophobia (look it up), so whenever he saw a snake during practice he rushed back to his garage, where he waited for the track to be cleared.

Today’s Malaysian GP is a very different story. Sepang was built as part of Kuala Lumpur’s vast airport development in the late 1990s. The airport hotel, where much of the paddock stays, is a hundred metres from the airport, while the track is next door.

Therefore much of the paddock never ventures more than three miles from where it touched down. It’s work all day, a couple of beers in the airport-hotel bar, bed, do it all again the next day and then rush to the airport Sunday evening to catch the red-eye express to the next race. And on and on and on.

Marco Bezzecchi drinks champagne while sat on his bike after winning 2023 MotoGP Indian GP

Inaugural Indian GP winner Marco Bezzecchi rehydrates after the race. Bez brings a little rock ’n’ roll back to MotoGP


So what about India? I’m too old for all-nighters but what a thrill to be in a country that basically moves on motorcycles. There are 120 million powered two-wheelers on the roads of India, so you can sit for ages watching a myriad of different motorcycles and scooters that you’ve never even heard off, hurtle past, while admiring the stoic women sat side-saddle on the pillion, cradling babies in arms.

I saw no guns or snakes and attended no wild parties at Buddh but there was a monkey residing in the ceiling of the Red Bull KTM garage, which probably objected to having its peace and quiet shattered for several days.

Jack Miller was the first to spot the monkey but his mechanics assumed he was hallucinating: new dad, no sleep, all of that. Photographic proof told them their rider was right.

“I was sat chilling, watching the Moto3 session on the TVs up high in the garage,” said Miller. “The cables running through the galvanised trays were moving and there, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a f**king dog. But it was a monkey and not a small monkey. It was big, like a baboon! I was expecting to see a pink butt. I said to the boys, ‘There’s a monkey up there,’ so we threw some bananas up.”

Luckily the monkey didn’t bring his mates back for more treats. Or maybe he was a Honda spy, with cameras implanted in his skull?

Monkey in KTM garage at Buddh circuit for 2023 MotoGP Indian GP

The monkey in KTM’s Buddh garage, or was it a spy working for Honda?


Honda isn’t doing great in MotoGP right now but it’s doing okay in the Indian market. Its Indian factories build 2.4 million machines per year, which puts the company second in the Indian sales league. To put that number into perspective the entire UK powered two-wheeler market is fewer than 100,000 units.

The heat was the biggest deal at Buddh: ambient temperature was in the mid-thirties, with humidity approaching 70%, which makes it feel like more than 40 degrees. It reminded me of the Suzuka Eight Hours, the world’s nastiest race.

It’s difficult for people who haven’t raced motorcycles in this weather to understand how hellish it can be, but to give you an idea, at Buddh the MotoGP bikes were so hot their forks were running at 100 degrees, their shocks at 140. And when ambient temperatures are so high, the heat doesn’t dissipate from the motorcycles, so the riders are basically wrestling blazing furnaces.

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Many riders spoke of burnt throats, arms, legs and feet. If that sounds unlikely, maybe I can give you a small idea of what it’s like by recalling my experiences at the Eight Hours.

So much heat came off the engine that it was pretty much impossible to breathe behind the screen, like breathing inside a hot oven, your throat burning inside and out.

The bike got so hot you had blood blisters under your fingernails and your feet were cooked by the footpegs. At the end of one Eight Hours I peeled off the skin from the entire sole of my right foot in one piece.

It was agony but you had to keep your mind on the job and in some ways it was fun, because when you’re young you kind of enjoy torturing yourself. Motorcycle racers certainly need a masochistic streak – you want to push your mind and body until they cry enough, then push them a bit further.

On current MotoGP bikes the air behind the screen surpasses 50 degrees Celsius and riders’ boots exceed 60C, so the bikes are literally slow-cooking riders’ feet.

GASGAS MotoGP rider Pol Espargaró won the Suzuka Eight Hours in 2015, riding a factory Yamaha R1, so at Buddh I asked him to compare the two.

“Yes, the weather is similar, but at Suzuka you’re riding a superbike, not a MotoGP bike, so it’s not really possible to compare them. A MotoGP bike is much more physical – the difference is huge. Wow, it really is hard to ride here. The heat is high, the humidity is high and the heat coming from the bike is a lot, a lot.”

Thus riding a MotoGP bike at Buddh is basically a real-life version of Dante’s Inferno.

Of course, by the time riders get to Valencia for the season finale in late November you can be sure they’ll be complaining about the cold!

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