Strange days in MotoGPby Mat Oxley on 23rd May 2012
Casey Stoner’s retirement bombshell overshadowed everything at Le Mans, but it wasn’t the only talking point.
The other story that grabbed people’s attention was the Tech 3 brakes saga which has Andrea Dovizioso paying for the latest Brembo brakes out of his own wages while team-mate Cal Crutchlow argues that it’s not right that MotoGP riders should have to buy their own parts.
Strangely perhaps, the two stories are related.
Stoner is retiring at the end of the season because he has “fallen out of love with the sport”. Beyond the obvious reason that he needs a break from motorcycle racing (having raced for 23 of his 26 years), he believes that the sport “he fell in love with” has changed for the worse, to the point where it’s now more of a marketing exercise than a bike racing championship.
It’s hard to disagree with him on that one.
The amount of paddock space dedicated to corporate hospitality increases exponentially and the hospitality units are given pride of place while the smaller teams who can’t be accommodated in the pits are hidden away out of sight. After all, you wouldn’t want your corporate guests to walk past a noisy Moto3 bike and some sweaty, oil-stained mechanics while on their way to a guided tour of Valentino Rossi’s factory Ducati pit, would you? Stoner believes that race bikes are more important than fine dining.
This year there are so many hospitality units that Moto2 and Moto3 riders have been banished from the paddock. They are no longer allowed to bring camper vans to races; they must stay in hotels instead. This ban has had a huge effect on paddock atmosphere. The MotoGP paddock is no longer a bustling village of 70 or 80 riders – from teenage rookies to veteran superstars – and their families and friends, cooking up barbecues, sitting around in sun loungers and generally having a nice time. It has now been reduced to a millionaire’s row of palatial motorhomes belonging to the MotoGP riders. Stoner is deeply unhappy about this – he believes that Moto2 and Moto3 riders also deserve their place in the paddock.
His dislike of the new CRT bikes has been given more airtime. Indeed it was their imminent arrival that prompted his first mention of retirement, at Valencia last year. “If MotoGP’s not prototypes then I’ll be out of here,” he said. “I’m not interested in the slightest in racing modified production bikes. That should be the league you work your way through to get where we are. It’s like Formula 1 switching to touring cars.”
Stoner believes that the CRT concept threatens the very existence of the exotic MotoGP prototypes on which he has plied his trade for the past seven years. “This is a MotoGP championship, a prototype championship,” he said at Le Mans. “And these prototypes are amazing machines – they’re like works of art.”
Over the years Stoner’s habit of speaking his mind and damn the consequences hasn’t won him many friends. At Le Mans the only man who came right out and voiced his support was Crutchlow.
“I completely agree with what he’s saying,” said the Briton. “He’s the only one with the balls to say it. We can’t say we think MotoGP’s shit if it’s turning to CRT because we need rides. All the riders think the same as Casey but they don’t want to say it.”
Crutchlow currently finds himself in a bizarre situation. MotoGP may be more corporate than ever and he may ride for one of its top teams but he’s now the only Brembo-equipped rider without up-to-date brakes. The Italian company’s 2012 discs and callipers deliver six per cent more braking power but Tech 3 Yamaha won’t buy them. Cost is £2000 for each calliper and £8000 for each disc, with a full season’s cost estimated at over £50,000.
While Dovizioso recently bought his own 2012 Brembos in an apparently successful attempt to boost his performance, Crutchlow is making a stand. He is adamant that he won’t dig into his own pockets.
“Out of principle I won’t be buying anything,” he said. “It’s completely wrong – I’m racing in MotoGP, not club racing. It’s not my job to buy brakes, my job is to race motorcycles... but maybe I’ll go round someone’s garage and steal them.”
Some of Crutchlow’s fans are now thinking of trying to raise money for the brakes via social media sites.
Strange days indeed.