|Honda Moto2 rider Marco Marquez, via ultimatemotorcycling.com|
This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I'm actually quite interested in motorsport.
To be specific, Moto2 and Moto3.
It still surprises Mrs G that I'll set the TiVo to record this stuff, and sit down in front of it and actually watch it. Indeed, I get a little bit weird when I think the TiVo has automatically deleted it before I've watched it. I never used to be this way.
It really began when I first hopped onto motorised two-wheeled transport, a bit over six years ago. Mrs G and I had worked out that we could squeeze more out of our budget if we didn't have to run two cars. However, we both still needed to be able to operate all the vehicles we owned and, because Mrs G would not ride a motorbike, but would come at a motor scooter, we acquired a scooter and the deal was done. The household budget gained some room and we acquired some serious protective clothing. Later, when the scooter gave up the ghost and it was clear I was the only one riding (and still licensed to do so), we got a motorbike. I ride pretty much every week day.
If you've ever flown down a hill on a bicycle and felt the thrill of the wind and the asphalt as you lean as far as you dare into a corner, you have half an idea of what it's like to do the same thing with an internal combustion engine either under your arse (scooter) or between your knees (motorbike). There is a thrill connected with twisting the grip that little bit further and leaning a little bit harder, and that is the basis of the entire worldwide motorcycle market. You can argue economics or reduced carbon footprint all you like, but it really comes down to the fact that riding is fun. The trick to improving your chances of survival is to clearly recognise the line between fun and foolhardiness. Thankfully I'm old enough that that line is pretty clear to me.
Anyway, riding has been a wonderful outlet for me. When I was commuting on the scooter in Canberra, and later on the bike, I had up to an hour a day on roads mostly with 80km/h zones and upwards, with the music of my choice in my ears, leaning into the curves and keeping an eagle eye on the cage-drivers around me who, each and every one, could choose to change lanes before looking for me (idiots). At the end of a mind-numbing bureaucratic day it was a fantastic way to blow out the dross.
Here in Bendigo my daily commute is so short (3 mins tops) that, at this time of year, I sometimes have to take the long way around to ensure the engine and exhaust system warm up enough to avoid permanent damage! Even though the trip itself is shorter than the time required to properly suit up (and down), it's so worth it.
In amongst all of this riding I discovered that the world motorcycle grand prix (MotoGP) champion was an Australian (Casey Stoner) and, immediately, there was a point of interest. At the time his main rival was the Italian Valentino Rossi. When Stoner was riding for Ducati and Rossi was riding for Yamaha their rivalry produced absorbing races: close and tactically interesting. But now it's all different.
Like Formula 1 car racing, MotoGP is based on a formula of engineering specifications. Your engine must be no more than a certain capacity, your wheelbase must be no more than *this*, and so on. Some years the major factory bikes use the formula to produce similar results and the racing is very close. Other years some of them just don't get it right, and the cost of development is so high that they simply have to wear it until next year. This is one of those years. Stoner, now on a superbly engineered Honda, is in close competition with his stable-mate Dani Pedrosa and Yamaha's top rider, Jorge Lorenzo. Rossi suffered a nasty injury last season and is riding an uncompetitive Ducati. It's a different competition, but each race this year is a parade, not a race.
By contrast the Moto2 and Moto3 (lower grades of racing with much more rigid specifications) are far superior this year. The bikes are much closer in capability, so the races are decided much more on rider ability. In a 20 lap race you still have a swarm of riders heading for each corner half and even three-quarters of the way through the race. It's absorbing, exciting and a really physical sport.
Oh, I know, people say motorsport is all about the machines and not the people. Rubbish. If you've seen the way motorcycle riders have to move their body-weight around their machines to get them through the corners, lap after lap, relying largely on muscle-memory connected with their track-training, you wouldn't say that. It is an intensely physical sport where a really skilled rider teamed with a cutting-edge machine can bring home the trophy week after week.
Anyway, I've surprised myself a bit by getting interested in this sort of thing. I've never really been passionate about any sport at all, and now this, at my age!
So. Anyone want to meet me at Philip Island this year?