One of the best things about motorsport is also one of the most frustrating: There’s just so much of it. More than most people could ever make the time to keep up with. I’ve already missed a Formula 1 race in this young season, and have struggled to get into IndyCar even though I’ve seen races here and there and know there are 10 excellent reasons I should change that. Some of you already watch MotoGP; for those that don’t, I’m about to introduce yet another weekend commitment into your life. Sorry, but I’m doing you a favor here.
First, the basics, along with a little bit of background on 2022 so far to get up to speed. MotoGP is grand prix motorcycle racing, the highest rung on the two-wheeled ladder so to speak. There have already been four races this year out of a total 21, comprising three different winners and 10 different podium sitters. The current leader in the championship, Italian rider Enea Bastianini, competes for an independent team — Gresini Racing — which, in the opening round at Qatar on March 6, nabbed its first win in 16 years. If that sounds like one of those feel-good moments that the best racing is known to produce, it totally was.
Gresini is an independent team. It purchases its bikes from Ducati, the famed brand that builds its own bikes and runs them within its own factory team. Independent teams don’t usually benefit from the latest technology available to the factory crews, which ordinarily puts the former at a disadvantage. And yet the underdogs have found ways to win on a year-old motorcycle.
That’s the crux of why MotoGP is so enjoyable to watch, and what initially drew me into it a few years ago. It breaks the conventions of top-class motorsport in that it’s routinely unpredictable.
Take the Grand Prix of the Americas, held this past weekend at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, for example. Factory Yamaha rider and 2021 champion Fabio Quartararo led the timing sheet at the end of the third practice session on Saturday. Practice performance in MotoGP is very important because unlike F1’s qualifying format, riders are split into bottom-half Q1 and top-half Q2 groups based on their best practice laps.
At the wrong end of the pack on Saturday morning was Jorge Martín, the Spanish rider for independent Pramac Ducati, who finished second in the previous round in Argentina. Martín landed 17th in FP3 after a crash midway through the session, but thankfully emerged unhurt. From the highest of highs, as they say.
And yet somehow it was Martín who worked his way back from Q1, finishing in the top two positions in that session to earn a spot in Q2. Then ultimately pole, claiming a new lap record at COTA for good measure. Quartararo could manage only sixth.
“My mindset after FP3 was a disaster,” Martín said during the post-qualifying press conference, “because I was really frustrated and I think it was one of the worst moments in these two years [with Pramac] because I was pushing and I was on the limit and I was 17th, so I was struggling a lot. But you know, I even surprised myself today, because with some small changes [to the bike] everything changed really quick and I was fast again.
“This also demonstrates that you have to believe to the end and everything’s possible,” Martín said. Sure that’s fantastic life advice, but it’s especially good advice for MotoGP — a sport where nothing is permanent and, save for a few backmarkers, no one rider or team is ever dominant nor out of contention for too long.
Unfortunately Martín’s race didn’t go as well as his Saturday, as he crossed the line eighth. Marc Márquez, the six-time MotoGP champion beset by a series of injuries stemming from a series of alarming crashes over the last two years, qualified ninth and instantly fell to last place due to a technical fault that compromised his start, before carving his way back up the field to finish sixth. It was a great ride for the Spaniard, who’s been candid about his need to reestablish confidence and consistency before getting back to his classic title-hunting ways. Should he manage to pull that comeback off, it’ll be merely another stranger-than-fiction storyline to add to MotoGP’s pile.
These are but a few choice highlights of a typical MotoGP weekend that rarely goes how you think it’s going to. The riders and bikes that qualify well aren’t necessarily the same ones that are the fastest over a 40-minute race, or the kindest on their tires. The quality of the competition is thoroughly impressive, not unlike F1’s. The difference is that at any given track, someone you probably didn’t peg on your bingo card will come out of nowhere to threaten the top of the running order. Other forms of racing rely on yellow flags or weather to generate unexpected results. MotoGP just does it by nature.
That’s to say nothing of the spectacle of the event itself and the sheer physicality motorcycle racing necessitates. Nor the experience of watching a race in person, which I was also fortunate enough to do at COTA this past Sunday. I was posted up at Turn 1 for a prime view of Suzuki’s Joan Mir executing a brilliant block pass on Quartararo on lap 7, and I winced as I watched Márquez nearly throw all his progress away there on lap 4, botching the corner entry and almost colliding with KTM’s Brad Binder.
The spectator turnout doesn’t match F1’s at the track nowadays, but considering the action MotoGP regularly delivers, it certainly deserves to. That’s good news for you though, because it means tickets are cheap. A three-day general admission pass cost $90 and the race alone was priced at $60. The same three-day ticket for F1 would’ve set you back $210 last year, and 2022 appears to be even worse.
If you can accommodate more racing in your life, you’d be wise to give MotoGP a shot. And if you can’t but feel compelled to try anyway, you may just find yourself with less time for whatever you were watching before. It’s that good.