When I quizzed Carmelo Ezpeleta of Dorna on Saturday about the new rules and whether they had thought of anything else that might improve the show, he said: "Well, we are working all together. Any proposal coming from anybody, we'll be interested. But right now we have all the ideas on the table and they are being considered. We don't know if there are any other ideas out there, but we will consider them."
All sports have gone through all sorts of evolution. Cricket has gone from five-day test matches with thin audiences to the one-day thrashes and the ultra quick fire 20/20 matches.
MotoGP racing at Mugello © Back Page Images
This works. A 10-minute grid, 40-minute race and a 10-minute podium. One hour and your get your satisfaction. Truth told, people don't wait too long after the flag as they have had their gratification. The TV viewing figures the stations have says this in most aspects of the sport, they leave in their droves.
Anyway, MotoGP grasped the nettle that didn't sting last year by having the first ever grand prix under floodlights at the season opener in Qatar. The race started at 11pm local time, 8pm in the UK and a very acceptable 9pm in Spain. It was a boom, with big numbers such as any season opening race should have.
The Qatar organisers paid Dorna the extra wedge to have the season opener, wallowing in their own gas-made, tax free, paid-for glowing image of the country. There were some who got into the morals of lighting a place that was more than adequately lit by nature for 12 hours a day, but it's their train set and no one from Save the Planet is going to get into the Qatar Ministry of Light Bulbs and tell them otherwise
Singapore followed suit in September for the Formula 1 race, again hitting the bullseye straight through the back of the target. It was F1 evolving with the times and satisfying the thirst for the 'please-me-quickly-before-I-change-over-Play-Station' generations.
However, there are some things that you cannot change.
For example, the Le Mans 24 Hours is a bastion of motorsport, particularly at the moment with the mighty battle of Audi and Peugeot at each other's necks. Le Vingt Quatre Heures is just that. It should never be changed. It will still be going long after many a promoter has been called to heel by the shareholders or banks.
The same with the Monte Carlo Rally. People thought it might be a shadow of its former self with the loss of the full World Rally Championship, where in actual fact this year's event went down a bomb as it was a return to what people wanted with the longer old stages that included some classic night driving. Fever.
Motorsport's hardcore audience is the one thing that it must not lose. They are the ones who'll always watch and keep the foundation of the figures. They are also the people who go out and buy low on tread, nearly-slick tyres, Ohlins, Alpinestars, Bridgestone triple compound tyres, Brembos or OZ and BBS. Of the aforementioned, it will only be the petrol head nutters who lust after them.
Valentino Rossi © Back Page Images
Where the hardcore get angry is when promoters of a series try to sucker their fans into thinking something is cool, or 'fever' as we say at Autosport Towers, when in actual fact it is just Pop Idol, Fame Academy or X-Factor. As Nick Mason of Pink Floyd said, "I dislike it when artistic skills get turned into a sport." Here speaks a man with experience. He's sold 210 million albums, double what George Michael has sold and slightly more than even Madonna!
You can see how Mason feels when he sees whining singers on the box every Saturday night when actually there are real talents out there getting missed. The hardcore fans turn off.
A prime example of trying to kid a hardcore bike audience has been the move of the Bol D'or 24-hour race (the same atmosphere as Le Mans 24hrs) from Paul Ricard to the uninspiring and dreary Magny Cours. It collapsed on its feet with minimal coverage and skeletal crowds.
The same is currently happening in the AMA (American Superbike Championship) with the NASCAR France organisation trying to run a bike series. They're currently in the process of dumbing a multi-manufacturer entry into what can only be worryingly thought of as an attempt to make it NASCAR for bikes. If they do, the hardcore will leave.
Indeed, after Round 2 of the 2009 series the other week at Fontana, maybe they have already left.
Thankfully MotoGP has resisted any major changes to 'the show' and the way a weekend is structured. Qualifying has not changed to follow any other sport, it's an hour of a bit of set-up, bed yourself in and then hang it right on the line for the biggest ballsy lap a rider has ever done. See Jorge Lorenzo at Jerez last year.
It was his second race and he got his second pole position. He was visibly faster than anyone else. Not since seeing Ayrton Senna at Silverstone in the McLaren V12 have I seen anyone that quick. I will never, ever forget it.
But MotoGP has decided to trim here and there in this a la mode whirlwind of cost cutting. Friday mornings are gone completely and rumours abound of Friday's going completely in 2010. Indeed, with the speed of the loss of Friday morning, maybe we'll lose Friday all together before the end of the year! Seriously though, God help us, or moreover God help the riders as it won't be easy setting up their bikes in just two hours.
The Hayate garage at Jerez © Back Page Images
Suzuki's Paul Denning says: "Travel, hotels and freight can cost us up to £1.2 million, but we are on a purge to reduce that already in 2009. It is crazy that we take six different specs of rear brake levers to the track. Why six? So we've cut that back to two already."
At the start of the four-stroke era, Kenny Roberts predicted that MotoGP will escalate out of control, and he's been proven correct, global downturn or not.
But what can be done to help things?
Well, if you cut races then you cut costs, but Dorna isn't going to cut its cloth to the conditions. If it has fewer races, it has less income from promoters and TV stations who'll only cut their payment to Dorna.
Don't forget that the Hungarian GP has already dropped off the calendar before they put a spade in the ground, meaning Dorna has already lost six per cent of the season.
Dorna is beholden to its shareholders who include the equity firm, Bridgepoint which doesn't deal with too many companies under the €200 million mark. Madrid needs to keep the income rolling in for itself in anyway it can, so that it can see the end of its contract with the FIM that goes until 2031.
Races is a simple answer, but promoters may struggle to get people through the gate this year, and why will people pay full rate to see half the action on a Friday with fewer bikes on the track?
All way beyond many brains in the paddock as it's their business not ours, but it does indirectly affect us who work there.
A simple solution would surely to have the three-day weekend to the full. The MSMA want to trim track time to save on mileage, but that robs the fans of action, so they don't come to the track, so the promoter bombs out as he gets no income to cover himself after he's paid Dorna to bring their races to his track, so then there are no races bought by promoters. It is one hell of an evil, vicious circle.
You cannot kid the hardcore and turn the sport into bubblegum for the eyes. Fans are way too savvy nowadays.
What I will suggest is kick Friday into touch completely.
Hang on, hang on!
Racing under the lights in Qatar © Back Page Images
So when is the race?
Monday evening, at a time when the TV audience is at home. Say, 7pm? No one goes out a Monday night. Just look in any restaurant or pub across the land.
The hardcore fans will stay at the circuit to watch on Monday, so only miss the one day off work they were going to take anyway should it have been a Friday-Sunday meeting anyway.
Instead of worrying about trimming this and that, here and there, move the weekend one notch to the right. It would be a world first and a stand out move for motorsport.
Monday nights. You heard it here first.
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