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Why it’s time to embrace Jerez as MotoGP’s Monaco

OPINION: Most forms of motorsport have one event on the calendar each year that stands out as its crown jewel. MotoGP has many highlight races every season but none are identifiable as its own unique event in the same way Formula 1 has with Monaco. Perhaps, then, as the new Liberty Media era dawns, it’s time for Jerez to assume this mantle

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Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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As the day’s sunlight has barely crept up on the horizon, the banks surrounding the Angel Nieto Turn 8 and Peluqui Turn 9 are already buzzing with life. It can only be MotoGP Sunday at Jerez.

MotoGP visits a lot of iconic venues where so much of the series’ 75-year storied history has been told. But few seem to elicit the same emotional response for so many as Jerez. Speak to many in the paddock about the Andalucian venue – which hosted MotoGP on and off from 1987 before permanently becoming the home of the Spanish Grand Prix in 1989 – and they’ll all bring up how atmospheric the place is.

On MotoGP Sundays, the former circuit announcer used to play Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond as the mist slowly lifted from the hills to reveal the legion of bike-mad Spaniards awaiting something special. That part has sadly disappeared from the Jerez experience, but the fans remain.

Something special is par for the course at Jerez. Whether it was Valentino Rossi versus Sete Gibernau at the last corner in 2005, or Marc Marquez replicating this on Jorge Lorenzo in 2013, or any other countless dramatic moment, Jerez has made itself such a vital part of the calendar. That it staged the opening two rounds of the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign is as much a testament to its importance to MotoGP as it was a logistically convenient place to keep motorsport alive in an odd world.

Last weekend’s 25-lap Spanish GP is another special moment etched into the fabric of Jerez’s history. The battle between Marc Marquez and Francesco Bagnaia for the win dripped with tension, as the pair had already come together controversially in Portugal. The pair’s skill to stay aboard when they connected at Turn 10 on lap 21 and, subsequently, reigning world champion Bagnaia’s skill to still take the lead, defend it next time around and then cement it with a new race lap record two from home in a statement ride, showed why MotoGP is a series worth investing in.

That it came in front of the circuit's best attendance since 2015 further highlighted just how integral a stop Jerez (whose current contract with Dorna expires after next year, but will almost certainly be renewed) is on the calendar.

“Jerez is impressive,” Bagnaia, winner of the last three Spanish GPs, said. “All the track... but corners nine and 10 is something that makes you speechless. It’s incredible. Already when you do the sighting lap and around, you see people over at the trees. It’s something incredible and it’s difficult to see something like this, because Mugello is very big, has a lot of places too [for fans] and is impressive. But here, looking at corners nine and 10 is something that gives a lot of motivation to me. It’s fantastic and I love to race in Jerez for this. For me, yes, it’s one of the most characteristic races of the calendar. It’s one of the nicest. The battles here are always great. It’s one of the best.”

Bagnaia was full of praise for the Jerez crowd

Bagnaia was full of praise for the Jerez crowd

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Marquez, who celebrated a first Ducati grand prix podium in front of a rampant home audience, added: “It’s not because I’m Spanish, it’s just because already at 6:30 in the morning that Turn 9, 10 was full. I mean, for me it’s the best race of the season. Sometimes my friends ask to me ‘where can we go, we want to have a good race’. Jerez. It’s the best one and it’s something special, in the city, in the circuit. I’m proud. I’m proud because it’s the Spanish GP and it’s one of the best GPs on the calendar in terms of the fans.”

Jerez has generally been one of the calendar’s best-attended events but hasn’t cracked 200,000 for a weekend since 2015. Dorna announced on Sunday that it had set an attendance record of close to 300,000 - but later admitted a counting error had been made, with the true figure standing at 181,289. That is still a considerable jump on 2023 (163,479).

What the 2024 Spanish GP has done is given incoming series owners Liberty Media a blueprint for what it needs to do to get people through the door. The cheapest weekend ticket started at €99 and was reduced to €79. That was for general admission only, but those were the areas of the track that had the liveliest atmosphere. Indeed, on the cooldown lap, the riders celebrated with the fans in those areas around Turns 9 and 10, while the sprint podium was staged there on Saturday afternoon.

Monaco isn’t the best track on the F1 calendar, nor does it often turn up exciting races. But even on a calendar overstuffed with street venues, the Monaco GP remains a unique moment of the year

Other events, to their credit – such as the French GP – are nailing the fan experience. But MotoGP needs a calendar jewel.

As brilliant as Le Mans is, MotoGP making the French GP its flagship event will never work. MotoGP won’t ever be the most famous event staged at Le Mans and it shouldn’t try to be. Assen has a strong claim to that crown, but the Assen circuit in use now – while still brilliant – is a shade of the iconic layout it used to be pre-2006.

Jerez, by contrast, has actually improved over its life. It got rid of the naff right-left-right section that comprised Turns 6-8 and opened up the circuit to connect Turns 5 and 6 by a downhill blast into a key action zone in 1992: During the first lap of last Sunday’s MotoGP race, Bagnaia executed a double overtake on the brakes on the outside of the track down into Turn 6 on Marco Bezzecchi and Jorge Martin for second that justifies this change alone.

Phillip Island deserves a mention as possibly one of the best tracks on Earth. But its location – while spectacular – doesn’t lend itself to rammed tracksides and certainly comes nowhere near Jerez for atmosphere. Mugello is another wonderful track in a stunning location, but crowd figures (according to data provided by Dorna Sports dating back to 2006) have very rarely come close to Jerez's numbers. 

Marquez and Bagnaia's Spanish GP duel sent Jerez' stadium section into a frenzy

Marquez and Bagnaia's Spanish GP duel sent Jerez' stadium section into a frenzy

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

And that, when it comes to defining an event, is the most important thing. Monaco isn’t the best track on the F1 calendar, nor does it often turn up exciting races. But even on a calendar overstuffed with street venues, the Monaco GP remains a unique moment of the year. The Circuit de la Sarthe where the 24 Hours of Le Mans is staged also couldn’t claim to be the most exciting of tracks. But it doesn’t matter because it’s Le Mans! Just those two words alone send racing fans into a fervour.

The 2024 Spanish GP wasn’t perfect, and it offered up some other lessons for Liberty to take heed of when it begins to shape MotoGP’s future.

Saturday’s sprint race, in which 15 riders suffered crashes across 12 laps owing mostly to damp patches they couldn’t see, made the series look silly. MotoGP’s biggest USP over almost every other type of world-class motorsport is that its racing is unrivalled. Demolition derbies do nothing to promote this.

The solution wasn’t clear-cut. Aprilia’s Maverick Vinales, who fell at Turn 5 a lap after Alex Marquez, Enea Bastianini and Brad Binder slid off at the same place while fighting for the podium – thus gifting Vinales third – felt the sprint should have been red-flagged to at least make sure the track was actually safe. Team-mate Aleix Espargaro questioned whether the sprint should have started at 3pm at all rather than delayed while the problem areas were dried out.

The right answer here is a matter of opinion, but lessons do need to be learned from this for the future given Jerez is notorious for having issues with slow-drying damp patches when it has rained.

All of this led to a second moment of lunacy that MotoGP has been warned about even before the rule was implemented. The chaos of the sprint meant Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo, who was already running ninth before a spate of late crashes having qualified a career-worst 23rd, found himself in third for the final laps.

Fending off KTM wildcard Dani Pedrosa, Quartararo celebrated a well-earned and unlikely podium given Yamaha’s current form. Taking to the podium in front of the packed banks of Turns 9 and 10, he was part of a special moment for those fans… until he was later hit with an eight-second penalty for contravening the minimum tyre pressure rule.

Quartararo enjoyed the highs and endured the lows at Jerez

Quartararo enjoyed the highs and endured the lows at Jerez

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

With Yamaha setting his tyre pressures in the anticipation that he’d be mired in the pack, the Red Sea parting threw this strategy in the bin and there wasn’t anything the 2021 world champion could do to counter this. A great ride wasted by a bad rule.

He wasn’t the only one: Trackhouse Racing’s Miguel Oliveira telling the media on Sunday that the tyre pressure rule – like in full wet conditions – shouldn’t be enforced when a track is damp because a slight discrepancy in pressure isn’t the thing that will keep you from crashing. Of course, Liberty won't be writing any regulations, but that shouldn't stop it from engaging in constructive discussions with the FIM, the teams and manufacturers, and - in this case - tyre supplier Michelin on matters detrimental to MotoGP's growth as a sporting product.

MotoGP now must start the build-up to the 2025 Spanish GP at Jerez by repositioning it as the series’ showpiece

However, neither of these issues ultimately overshadowed MotoGP’s best weekend in a long time, in a 2024 season that has genuinely been box office from the get-go.

While the rest of the season ahead will no doubt throw up more thrillers, MotoGP must now start the build-up to the 2025 Spanish GP at Jerez by repositioning it as the series’ showpiece.

Oh, and make Sunday morning Pink Floyd a mandatory part of the Jerez experience again…

A crown jewel? MotoGP's Monaco? What will Liberty Media decide?

A crown jewel? MotoGP's Monaco? What will Liberty Media decide?

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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