Cycle News - Archive Issues - 2000's

Cycle News 2005 11 16

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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By IN THE PADDOCK MICHAEL SCOTT VeeringToward MotoGP CUp otoGP racing is booming. TV audiences are at a peak, the crowds are bigger than ever. And the racing is great. Inasmuch as an international sport must first and foremost succeed as a business, it is surely doing exactly that. Trouble is, nobody told the sponsors. And by the current evidence, there won't be many of them left before too long, judging by events at Valencia, where two departing big-money backers Gauloises and Telefonica MoviStar - were joined on the exit road by at least one more, BMW, and possibly also by Camel. The year had already been bad by the time we arrived for the last race in Valencia. It was now, however, that Honda finally and firmly defeated Yamaha in at least one area of MotoGP. Yamaha has only managed to drive one major sponsor completely out of motorcycle racing in the last I2 months. Now it is possible that Honda may have managed to drive away two. Yamaha's triumph in this area involves Gauloises, which has gone off in a Gallic huff, thanks to a cockeyed deal whereby Yamaha agreed for Rossi to ride in a so-called satellite team with his own sponsors. This leaves the so-called factory team - fielding Colin Edwards and 'i\.N. Other" - to finish second and somewhere else in the championship. If they're very lucky. Gauloises felt this was not quite in line with its expectations ... the company thought that by stumping up several million dollars for the official team, it would be entitled to get Yamaha's best rider, rather than the leftovers. Honda hadn't done too badly in this regard itself. By insisting that 250cc double champ and 2006 MotoGP-ciass rookie Dani Pedrosa should come straight into its top factory team, already sponsored by Repsol, Honda left the formative superstar's career-long backers, the Telefonica MoviStar folks, with their noses so severely out of joint that they, too, have decided to abandon bike racing altogether. This was a big hit - the Spanish telecommunications company supports racing not only in the 250cc and 125cc M classes as well, but right down to the grass-roots level in Spain. Not anymore. Telefonica has put all of its very considerable budget into Formula One, where it already won this year's championship with Fernando Alonso. Thank you, and good night. Telefonica MoviStar has left the building. Honda was not quite finished yet, however. At Valencia, having fallen well out of love with its current top factory rider, Max Biaggi, Honda put the kibosh on his planned return to the Camel-Pons team. This left the sponsor highly piqued, and insisting it would take its millions elsewhere in MotoGP next year - if it could find a suitable team. There aren't many of them available, however, especially if they insist on stick- to serial World titles. But there are problems here, too - Kenny Roberts Jr. is earmarked to ride the new KR-Honda, and he and Max Biaggi would make uneasy bedfellows, to put it mildly. In other words, Camel might easily not find a team suitable for its stature, and might easily also leave racing. The final end-of-year departure is different, but equally worrying - BMW. The German giant doesn't sponsor teams of riders, apart from the support-class BMW Cup, but it is a big-time series backer, furnishing (among other things) all the safety cars, as well as some heavily upmarket transport for Dorna bigwigs, and a scale of backing that would be hard to replace. And who will come in place of these departed moneybags? Hard to say. By Quite right, too, you might say. It is exactly this excess of sponsor power that has led to the prolonging of several racing careers that might otherwise long since have run their course. This has blocked the progress of younger riders. This argument that would be easier to sustain if, for example, old lags such as Capirossi, Checa and even Barros hadn't redeemed themselves late this season with some strong rides. Another aspect is how this struggle rebounds on teams and factories with less financial strength. Which ultimately is all of them, except for Honda. And it rebounds on riders. Yamaha is the worst off, in terms of not having young talent on the back burner, ready for when Rossi goes. Yamaha wanted to sign up Casey Stoner, which • would have been a good move. But the whisper was that the offer made to him was derisory - on the grounds that without a sponsor, it was the best they could afford. Most of all, it rebounds upon the future of racing. On the one hand, nobody wants a sport where the sponsors have so much control that they spoil the competition. This has frequently been the case in car racing - a handful of contestants in the game because of their talent, and the rest there because they could afford to pay for the seat, to the detriment of the spectacle and the nature of the sport. But the bike-racing alternative is not much better, either. There is a strong chance that the smaller factories will be driven out of MotoGP by ever-rising costs. This has already happened in the case of Aprilia, which ran in MotoGP for three years before quitting at the end of last year. This problem is going to become even more acute the year after next, when the new BOOcc machines come into play. The need for sponsors is becoming increasingly urgent, and at the same time that they are being driven away in droves, leading to one inevitable conclusion: Only one manufacturer will be able to afford to compete. And MotoGP will become a "Honda Cup." Just the way they always planned it? eN By rights, given the way MotoGP IS thriving, the series should be fighting sponsors off. Oddly, this is not the case. And (as we've discussed before) if the sport can't attract money now, when it is booming on the crest of a wave of "Rossimania," what will happen when he retires in one or two years? ing with Max ... Yamaha needs the money, of course, but is unlikely to invite Biaggi back into the fold, haVing had a pretty torrid time with him in previous years. Suzuki is spoken for by Rizla (its first sponsor since 2002) - and anyway, would either Biaggi or Camel want to move so far down the results sheet? Even if there was a bike available: Suzuki already has a full house for its two-rider team. One other possibility is a little more adventurous - though also somewhat unlikely: Team KR, formerly Proton KR, which has plenty of chassis technology and an agreement for Honda engines for 2006, but is very short of financial backing. It could be an ideal marriage, if Camel is prepared to ignore years of disappointing results and remember the team's great days, when it ran factory Yamahas rights, given the way MotoGP is thriving, the series should be fighting sponsors off. Oddly, this is not the case. And (as we've discussed before) if the sport can't attract money now, when it is booming on the crest of a wave of "Rossimania," what will happen when he retires in one or two years? There are all sorts of implications to the mess. Perhaps the most important is just why the two major factories are behaving in such cavalier fashion with the men who pay the bills. It is a power struggle, and one for which both Honda and Yamaha clearly feel they can afford to pay very hefty bills. They clearly no longer want sponsors who insist on dictating rider choice. This is a crucial area of racing that they want to keep for themselves. CYCLE NEWS • NOVEMBER 16, 2005 79

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