Editor's Blog: Two Worlds, One Goal

Entering the paddock at any World Championship event still sends a thrill of excitement through me every time I do it, though as a fellow - and far more experienced - journalist pointed out to me, perhaps that's because I've only been doing this for a couple of years. Yet the difference between entering the World Superbike paddock and the MotoGP paddock is huge, despite the fact that their core activity is absolutely identical: allowing brave young men (and in the case of the World Supersport paddock, one brave young woman) to go as fast as possible on two wheels.

There are the obvious differences, of course. The World Superbike paddock is a much friendlier, more relaxed place. Riders, team members and fans mingle freely - or as freely as the constraints of time and hard work required of the riders and teams allow. The fans are welcomed into the paddock, as paddock passes are on sale to the public, rather than only available through specialized resellers as part of VIP packages. The post-qualifying and post-race press conference takes place in the public WSBK tent, in the middle of the paddock, in front of a live crowd, rather than in the press room in the media center. And there are still plenty of teams who race out of the back of a van - albeit a large one - instead of a giant race truck. 

The MotoGP paddock, on the other hand, is a more strictly regulated, but also more professional affair. Access is strictly controlled, with fans being scanned in and out using their barcoded passes, and bypassing the controls is almost - but not quite - impossible. Riders - at least, the MotoGP riders - are carefully kept away from the crowds, in a separate paddock-within-a-paddock, and shoot past autograph-hunting fans on their scooters, used to commute between their motorhomes, hospitality units and garages. 

What the fans lose, the journalists gain, as the MotoGP paddock also has a well-organized round of press debriefs, which sees mostly middle-aged and largely overweight pressmen sprinting from hospitality to hospitality, to interrogate the top MotoGP riders about how their day went. If such a system exists in World Superbikes, I have yet to discover it, though honesty forces me to admit that I don't attend enough races to find out whether a similar system operates. 

Which rather highlights my position in the WSBK paddock. Although still a long way from being a real MotoGP insider, I no longer have to introduce myself to everyone, and for the most part, the other journalists in the paddock treat me very much as a colleague, rather than an annoyance. I feel relatively at home there, and understand roughly what is going on.

Not so in WSBK. As a result of not showing my face in the paddock often enough - entirely my own fault - few people recognize me, and digging up news and arranging interviews is a good deal more complicated, having to first find out who I need to be asking, then going through the niceties of introducing myself and explaining what I do. Fortunately, the growing popularity of MotoMatters.com is such that teams and riders at least know and read the site.

It remains strange that the two paddocks should be so fundamentally different. But thinking about it, the way the series themselves are perceived reflects that difference. Arguments among fans continue to rage about which is the better of the two series, WSBK fans pointing out that the racing is closer and the outcome far harder to predict than in MotoGP. MotoGP fans counter that the premier class is exactly that, featuring the best riders on the best bikes, preferring the purity of the contest over the excitement of the racing.

It is a dilemma and a difference I know all to well, and something that continues to puzzle me. As much as I love World Superbikes, the series simply does not excite me like MotoGP does. My wife asked me today why that is, and I honestly could not provide a simple answer, or even an answer that makes sense. The racing in WSBK is undoubtedly closer, and certainly more robust, and the variety of bikes is also greater than that in MotoGP. Yet the bark of a MotoGP bike sends shivers down my spine, which the howl of an inline four simply does not do. There is no rationale, no reason, no logic, the choice really is that simple. Others disagree, and rightly so, for there are plenty of reasons for preferring WSBK to MotoGP.

Despite my personal preference, being in the World Superbike paddock is still a huge thrill. The bustle of mechanics, the howl of the bikes, the intensity and the passion of all those involved, there really is nothing quite like it. Whatever the flavor, motorcycle racing remains a fantastic sport.

For a taste of Friday in the World Superbike paddock, here's a few photos of the event. I am no Scott Jones, but at least my finger isn't in the way in too many of them.

The media center at Assen. It's had a few upgrades over the winter, including a new set of flatscreen panels for the results and the video. A definite improvement.

The WSBK paddock at Assen is much emptier than last year, the biggest difference being in the number of teams in World Supersport. There are just 17 riders this year, down from nearly 30 in 2009. Whether that's due to Moto2 or not is a point which is being hotly debated.

Gerrit ten Kate talks about the Moriwaki MD250 racer. This bike is being touted as a replacement for the 125cc class, but that idea has so far found few takers.

Eugene Laverty, about to go out during qualifying.

Chaz Davies' pit board, ready for action.

A tent full of Triumph Street Triples, part of the ParkinGO single-make support races. 

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Through following your blog and interacting on Twitter, it's actually felt a lot like we've (assuming I can speak for others here) taken that journey with you, which is a lot more than we can say for most of the "established" media. So, we're enjoying the journey as well - I just hope the "established" media understands the fanatical fan weight you have behind you. ;)

Keep it up.

One of the reasons for writing the blog - and for keeping it up - is because I know that some people enjoy being on the journey with me. Where it ends, I do not know, but the journey itself is deeply rewarding. Much like a long motorcycle trip, really! Thanks for joining me, anyway! 

Great piece David. I used attend the PI round of both World Supers and Motogp. Living a bit further away now (Far North QLD), I now have limited funds and have to chose. I chose World Superbikes over Motogp as I simply find the atmosphere and racing better. For sure, Motogp is the elite of the elite, but it's also aloof, tries to make it better and bigger than it really it is. And to a point it works. But only to a point. The average race fan does not care what the media centre is like, whether the Motogp riders have a paddock within a paddock or the size of the hospitality tents. We want to see great riders racing. We like to feel that one day we could be just like that. And for that we need to be able to feel connected to the event. And Motogp, from a paying fans perspective doesn't do it for me.

At PI, the makeup of the crowd at the Supers is markedly different from Motogp. At the Motogp round you can see the fans who've turned up purely because they've heard of Casey Stoner. They don't know what bike he's riding, have no interest in the 125's or 250's and only arrive just in time for the main race. At the Supers, it matters not whether there is an Aussie racing or likely to win, the crowd is fairly consistent. The fans seem to know who the riders are (except perhaps for the new riders in WSS) and also tend to hang around for the support classes. Access to the outer paddock is free and packages to enter the main paddock area are affordable (if still expensive). Overall it represents better value, arguably better racing and certainly is more in touch with the average rider. For instance, this year, Rea and some other British riders attended special race held in WA, riding his bike and competing against national and club riders. A couple of years ago I raced at an event with Cam Donald. I simply can't imagine any of the Motogp riders (even the perenial back markers) attending an event where not only are they exposed to the fans, but actually can race against them!

So for all the glamour of Motogp (and I love that part of it), the film stars who are present on the grid (and the stupid little barriers they erect to keep out wanderers), Motogp is in danger of losing any relevance to the riders out there who are ultimately the target of the marketing departments.

And unlike F1 which even in its most desperate times can still put 20+ cars on the grid (with budgets still in the 00's of millions), Motogp struggles with fields of 17/18.

Finally, whilst Motogp can currently state that it is the elite of the elite, running bikes made out of unobtanium, with avant garde frames, engines and suspension, how can they lay that claim with 1000cc production based engines in 2012? What will they say then?

I wholehearted agree with your take on the two series. Yep that spine tingle is just that little more for the GP machines. So for me if they are both close I'll attend (like when living in the UK) But I am now in Germany for a while, so time, travel, budget means if there's a GP I haven't yet seen it take priority for me. Two I need to tick off are Brno and Valencia.

Valencia is awesome. Incredibly dull racing but the atmosphere is electric. Did it in 2008 and had the most amazing time.

Heh. The MotoGP/WSBK debate. Over the years, I have developed a bucketload of arguments that defend my passion for MotoGP. I could, if asked, write several thousand words that both qualitatively and quantitatively define why MotoGP is superior.

But in the end, the real reason that I find myself pacing and talking (or yelling) at the screen for MotoGP and then find myself checking my email on my phone during WSBK is that passion that might be entirely irrational.

At the same time, MotoGP has the feel of a battle of gladiators before a crowd of millions while WSBK appears like a cage fight.

Mind, I'll participate in a cage fight but I'll not enter the Colosseum.

MotoTheory.com - MotoGP Data & Statistics

Like you David I love both series. Up until this year the racing has generally been tighter in WSBK, but like you outlined, each series has it's greater/lesser attributes.

The bar banging action in WSBK is awesome but watching the-best-of-the-best on the fastest two wheeled machines on planet earth is off the charts awesome.

I love them both - and I'm glad I don't have to choose between the two. David, yer livin the dream man. Thanks for sharing it with us.