As someone who covers MotoGP, I get asked a lot of questions by fans. Most of those questions are about the racing itself, about why a particular rider did either well or poorly at a particular race, or why one manufacturer is performing better than another at a particular circuit, or any of a thousand other questions about riders, bikes, teams, and the series itself. I can answer most of the questions I am asked, some with more confidence than others, and usually find time to write about the questions I have been asked.
There is one class of question I don't get around to writing about, though. Again and again, I, like many other MotoGP regulars, am asked about which is the best race to attend, where to stay for a particular race, how to get to the track for a specific circuit, etc etc. Those are the kind of questions I don't get a chance to write about on the website, though I answer them on Twitter or Facebook regularly on an ad hoc basis.
So it's about time I rectified this situation. Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of articles on each race track currently on the MotoGP calendar. These articles will cover just about any question you may have about a particular track, and put you in a position to answer for yourself the question, "Which race should I go to?" I won't be telling you which race you should go to – tastes and preferences are different for everyone, and one person's Casey Stoner is another man's Valentino Rossi – but I hope that once you have read the articles, you will be able to decide for yourself which race you really want to go to, given the choice.
There's more to a race than just a circuit, of course. I will try to give you reasons to attend a race which go beyond just the facilities at the track. What is there to do beyond the circuit? What bucket list items are nearby for race fans, for bike fans, and even for friends and family who have absolutely no affinity to racing? How can you persuade your partner, family, or friends to visit the region around a particular circuit when the race is on?
As part of that perspective, my wife Roosje Berbee will be giving her opinion on why she loves going to particular event, as someone who is only tangentially interested in racing thanks to being foolish enough to marry me. Roosje has been to roughly half the circuits on the calendar, and has formed some pretty good ideas about things to do near most tracks.
There is one question which I will not be able to answer, however. Fans often ask me, what's the best place to spectate at a specific circuit? My answer is always the same: "The media center." It is necessarily a rather glib answer, because quite honestly, I don't know in most case. I don't get a chance to go out around the track and sit in the various grandstands or viewing spots, so I don't know where the best spots are for spectators. Hopefully, readers will add their own favorite viewing spots or grandstands in the comments below each track.
Obviously, while the information in these articles is meant to be helpful, readers should bear in mind that they are all based around my own experience. That starts with pricing: I live in The Netherlands and fly from Amsterdam to races. I can get by in several European languages, and have a passing knowledge of European and US culture. My comments should be viewed from this Eurocentric perspective.
When I say a race is cheap to get to, I mean from Amsterdam. When I write that a destination is exotic, I mean it takes extra effort to navigate around culturally for me, a European. My comments will not always align with your own experience: I may believe that Motegi is expensive to get to and is an exotic destination, but if you are Japanese and live in Mito, you would probably disagree. Nevertheless, I hope this series will be useful, and provide a starting point for you to plan your own travel.
Package tours vs individual travel?
First things first. So you've decided you want to go to a MotoGP event. The first question you have to ask yourself is whether you want to buy a package tour or organize it yourself. Both approaches have their merits, and their disadvantages. The short answer is that organizing the trip yourself is usually cheaper, but more hassle. Buying a package through a specialist travel company is more expensive, but easier and can offer you access which is almost impossible to organize yourself.
What you get when you buy a package tour through a company such as Pole Position Travel (disclaimer: Pole Position advertises with MotoMatters.com - see footnote) depends on the package you buy, but in general, the idea is that you are picked up at the airport before the weekend starts, and the travel company organizes accommodation, food, travel to and from the circuit, and tickets for the race. All you as a customer need to arrange are your own flights to a designated airport.
Package tour companies can organize other extras, which are much more difficult to arrange as a private individual. They offer packages with extra benefits, such as access to the paddock, meals in team hospitality units, sometimes even grid and service road (the road which rings the circuit where photographers and marshals stand) access. Such packages are not cheap, but do offer an added dimension to the experience of attending a MotoGP race.
When not to use a package tour company
If you're traveling to a local race on your own motorcycle and camping overnight, or only traveling down for race day, there is little reason to use a package tour company.
Doing it yourself
There are many benefits of organizing your own trip to a MotoGP race, but the biggest one is surely cost. A bit of shopping around early can help you find affordable hotels, especially if you know the region around the track a little. Doing it yourself also offers a lot more flexibility. For example, if you want to fly in to Barcelona on Friday night, spend Saturday exploring the city, then head to the track on Sunday before flying home Sunday night, there is little reason to have someone else arrange that for you.
Camping – a perennial favorite with race fans – is also something which is usually better organized yourself, though here, too, some companies are starting to step in, offering tent hire. Camping is not for the faint of heart, however. Anyone expecting race fans to turn in once the sun goes down is in for a bit of a shock. Campsites near race tracks tend to be rather boisterous, to put it politely. Music blares, bike engines bounce of the limiter, and fans in various states of inebriation attempt to shove anything which isn't bolted down into fires. It can be great fun, but not for anyone hoping to concentrate on a close reading of Arthur Schopenhauer's On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason.
If you are arranging your own trip, you have several options for buying tickets. You can buy directly from circuits – most sell tickets directly on their websites – and most offer early bird discounts for anyone buying tickets months in advance. That can sometimes be a little challenging, as circuit websites are not always particularly well translated, or easy to navigate.
If you don't fancy that, you can buy tickets through the MotoGP.com website, which seems to be generally reliable, as far as I can tell from fans. Alternatively, most package tour companies will also sell you just a ticket, though the downside of that is that they will have your email address and try to tempt you into buying a bigger package.
There are also a number of agencies which will sell you tickets. If you are going to purchase through such an agency, do some research on the internet first, to check their reputation. Ask other fans on Social Media if anyone has experience with them, and whether they received their tickets on time.
Of course, you could also just turn up at the gate. As the popularity of the sport has grown, this is becoming a risky strategy. There are races where this is a viable option: Qatar, Austin, Phillip Island, Aragon, Silverstone, tracks with either a very large capacity or relatively low attendance. But it can be risky at other circuits. There is no point turning up to Valencia on Sunday morning and hoping to get a ticket. Much the same is true for Assen, Jerez, the Red Bull Ring, Mugello, and even Misano.
Is it worth going to a MotoGP test?
One question I am sometimes asked is whether a particular test is open to the public, and less frequently, whether it is worth going to the test. The answer to both those questions is, it depends, on the type of test, and when it is.
First, the type of test. There are two main types of test: private tests and official tests. Official tests take place in the preseason – in 2018, at Sepang, Thailand, and Qatar – and also on the Monday after several races during the season (Jerez, Barcelona, and Brno for MotoGP, Le Mans, Mugello, and Aragon for Moto2 and Moto3).
Official tests are generally open to the public, and free in some cases. What this means is that the circuit will open certain grandstands and allow fans to come and sit and watch. At some tracks, it is also easier to gain access to the paddock as a fan during a test. That, in itself, is worth it, as everyone has a little more time and is more relaxed. Your chances of getting an autograph or selfie with a rider, or a brief chat with a mechanic or crew chief, are much greater at a test than they are on a race weekend, when everyone is 100% focused on racing.
The downside to a test is that as a fan, you have very little idea of what is going on, and you don't get to see much more than you would at a race. Less, perhaps, as there are no giant screens showing footage, no timing, no commentary over the speakers, no information at all. Your best hope of finding out what is going on is using your phone to check the live timing pages of the MotoGP.com website, or following Social Media to see what is being reported.
The truth about testing is that it is immensely boring, even as a journalist. The best thing about testing as a journalist is what you figure out afterwards, when you have time to put together all the bits and pieces you learned while you were there. But as a spectacle, testing is severely lacking.
Private testing is even worse for fans. Only a few of the private tests are open to the public, many being completely closed to everyone. The completely closed tests, of course, are the ones which everyone would love to attend, as that's where the factories actually test the secret stuff we are all itching to find out about. Which is why they keep us away.
Some private tests are open to the public, however. The combined MotoGP / WorldSBK test at Jerez in December is an example, as there are simply too many teams there for the factories to have any expectation of secrecy. If anything, there is even less information for fans at those tests than there is at official tests.
Attending a private test at Jerez does have one major attraction, however. The opportunity to sit outside on the terrace at the paddock restaurant, sipping coffee as the bikes howl by through two of the fastest corners on the circuit, is a delight.
So much for testing. In the coming days and weeks, I will offer advice and thoughts on all nineteen races on the MotoGP calendar. Stay tuned.
Footnote: Pole Position Travel is an advertiser with MotoMatters.com. However, my experience with the company has been overwhelmingly positive, and I have heard very few complaints from their customers. When I speak to groups from Pole Position, I often see faces I recognize, people who come back year after year. I am sure that other travel companies are just as good as Pole Position, but I have no experience with them, so I can't offer an opinion on them.
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