Is Spanish domination Good For Grand Prix racing?
Coming into the last lap of 2012 Czech Republic Grand Prix many fans fell back in love with MotoGP series. It does not happen very often, but victory at Brno was still to be decided with just a single lap to go. Spaniards Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo were pushing each other using not just every MotoGP riding trick they had, but also everything they learnt since the pair were still young and wild 125 class riders.
If you are a true road racing enthusiast and love the action on the track, whatever the national flag a race winner may be carrying on the lap of honor, I am sure you really enjoined the battle at Brno between Pedrosa and Lorenzo. After all, if watching a MotoGP bike and rider perform at their maximum is a pleasure on its own, watching two fighting for victory on the last lap definitely brings some glorious memories back, including Roberts-Spencer, Gardner-Lawson, Rainey-Schwantz, Doohan-Crivillé or Rossi-Biaggi as some of the toughest encounters on the track.
The battle between Pedrosa and Lorenzo at Brno was great racing but, with the unfortunate absence of Casey Stoner and the Aussie’s plans to retire at the end of 2012 season, this battle left the pinnacle of road racing in the hands of Spanish riders too, as has been happening with Moto2, 125 or Moto3 series in the last few years.
The domination of Spanish riders in every class of the World Championship may be boring for some fans outside Spain. If you add the fact of up to four events in Spain and the strong influence of a Spanish company as organizer of the championship, it may definitely create an excessive aggregation of Spanish interests on the track.
However, it is easy to distract ourselves with national feelings and guess whether the domination of Spanish riders is good for the championship or not, which has for sure its own answer, and not pay attention to the real question; which is "Why do Spanish riders enjoy such a dominant position in the World Championship?" An early answer to this question could arguably be found at the Brno racetrack on the afternoon of August 27, back in the 1989 season.
The End Of A Generation
Two years before the country became the separate Czech and Slovak republics, the 1989 Czechoslovak Grand Prix at Brno saw the last ever race of the 80cc class on Saturday afternoon and crowned Spanish rider Manuel «Champi» Herreros as last ever world champion of the smallest class.
On Sunday morning Álex Crivillé won the 125 title after a great rookie season against Italian Ezio Gianola, Spaniard Jorge Martínez and Dutchman Hans Spaan. In the 250 class Sito Pons had already won his second title in a row some weeks before at British Grand Prix, and only Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey were still in the fight for the 500 class title, to be decided in Brazil three weeks later at Goiania.
That was three of the four classes won but, as a kind of tradition in Grand Prix racing, Spanish riders never had any chances in the top class clearly dominated then by Japanese manufactures with no interest in them. The reason for this could be easily found in quite a bizarre political decision some decades back, with the restrictive laws introduced by General Franco on imports of Japanese motorcycles into the Spanish market. The idea seemed to be to protect the Spanish manufacturers like Bultaco, Ossa, Derbi or Montesa against Japanese international domination, but in fact most of those companies were already in bankruptcy.
During the eighties things started to change, as restrictive business laws were slowly modified. Honda officially entered the Spanish market buying Montesa, Suzuki did so with Spanish subsidiary of the Austrian manufacturer Puch, Kawasaki joined with Derbi and Yamaha did so with a company called Semsa, that later became Yamaha Motor España.
Spanish riders became more interesting in matters of marketing and at the end of the decade Sito Pons, Juan Garriga and Carlos Cardús secured the best leased 250 bikes from Honda and Yamaha but, as Pons confessed to this writer on the flight back from the Japanese Grand Prix in 2011; «Honda had Gardner and Doohan in the 500’s at the time and did not want me to move up to the top class yet. I had already won two 250 crowns in 88’ and 89’ and they want me to stay at the 250 class in order to win a third one, but I finally got an agreement to lease 500’s for the 1990 season. And then we opened the door for Spaniards in the top class with Álex Crivillé, Alberto Puig and Carlos Checa in the following years».
Coming back to the end of 1989 season for 80 and 125 classes, we see that day at Brno as an important date because after that, there was no other Spanish road racing world champion for the following ten seasons. Even having three of four champions, the Spanish national championship was at a very low level. The 125 class was dominated by experienced riders, the 250 class was almost non-existent, and the best Superbike and Supersport –or F2 class at the time- riders and teams were far behind the best in the then recently created World Superbike Championship.
A New Plan
The nineties was the time there for the Italians Luca Cadalora, Loris Capirossi, Alessandro Gramigni, Max Biaggi and Valentino Rossi, and also for Japanese riders like Noboru Ueda, Tetsuya Harada, Kazuto Sakata or the Aoki brothers, while Spanish wins were very few and very far between. Production racing for youngsters was the base of the Italian and Japanese successes, and world championship Spanish promoter Dorna clearly saw the future of racing in promotional young talent cups combined with a strong national road racing championship.
A new era started in 1993 with Open Ducados international championship, what was basically the old sub-par Spanish national road racing championship with a strong sponsor behind it, a growing number of racetracks in the country and also a series open to riders from all countries. In the years that followed, promotional racing was the big deal for the future. Aprilia Bancaja and Caja Madrid cups were some of the first few, and Jorge Lorenzo is maybe the best knowm name from those grids, followed by the Movistar Activa Cup at the end of the nineties, with Dani Pedrosa, Alvaro Bautista and some other important names who were just starting racing then.
As time went by the Open Ducados became the CEV Spanish National Championship. Still open to foreign riders and with new racetracks everywhere in the country in the following years, the CEV became the biggest rider contributor -up to 75% of them- to world championship grids today in every class.
If we focus our attention on the sport, you do not find too many countries doing anything similar in recent years. The Spanish passion for road racing –the country's climate makes it a paradise for motorcycling riding-, the strong support from sponsorship and the number of racetracks available can explain today’s Spanish domination at the world championship.
So, as it happened with American and Australian riders in the 500 class, Italian and Japanese riders in the 90’s or the heritage of Italian god Valentino Rossi in the first decade of this century, we are living now in an era of Spanish domination. Being a Spaniard road racing enthusiast of more than 25 years now, I feel road racing has always had its heroes and villains, no matter what their nationalities were. Of course, I became a bit bored watching Wayne Rainey, Mick Doohan, Max Biaggi or Valentino Rossi winning race after race with no chances for any Spaniard, but I also knew they were the best riders of their generation, and the truly sad thing then would have been watching them being beaten by riders with better machinery. It did not happen then, as it does not happen today.
Maybe it’s time for some other countries to give more support their own riders because many of them still come to CEV championship –including MotoGP reigning champion Casey Stoner-, to find their own way in road racing.