It's Tough At The Bottom - The Riders Fighting For Their Future In Moto2 And Moto3 At Misano

Most of the previews of Misano you will read over the coming few days will focus on whether Marc Marquez can match Mick Doohan's record of twelve wins in one season, whether Valentino Rossi can finally get an elusive win in front of his home crowds, and whether the test at Misano last month will give the Ducati riders a better chance of a decent result in Italy. My own preview, once I write it, will likely focus on these issues, and more. But they won't be the most pressing issues at the San Marino round of MotoGP by a long stretch. The fortunes of the major players in the premier class will matter to them and to the fans, but further down pit lane, careers will be saved and dreams will be shattered.

The culprit? The Aragon deadline for entries in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. By the end of this month, the Moto2 and Moto3 teams will have to submit a list of their intended riders for the 2015 season, and pay a deposit. IRTA will then go through the list and finalize the entry list for the two support classes for next season. Though the teams will not be held exactly to the rider line ups they submitted, they have to be credible. Anyone claiming that Marc Marquez has agreed to race for them in both the Moto2 and Moto3 categories next season will have their applications rejected.

With 32 places in each of the two classes, there are a lot of seats up for grabs. But there are more than enough riders to fill those seats many times over. The further up the points standings a rider is, the better his chances of securing a ride for next year, but even then, it is not simple. Scoring points is often not enough: it is whether a rider has scored the number of points expected of him, or in many cases, agreed in the contract they signed.

The real struggle is among those who have no points yet. Of the 38 riders who have taken part in Moto3 this year, 12 have not scored a single point. In Moto2, it is 9 of 37 who have no points. That they have failed to score points is not so much a matter of talent. Backmarkers are rarely lapped these days, even at short tracks. In the Moto3 race, Ana Carrasco finished 1'02 behind the winner, Alex Rins, an average speed difference of 4.1 km/h, or 2.67%. If you watched the two riders from track side, you would not be able to see any discernible difference unless you had raced yourself.

The higher you go in any sport, the less it is about talent. Without a massive dose of talent, you never even manage to be competitive at the national championship level. At that point, it becomes more about desire, commitment, work ethic, and focus. Not necessarily in that order. Indeed, it is hard to see them as separate qualities, so interconnected are they. Without total commitment to the sport, it is impossible to be focused. Without the desire to achieve, to win, it is impossible to commit yourself sufficiently to be successful. And without the necessary work ethic, it is impossible to harness the focus, commitment, desire and talent into winning.

The problem riders entering the piranha-infested waters of Moto3 or Moto2 face is the quantum leap in those qualities they require. Look at most national championships – even the very strongest, like the Spanish championship – and the talent pool is shallow. The fight may be tough among the top five, but look past that, and the gaps start to grow. Success breeds confidence, and confidence breeds desire. That desire feeds the commitment and focus needed to train harder, focus better, and try to do even better at the next race. Riders get better and better.

But enter the Grand Prix paddock, and you find not five riders at the same level as you, but thirty five. Those tiny mistakes you made during qualifying in the national championship, the ones that made the difference between starting on the front row or the second row, they suddenly drop you twenty places, not two. You are no longer fighting for the front row, you are fighting to be able to see where the front row is.

Things are even tougher once the flag drops. Following the battle at the front, the cameras capture every transgression and semi-acceptable move. In the media blackout of the second half of the pack (after all, who cares how tough the battle is for 25th?) the blood flows freely, with riders using any means necessary to defend every inch of the way. Just as in the movies, the camera focuses on the generals on their lofty hilltops, surveying the field of battle, not the grim and bloody disemboweling going on in depths of the trenches.

In addition to having to accept being bumped down the grid, the former national championship front runners find themselves fearing for their lives as ten riders all try to squeeze into the corner at the same time. They see the leading group slip away as they get caught behind a rider who got to the head of the group with a ridiculously dangerous move which forced everyone off line and on the brakes. They find themselves taking more and more risks of their own to get to the front of the group and try to lead the chase. With ten riders risking everything to try to escape the clutches of the group, the battles suck the speed out of the bunch, slowing everyone up. This, in turn, triggers an even more frantic round of attacks as the riders ahead slip further and further away.

Once you lose touch with the battle for the points, you know your team will give you hell for not scoring. Yet even then, you can't afford to let up. There may be no difference in points between 21st and 22nd position, but your team will give you even more hell if you end the race at the back of the group that lost touch, rather than at the front. You know that what awaits you when you enter the garage is a row of sullen faces. The only question is how harsh the criticism will be.

The life of a mid-pack rider is one filled with panic, fear, and frustration. The mental pressure can quickly drain the confidence from you, and grind you into the ground. The strain of having to ride over the limit all the time with little or no reward sucks the joy of racing out of you. Taking risks is much easier when there is a champagne soaking on the podium at stake. Taking the same risks or more when you are fighting over 19th is infinitely tougher. If you think the battle for 3rd is hard, you should see the battle for 23rd.

With your confidence ebbing away, it becomes harder to maintain your focus. The desire to win may still be there, but when the podium is 20 places and 30 seconds ahead of you, that desire can turn from a powerful motivator into a bitter, angry bundle eating away inside. You start to question your commitment, you look for reasons, for explanations. You know your talent got you into Grand Prix, so that is not the problem. It must be the bike. Or the team. Or the suspension. The factory playing favorites. The mechanics not getting the bike right. The crew chief not listening to what you are telling him. The data guy not interpreting your feedback correctly.

There is another pressure, even harder to face. Most riders entering Moto3 will have had to find the funds to pay for their ride. With each disappointing result, a rider has to face an army of disappointed backers, the people who paid for them to get into the class in the first place. In the worst case – a terrifyingly common scenario – the rider's family will have mortgaged their home or their business, or taken all the family savings to fund the ride. Every failure brings the end of your Grand Prix career closer, and the chance that the investment others have made in you has been wasted. You face the uphill task of finding 300,000 euros for another shot next year, rather than the 200,000 you needed this year. The alternative is a life of hard graft just to repay the loans taken out to put you in the position you are.

It is a vicious circle, a brutal downward spiral into despair. You turn to others for comfort. You spend time with your girlfriend, rather than go over the data from the last race for the umpteenth time. You slope off to hang with your racer buddies in the Alpinestars hospitality, or hold wheelie competitions with your mountain bikes at the far end of pit lane. You gather to sympathize, to share the pain of your situation. Your focus switches to escaping the bleak situation you find yourself in. Anything to lighten the load. It is at this point that some take a wrong turning, down the path to self destruction, in drink, drugs, sex, food.

Beating that descent into despair is the measure of the true champion. Turning that situation around is the toughest challenge any rider will face. The mental strength required is seemingly inconceivable, yet some still manage it.

How do you do that? By breaking the challenge down into its constituent parts, and mentally taking on one piece at a time. Key to it all is compartmentalization, the ability to separate problems into the areas which they affect, and confine them to those parts of your life, ignoring them when they are not immediately relevant. That parking ticket you got last week matters when you are home, but not at the race track. That argument you had with the tire guy over who took the last of the chicken at dinner only matters at dinner, not in the garage. Away from the track, your girlfriend is the most important thing in your life; at the track, only racing counts.

Besides focusing on what matters, when it matters, you also need to distinguish between what you can change and what you can't, and focus on changing what you can. If your bike is slower than competing manufacturers, then your first order of business is beating everyone else on the same bike, starting with your teammate. Work on finishing ahead of everyone on the same bike, rather than finishing ahead of everyone.

Take this focus, and with the confidence it gives you, work on what you can get from the tools you have at hand. You don't get to Grand Prix without a huge dose of self belief, of belief in your own talent. You know you are fast, it's just a matter of unleashing that speed. If your bike is down on top speed, don't waste energy complaining about how you are down on top speed. Focus on figuring out ways to compensate, areas where you came up the deficit. Is your bike weak on the brakes? Try carrying more corner speed. Down on acceleration? Block pass your rivals into the corner, and they are stuck behind you, their acceleration smothered as effectively as your own. Stop worrying about your weaknesses, start thinking about how you can exploit your strengths, or at the very least, compensate for your weaknesses.

Taking the vicious circle and turning it into a virtuous one is the measure of the true champion. The examples are legion: Marc Marquez on the Suter against the superior Kalexes; Valentino Rossi on the Yamaha M1 against the superior Hondas; Kevin Schwantz on the Suzuki which only brakes better than the Hondas and Yamahas, nothing else. The opportunities are there for those willing to seize them.

All this and more will be running through the minds of the Moto2 and Moto3 riders under threat of losing their rides for next season. Misano is their last chance to really impress and get another chance at a ride before the Aragon contract deadline. Failure is not yet written in stone; riders must fear they have it written in their hearts. Almost every rider on the Moto3 and Moto2 grid is in with a decent shot at the top five, if their stars align. Their task at Misano is to force those stars to align. It is not easy. But it is possible, and if they are to have another shot at kickstarting their Grand Prix careers, they have to make it work.

Misano is above all a test of mental resilience, especially for those slugging it out in the trenches. The glamor soon pales when your future is at stake. But if you started motorcycle racing for the glamor, you are clearly in the wrong career.

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Comments

Thanks David.

The human and Alien stories on and off the track are compelling. Ever since the beginning of my love for the sport I have been bemoaning the lack of camera coverage of the rest of the field, and the 'grim and bloody disembowling in the trenches' back there makes it even more appealing. Ah well, such is life.

Perhaps there are some riders mid field willing to speak openly about their personal and more subtle experiences w you? Would love to hear more! Would it help them if it was anonymous? Good stuff!

So many riders give so much to 'almost make it.' Hope they manage to enjoy it, which paradoxically is also necessary to loosen up and get into a flow, and can't be forced. For every Marquez there are a dozen Bradls/Beautistas/Edwards and 25 Aoyamas/Hernandezs/et al, and hundreds of Josh Herrins.

When I raced it there was an overly hungry bar bashing front pack. Rather than measure me against the front I always had 'my race' as you say. It was just club racing I know. I enjoyed the spaceousness and lack of intensity/pressure right behind them battling 10th to 4th right behind them. You have to sign up for some crazy, dangerous, stressful, and intense sh*t to be in the front pack even at the club level. I appreciate the insight on how it ratchets up from there.

P.S. - After the races when we were packing up there were some drunk pitbike/scooter races in which there were as many injuries as race day. Yes, it was SUPER fun. No, there were no videos so we could keep our racing licenses. Yes I wish I could see our Heroes doing this stuff. Can you get some interviews on that sort of story material by chance too?

Enjoy the show fir us and keep up the fab 'work!'
;)

Now that's such incredible inspired writing that I demand David be subjected to a drug test immediately...for writing under influence :)

This is in the top 5 articles I have ever read on Motomatters (which is many!). A great read and a reminder that it's not all million Euro contracts and fancy sponsors for these riders. Thanks for a refreshing insight David.

You have exceeded even your own incredibly high standards, David. Absolutely brilliant! I kept thinking about Josh Herrin as I was reading it.

Thanks David. Good piece with a touch of humanity in it. We are all glued on to our TV sets, feel good when the rider we support wins and not so good when the rider doesn't win, watch the podium celebrations and we could all possibly singing "What a wonderful World". We feed off the happiness that we see on the faces of the winners and the podium finishers, but I guess rarely do we think about the brutal and vicious side of the sport that keeps so many riders who names we do not even remember under pressure for their survival. The mortgages, the loans, the sponsors' complaints and all the pressure we rarely ever think of. But most of all we do not appreciate that even the most unknown of riders whose future is oblivion is still passionate about racing. He/she is there because they want to race. How many of us recognise that? "The winner takes it all and the loser's standing small" sums it up. Your sensitive piece has inspired to me to think of those whose passion is as much as that of the winner but unfortunately are not winners.

someone else mentioned it already but David, is there any way you could get a former rider (maybe one that... was less successful) to expand on these more??? I'm guessing most have too much pride to dish on themselves or their crew/sponsors, but it would be really neat to hear more about the struggles of the mid/back riders.
thanks again, LOVE THIS SITE!

This article was written with a lot of input from riders. I have been talking to a few riders at the wrong end of the grid for a couple of years now, and their stories are fascinating. I have included the information I have been told in the article above, without naming names. No need to, the story is the same for almost all of them.

It's also true for riders further up the field. Expectations and pressure can be very high on riders who were expected to be near the podium too. They can also get into the same confidence-sapping spiral if they have a run of bad luck, or a couple of bad races. It's hard to jump from 13th to 3rd as well.

thanks for the insight David. This is the tale of two americans to me. Josh Herrin and PJ Jacobsen. Josh is a wildly talented rider and it was difficult watching it not click for him. Then there's PJ. Rookie in WSS and two podiums on his belt and showing that he's a strong-willed competitor. The guy has what it takes.

Maybe we can get an interview with PJ?
Highside.

good article David - enjoyed reading it!

highside specialist - always think it's difficult to compare across classes. Undoubtedly PJ Jacobsen is riding really well, following on from BSB where he finished strongly and was just starting to challenge the front runners at the year's end.

But, I think there is a lot more depth of field in Moto2 in terms of rider ability. That's not to say Herrin hasn't done as well as many were hoping - Would love to have seen him do better and back up the ability he showed in AMA, but for whatever reason it just didn't seem to happen.

Hi David,
I signed up too just so I could say what a brilliant and insightful editorial. It goes beyond the cutthroat worlds of Moto 2/3. So many people can relate and would benefit dearly from this editorial.
Thanks for writing this gem.

Cheers

David Emmett's article focuses on the hidden drama of racing in both a personnel and universal way. This editorial reminds all of us of the passion in our lives and the failures and victories we have felt. It focuses our empathy, a rich emotion, and our understanding toward the participants of this sport who are worthy of this attention and it moves us. Well done.

Wonderfully descriptive writing David, thank you. As a regular paddock pass holder at Laguna, Indy and CoTA and hunter of the "real" experience at US race weekends, you helped bring me back stage to see the struggles of the actors. It is as though I've only been in the Orchestra seating for the last ten years spectating. I'll continue to be a site supporter!

I have followed Motomatters for 2+ years, checking for new articles every day, expecting a new gem. This latest made me sign up just to say bloody well written. As a freelance journalist myself, I know how hard it is to bring out the raw nerve and get to the core of things. Even under the influence of a glass or two of wine. Keep up the good work - PLEASE!

...first time caller.
Thanks David and staff of Motomatters. Your articles continue to shine a new light (for me at least) on the sport we all love and hate to follow.
Keep up the great work and greetings from from tropical North Queensland.

What a great story to describe all the invisible drama going on. Awesome.

One word I picked out of the entire awesome article to embody what it's like for these guys....

"DISEMBOWELING!"

Great writing throughout, leading with a great teaser for what will grab the headlines...Marquez will surely get his 12th and 13th and more, but can Vale get it? This is the last chance in 2014 barring miracle.

Like hotrod8, I also had to create an account just to say thanks for that incredible article. Great website, I'm glad I found you :]

Nothing to add or substract, this article has been the best of a long time, I too kept thinking Josh Herrin while reading, this must be a tough time for the man :(

His family put everything on the line and lived in a caravan at the beginning of his career. I imagine the pressure on a kid's shoulders, knowing what was hanging on his results.

Congratulations, Mr. Emmett. Gem of an article. If I hadn't already subscribed, that would certainly have made me do it.

Did one of the internet tabloids pick up this story?

It seems there's a lot of new folks, all making it sound like this is something out of the ordinary.

This is normal service around here.

He writes good stuff *all*the*time*.

Stick around.

Yes, David is one hell of a writer, a real wordsmith, passionate, and very knowledgeable about this sport we all love so much. His high standards make him stand out, garnering fans from both the racing followers, the paddock, and fellow journalists, as well as recognition from the media.

But this outstanding piece among his many other outstanding pieces also works in a different way. Here, he writes superbly about the human condition. It resonates on a much deeper, quite visceral level with many people. Which just goes to show how talented and great David is as a writer.

Lots of smoke being blown about here. Not sure where it's supposed to be going.....

Show you really care and appreciate it by becoming a site supporter. Then David can mentor a successor to keep this site going.

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again - you won't find a better site than this for thought-provoking springboard motogp journalism and interesting, intelligent discussion, so if you're coming here regularly pop out the plastic, you'll get a lovely warm feeling once done, all for the price of parking at silverstone :-)

The exact reason I became a supporter yesterday...

Still can't believe that John McPhee has morphed into a genuine top ten rider in Moto 3 and he's still expected to bring £200k for his ride in 2015.

" Without total commitment to the sport, it is impossible to be focused. Without the desire to achieve, to win, it is impossible to commit yourself sufficiently to be successful. And without the necessary work ethic, it is impossible to harness the focus, commitment, desire and talent into winning"
Great words, thanks Dave

They even translated your beautiful piece of journalism in Dutch, altough I prefer to read it in English instead of Dutch.

Tremendous article David, with so much focus on the front runners it easy to forget about the trials and struggles further down the order, as another has said I thought about Josh Herrin while reading the article and have a better understanding of the pain he must be going through.

I have no doubt that he's extremely talented but he shot for the brass ring and missed, and now he's probably never going to get another shot. He went from winning in AMA, which is a championship of unknown provenance as far as the GP paddock is concerned, straight to Moto 2 on a bike (and kind of bike), tyres, tracks, and against a level of competition he's never seen before, and that learning curve plus the pressure upon him was obviously insurmountable. And yet... who wouldn't take an opportunity like that if it was offered, especially if it was a one time offer? Who would prefer the option of racing in another national championship, perhaps a year in CEV Moto 2, if it even was an option for him, a chance to be a big fish in an incrementally bigger pond, when there's a whole ocean being offered to you right now?