Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP: from the Isle of Man to a tropical isle via the Arabian desert

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


MotoGP: from the Isle of Man to a tropical isle via the Arabian desert

Countries like Qatar and Indonesia are spending vast amounts on MotoGP. So where does that leave the rest of us?

Motorcycle Grand Prix racing celebrates its 70th birthday this year, so perhaps in some way it's fitting that a championship that began on a dank, grassy rock in the middle of the Irish Sea should commence this historic season in the middle of a burning desert.

The Qatar GP is a surreal event, mostly because it takes place at night-time around a ribbon of asphalt on the edge of the Arabian desert that's lit by vast floodlights which give the racing the hyper-reality of a videogame.

The post-race scene is similarly weird: we chase the riders through the warren of dusty Portakabins that comprise the Losail paddock and once we have cornered them we question them under the cold, silver glare of TV cameras, while paddock cats, who spend most of their lives killing paddock rats, warily make friends with this sudden influx of human beings.

We are told that Losail's 5.4 million watt lighting rig could light a road from Doha to Moscow, 3000 miles away. Not long after Losail's first night race in 2008, when riders complained about dew forming on the asphalt, the promoters suggested installing under-track heating to fix the problem. This year the circuit is due to spend around £150 million on maintenance work and upgrades.

Money is no object in Doha, or in any of the other pearls of the Arabian Gulf: Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. A whole new world is growing here, like a burst of supernovas. Doha and Dubai have grown in two decades like London grew over half a millennium. Glittering skyscrapers, palatial malls, spaceship-like football stadiums, vast concrete motorways and intersections appear as if by magic, but in fact via 24/7 digging, drilling and hammering.

Qatar is gearing up for the 2022 football World Cup. There's never been a nation branding exercise like it and wherever you go around Doha your mind is boggled.

Even Google can't keep up. I navigate my way around the world obeying the great god that is Google Maps. I fly into Tokyo, type Motegi into my phone and am politely and efficiently guided to the circuit by the nice woman from Google. It's the same everywhere MotoGP goes; except Qatar, where the great god can't keep up, because roads that were there last year aren't this year and roads that weren't there last year are this year.

On my way to the track on Thursday Mrs Google guided me down several miles of dirt track where I drove through a fog of choking dust, doing battle with convoys of monster construction trucks, taking mountains of aggregate from the desert around the circuit to the building sites of Doha, or rather the building site that is Doha.

It might seem unlikely but there are similarities between the Qatar Grand Prix and the Isle of Man TT. One reason motorcycle racing was brought to Mona's Isle in 1905 was to attract tourists to the newly built Victorian seaside resort of Douglas. And this year's Qatar GP was sponsored by the country's national tourism council. (Good luck with that, when a bottle of beer costs nearly a tenner.)

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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