Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - MotoGP is cage-fighting on gasoline

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 is cage-fighting on gasoline

Don’t be fooled by the glitz and glamour, this is a vicious sport, but there is beauty in there too

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death,” said legendary Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly many years ago. “I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

The same goes for motorcycle racing, especially if you’ve made your way to its summit and you’re fighting for the MotoGP title. You may have noticed things getting a bit ugly in the last few races at Brno and Red Bull Ring, but believe me, bike racing has always been vicious.

The starting point of this game is the joy of riding a motorcycle just as fast as it’ll go, and maybe a little bit faster. But if you want to win you’re going to have to fight for it and the higher you climb the harder you will have to fight.

Bike racing – especially MotoGP, where just a few seconds cover the top half dozen at the chequered flag – is about as close as you get to being in a war. There is so much going on, so much danger in the air, all of it happening so fast, that you’re just doing your best to pass a rival or avoid being passed, like a fighter is trying to kill or avoid being killed.

Many people don’t fully understand the levels of aggression involved; not only when riders are elbow to elbow on the racetrack but in their every thought and action from the moment they arrive at the circuit to the moment they leave.

When you watch football or rugby or boxing or cage-fighting you see the faces of players contorted in rage and hatred. You see them screaming insults, spitting venom and occasionally grinning in triumph. All of this goes on inside the helmets of bike racers; you just don’t get to see or hear it.

Motorcycle racing is a vicious and occasionally deadly sport, but it’s also beautiful, if you care to see the beauty.

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

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Comments

Great article: This reminded me of some "agro riding" (I believe) I experienced on a "group ride" this past Sunday. First time with this group (of 8 other riders) but I had ridden with this group (just other riders) more than once in previous years. The other bikes were cruisers, and mine is a naked bike. 

Got the "... MSF ..." pre-ride briefing and we were off. I was mid-way back in the group on the left (closer to the lane divider.) We rode in staggered formation using hand signals. At a T-intersection (where we were going left, up a short but steep incline to a light) I stopped to allow a car coming from our right to proceed (he hadn't slowed and the riders in front of me "scooted" through this left turn and up the hill.) A rider behind me flew past my right elbow and up the hill (and the car then stopped to allow the rest of us to pass safely through the intersection.) WTF I thought...maybe I missed something at MSF training (2 workshops) + other 1:1 training and a track day in years past or in the pre-ride briefing. Maybe it's "Ride YOUR ride...and other riders, be forewarned." 

Later in the ride, at a rotary (we yield for vehicles "in" the rotary) I had to stop for a car in the rotary to my immediate left. It's a small-diameter rotary so there's little time required for a vehicle to "pass through" (and also little room for multiple vehicles in the rotary, concurrently.) Same thing, different rider: This time it was a rider with a passenger shooting by on my right forcing this car to stop in the rotary and then complete their egress when the 2-up bike cleared. Then, I took off and the riders behind me continued. We caught up to the rest of the group, shortly.

In years past, this would have pissed me off...this time, it only told me to avoid this group in the future (and I dropped out of their Meetup group when I got home that night.) I've planned and led group rides, and been on much larger group rides (charity rides) in years past. Never experienced riders overtaking other riders when stopped waiting for cars to pass through. I'm sticking to solo rides the rest of 2020.

My leathers have plenty of rubber near the shoulder from someone else's rear tire. 

I used to exagerrate my wonky-wobbles on the brakes via an extra F brake pulse and body reaction to signal that a wildness suggests you not try the outside crunch. Individual riders would gain each other's trust and challenge. We liked rubbing. 

Sometimes someone, often a gifted fast rider, would go "outside the reasonable" (come through my front wheel chopping off my line where not necessary). I never used RD, I checked in directly. At times the opposite was done by folks thinking they deserved "their line" from behind, via an RD report. Not cool.

 Cheers!

I did only a few years of club racing, a couple of FIM events and even there I remember the absolute FEAR I experienced on every T1 when were all going for the same spot a very high speed and you really don't know the person besisdes you or what is he willing to do for that little plastic doll. I remember seeing people tumbling with the corner of my eye for a nanosecond because as Keith Code used to say "You must put your 10$ worth of attention where it belongs", I've seen death on the track as well and that slowed me down 1 second for more than one year, I couldn't get over it, I never pushed 100% after that.

I wish I could do it again though.

Mat Oxley started this conversation so I'll join in while we are at it.

Yes if you give the other racers a short sharp shock some of them will give you a bit more racing room.

I did only a few years of club racing, a couple of state titles meetings. Won a club championship. Would have been cheaper to buy some trophies from the shop. Getting into turn 1 first is the only treatment for that fear Luiggi. Then I worry about the riders behind me. Not Zarco thank the gods of speed.

Good on you Shrink. I've stuck my right knee out a bit more as my friend on the CR500* tried to squeeze up the inside. Black mark never came off. White leathers are too hard to keep clean. * CR500 supermoto with 17" wheels ,slicks & big brakes. He took 1 win, once he got past I couldn't put a pass on him.One win and five second places behind me. The 750 was quicker off the line :-) I won 5 plus second behind the CR that one time I made a dumb mistake.

Isoia me to. I prefer to ride by myself on the public roads. Lets not get into the roadcraft of most riders.

Maybe we should continue on the forum https://motomatters.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=5317

Lets do some bench racing.

When the other riders know or think that you will do anything to win, they are going to think twice attacking or defending. Marquez extrodinaire example. It's never, 'if i give him a chance he'll try a move', it's always, '100% he's having a go...somewhere'. I wonder how much of his success at actually making an opportunity comes from him and how much comes from the other rider waiting for the move they know is coming.

Love him or hate him, he's the absolute master at it.

I found it fun to notice which riders shrugged their shoulders about the big one at Spielburg 1 and hinted that it was nothing unusual to be aggresive regardless of the track or turn. Again, keeping the 'front' that they are AOK with any kind of combat on any kind of rules.

The example of Jack in Jerez was a classic example. I'm fairly sure he knew he didn't have anywhere near the pace to fight Marquez...but he had to fight, just to let Marquez know he's as mad and bad as any, even if it cost him some time in the process.

Doohan is unfortunately a long time out of the game now but it's allowed him lots of time to share his thoughts and memories. Absolute classics about how he would screw with opponents. 
Great article as usual by Mr Oxley.