David Emmett's blog
Once upon a time, the Suzuka 8 Hour race was a big deal. A very big deal. It was the race the Japanese factories sent their very best riders to compete in, the event often being written into the contracts of the top Grand Prix and World Superbike riders as part of their factory deals. The list of big names to win the race is impressive. Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner, Daryl Beattie, Aaron Slight, Doug Polen, Scott Russell, Noriyuki Haga, Colin Edwards, Daijiro Kato, Alex Barros, Shinichi Itoh, Tohru Ukawa, Taddy Okada. And of course Valentino Rossi. There, they faced the very best of the Japanese Superbike riders, as well as the regulars from the World Endurance Championship, of which it forms a part.
It may have been an honor to have been asked to do the race, but the GP riders were far from keen. Held in July, the race fell right in the middle of the Grand Prix season. Racing in the event meant multiple flights to Japan for testing and practice, then the grueling race itself in the oppressive heat and humidity of a Japanese summer. It meant doing the equivalent of four Grand Prix in the space of eight hours, then rushing home to get ready for the next race. The best case scenario meant they started the next Grand Prix event tired and aching from Suzuka. The worst case was a crash and an injury that either kept them off the bike or left them riding hurt. The only benefit was that it kept the factories happy, and marginally increased a rider's chances of extending his contract with the manufacturer for a following season.
Gradually, the race fell out of favor, and more and more riders had clauses added to their contract specifically excluding them from being forced to race at Suzuka. Mick Doohan was one of the early absentees. Valentino Rossi did it twice, won it the second time around, and swore never to race at the event again. It was simply too demanding for a rider chancing a championship. In the early years of this century, the race languished in relative obscurity. The name of the event still echoed in the collective memory of race fans, but it passed without much comment. Except in Japan, where it remained the pinnacle of the JSB season, and the battleground for the Japanese manufacturers.
It is my great fortune that enough people visit this website that I can travel around Europe and attend races, and report on them from on site. Having done this as a full time job for six seasons now, I have gained a fair amount of experience on the various bits and pieces of equipment that I need to do my job as effectively as possible. If you have aspirations of becoming a motorcycle racing blogger or journalist, here's a guide to the essential kit you will need.
QUESTIONS ARE NOW CLOSED
One of the best things about running MotoMatters.com (apart from the opportunity to get so close and learn so much about racing motorcycles and the people who are involved with them) is the interaction I have had with readers. I am regularly complimented by people in the paddock on the intelligence and thoughtful tone of the comments on the website. Indeed, I am sometimes put to shame by them, the comments being far more interesting and insightful than the story which appears above them.
It is not just on the website itself. There is also social media, and interacting with race fans via Twitter or Facebook gives me a real sense of what fans think and what they want to know. From time to time, I will also try to arrange a meet up with fans at a racetrack itself, and talk to people directly, although that is too often very hard to fit in to the hectic schedule of a race weekend.
I'm here at last. After three days, 1497 kms and 18 hours in the saddle, I have checked in to my hotel on the outskirts of Florence. The last day was definitely the best day, except perhaps for the last few miles, but that's a whole different story.
Starting from Lake Garda, I headed down the western shore of the lake. The downside of the Italian lakes is that they are so very steep sided, meaning you find yourself spending a lot of time in tunnels. This is the case for Garda's western shore, the mountain rising almost sheer from the side of the lake. The upside of the Italian lakes is that when you're not in a tunnel, the scenery is stunning: the blue water of the lake, the snow-capped peaks of the mountains at either side, the sheer limestone cliffs, and the many palaces and villas built here by rich Italian nobility in the 18th and 19th century. A beautiful, if somewhat surreal part of the world.
Day two of my trek to Mugello was the highlight of the trip, when seen from the comfort of the desk in my office. From southern Germany through Austria, taking in a pass or two, then on into Italy and a choice of options, depending on my mood and the time I would need to find lodgings.
Unfortunately, I had not reckoned with two things: the first was the weather; the second was my own stupidity. I had drawn up a back up route in case of poor weather, but it was different in only one aspect. I had intended on riding the Hahntennjoch in Austria, a slightly less well-known pass, but one with a reputation for being a great ride. After reading that the pass is infamous for mud and rock slides, I added a back up route in case it rained. And boy did it rain.
Rain. There was a lot of it
Day 1 is in the books, and it was a pretty decent day's riding. A little over 700kms from my home near Arnhem in the Netherlands, down to Cologne and then crossing the Rhine to follow the western route southwards via the A61. It is a far more scenic road, avoiding the heavy traffic of the Ruhrgebiet, skirting the Eifel mountains and passing just east of the Nurburgring. South of Koblenz, and the road crosses the Moselle valley. On the steep northern slopes of the Moselle, the road authorities have built a viewing point and service station, where you can admire the view.
The Moselle stop is an unusual one. As inspired as the German autobahns are, their usual choice of location for a rest stop tends to be rather dull. Hidden by trees, with no view other than trees, long distance trucks and, at the moment, plenty of bikers and vacationers all heading south for the sun. The view from the road is glorious, though stopping to take photos of the view is unwise. With traffic pelting past at very high speed, it is hard to hold your camera / phone still with Audi S8s blowing by at 200 km/h plus...
The wonderful thing about working in MotoGP is being surrounded on all sides by motorcycles. It is therefore rather ironic that one of the downsides to working in MotoGP is that it leaves you with very little time to actually ride a motorcycle yourself. Your days are taken up with hanging around in airports, travel back and forth to race tracks, chasing news and information, managing a website, and a large amount of utterly unglamorous but exceptionally necessary administration. If talking to the greats of motorcycle racing is the high point, filling in endless spreadsheets for the tax man is surely the low point.
From time to time, however, I do get a chance to ride. Assen, Silverstone and the Sachsenring are all races which are close enough to travel to by motorcycle (I do not own a car, and haven't for twelve years or so). Though it is a wonderful feeling to spend some real time in the saddle, the trip is too often just a single day, spent largely on highways. And as everyone knows, motorcycles are made for curves, not straights.
The ongoing success of MotoMatters.com means we have to expand. Monday 31st March and Tuesday 1st April, we will be moving from one server to a new one, with more processing power, more memory, and better able to handle the demands of growing traffic.
While this is good news in the long term, it is likely to cause some disruption to our service. Over the next couple of days, the website could become unavailable for short periods of time. As we are moving to another server, it may take a few hours for this change to register with the DNS system, the worldwide system which ensures that your computer can locate any website on the internet. The website move may also impact email, so any emails being sent to MotoMatters.com may be delayed for a few hours.
Once the move is complete, the website should be more responsive, and ready for the challenge of the next year or two. Thank you in advance for your patience, and thank you especially for reading and supporting the website over the past seven years. If you'd like to make a financial contribution towards the move - and the continuing success and existence of the site - you can take out a subscription and become a MotoMatters.com Supporter, send us a donation, buy a MotoMatters.com calendar, or just Paypal money to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the final few moments of 2013 tick away (in this part of the world; for some readers, it is already 2014), we would just like to take a moment and say a big thank you to all our readers for your support and contributions this year. Thanks to everyone for reading the site, to the people who post such well-informed and well-thought out comments, and to everyone who has supported us. A special thanks goes out to everyone who has either donated or become an official site supporter by taking out a subscription. A special thanks also to everyone who bought a calendar, as that also helps keep the site running.
Thanks also to everyone who has helped the site in other ways, with suggestions, technical support, information and many other things. Thanks to everyone in the paddock for talking to us and putting up with our questions, however impertinent or stupid they may seem. Thanks most of all to everyone in the world of motorcycle racing, for feeding our passion, and providing a fantastic year of racing in so many classes, in MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3, World Superbike, World Supersport and the many national and support championships around the world.
In 1952, Doris Lessing, a Nobel prize-winning author, was one of a group of writers and prominent intellectuals who visited the Soviet Union, then in the iron grip of Joseph Stalin, one of history's greatest criminals and murderers. She was introduced to the political leaders of the country, and escorted around the nation by the Russian secret police. Lessing, along with the others on the trip, returned home to write gushing praise of the Soviet Union, describing it as 'a land of hope.'
In her later years, Lessing wrote a damning condemnation of her own naivety during the visit. "I was taken around and shown things as a ‘useful idiot’... that’s what my role was. I can’t understand why I was so gullible." She had seen only what had been shown to her, believed what her guides - all of whom worked for the secret police - told her, and accepted the testimony of the workers she spoke to, workers who had been carefully selected and briefed to project the right message, or sufficiently intimidated to not let any of the real truth slip.
A 'useful idiot' is exactly how I feel all too often working in the MotoGP paddock. With no formal training in journalism, and only my gut instinct to follow, it is hard to sift out the underlying facts from the fiction being projected all around me. Most of motorcycle racing journalism - in fact, most of sports journalism - relies almost entirely on the word of others. A journalist will speak to a rider, or a team manager, or an engineer, or a press officer, and write a news story based on what they have just been told. If they are a good journalist, they will try and verify what they have been told by checking with other sources. If they want to sell newspapers, they will write what suits them, and checking be damned.
This vacancy has now been filled. We are NOT currently hiring at the moment. Thanks to everyone for their applications.
MotoMatters.com has won the MotoGP Blogger of the Year awared in Silverstone's annual media awards for the second consecutive year. After more than 3,500 votes had been counted, we were voted best MotoGP blogger for the second year running.
Firstly, we'd like to thank everyone who voted for us. It is a truly humbling experience to have so many people make the effort to show their appreciation with their votes. And thanks to the people who help to make the site what it is: Scott Jones, one of the very, very best photographers in the MotoGP paddock, Jared Earle, who has taken on coverage of World Superbikes and made it far better than I could ever have hoped to on my own, Venancio Luis Nieto for adding so much insight into the Moto2 class, and the other contributors who help to make the site what it is, Andrew Gosling, Ben Davies, Jules Cisek, and Russ, Joe, Dave, Len and many others for help behind the scenes. The encouragement we receive is what keeps us going, through both hard times and good times.
After Casey Stoner announced his retirement on Thursday at Le Mans, it was obvious that I would choose that subject to write about for that day's round up of events. Stoner's retirement had befuddled me - I was not alone in my befuddlement, it was shared by almost everyone involved in MotoGP - and I discussed the source of the story published by the Spanish magazine Solo Moto in the week between the Jerez and Estoril rounds of MotoGP, which splashed news of Stoner's retirement on its front page, citing an anonymous source.
In my story on Stoner's retirement, I reported on the rumors I had heard at Estoril identifying Livio Suppo as the source of Solo Moto's story. On the Friday, I received two emails, one from Livio Suppo himself, and the other from Borja Gonzales, an editor at Solo Moto, the magazine that broke the story of Stoner's retirement. Neither was pleased, and rightly so.
As you have surely noticed by now, the site has a new design and layout. The old layout, with light text on a dark background, has been dropped, and the new site has switched to follow the golden rule set by every website designer, usability expert and ergonomics consultant on the planet: dark text on a light background. Readers from around the world had asked for the change for a couple of years now, and I finally caved in to their requests. The readability is now vastly improved, but the framing layout with orange links on a dark background has been retained, to preserve something of the feel of the old site. Photo stories will continue to use a dark background, as we feel that the darker layout does more justice to Scott Jones' beautiful photos.
The change has not been completely finalized - there are still one or two points of the site that need to be tweaked, and all comments and suggestions for improvement are more than welcome. Some tables, in particular, could still appear with either the wrong background or the wrong text color; if you spot any errors, please feel free to drop us a line at email@example.com. Site supporters have a wider choice of page layouts, including the option of reverting to the previous layout with the light text on a dark background.
MotoMatters.com continues to grow in popularity - a massively heartening phenomena, for which we are all grateful - but that popularity comes with a downside: at peak times, the site can become very slow, and provide a frustrating user experience. In response to this - and in anticipation of the further growth of the site - we are switching MotoMatters.com to a different server, with more powerful hardware and much more memory. The end result, once the changeover has been made, should be a much zippier site which loads and responds faster, especially around the busiest times on race weekends.
The switch has been a little more complicated than expected, but it looks like we have everything under control, thanks to the outstanding support from our hosting company Rimuhosting.com. who we really cannot recommend highly enough (and no, we are not being paid to make that statement). The actual switchover will take place some time today (Wednesday, February 8th 2012), once the new server has been fully tested and all of the data has been transferred. In the meantime, the site may go offline for a brief period to facilitate the switch. We are working hard to make the changeover as painless as possible.