The FIM have today released the provisional version of the MotoGP calendar for 2014. As expected, there are few surprises: with the addition of Argentina and Brazil, there will be nineteen races on the calendar, though Brazil is not expected to be ready to host a race next year, the event likely to be postponed until 2015. Laguna Seca is gone from the calendar, leaving just two US races on for 2014. And once again, there are four Spanish rounds on for next season, although Jerez is marked subject to contract.
The season opens with the night race in Qatar on March 23rd, though this decision is likely to face criticism from the riders. Moving the race two weeks earlier increases the risk of the evening dew which settles on the surface hitting earlier, while the bikes are still out on track. That was the case in previous years, when the race was held earlier, with some major crashes as a result. The dew settles quickly and is impossible to see under the lights, but renders the asphalt extremely slippery within a very short period.
Two more flyaways follow, to Austin and Argentina, before the series heads back to Spain for the first European race in Jerez. Jerez is still marked as subject to contract, the circuit in continuing financial straits, but it is expected that race will happen. The Argentina/Jerez pairing is the first of two Transatlantic back-to-back races, with Indianapolis and Brno also just a week a part, on the 10th and 17th of August. The three Pacific flyaways are the only three-race back-to-back, starting in Malaysia on 12th October, before heading to Motegi in Japan, and then to Phillip Island.
The schedule looks broadly similar to this year's calendar, with Mugello taking place in early June, Barcelona mid-July, and Silverstone on the last weekend of August, a move which proved very popular and successful this year. This year has seen attendance at races increase almost everywhere by between five and fifteen percent, part of which is down to better scheduling.
Everywhere, except the US, that is. Though total attendance for all three races combined is up, attendance at the two races from last year is down by around ten percent. That is one of the reason why Laguna Seca has been dropped from the calendar, as the Red Bull US GP at the Laguna Seca track has not been profitable for the past four years, according to a report in the Monterey County Herald. As a non-profit organization, SCRAMP, the organization which runs the track, has been unable to find the investment of the two other US tracks. The Circuit of the Americas receives $2 million in state tax credits, while the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has received a $100 million grant for improvements to the facility, including a new layout for the road course inside the Speedway. The sanctioning fee Laguna Seca paid to hold the MotoGP race is believed to be lowest on the calendar, and was the main reason why Moto2 and Moto3 (and previously, the 250cc and 125cc classes) never joined MotoGP at Laguna Seca.
Though the race was popular with many in the paddock, mainly for the setting, there was criticism too. Prices for accommodation in Monterey were extortionate, and the event never resonated in the local area. Compared to the lively downtown happenings at Austin, or the huge and well-organized evening events in downtown Indianapolis, the events on Cannery Row were rather small scale.
Most of all, though, there were concerns over safety. Though Turn 1 was one of the most impressive corners on the calendar, the wall was still very close, despite the hill having been moved back after 2005. Other sections, such as Turn 4 and the climb up the hill towards the Corkscrew, faced similar criticism. If something went wrong, it could have been very nasty. One team manager told me that every time MotoGP raced at Laguna Seca, he crossed his fingers on Friday morning and didn't uncross them until he left on Sunday night, with all of the riders still in one piece.
But to lose Laguna Seca is a shame, as it remains an iconic circuit which has produced some fantastic racing. The Corkscrew remains one of the most memorable corners in racing, and Turn 1 among those requiring the most bravery.
The provisional calendar appears below:
|27 April||Argentina||Termas de Rio Hondo|
|04 May||Spain(STC)||Jerez de la Frontera|
|18 May||France||Le Mans|
|15 June||Catalunya||Barcelona- Catalunya|
|28 June||Netherlands**||TT Assen|
|10 August||Indianapolis GP||Indianapolis|
|17 August||Czech Republic||Brno|
|31 August||Great Britain||Silverstone|
|14 September||San Marino & Riviera di Rimini||Marco Simoncelli Misano|
|26 October||Australia||Phillip Island|
|09 November||Valencia||Ricardo Tormo-Valencia|