Motor racing has been described as drag racing between corners. Never is this adage truer than at Monza. Speed out of corners is paramount, especially out of the Parabolica, the fast last corner that leads on to the equally fast start/finish straight. The faster you exit a corner, the sooner you reach your top speed. Monza has two long straights, both with fast corners leading onto them; this is what makes it different from other tracks with long straights. Fuel limits and tyres come into play in a different way here than any other track on the calendar. The other unique aspect of Monza is the controversies that arise from its uniqueness, and this weekend was no different in that respect.
Last year, rain made racing impossible as the speed of the track destroyed wet tyres and slicks are lethal coming from fast straights into aquaplanable puddles. The weather this year was more forgiving, allowing a day of racing without interruptions caused by weather. This weekend's interruptions were a different matter altogether, but they only affected the World Supersport race.
The controversy in the World Superbike races was a different controversy, generated equally by the track's unique personality. In an effort to make racing safer, chicanes have been added over the years. Monza used to have seven corners, two of which were only considered corners because of the speeds they were taken at. On a normal track, only five of the corners are slow enough to be counted, three of these corners, Lesmos 1 and 2 and the Parabolica, remain effectively unchanged, but three of them have been replaced by chicanes, Prima Variante (formerly Retiffilo), Variante Della Roggio and the famous Variante Ascari.
It is the fast nature of the track, and the inevitability that riders will run off that has led to the run off areas behind Monza's brutally fast approaches not dangerously slowing down the riders, allowing riders to leave the track and rejoin while actually gaining speed and places. Rules are in place that say riders should never gain an advantage from using these safety features, and in the case of Prima Variante, there is a system of soft walls that the rider has to negotiate before rejoining the track through a channel designated by painted white lines on the exit, lines that Max Biaggi famously missed and earned himself a ride-through penalty that turned a dominant clear lead into an eleventh place. This weekend, Jules Cluzel fell foul of the same rule, costing him a promising charge to eighth place.
But the controversy this weekend was at Della Roggia on the last lap, where Tom Sykes was duelling in the top four, clawing his way on the brakes from fourth place, the back of the pack, to a charge on second place. His charge was too fast and, instead of ploughing into the back of Marco Melandri, he chose the safe path off the track, cutting out the chicane, as many had done all day, and rejoining the track without gaining an advantage. Unfortunately, he had just passed Sylvain Guintoli, pushing the Frenchman back to fourth, and he rejoined the track in front of him, but off to the side of the track. Guintoli met Sykes at the entrance to Lesmo 1 where there is only one apex, not letting him fight back to the leading pair who were on a charge to the flag. Sykes and Guintoli both thought they were in third place at the end of the race and Race Direction were left to sort it out, with Aprilia appealing and Kawasaki counter appealing, resulting in a reversal of positions after Aprilia's appeal and a re-reversal after the appeal of the appeal.
As it currently stands, Tom Sykes was awarded the place he finished in and Sylvain Guintoli is left three points worse off than he'd hoped.
Prima Variente was also a factor in the second restart of the World Supersport and the scene of the race's third red flag. When a field of over thirty hungry angry berserkers on 600cc bikes charge into what has been described as a "noddy chicane", if those riders are already twitchy from two previous red flags, it's inevitable that there may be a coming together. The chicane is dangerous on the first lap, and one common suggestion is that exceptions should be granted to Monza and the race should be run in a chicaneless first lap, letting the riders string out before meeting the tight flip-flop, as the sheer volume of metal and biomass trying to pipe through the tight restrictive u-bend can cause blockages that result in pile-ups and red flags. Whether that is a workable solution, or if it even allowed under FIM rules, is much less likely than Dorna simply pulling Monza from the calendar.
Every year, Monza appears to be on the list for cancellation the following year, but luckily, every year, as is the case this year, the track is signed for the next season.
After today's entertaining races, controversies aside, it would be a provable shame if Monza were axed. The heroics of Sam Lowes in World Supersport, the three-abreast exits from the Parabolica, the constant changing of laps, the testing of the limits of machinery, the outright maniacal speeds on the straights, the dirt-tracking on the fast line out of the Ascari chicane, all these things would be taken away from us if Monza were removed from the calendar. After losing the fast jaunts through the forests of Hockenheim, Monza is the only proper fast track left on the calendar, and motorcycle racing would be worse off without at least one track you need to set your gearing past your engine's power limit just for the twenty metre slipstream.
On a weekend where we should be talking about Marco Melandri's return to form, we are instead eulogising a track that isn't even dead yet.