The scene: the back of a Dodge Tradesman van leaving an American dirt track race in the mid-1970s. An XR750 is strapped in while toolboxes, boots and leathers lay in heaps. One rider is driving the van while another is sitting on the floor in the back. New travel buddies, the pair left a local dirt track race Saturday night and were on their way to the Sunday national a few states away.
Settling in, the driver tuned in an AM radio station and cranked the van all the way up to just slightly over the new national speed limit of 55 mph. Eventually, though, among the drone of the tires and the rattling of the wrenches in the toolbox drawers, he smelled something odd.
Marijuana smoke wafted forward from the back of the van.
Knowing the AMA would crack down if they were caught with an illegal substance or arrested, the driver grew worried.
Hey, man, you really think you should be doin’ that? he asked.
The other rider’s voice was reassuring in both tone and message:
“Relax, man, the circus don’t fire the clowns,” he said.
Valentino Rossi has posted photos of himself astride an R1 Superbike at Misano several times this year. Certainly the recent Silverstone MotoGP winner hasn’t hidden the fact he has ridden an R1 Superbike regularly at Misano this season. And why should he? Basically as long as Rossi is not testing an M1 MotoGP bike, or any MotoGP bike, he’s technically not breaking any of the standard MotoGP test rules. And for all we know he may have been given permission to do so via MotoGP’s all encompassing Any activity authorized by Race Direction rule.
Misano is truly Valentino Rossi’s home track: the front gate is about six miles from Rossi home and riding ranch in Tavullia.
Rossi, when explaining his laps at Misano, was quick to point out that when riding a Superbike that all lines are different from those used in MotoGP and also the braking is much different as well. He suggested that he rides an R1 at Misano more for the physical training than anything.
Taking all of Rossi’s rationalization out of the situation, it’s hard to believe that any rider who has ridden at Misano would not see Rossi’s laps there as an unfair advantage simply for one factor: Misano’s legendary tricky surface. Misano has been an anomaly in racing for more than a decade because of its hard to read surface, only made more unknown with a recent re-paving.
However, larger issues are at play here than any rulebook. Consider for a moment the number of VR46 t-shirts one sees in the stands at any MotoGP race from Sepang to Catalunya. Consider that his t-shirt business, in scope and revenue, rivals that of any NASCAR driver; and also that VR46’s merchandising and riding school employs around 50 people. Now multiply those bleacher loads of Rossi fans by a factor of 1000 or even 10,000 when it comes to television ratings for MotoGP events. And also that in the darkest days of Rossi’s Ducati collaboration or when Rossi missed races after breaking his leg that TV ratings plummeted and without him on the grid that there was plenty of elbow room in the stands.
In many ways Valentino Rossi is bigger than MotoGP itself.
So while riding around for afternoons on a Superbike, at a track that the series uses, while in the middle of a championship title fight might seem like an interesting interpretation of the spirit behind the MotoGP test rules, the fact is that MotoGP is a championship supported by the participation of one rider.
And that rider can do as he pleases.