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Words: Adam Wheeler
There is a slimmer wrap Thailand in this issue on account of the Grand Prix being the first I’ve missed since the opening round of the 2001 FIM Motocross World Championship. It did feel a little strange to actually watch MXGP on TV after arriving back from Qatar and the first part of the MotoGP test but the time difference didn’t work out too badly for a Sunday of words, work and thoughts on round two of 18.
From the riders I communicated with before, during and since the Suphan Buri inauguration and thanks to detailed coverage like that provided by the guys from www.mxvice.com it seems that Ben Townley’s frank and honest evaluation about the new Thai facility not being up to world championship standard was one of the talking points of the weekend (as well as Youthstream President Giuseppe Luongo’s startling rebuke during what should have been a positive press conference about MXGP finding new Asian territory thanks to an agreement that the series will go to Indonesia for the next three years).
Whether Townley was right or wrong about his judgement on the circuit (which apparently was better than the scrappy temporary effort at Nakhonchaisri in 2015 but then via the TV looked dusty and uninspiring) the fact that he wanted to express his opinion should not be slammed or derided. The New Zealander could be looking at a single season of glory before deciding where next to take his career or maybe another year or two at best and therefore might have no qualms about fluffing a few feathers.
It is unlikely a younger rider with aspirations for GP success will be so freely vocal but Townley has earned, and demands, respect for his achievements, professionalism and his articulacy on matters on the sport. Just five minutes in his company will make anyone realise that the 30-year-old Kiwi has a rounded and determined view on many aspects of the sport.
Ben could have a point about Qatar and Thailand not fitting the bill for Grand Prix in terms of fans, tradition, atmosphere and infrastructure or even a suitable racing course but, as with many things, it is not quite so black and white. The championship goes to places like Qatar for three reasons: the fees, support and organisation by the QMMF (understandably unmatched by any other local promoter), the chance to show that MXGP is geographically spreading its wings (we have Latvian and Bulgaria riders on the podium after Grands Prix in those respective countries starting in the noughties) and the novelty of a night race supported by the pleasant climate away from Europe.
Thailand has a passionate and zealous figurehead, Kraitos Wongsawan, who continues to find local council backing to bring MXGP to the country and the same criteria applies: Asia is a prosperous market for motorcycle sport and bike brands, and attaches onto the back of the trip east to Qatar in terms of scheduling and logistics.
Throw into that offering the questions of whether the event is organised well, marketed well and whether long-term roots for Grand Prix motocross can exist and there is a lot to weigh up. If Youthstream were simply and only treating MXGP as a money-making exercise then you’d see less races (less staff overheads), less investment in TV production, less infrastructure, less scouring the world for potential new partners and backers.
Like everyone in the paddock they are not in it purely for the fun or for the passion and I still believe there must be a way the teams – especially those at satellite status thus potentially adding another 10-odd riders into the gate – can be helped as MXGP continues a transition to a global ranging series. But jetting MXGP around the globe cannot only be about money. It is also about politics and an attempt to spread the reach of the sport. It is something supercross would undoubtedly achieve as a ‘world championship’ if it left US shores for even two to three international trips.