Wheely wonderful action!
What better way to launch a new national motor racing series than to have the last person to win a world championship on your machine come and launch it? Motorsport in the kingdom has been dominated by four wheels in the past … although thanks to the newly-formed promotion company, Bahrain Superbikes, the balance is starting to be redressed, writes David Axtell.
The launch of the Middle East’s first single-make Superbike Championship was given an additional kick-start by the presence of Ducati’s global ambassador, Carlos Checa.
With all riders, thanks to the partnership with Wheels of Arabia, being given brand new Ducati 899 Panigales to race, Checa, who won the World Superbike Championship in 2011 on board a Ducati, was able to ride some practice laps before giving advice on gears, riding lines and braking points.
With 15 competitors coming from around the GCC and the UK, the amiable Spaniard, who is still a test-rider for the Ducati World Superbike Team, focused on the first and last turns of the Bahrain International Circuit’s inner circuit.
While Checa acknowledged that the circuit is designed for four-wheel machines, he still described the track as an enjoyable and interesting challenge, noting that, in his opinion, it would only take minor modifications, particularly to the run-off areas, to enable the BIC to host the highest level of motorbike racing in Bahrain.
However, it was the format of the race, in particular, that drew the highest praise from the former world champion. With all riders boarding identical machines, not only are the costs drastically reduced, it is also easier to identify the best rider.
Checa believes that this is a format that should be adopted in his homeland of Spain, recognised as one of the best breeding grounds of young motorcycle racing talent in the world.
The quality of racing in Spain was evident in this Bahrain event as the runaway winner of both races at the BIC, Mishal Al Naimi from Qatar, spent several years racing there before trying his luck in Moto2.
Checa offered some hope for Bahrain youngsters, suggesting that Dorna, the organisers of MotoGP, the pinnacle of global motorbike racing, would be supportive of sending the best to Spain to train and race. However, he also advised that it would take the formation of junior championships and accessible training grounds to reach the required level.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of the inaugural race weekend Checa stressed the importance of maintaining in racing the passion and excitement of which success then becomes a consequence.
This rider, popular amongst his peers and fans, refers to the ‘exhilaration’ he feels when riding, an emotion he finds difficult to replicate in other forms of motorsport. This, perhaps, also explains his choice of hobbies away from the track, having qualified as a pilot while also holding a skydiving license (he has completed 70 jumps), a sport at which he was hoping to practice while in Bahrain.
‘Charlie’ also ran through a list of mountain sports that he uses to keep fit and, while it was good to hear about his cycling and skiing exploits, of particular interest was his adaptation of the biathlon, replacing the skiing element with a couple of laps on a motorbike!
Carlos also recapped his career, providing an insight to the mindset of a champion. Admirably, he refused to look for excuses for early failures at a time at which he believed he was first presented with the opportunities to win the world championship, preferring to simply acknowledge that others were better.
Later, when he had matured as a rider, the technical components were not at the same level, leading to a switch to Superbikes via a stint with Honda in endurance racing.
The dangers of the sport cannot be ignored either. Crashes, the most notable of which, from the perspective of the impact it had on his career, took place at the English track of Donington Park. What looked relatively innocuous led to Checa having his spleen removed and led to him suffering a number of minor strokes, breathing difficulties and a temporary loss of vision.
Motorcyclists somehow continue despite serious injuries, attributes born, he says, from the passion and emotion involved that feeds a strong desire to compete.
The man sometimes referred to as ‘The Bull’ regularly refers to the mental strength required to ride, highlighting this as one of the most important characteristics needed to succeed. The mental scars from the crash took more than two years to heal, longer than the physical ones.
This led to a discussion about the 2015 MotoGP Championship, which Checa referred to as one that promised to have the best finale for 10 seasons before reflecting that the controversy involving current leading riders Rossi, Marquez and Lorenzo was ‘a shame’ (as recently highlighted by GulfWeekly sports columnist Abu George who is currently out of the country)… albeit one that brings a positive of drawing more people into the sport!
By way of a prediction for the season ahead, Checa felt that the different characteristics of the Michelin tyres within MotoGP may require some riders to adapt their aggressive styles, although he still expects Lorenzo and Marquez to lead the way. However, he feels that it is difficult to predict the varying motivation levels after last season’s finale which may mean that Rossi returns stronger than ever!
The Ducati ambassador also believes that his own team made a good technical jump last season and should challenge strongly, particularly given the finish from Andrea Lannone.
The first Spanish world champion believes that the Superbikes are easier to predict with the technical regulations favouring the four-cylinder Japanese manufacturers, with Kawasaki deservedly leading the way as a result of their commitment to and investment in the sport. He was complimentary about the abilities of both Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes, world champions themselves.