Team Suzuki’s World MX reporter and On Track Off Road Magazine Editor Adam Wheeler reflects on the first-ever MX GP of Qatar, run under floodlights at the Losail MotoGP circuit and which pioneered a new Motocross of Nations-style Superfinal combining the top MX1 and MX2 riders. Is this the way forward?
Six manufacturers took part in the launch of the 2013 FIM Motocross World Championship in the Middle East last weekend in what was an unprecedented and much-discussed opening to the series. At the heart of the action and eventually celebrating success at Losail was Rockstar Energy Suzuki World MX1’s Clement Desalle.
So, did the first Qatar Grand Prix live up to expectations? It depends on what you wanted to draw out of this milestone world championship opener. There were some that were always going to frown upon the notion of motocross cashing in and heading into the desert and there were others that scoffed at the idea of a Superfinal. What I can report is that the general consensus within the paddock was one of contentment at the world championship beginning in Qatar. However, the teams were puffing slightly at having a month less to get ready and the average cost of a privateer team with two riders to get everything out and stay in the Middle East was around 15,000 euros.
The weather, distance, timing and novelty of motocrossing at night helped to fill the vacuum where the spectators would have been. There was an indirect goal to replace genuine atmosphere with a ‘racing culture shock’ and it worked to a degree because we still got excited about the motos and the riders responded to the track. The Superfinal drew mixed responses. Some were dismayed at the swallowing of the MX2 class and others at the confusion between the race winner and the Grand Prix winner. Even if the Superfinal podium celebration is kept for TV, the reestablishment of the MX1 podium ceremony will help clarification at the circuit and also in terms of media output of the event.
So, what do I think? I’m not against going to Qatar in the slightest, and the state of the Losail set-up was as I expected; a facility put together with healthy backing and deep pockets. I think we should go to the desert in the same way that we should also be at Namur, the sand and straights of Lierop, around the hills of Roggenburg and sitting on the ferry to the Isle of Wight. Diversity, both in nature, culture and geography is the true essence of what should be a world championship. If the teams can make it happen and the event isn’t a shambles (let’s see what Mexico is like this year) then why defer? The sport must be on its backside to a degree in Europe for promoters to look to other continents. And yes, of course they need to make money from it as there is no single company in the world that would organise racing series for a loss.
For me the jury is still out on the Superfinal: I sympathise with the reasons for looking for something new. Motocross simply won’t get the TV hours to broadcast four motos any more. Live coverage is a commercial obligation for sport in these times and promoters Youthstream is clearly prepared to suffer the ire of purists in the hope of reaching new audiences. I don’t think one Heat is the answer. How about making the podium decider from the second motos? Don’t tally the points…with the first race merely allowing numeration towards the championship. Or as an Italian colleague suggested: run the first motos on Saturday to amplify a weekend programme and a single race per class on Sunday that determines the podium. It is tough to effectively squeeze motocross into a one hour TV show but two motos and two hours is already more economical than four. Maybe the Superfinal in its current guise will suffice for overseas Grands Prix, especially those in mid-to-late season when some injuries have taken hold and the entry lists aren’t so healthy. If four motos is to be doomed for 2014 – and nothing stays the same, that’s why we are writing ‘MX1’ now instead of 500cc – then what would be a good solution?