The receptionist had a voice like warm honey – calm, re-assuring, caring without being intrusive. “Dr. Featherstone will see you now, Mr. Melling.”
With the merest hint of a smile, she led me through to the consulting room. Dr. Featherstone had the male version of that same smile – safe, encouraging but without pushing into my personal space. “Please Mr. Melling, sit down and let’s talk but remember, be open and hold nothing back. It’s important that you talk about your innermost feelings if we are going to address your addiction and help you overcome it.
“Now, tell me, what gives you a craving to watch MotoGP?”
So Doctor, let me explain. The sound of the 1000cc Grand Prix racing motorcycle engines claw their way inside me. They reach the same primordial spot which Cro-Magnon man felt as he looked into the face of a Sabre Tooth Tiger – heard it snarl and smelt its hot, fecund breath. The noise is life and death. Victory and failure. Good and evil. The basic forces of humanity shorn of protection or political correctness or Health and Safety Initiatives, unadulterated by any of the emasculating trappings of the modern world.
I can ride a motorcycle well – really well. A top AMA professional is vastly better – a master of his racing craft. But MotoGP racers are not of this planet – or even this universe. I have raced all my life and I cannot imagine, not even for a nano-second, how brave and skilful are these riders. They scream past our grandstand not merely mastering the immense task of actually riding these 250hp, 220mph monsters but pushing them to the very outer limits of their performance.
Cal Crutchlow leads the race and the British fans are ecstatic. I know Cal and like him. This is Cal of the ready smile. Cal of the generous spirit – and Cal who keeps the mechanics in every team he rides for working hard repairing crash damage twenty-four hours a day!
Now, he leads a MotoGP race in the dry and it becomes readily apparent why he is loved by those who work with him. Cal is a racer – a pure, totally committed racer. I once asked him what he would do if he didn’t race motorcycles professionally and, with a grin, he said: “I’d be riding at club meetings every weekend and sleeping in the back of a knackered old Transit van. Racing’s what I love.”
It is not only the skill level of the riders which leaves me breathless but the intensity. The mainstream media lauds the dedication and commitment of Olympic athletes but these track and field competitors are Saturday afternoon softball players compared with MotoGP racers. Every particle of the track is used to extract even the tiniest advantage. The bikes slide and snake and struggle to escape from the tenuous control their riders have over them but no-one backs off – no MotoGP rider ever thinks of his safety or even his life.
Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi collide. The Tifosi, and this being Vale very much the Tifosa too, stand and scream abuse at Marquez but, even if he could hear their cries, he wouldn’t care for a nano second. MotoGP is about commitment – total and absolute. To live or die is a trivial, secondary issue compared with winning or losing.
Andrea Iannone – “Crazy Joe” as he likes to be known – forces his Ducati into second place with a ruthless display of hyper aggressive riding. No Mixed Martial Arts competitor has more raw, savage brutality and this is what separates MotoGP riders from the rest of humanity. Then Iannone slides to the ground with his Ducati tumbling to an inglorious end. Even before the bike has stopped, Iannone is raging at his mis-fortune, his failure, his inability to grasp the glory that was his for the taking – so near and yet so far away…
At front of the race, there is another facet of MotoGP racing displayed in all its magnificent honesty. Maverick Viñales caresses his Suzuki GSX-RR Suzuki with the purity and elegance of a ballet dancer coming to en pointe. His actions are gentle, precise, tender even as he eases the Suzuki out to a six second lead. Maverick makes the task look sublimely easy. The merest, most subtle drop in the engine note for a transient moment of time, is the only indication that the Suzuki has been asked to change up a gear – to go faster, to protect the prize that is Viñales’ for the taking. I look at Maverick holding the perfect racing line at 150mph and know that what he is doing is easy. I could ride like this. Anyone can. It is too easy to balance a motorcycle on a patch of rubber not much bigger than a credit card at speeds approaching three miles a minute.
But, as Marc and Cal touch fairings again, we know that it isn’t. Not now, not ever, not with all the physical fitness training and meticulous diets and data analysis from race technicians can we ever achieve what these Moto Gods are doing lap after lap after lap.
Of the battle with Marc, Cal says: “Yeah, there was contact. He hit me at 200mph!
“Marc didn’t mean to do it; I shut off and he was still accelerating. The speed that he hit me in the leg… The wing hit me. It dead-legged me. And then it pushed me wide and I thought, ‘I have to make this corner’ because that was the move for second.
“I think it was a fair fight between us. At the end of the day I’m never one to complain about people’s manoeuvres. I’ve done them before and I’ll do them again.”
So Doctor, this is why I remain addicted to Grand Prix motorcycle racing. In a life which is dominated by compromise for the greater good, doing my best in the prevailing circumstances and making the best of what ability I have, MotoGP is a beacon of the best – of what a special sub-set of mankind – can achieve with the ultimate commitment, courage and tenacity.
Thanks to Peter Coney and the Silverstone Racing Club (http://www.silverstone.co.uk/about/silverstone-racing-club) for providing the best viewing at Silverstone and a warm welcome throughout the weekend. Temporary membership of the Silverstone Racing Club, including use of their exclusive grandstand and dining facilities, is available for the three days of MotoGP for around $70 – which is the biggest bargain in Grand Prix viewing.