GP Circus Rolls On

John P Burns
by John P Burns
NEVER FORGET

It's so very easy to forget just what grand prix motorcycleriders are all about. You can become very blasé whileenjoying the usual banter in a busy media centre at thecircuit, or commentating on a race from a television screenin an air conditioned box. That is until tragic accidentssuch as Daijiro Kato's crash at Suzuka jolt you back intoreality. Racing a motorcycle capable of speeds approaching330 kph is one of the toughest and most demandingprofessions in the world and only the domain of a few bothtalented and extremely brave individuals.



The MotoGP community is a close knit family and Kato's accident at Suzuka was like an electric shock to the heart.Everybody felt the pain and everybody is praying forDaijiro's family at such a tragic time. So much has beendone to improve riders safety over the years and there hadbeen no serious accidents for nearly ten years. Naively,perhaps some of us in thought it could never happen again.

When grand prix Motorcycle racing started in 1949, it was on public road circuits such as the TT races in the Isle of Manor the Nurburgring in Germany. The roads were closed for theweekend for the races to be held, while straw bales werescattered on the most dangerous parts of the circuits to tryand protect the riders if they fell. As the speed of themachines increased the circuits became more and moredangerous. Bad accidents were part and parcel of a rider'svery existence in those pioneering days of the earlyfifties.

Purpose built circuits slowly started to replace the roadcircuits but they were often built to accommodate thefinancially more rewarding car races. Cars and motorcyclescrash in a different way and in different places. Armcobarriers that had been constructed to prevent cars going offthe circuit proved a lethal barrier for far too many grandprix motor cycle riders. Greedy promoters at the time didlittle to make safety improvements that cut down their share of the profit and so the riders took matters into their own hands.

Led by Kenny Roberts and the late Barry Sheene they threatened to break away from the establishment and runtheir own World Series in 1980. The new series nevermaterialised but its very threat brought a very differentattitude to safety from the Organisers and Promoters.Circuits became more motorcycle friendly while riders hadtheir own representative that vetted new circuits orimprovements to the old ones. Gradually the old road stylecircuits, that to some may still prove the ultimatechallenge but to many their very last challenge, droppedfrom the grand prix calendar. From the original list of sixvenues that staged the first World Championship series in1949 only one remains. Assen in Holland may have started asa road circuit but the modern purpose built 6.027 kms trackis one of the leading venues in 21st century grand prixracing.

Medical facilities both at the circuits and nearbyhospitals, were improved and the travelling Clinica Mobilehas saved many riders from serious injury by treating themjust minutes after a crash.As the speed of the machines continued to increase ridersalso took more care of their own protection. Full facehelmets had long replaced the old pudding basins. Leathersincluded elbow and knee pads while the simple back protecter became an essential part of the riders safety equipment.

When Kato finally lost his battle on Saturday, the grandprix community was preparing to leave for Welkom for thesecond round of the World Championship, the Africa's GrandPrix. To people outside the sport, it may seem almostirreverent to be preparing for a race in such tragiccircumstances.

Without a doubt, it is just what Kato would have wanted andexpected people to do. The MotoGP family has been devastatedby the death of one of their favourite sons but like him,racing is in their blood. They will both honour and pray forhim, his family and team in the only way they know wouldhave made him smile, by testing themselves to their verylimit in a sport he loved so much.

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John P Burns
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