THE SAN MARINO AND RIMINI RIVIERA MOTORCYCLE GRAND PRIX
Just a 45-minute drive from San Marino, close to the city of Rimini, is the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli where the San Marino Grand Prix takes place every year. 60,000 fans come to watch. Including our race-virgin Bibi Lynch.
Loud. MotoGP is loud. Not ‘a jet taking off’ loud. But ‘several jets taking off, circling your head, and trying to land on your face’ loud. Wow.
No-one prepared me. A fellow writer tried. ‘The bikes can reach 290kmph!’ But I don’t drive and I’m too old and English for kilometres, so that didn’t register. The volume did though. It hurt my head, made me feel nauseous and gave me palpitations. And I loved it!
I have never experienced anything like it. Not just that level of noise (loud. It was loud) but the whole crazy MotoGP circus: lines and lines of giant, gleaming trucks that move from circuit to circuit housing workshops and bikes; beautiful Euro types drinking champagne in pop-up hospitality; sexy (fabulous?) biker boys pensively pulling on cigarettes with petrol and oil all around them; genetically-superior scantily-clad Umbrella Girls holding brollies over the riders to keep the sun off them (sure) and posing for photos with terribly excited men who absolutely didn’t notice the girls’ (very well-hidden, despite their outfits) disdain…
"The retro ‘70s feel to MotoGP - super-glam, super-monied, super-surreal - is a huge part of the appeal..."
Local beauties on show like that should make you shudder, right? And it did. But it also sort of made perverse sense. Within the anachronistic MotoGP bubble.
There, men are macho and women are totty. Not great; but that different - really - from the outside world? (I did notice several female mechanics, though — and Spanish racer Maria Herrera is speeding through the MotoGP ranks… So who knows what the future holds there.)
The retro ‘70s feel to MotoGP - super-glam, super-monied, super-surreal - is a huge part of the appeal — but the real pull is the visceral effect it has on you.
Before I visited Misano I had no idea what the sport was. I Googled it, realised it was (possibly) Barry Sheene-style racing (remember him? The David Essex you could take home to your mum and almost trust her with), and made a mental note to get Silver Dream Racer out on DVD.
But I had no real interest in watching men race round and around a track for half an hour. Why would I? Five minutes in, though, and I was hooked.
"...watching such brave and skilful riders is thrilling and exhilarating..."
Watching MotoGP is so intense. It doesn’t just smack you about physically - a heart shouldn’t beat that fast, it really shouldn’t - but emotionally it tussles with you, too.
Yes, watching such brave and skilful riders is thrilling and exhilarating, but it’s also terrifying. These boys crash. And these boys get killed.
This circuit is named in honour of the tragic Marco Simoncelli. His devastating story is all over the internet if you want to read it.
MotoGP taps into feelings we all respond to - fear, horror, disbelief, hope, awe, joy - and that’s what makes this incredible sport so intoxicating. Add our love of rivalry, hero-worship, and tight leather, and it’s no wonder 10s of 1000s of people were packed into Misano with me - not-so-blasé-now me - jostling to glimpse new kid on the starting block Marc Marquez and to scream support to superstar racer Valentino Rossi*. ‘Vale! Vale! VALE!!!!’ I was loud. MotoGP loud.
*Rossi finished fourth in this race. Marquez was second - behind Jorge Lorenzo and in front of Dani Pedrosa - but he went on to win the Championship. In his first season! See? Hooked.
The 2014 Grand Prix is on September 12th.