MotoGP makes a solid India debut

The Buddh International Circuit gets good reviews

68-marco-bezzecchi Learning curve: Marco Bezzecchi leading the race at Buddh International Circuit on September 24 | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

Watching MotoGP from the comfort of your home has its advantages. Hundreds of cameras capture the race from all angles, so that you do not miss a moment. Veteran commentators fill you in on the finer points, while animated infographics give you real-time info on the race.

Nothing, however, comes close to the experience of being physically present on the MotoGP sidelines. Sure, you have to brave the weather, and bikes just zip past you in the blink of an eye. But the roar of the engines and the supercharged atmosphere stay with you.

MotoGP is one of the world’s most popular sporting events, but few Indians follow it. And, although India has a high number of two-wheeler riders, not a single Indian rider competes in MotoGP. Yet, fans here have long been waiting for a MotoGP grand prix.

Their wait ended last week. Thanks to the government of Uttar Pradesh and the Spanish company Dorna Sports, which holds MotoGP’s commercial rights, the first MotoGP Indian Oil Grand Prix of India was held at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida from September 22 to 24. Those who had the privilege of being in attendance felt goosebumps when they heard India’s national anthem before the start of the race.

MotoGP’s main events usually last three days. First day is practice day for all three race categories—Moto3 (250cc engines), Moto2 (600cc) and MotoGP (1,000cc). The technologies first used in these races are usually transferred to mass-market bikes. In a way, MotoGP is an arena for manufacturers to experiment with new technologies.

Free practice one (FP1) and free practice two (FP2) are held on day one. The qualification race for pole position is held on the first half of day two; the second half has the sprint race, which runs half the total distance of the main grand prix.

Eleven teams competed in the Grand Prix of India. There were 22 riders—eight of them on Ducati bikes, four each on Honda, Aprilia and KTM bikes, and two on Yamahas. Luca Marini of Mooney VR46 Racing Team and Alex Marquez of Gresini Racing were injured in the sprint race and declared unfit for the grand prix. Marini is half-brother of nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi and Marquez’s brother is eight-time world champion Marc Marquez.

Ducatis dominated the qualification race. The top three positions were clinched by Marco Bezzecchi of Mooney VR46, Jorge Martin of Pramac Racing and Francesco Bagnaia of Ducati Lenovo. Bagnaia, the current world champion, is leading this year’s championship as well.

In the main race of 21 laps, Bezzecchi had a good start with Martin and Bagnaia interchanging positions a few times. Bagnaia, who overtook Bezzecchi and led the race at one point, eventually dropped to third. And then the unexpected happened—Bagnaia lost his grip and balance on lap 14. He crashed his bike and retired from the race.

In the end, Bezzecchi finished first and Martin second. Bagnaia’s crash helped Fabio Quartararo of Monster Energy Yamaha, who was struggling this season, finish third. At one point, Quartararo even overtook Martin to come second. The heat had left Martin dehydrated, and it forced him to skip the post-race press conference as well. Bagnaia’s championship lead over Martin has now narrowed to just 13 points.

The race was attended by spiritual guru Jaggi Vasudev and actor John Abraham, both motorcycle aficionados. Actor Ranveer Singh and cricketer Suresh Raina were also seen waving to the crowds.

In terms of crowds, though, the grand prix was not really grand. Only the grandstand was filled to capacity, while the other stands were mostly empty. Viewing galleries had only policemen who were seen recording the race on their cellphones.

But, with the Buddh circuit having received good reviews, things could well change in the next MotoGP season.