Times have moved on in the world of motorcycle racing. Gone are the days of the Isle Of Man TT being on the calendar, and the days where you’d ride over train lines at Imatra. The tracks today are super modern, multi-purpose facilities that tend to run many more things than just races, ranging from executive conferences to charity car rallies and bike shows. But for heaven sake, some of the circuits that MotoGP go to are what I call sanitised. Everything about them is false, there’s little ‘feeling’ as a fan and if I’m honest, the circuit itself isn’t that great. In this article, I take a look at five tracks that MotoGP misses and why they should make a return to the calendar, before we lose more historic venues.
The blossoming trees in the Land of the Rising Sun. Suzuka is set in a picturesque backdrop of Japan’s Ino area. Once upon time this fast and flowing circuit hosted the Japanese Grand Prix, usually at the start of the season, and it treated us to some absolute belters!
In 1990, Wayne Rainey ran away with the win, but in 1991, it was Kevin Schwantz who mugged Rainey, Doohan and rookie Kocinski to take the verdict. In 2001, Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi had their infamous elbow barging and finger-flicking session, but despite these memories, it was one tragic afternoon that would spell the end of Suzuka as a MotoGP race circuit. Former 250cc champion Daijiro Kato lost his life in a freak accident at the chicane whilst braking.
In a way, it was great because it showed that unlike in previous years, Dorna were acting on a truly disastrous event that day. However, the fan in me is still mourning the loss of not just Kato, but of Suzuka. Yes, it is dangerous, but the final chicane could be fixed or tampered with to make it a Grand Prix circuit yet again.
The stunning opening section where it is just left to right left again, all whilst undulating and with a mix of positive and negative cambered corners made Suzuka one of the most exciting circuits on the calendar. It’d be welcomed with wide open arms by some of the more aggressive and old school riders, such as Valentino and Marc, however I’m not too sure Jorge Lorenzo would approve, but he would have every right to, seeing as the circuit was taken off for the ultimate reason.
Istanbul Park, Turkey
Lasting only three years, the Turkish Grand Prix was held around 20km outside of Turkey’s second city, at Istanbul Park. The track is one of few that has been designed with MotoGP in mind, and it was clear to see once the boys got out there in 2005.
It was won by Marco Melandri and although there wasn’t a classic head to head battle, there was a great scrap in 2006 across all classes. The 250cc race saw Alex De Angelis have a huge coming together with Hector Barbera on the run down towards the ‘M’ section that ended the lap, both miraculously stayed aboard.
2007 would prove to be Turkey’s final Grand Prix, and even the F1 boys stopped going after the 2011 race. The circuit was famous for having four consecutive left handers, and the fastest corner in MotoGP, which peaked at 170mph.
Sadly, although the circuit is still in use for national and regional championships, there doesn’t seem any signs of a return to Turkey in the near distant future. World Superbikes went in 2013 but never returned, and one of MotoGP’s greatest additions is going begging. Political and social unrest in Turkey and the complications of neighbours Syria don’t make this the most sort-after circuit on the calendar. A huge shame.
Laguna Seca, USA
Home to the corkscrew, Laguna Seca has provided thrilling battles over the years. In 1988 it burst onto the scene and witnessed a truly heroic comeback from Eddie Lawson, beating Wayne Gardner and Niall Mackenzie to take the win from well down on the grid. In 2008, 3 years after returning, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner went head to head at the Californian circuit, with shoulder charging and contact being made around the track, especially at the Corkscrew.
It is synonymous to American motorsport, up there with the likes of Indianapolis, Daytona and Sebring, but maybe, just a step above even those historic venues. Dangerous, challenging, fast and technically demanding are just sine ways to describe the frightening Laguna Seca.
Nicky Hayden won the first two Grand Prix there upon its return to the calendar in 2005, but since then, the Americans haven’t been able to repeat. However, in 2013, the shock decision to take the race off the calendar completely was one that didn’t go down well amongst fans or riders. After all, World Superbikes do still go there, so if it’s good enough for them, surely it’s good enough for the Grand Prix warriors?
To add to the pain for us fans, the chance of Laguna returning for a 3rd stint at hosting a Grand Prix look over. It would cost too much money for the event organisers at Laguna Seca to run, so they decided to keep to the World Superbikes. Also, like before, there wouldn’t be enough room in the paddock for all three classes, and I’m not sure that having just one race is financially viable. Again, it’s a crying shame, but one that is accepted.
Before the days of the Sachsenring and during the days of the Hockenheimring, the Nurburgring has hosted some of the most thrilling races of all time. The circuit which witnessed the sensational Chili-Doohan synchronised high-side, along with one of the most dramatic World Superbike races of all time back in 1999. Steeped in history, but no longer serving a purpose, I will come out and say that the Nurburgring is the best race circuit in Germany.
One thing that makes the Nurburgring special is the unlimited opportunity for overtaking around the track. Apart from a couple of fast chicanes, you can pass virtually anywhere on the circuit. This is particularly highlighted when the bikes race there. In 1997, the 250cc race was hectic, with greats like Harada, Jacque, Waldmann and Biaggi going at it right until the final corner, crossing the line 4 abreast. 0.135 covered the top four in a truly remarkable race.
Sadly, those times have vacated the current era of elbow bashing MotoGP stars. Although, having said that, the WSBK paddock did go there up until 2013, and the German F1 race was held there for many seasons. The circuit is effectively bankrupt, and if it can’t afford to host a WSBK meeting, then I’m sure it wouldn’t be able to cough up the money for a multi-million Euro MotoGP event. It is a massive shame, especially as there is so much heritage surrounding the circuit. It is without doubt one of the most entertaining circuits, where greats of both two and four wheels have graced the German asphalt. Unless miracles happen and money is found, the Nurburgring may as well cease to exist. ‘Tragic’ doesn’t cover it.
Kyalami, South Africa
Fast, exciting, undulating and terrifying, the South Africans didn’t half make Kyalami into one of the fiercest circuits in the world. The Rainbow Nation became home to bikes again back in 1992 and it was Kyalami where the likes of Rainey, Schwantz, Kocinski and Chandler would do battle. Sadly, this would also be the final time that it would host the South African Grand Prix, before the Phakisa Freeway in Welkom took over. But wow, we have some amazing memories.
World Superbikes’ arrival in South Africa back in 1998 was the first motorsport event in the country since Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994. Over 65,000 fans flocked to the venue to see the return of motorcycle racing in the modern time, and they got a treat!
Catastrophically, the Kyalami circuit would yet again be wiped off the WSBK calendar after the 2001 meeting and briefly re-joined for 2009. The track itself hasn’t held a Grand Prix since 1992, and the South African Grand Prix has been missing since 2004, when it was last held at Welkom, and signed off with Valentino Rossi becoming the first rider to win back to back races on different bikes.
The circuit has undergone a makeover. The fast, downhill esses that started the lap have been removed and the incredibly fast Mineshaft corner has been made into a more obtuse and scary left hander before a hairpin. Although most the track remains unchanged, the ferocious turn one and two combination was a spectacle that only Kyalami had, but despite this substantial change, the circuit itself is wonderful. One can only hope that the FIM gives back Grade 1 to the track for Rossi and Marquez to take their rivalry to a new continent, and the country of Gold.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko