Having been a fan of MotoGP for 25 years, I have developed a taste for a certain kind of bike pilot. Some riders come off as rude or stuck on themselves. For me that is a turn off, and I don’t care for the off track attitude so I don’t root for them on the track.
As a fan of athletes in general… I value determination, professionalism and respect for fans. I also often root for the underdog… because normal people are underdogs… so when a rider spends years in the lower classes, maybe rides some lesser bikes, but never gives up… he keeps on riding for the sake of riding, that is determination. The kind of determination that I and my friends must deliver at work every day. So when a rider shows improvement on their bike, I feel happy for them, the small improvements may not be something every fan will see, but it means a lot to the rider, and I cheer that hard work. I became a fan of that kind of dedication and determination.
The Laverty boys for example, spent time moving from local racing to international and then to MotoGP… the chances of Michael winning a race in MotoGP was near impossible… yet event after event he went for it… pushed hard… and developed the PBM bike. Now, Eugene, after getting screwed over by Aprilia in WSBK, kept a smile on and ended up in MotoGP. Eugene has little to no chance to get a podium, yet he is professional and pushes the limit week in and week out, he probably measures his progress not by the standards of others but by his own goals and that of his team. It would be easy for riders in the non-factory “secondary tier” teams to get depressed or frustrated and give up… in the old days they would call that the “measure of a man, and the Laverty’s have shown that measure to the fullest.
I have seen it before, when Marco Melandri recently was riding on the Aprilia and continued to struggle, you could just see it on his face, the lack of motivation, a tired look. After finishing strong the season before in WSBK he couldn’t find the desire to ride just to develop a bike that would eventually go to someone else. That leads us to riders like Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista. Just for this article let’s call them “B&B”; B&B could get depressed, they could find themselves struggling to stay motivated, and for all I know they are… BUT!!! I see that they get out there on the track and lay it on the line every event, hopefully they have fun competing with each other, they make a sport of it. We are California Sport Rider salute them for their effort.
There is no need to list all of the underdogs in MotoGP, each team has a favorite, a lead rider and some teams have shown more progress than others. Beyond the championship score there are battles within battles.. Factory teams have an advantage but even among those teams there are favorites. Of the factory teams our favorites underdogs are Dani and Dovi… the “D&D” are great riders, each has had their fair share of bad luck. Dani in seasons past has been so close to winning a world championship, but again and again some unlucky twist of fate has ended his championship hopes. Dovi has also suffered a wide range of unfortunate events, especially this year, but also in years past; mechanical failures, crashes and injuries. Yet D&D the exhibit best in sportsmanship, the highest level of professionalism and dedication… and we salute them.
Let us not forget one more factory underdog… Aleix Espargaro. Aleix has repeatedly demonstrated that he is fast. He has gotten more points than anyone would have ever expected when riding on Forward Yamaha, Aspar as well as the early Pramac team. Aleix has had so many unfortunate outcomes, but I believe that he is going to have a strong second half of 2016, he finds the motivation to get out there and push even when the bike is failing him. Even when his team mate beats him and takes the spotlight.. if anyone deserves Jorge Lorenzo’s spot in Yamaha its Aleix.. but does he cry about it.. does he whine and get pissy with the media? No! Because he is a pro, and not a punk. Others in the MotoGP paddock could learn from men like Aleix. He has a temper… but he never blames others… he gets mad at himself.. a lot like we do when we fumble or stumble in life.
WSBK is slightly different, but similar in that it is filled with underdogs… Kawasaki has dominated that series for a good number of years. Aprilia had made a good challenge in years past with riders Biaggi, Guintoli and Laverty. Kawasaki however seems to have a tight grip on the championship. With Aprilia out of the series Ducati has stepped up their game. Chaz Davies is not just showing what the Ducati is capable of but what he is capable of. Chaz has challenged in every rave this season… despite his unfortunate luck.. I think that Chaz is going to really push Jonathan Rea this year, and while it may be a long shot with Rea leading by an impressive margin already.. I pick Chaz to win the championship this year. Just one crash or mechanical problem for Rea and he could lose a full 25 points to Davies (if he was to win that same race). Our final underdog favorite truly is the long shot of the year… A old salt in terms of life… Nicky Hayden is still a rookie year this year in WSBK and his young “whipper-snapper” of a team mate is going to make his life hard. Nicky is our underdog favorite for a couple of reasons.. he is learning how to deal with the SBK series, the new format, and the new tires. He has a relatively old bike in the Honda, and he, himself, is getting slightly old… (sorry Nicky) and could be still figuring out how out to deal with his new wrist and hand combo post surgery. He has a long list of things to overcome but I wish him luck and know that he will be giving van der Mark hell.
We salute all of these unsung hero’s. A wish them betters days ahead.