MXGP Blog from OTOR #140: SMX first steps

The first ever SMX Rider’s Cup occurs this weekend and although it is an event that I cannot attend, I will – like a section of the industry – be keen to learn how it is received. Of course promoters Youthstream will be keeping a close eye on public reaction and how many seats at the Veltins Arena are covered but I think the race could be much more than simply another commercial enterprise. Yes, Youthstream have promoted it heavily since the launch of the MXGP season in Qatar this year and have allegedly lobbied the manufacturers hard to be present with strong teams and riders to give the meeting credibility and the best chance of gaining attention as much as gate receipts. However the premise of taking motocross ‘indoors’ cannot be sniffed at and the prospect of tapping into the ingredients that has made Supercross such a behemoth – city location, amenities, showtime staging, one-evening-hit – for another form of dirt bike racing could have ramifications for the future of motocross in the next five to ten years.

MXGP came close to the formula with the Grand Prix of Americas in the Charlotte Motor Speedway ‘Dirt Track’ arena setting in August; an evening event that had some rough edges (and was almost blitzed by weather) but was generally well received and it will be curious to see what the might of the North Carolina venue can come up with in 2017 for what is one of the more forward-thinking and open-minded fixtures on the slate.

Youthstream have already stated on the record that they do not want to abandon or neglect the heritage or history of motocross and are smart enough to know that the diversity of Grand Prix and the different challenges and flavours of the tracks and countries is one of the series’ strongest attributes. Their reasoning for trying to modernise the sport is to increase the fan base and somehow mix into the 21st century preoccupations and leisure habits of the society that many are still trying to fathom (will digital magazines catch-on?). For sheer experimentation alone then it is to be applauded, and this Saturday the barometer of ‘success’ should not be measured on the quantity of ticket stubs gathered but whether the track promotes the kind of skill, expressionism, athleticism and close racing that only motocross can create.

Perhaps AMA Supercross promoters Feld are also keeping a close eye on SMX. Since apparent management changes at the top of the company desire a more wide-reaching ‘product’ in SX so the Americans have looked to expansion for the second-best attended motorcycle racing series in the world that blats through seventeen rounds in eighteen weeks and only leaves the borders of the USA once to step to Toronto. Youthstream and Feld have already held meetings and the Supercross specialists will recognise that the Grand Prix promoters know how to handle a European market largely bereft of a stadium-based platform. If a ‘union’ for European-based supercross comes about then it will be a seismic shift in the landscape and organisation of dirt bike racing.

SMX has certainly pulled in the star names for its first edition and this was no easy feat (a prize fund undoubtedly has helped and like the Monster Energy Cup will have to stay in place to ensure decent levels of participation). It is where the co-operation of the manufacturers (those also attracted by the convenience and possibilities of the Veltins) is essential and they will also be making an evaluation on how proceedings form in Germany after extending the racing term for their factory teams that began with tests and pre-season races in January, encompassed national championship events along the way and are still contemplating 2017 testing currently. AMA Athletes and teams have a chokka agenda but the works and satellite Grand Prix teams are also in a constant process of work, prep and travel for most of the year.

Judgement will be made on the 800m track – around half the length of a typical Grand Prix layout – and this could be the crux to whether SMX sticks in the memory. The side-show is bound to be impressive…as it is at most arena-based motorsport happenings. If the track works – passing, close competition, suitably spectacular – then this could be the bedrock for meetings of a similar ilk to slowly merge into MXGP if other factors (like the business side) can be addressed.

Those who visited the Palais Ominsports arena in Bercy, Paris for Europe’s premier Supercross will remember the vibrancy of a sold-out stadium (while ignoring the fact that the floor was always too tight and small) and it would be wishful thinking for SMX to have the same impact straightaway. Can the thought of motocross in a similar setting and creating the same kind of emotion have grounds for growth? We could see the first shooting buds this Saturday.

Photo by Veltins Arena

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