Where the flame for MotoGP burns a deep yellow
La famiglia (‘the family’) is an intrinsic part of Italian culture and in Misano it was clear that the people were there for more than just the motorbikes. MotoGP’s ability to connect with people (motorcyclists & fans) from across the globe has always been tangible but here in Italy it feels just a little bit more intense. A communal and familial atmosphere overflows from the houses, shops, streets to the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli itself and having already completed the first Italian round of the year in Mugello, it was clear that the two events are quite different.
Driving through the nearby towns of Rimini and Cattolica with the mountains and oceans as a backdrop, spots of yellow appear through the horizon and not just any yellow. It’s that luminescent Valentino Rossi yellow that we know all so well. Telegraph poles are decorated with the famous 46 and traditional ‘give way’ signs are spray painted with a small Valentino Rossi kissing the kerb. The nine time World Champion’s backyard is a mere twenty minutes away in the town of Tavullia, his merchandise factory is around the corner and the famous flat track ranch just down the road. The late Marco Simoncelli grew up exploring the nearby streets and several other Moto3 and Moto2 riders call it home. Misano is one of the first circuits I have been to where you can feel deep-seated roots that connect the people to the towns and to the area. Bikes and racing is part of the fabric of every day life here.
Fans hitchhike for kilometres with flags in hand. The area and the vibe is considerably less chaotic than that of Mugello. Last year I described the Tuscan fixture as ‘a grand celebration on crack’ and this year was much the same. Mugello is hidden away and untouched and you’d only know of a race once you round one of the tight little corners to discover the circuit. Like a firework being lit, it was quiet and then all at once the crowded appear. It was predominantly yellow but as time went on the patriotism grew strong. Whether Rossi, Andrea Dovizioso or Danilo Petrucci finished on the podium the passion for Italian success rises.
But in Misano, it’s #popologiallo domain. The track is smaller, simpler, – more of an ‘arena’ – and overall is a little more civilized. Rossi has managed to turn his brand into one big yellow homage. His fans don’t know the real man but somehow he has won over millions of people. Babies are dressed to the nines in official merchandise, kids and teenagers are googly eyed at the sight of a grown man having fun and adults besotted by a local town hero and for others he’s an international legend. Misano is the oven for that secret VR46 ‘pizza’ that has been perfectly baked each year and we keep coming back for.
Bad luck for any teams and trucks that have parked anywhere near Rossi’s team in the paddock. The whole weekend was one long slog to get through the crowd. Patience.
Veteran Monster Energy Yamaha mechanic Alex Briggs has a strong connection to both circuits and explained to me how the two differ in his eyes. “Mugello is a camping track so many people stay there. Misano is a day crowd. Everyone goes back to their beachside hotels at night. So each day the crowds tend to build to a crazy peak. Mugello never drops to zero. It slows but it is always bustling, sort of like New York City. I love Mugello. It is one of my favourite tracks. When I first came to Italy I saw Florence and Mugello in the same week. The hills of Tuscany, the small towns and the local food. It all added up to the love of the place. But, Misano is the home track of my rider, and for that I love it. Over the last few years I had the pleasure of riding at the Ranch during the Misano weekend too and this is something I will remember forever. So, in deciding which race to go to: I say, Mugello is the home of Italian motorcycle racing for me and Misano is home of the greatest Motorcycle racer! You’ll have to choose both.”
Sunday didn’t feel as hectic and crowded as it did in Mugello, where your lungs inevitably end up coated in a thick yellow film of smoke. There were several blank chairs in the grandstand, but the grass was covered in a subtle yellow/brown hew from the juxtaposition of yellow shirts and golden brown bodies. Flares were predominately lit at the end of the race (more civil than I have ever seen), chanting only sounded as Rossi did his sighting lap and when the track invasion took place it was like an army marching proudly towards the podium to support their fourth placed rider. Don’t take the sweet accent for granted, they pack a punch when they’re passionate and shared their disappointment when Marc Marquez took the top step. Misano felt like they had Rossi’s back, Mugello felt like they had the whole of Italy. Both share an intense passion for encouraging their people and it’s unlike anywhere else we go. It leaves a mark. Marquez has a large fanbase and there are millions of Spanish fans, but you can truly feel the partisan support deep in your gut and at every Italian round you feel just as welcome here as when you walk in the front door of your own home or your garage.
By Sienna Wedes @siennawedes
Photos by CormacGP @cormacgp