‘Drive to Survive’ or Ride to Thrive? MotoGP looks to break out of F1’s shadow after $4.2 billion deal

Austin, Texas

With the ink barely dry on a $4.2 billion deal that saw Formula 1 owner Liberty Media add to its motorcycle portfolio, the sport’s new owners had their first chance to apply the rule to their investments last weekend, as motorcycle racing’s elite descended on Austin, Texas. For the Grand Prix of the Americas.

The Circuit of the Americas (COTA) hosts both MotoGP and F1, and a glance at the grandstands showed that the bikes have a long way to go before they can keep up with their four-wheeled cousins, attracting 432,000 spectators to the race track. 2023 Formula 1 Grand Prix.

The question on the lips of fans and teams alike was how Liberty could help their loved ones, but — for Americans at least — a niche sport could go from merely surviving to thriving in the United States.

One thing in MotoGP’s favor is its often unpredictability, a far cry from the sometimes hands-on nature of Formula 1.

“Liberty does not believe that sports need to be reformed, and we agree with that,” Carlos Ezpeleta, Dorna’s chief sporting officer, told reporters on Thursday.

Double world champion Pico Bagnaia agreed. “It’s very difficult to say what they can improve on,” he told CNN. “I think it’s a really great show, but it needs to be more popular.”

Dan Rossomondo, MotoGP’s chief commercial officer, speaks with emotional fervor when describing its competitive racing: “Tell me about another sport where a guy can lead on the last lap, world champion, and then he falls, and that’s it – he doesn’t do that.” “He got fifth, didn’t even get a point, got nothing, zero?”

Rossomundo also believes that Formula 1’s success runs deeper than the successful “Drive to Survive” series.

“Drive to Survive” was a big part of their success, but they got a lot of other things right, and I think that’s what a lot of people don’t see. “They did a lot of things to benefit the Drive to Survive program,” Rossomondo said.

What this docu-series delivered in spades was human drama, making household names out of the Formula 1 competitors and their teams. Six-time premiership champion Marc Marquez says that should be the goal of the new owners.

“I’m happy with this news, I mean what they did in Formula 1 was very big and it was a big difference,” Marquez told CNN.

“The goal is to try to reach the younger generations and create big names in the past, like when Valentino (Rossi), (Dani) Pedrosa, (Jorge) Lorenzo, (Casey) Stoner were all big names that got there.” For more people, this will be a matter of investment, invest in MotoGP and invest to grow the show.

Jonathan Hawkins/CNN

Roland Sands is steeped in the history of motorcycles in the United States.

A wildcard has been thrown into the mix to attract more fans to COTA this year in the form of King of the Baggers, a category to trick out Harley Davidson and Indian bikes. What started as a bizarre racer-style experiment has evolved into a serious proposition, with a group of experienced riders and big budgets behind them.

The Baggers’ appearance on the COTA card brought their own entourage, including Roland Sands, a legendary former racer and designer of high-performance custom bikes, as well as an array of products and apparel.

As a great example of California’s great custom scene, Sands believes MotoGP has to work harder to convince the American public to engage with it.

He explained, “Americans will not be interested in Europeans riding around in circles on motorcycles, unless there is a reason for that.”

“You really have to build characters, you want that feeling of knowing who’s behind the helmet, and Liberty has done a great job of not only doing that (with F1), but also telling the backstory of the teams. Now you feel like you’re in the know.”

Sands also believes the language barrier is an issue for any documentary-style MotoGP series in the United States, where the sport is dominated by Spaniards and Italians.

Jonathan Hawkins/CNN

Maverick Viñales welcomes him at the end wearing Caped Crusader masks.

“If you’re going to do it for America, it has to be in English, first, because no one here wants to see subtitles,” Sands said.

“You need to develop the character, you have to make it a party, you have to get it to a point where people are watching it in the pub. I mean now people will be watching football here. They get up early in the morning and go to the pubs and drink beer.

Rossomondo disagrees, pointing to the success of Formula 1 and European soccer in the United States as supporting evidence.

“There is a cultural connection to global sports in the United States. You look at the performance of the Premier League, you look at the performance of Formula 1, and that is a big thing, so we are global, and that is a great thing,” Rossomondo told CNN.

“People say, ‘Your guys don’t speak English,’ but that’s OK. I mean when was the last time you heard Lionel Messi give an interview in English? You didn’t. So, I think that’s part of the opportunity in the United States.”

Sands says the sport needs to find a new Valentino Rossi, the charismatic Italian who finally retired from the sport in 2021.

“What did Rossi bring to the sport? Why was he so great and why did he help MotoGP grow the way it did? It’s like people cared about him, he was stylish, he was funny, he celebrated, he gave people visual reasons to love him.

Mirko Lazzari GB/Getty Images

Maverick Viñales leads the field during the MotoGP Of The Americas – Sprint on April 13, 2024 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Three-time MotoGP world champion Wayne Rainey now runs the MotoAmerica series, which nurtures American talent on the motorcycle circuit, as well as the King of the Baggers. He says sports have always been under the radar in the United States.

“When I was world champion, my neighbors didn’t know what I was doing, but I was going to Spain and I couldn’t leave my house, because everyone “He knew what I did,” the 63-year-old told CNN Sport. “The United States is 3,000 miles wide, and we have all these different states, so it’s hard to get a foothold here.”

“When we did King of the Baggers four years ago, people were like, ‘What are you doing, Wayne?’ “I thought you guys were trying to raise future GP stars?” Rene added.

“But it’s all about the entertainment, isn’t it? We need the entertainment, and now the Badgers are here in MotoGP, just to help build the crowd, build the excitement, and ultimately it’s about the entertainment.

Jonathan Hawkins/CNN

Wayne Rainey is a three-time MotoGP World Champion.

Natalie Cardenas, her husband Christopher, and sons Silas and Jack walked the ring in Kuta on Thursday.

“We’ve been to every race in Austin since it opened,” Natalie beamed as she explained her passion for MotoGP. “The riders, the intensity of the bikes, just riding around the track, our kids love it.”

“I watch a little bit of Formula 1, but MotoGP is my main sport, that’s what I really love, and for me it’s the actual racing, so it’s not just the riders, the bikes and the livery,” Christopher told CNN.

“She only comes to America once a year, so to experience it in person is amazing.”

On track, Sunday’s Grand Prix could hardly have provided a more compelling conclusion to the weekend.

After Marc Marquez suffered a dramatic crash after briefly leading on his Gresini Ducati, Maverick Vinales recovered his Aprilia from a disastrous start that left him in 11th place to take a commanding victory, ahead of Pedro Acosta’s GasGas machine and the rising Enea. Bastianini at his factory Ducati.

Jonathan Hawkins/CNN

Dan Rossomondo, MotoGP’s Chief Commercial Officer, is a staunch supporter of the sport’s global footprint.

The win meant the Spaniard was the first in the MotoGP era to win the Grand Prix for three different manufacturers and he celebrated in style.

With Viñales wearing a helmet emblazoned with the Batman logo, he was greeted at the finish by his team wearing Caped Crusader masks, and the rider donned his own cape and mask for the podium ceremony.

The feeling among racers and fans alike is that once people get a real taste of MotoGP’s enticing ingredients, they’ll want more. Liberty Media brought an 11-person delegation to COTA, and it’s hard to imagine they would have left without a hit in their step.

Sands heralds the raw material of the sport: “We have to get the riders out there and introduce them to people and explain to them why they are interested in them, and then why this sport is so fierce.

“It’s beautiful to watch, it’s incredibly intellectually deep, the reasons why bikes work the way they do, and why they don’t. It’s way more technical than any motorsport, isn’t it? And it’s also more straightforward than Formula 1 cars, because you have the style Rider, and it has all the makings of something incredibly interesting.

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