Danilo Petrucci MotoGP Podium Man
As a MotoGP photographer I see from trackside both more and less than what the millions who watch on TV see. I watch the sessions go around with a great view on a small portion of the circuit. I see a part of the story, but never the whole thing until I get back to a screen and watch the coverage in the media center or my hotel room.
But I also see things the TV doesn’t show. After the potential race winners go by, and the TV director switches cameras to show their progress, I see the rest of the riders go by. Over and over I’m struck by how little the hierarchy of the timesheet is affected by the efforts of the riders. Those with the slowest times aren’t there because they aren’t trying as hard. If often looks like they are trying harder than those at the front. But regardless of effort, there they are, without a chance of winning. Why do they do it?
They appear in scuffed leathers, not those that are picture perfect to please the sponsors whose logos adorn the suits. They might even pay for leathers and helmets rather than wear them as part of partnerships with the manufacturers, They don’t grace the covers of motor bike magazines or the home pages of web sites other than those run by their fans. If you happen across a photo, you might wonder, “Who is that?” (In this case it’s Bryan Staring, who spent 2013 on Gresini’s FTR Honda and scored two points, finishing 26th in the Championship. He’s now riding in the WSBK Superstock 1000 Championship.)
On race weekend afternoons, they wait with their teams’ media officers (if indeed their teams have such people on staff) at the appointed times for their media scrums. The times have been slotted into the schedule so as not to conflict with those of the faster riders. (Who would come listen to them instead of Rossi, Marquez, Lorenzo, Pedrosa?) But there’s no scum, a word that implies a crowd. If these riders are lucky, one or maybe two journalists show up to ask them a question. Most of the time, no one shows up to ask them anything. The day’s sessions with the underpowered, underdeveloped, underfunded bikes they ride, their thoughts on the tires, the track conditions, the states of their recent injuries are of no interest outside the team itself. (Above, James Ellison returned to MotoGP in 2012 on the PBR Claiming Rule Team and managed 35 points. He then went back to British Superbike and recently at Oulton Park Ellison qualified for that series’ Showdown with a chance at becoming the 2015 BSB champion.)
They contend not for podiums, let alone victories, but for the long shot of a Championship point. They endeavor not to be lapped by those who endeavor to win. They ride around at the back of the pack, trying to keep from being lapped, their only chance of getting on TV and claiming a few seconds of attention for their modest sponsors being a crash spectacular enough to draw the TV director’s attention away from the race at the front. (Above is Lukas Pesek, 4th in the 2007 125cc Championship, but in 2013 on the Ioda-Suter CRT machine he retired from 11 of 18 MotoGP rounds with a season best finish of 16th. No points scored, MotoGP career over.)
Each season of MotoGP has its class of riders who meet, to some degree at least, the descriptions above. Why do they do it? There are several answers you might hear to that question. You can’t turn down a chance to ride in MotoGP, no matter how slim your chances of a good result. You won’t get another chance, you’d better take this one. Even one season in MotoGP is better than no season in MotoGP. As high as the odds are stacked against your success, someone just might take notice and give you a chance on a slightly better team.
At the British Grand Prix, we saw why they do it. After three years of riding his heart out on uncompetitive machinery, Danilo Petrucci took advantage of wet conditions to claim his first MotoGP podium. Lap after lap he fought off Andrea Dovizioso on his GP15, Jorge Lorenzo on his factory Yamaha (albeit a rider hindered by a fogged visor), and Dani Pedrosa on a factory Honda.
For years I have watched Petrucci from behind the Armco and observed him in the paddock. On track he has always seemed to me a rider who tried through force of will to get more out of his underpowered equipment than science determined it capable of delivering. Off the bike he was jovial, friendly, ironic in the role of someone waiting patiently for his chance to show he deserved better than an ART package.
His patience finally paid off. Since moving to Pramac Ducati at the start of the 2015 season, Petrucci has scored points in every round and after Misano is 8th in the Championship. Riding last year’s Ducati, he is outscoring riders on 2015 equipment.
His podium at Silverstone changed his experience dramatically from that of the past three seasons. Suddenly his phone wouldn’t stop ringing as the requests for interviews flooded in. And thanks to his performances in two MotoGP press conferences (post-race Silverstone and pre-race at Misano) many more MotoGP fans have some idea of his winning personality and sense of humor.
For Danilo Petrucci, the years of hard work with little reward are suddenly paying off. For the others still outgunned on race day, the paying of dues continues with no certainty of success, or even of another year in the premier class. For every Aleix Espargaro, who began with similar handicaps and earned a spot on a factory Suzuki, there are many more who come and go with no such reward. Still, they are racers all, and we can’t blame them for trying, for hoping to be the next underdog to stand on a MotoGP podium.
©2015 by Scott Jones / PhotoGP – All Rights Reserved
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