Articles / MotoGP

When Curtains Close, Lights Turn On

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Montmeló was the scene of a lot of battles on two wheels and a lot of stories at 300 kilometres per hour. In 2016 there were a few more written, some of the most solemn and memorable. It was a weekend that started so predictably: the roads were busy but not extremely, the parking lot crowded but not full, the stands lively and continuously moving, while the suffocating and overwhelming heat was the headline villain for everyone trying to make the most out of the perks of being Friday.

For a spectator, the first day of practice is worth every cent of the weekend ticket. You have access to any stand you may wish to sit in – with a little fitness in your legs you can go around and try them all – without the insane rush hour feel of a race day. Food, drinks and merchandise stalls were more generous, more airy and more friendly. And bikes were burning rubber loudly around the village.

But routine broke on that miserable Friday. Replaced first by confusion, then pain. Not a lot of people had seen the incident, most of them queuing quietly for the pitlane walk behind the main grandstand. The noise had stopped but that’s not particularly unusual for a practice session. Then there was a glimpse of a red flag on a faraway screen and people slowly started to leave, here and there, with no explanation. The visit was cancelled but no one wanted to say out loud what had happened, because as they found out, a sort of shock crawled through the crowd, and no one knew what to say or do. Until a girl started crying and screaming.

Saturday went like any other Saturday, some happy for Honda’s pace, others worried for Rossi’s position. And I don’t think the situation actually managed to sink in until we were standing up on Sunday, before the race, with everybody frozen wherever it found them, to give Luis a few moments of silence and peace. That’s the moment that made one think. I think that’s when we remembered what respect is and realised that, in that very moment, we could only honour him on track. And I hope we did. Marquez fans next to Rossi fans, girls in yellow and boyfriends wearing black, splashes of pink everywhere, scattered amongst waved flags of Vinales, Pedrosa or Navarro, Ducati red blending in the same sea.

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The races honoured Luis beyond that, with the usual little train of favourites in Moto3, where Navarro finally managed to take home a trophy from the highest step of the podium. I had almost forgotten that’s the case, seeing as he’s been swarming amongst title contenders for the past year or so. Moto2 had a more orderly yet intense fight, with the current champion completing a categorical comeback to grab the bigger trophy, after a weekend that perhaps touched him more than others. He had a little go at the media, and right he did; it was no time to look for culprits, just solutions.

The cherry on top was the MotoGP race. It had soul, it had drama and a ferocious fight between the fiercest of rivals in recent times. Rossi won the battle but we all won the war after that show. The stands lived every minute, rising to the tip of their toes every time the main actors went by, like applause in a theatre bringing out the cast again and again. And when the curtain closed, we suffered together, we celebrated together and the only boos were when Vale’s stand wouldn’t continue the Mexican wave started all the way around the stadium section. A little attention was paid and the second try went like clockwork.

It had been a difficult weekend, but one ended as well as realistically possible. There was a handshake too. It wasn’t reconciliation, but a return to normality, to cordial rivalry, the sort that light sparks on track, yet doesn’t leave flames burning pointlessly outside of it. A weekend of loss and gain, and certainly a memorable one. Before engines start roaring in Assen, let’s raise another glass to the lost ones, and to the ones who still make our heart rate go up, be it in happiness or anger or fear, every other weekend.

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