Most people would agree that being a top-level motorcycle racer requires one to have a certain amount of competitive spirit; the drive to be better, ride faster, and get to the finish line before everyone else is an integral part of the racer’s personality. When you throw together a group of talented riders who all possess this competitive drive, the occasional hard contact is sure to result.
At this weekend’s Seattle Supercross, an unfortunate first-turn collision involving Kevin Windham, James Stewart and Chad Reed ended with Reed getting blown over the top of the berm by Stewart. While some internet speculation has suggested that after seeing Reed’s name atop the timing charts in practice, Stewart decided to take no chances with his victory, it is doubtful that this was an intentional take-out move by Stewart. Reed had a poor gate pick which put him on the outside of the entry to the first turn, and when he tried to rail around the outside his line unfortunately intersected those of Windham and Stewart. There is a reason that the outside gates are usually the last to get picked – any rider trying to get a good start from the outside is likely to get pushed out just as Reed was.
The contact between Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau at the Jerez MotoGP was a very different situation, but provoked similar discussions as to whether it was “just racing” or an unsportsmanlike take-out move. After trading the lead back and forth for most of the last lap, Gibernau led Rossi into the final corner before the finish. Rossi dove inside Gibernau, looking to be on the bare edge of control with one foot off the peg as he slid right up inside Gibernau’s line. Rossi’s brake lever speared Gibernau’s (already injured) shoulder, and Gibernau was forced upright and ran off the track. Sete was able to maintain control and finish the race in second place, but the impact of Rossi’s brake lever caused some tissue damage in his shoulder that undoubtedly hampered his performance at this weekend’s Portuguese GP in Estoril.
As I said, the two incidents were very different but have inspired very similar trains of discussion. The Stewart/Reed contact seems to have been one of those unavoidable racing incidents – both riders came in at different angles, vying for the same berm space at the same time. Rossi’s pass on Gibernau, however, was at best a momentary misjudgement by the young champion; Rossi gambling that he could slip through without contact and Gibernau coming up on the losing end of that bet. Things like this also happen in racing, but most fans still consider it bad form to slam another competitor out of your way. Hopefully Rossi will be a bit more cautious in the future.
Ultimately, incidents like these, and the short- or, sometimes, long-term rivalries they inspire, make things that much more exciting for fans of the sport. Some people even feel that racing today is too clean, and long for a return to the “good old days”, when men were men and (supposedly) if you let someone get inside of you they “parked” you instantly. I wouldn’t know, as I was yet to be born during that era.
I guess everyone’s opinion of aggressive passing that results in physical contact will differ, depending on your own definition of sportsmanship. Leaving aside the possibility of penalties being imposed by the sanctioning body (Makoto Tamada was penalized last year for a pass similar to Rossi’s) and considering only the issue of sportsmanship, I feel that although contact may sometimes occur accidentally, racers should strive to make clean passes and win the day by being faster and more talented, rather than more physical than their opponent. That’s just my opinion.