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GP Week : Issue 42
>>GPWEEKOPINION no IF the lawyers walk in, confusion comes with them. When the organisers of Britain’s World Rally Championship round, International Motor Sports Limited, announced they were going to sue their sponsors, the Welsh Assembly Government, a fog of confusion descended on the scene. Observers were left unable to identify the pertinent issues; minds became full of unanswered questions. Some of us care enough to want some answers. Firstly, we are told the 2009 event is “under threat.”Is this true? Can’t the rally continue without Welsh sponsorship, by using the British federation’s financial reserves? And how did there come to be a breakdown of relationships between the IMS and the WAG? Was it bad communication, misleading promises, misplaced arrogance or incompetence? If the 2009 rally is truly threatened, what will the FIA do about it? Alert a replacement rally without MArtin HolMes rallies editor delay? If the loss of WRC status in 2010 is really the issue, why has the issue arisen only now? This situation was already known when the FIA decided on an event rotation policy in June 2007. And anyway, if non-status in 2010 is the issue, why was funding removed from the 2009 event? Was somebody pretending everything will come out right on the night and suddenly it seems it won’t? The relationship between the IMS and the WAG has always been unusual. We have been told the WAG made less than ideal demands, like the rally had to be based at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, which means that the centre of the rally action is 70km away. Very inconvenient. The Cardiff-based event has also seen unusual tensions, such as the trickery used in the money-raising efforts of the local police at the expense of visiting motorists and competitors. Then the IMS themselves have created tensions which are curious; big matters like their policies of huge charges for spectators, and small matters like journalists being denied parking space in Cardiff because there will be a football match. Even the most trivial things tell a story. There have been many recent analogies about chickens coming home to roost. The organisers of Rally GB have exploited their perceived special position over many years, sometimes for good causes (presenting the case for secret route rallying, for example), but also as a disguise of their own confusion (like demanding a late change of calendar date last year). One wonders what secret, but unfounded, assurances had been given to the WAG leading up to the current crisis, if indeed there really is a crisis. If there isn’t, why are we being told there is a threat? Favourite is as favourite does Stoner favourite for title! Who can stop the Kurri-Kurri- kid? The headlines after Qatar’s opening round were unequivocal. Anything Rossi could do Casey could do better. Fair enough. The deferred race only proved what had already been shown in pre- season tests and through the attenuated free practice and qualifying. Rossi is generally faster than everybody else, but Casey appears to find it quite easy to lop a reliable half-a- second off the Italian super- hero’s best. In qualifying or in the race. Yet it is not Stoner who carries the series. Stoner is only favourite in a sporting sense for the championship. The role of fans’ favourite is left to Rossi, the most widely recognised and generally famous motorcycle racer there has ever been. It is to see Rossi did win in the minor category MicHAel scott MotoGP editor that most people turn on their televisions. This is not sycophantic.; just the truth of his fame outside of racing. Rossi has already received several honours in Italy, including an honorary university doctorate that underlines his self-chosen nickname of ‘The Doctor’. This week he was nominated for another … Laureus World Sportsman of the Year – an award won for the past four years straight by Roger Federer. He is up against F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, among other sporting giants, like Olympians usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, plus Rafael Nadal and Ronaldo. Win or lose (and in 2006 Rossi “Spirit of Sport”), it is a measure of how large the name of Valentino is scribed on the world map. And of how important he is to MotoGP, after regulating itself into something of a lull in the action. Overtaking’s just not very frequent in the 800 class. Cut and thrust is in abeyance. But people still switch on their televisions – to see Rossi. He’s contracted with Yamaha until the end of next season. Racing bosses – indeed, racing in general – is bracing itself for the deflation when he does quit. But if the headlines are right, there is a more immediate problem. Will those hordes of casual TV viewers continue to switch on to see Rossi beaten? Racing needs for Rossi to buck up a bit, if the season is not to deteriorate rapidly. So far, he’s always been man enough to do so. Stoner may look dominant now, but it could be very different when the circuits and the conditions change, in the grind of the European season. That’s what everyone hopes, anyway. No one will mind if Stoner wins the title. If he does, it will be very well deserved. But nobody wants him to run away with it. And the longer-term? Depends on whether Vale signs of for another year or two, finding himself reluctant to stop at 32. He does still, quite conspicuously, enjoy racing. There’s a much worse possibility. That in the spirit of enjoyment he will switch to the livelier and more knockabout World Superbike series for a valedictory season or two. He’s already hinted as much. That would be a grievous if not actually mortal blow. After all, it is also Rossi’s name that is invoked when one wishes to distinguish between MotoGP and World Superbikes. 21 opinion opinion