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Ignorance is bliss… They're boys, just let there be contact

Without the omniscient eyes of the TV cameras many contacts used to go unnoticed or only emerged from the rolls of 36 shots when rages had been sedated by a couple of beers. Freddie Spencer, who drank only Dr Pepper, remembers it well

Ignorance is bliss… They're boys, just let there be contact


Damn TV, it's all your fault! Or rather it is the fault of the cameras which, now placed everywhere, are like so many voyeur's eyes, hungry for gory images broadcast live.

By now nothing escapes us: a little touch of fairing against fairing, a hand gesture, a heartily shouted fuck you inside the helmet. We might not be on the bike with them, but we spy on their every move. Most of us from the couch, but some, professional voyeurs, with many screens in front of them and the power to judge, are quick to split hairs.

They are the onanists of the Stewards panel who think of regulating the burning ardours of young riders with testosterone levels beyond alarm limits with doses of double long lap penalties or drop one places.

Needless to say, it's a futile exercise. Motorcycling is not a contact sport like boxing or wrestling but you race separated by a few centimetres and anyone who has a minimum of familiarity with two wheels and has had access to the pits can tell stories of riders who returned with fairings or even leathers with marks on them.

Of course, there is a limit to everything: if I touch you and cause you to crash I must be sanctioned, if I graze you and move you, it is not always the case to intervene. Also because there is often concurrence of guilt: if the person about to be overtaken because he has left a gap does not give way, contact is inevitable.

Freddie Spencer, who chairs the Panel, knows it well: in 1983, in Sweden, at Anderstorp*, he pushed a certain Kenny Roberts wide and since the two were fighting for the world championship, the Martian widened his trajectory and ended up on the grass, something that notoriously offers little grip under acceleration. Kenny finished second and that position cost him the world championship at Imola because the victory was not enough for him to recover. He lost the title by just two points. That victory snatched with an unorthodox overtaking move.

But was it really over the limit? Fast Freddie remembers his manoeuvre well, and so does Kenny. We talked about it together years ago. During the slowdown lap the Californian was verbal with gestures against Fast Freddie and when he took off his helmet he was furious.

He said to me then: "I realised that this guy would have risked his life to overtake me". Yes, his life. Those were different times. Curves with few run-off areas, straw bales, leathers and sometimes, alas, tissue paper helmets. Each crash left its mark and for this reason you crashed very little and the riders had a strict code of behaviour among themselves. Of course, even then it happened that they made mistakes.

The fact was that these 'misunderstandings' remained between the riders. In the best of cases, a few days later an image would arrive from a photographer who was in the right place at the right time, but since there were rolls of 36 shots to develop, the photo arrived when the boiling spirits had died down and the duellists, in front of a couple of cold beers, had already cleared up the situation.

*The image you see on the page, out of focus and in black and white, has been floating around on the Internet for some time. Freddie and Kenny, both 'long' and on the grass talk about an overtaking move without #tracklimits. Author Unknown.


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