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Wild card entries are a regular feature in each of the three MotoGP™ categories and are an additional element that adds to the excitement of Grand Prix racing.
At the start of each race weekend the names of the regular, contracted riders for each team appear on the event entry list and they are sometimes accompanied by the names of wild card riders.
Often these guest riders are local to the Grand Prix and are being given a chance to build on their previous experience of their home track in a more competitive environment, to benefit from support from the home crowd and to raise their profile by competing with the international elite. Indeed, in the smaller cylinder classes in particular, the wild card system is a useful way to give local youngsters their Grand Prix debuts on tracks they are familiar with.
As far as the teams are concerned, providing a rider with a wild card ride can boost a manufacturer’s representation in a ‘home’ or otherwise important Grand Prix, allowing a team to gather more data over the course of a weekend and give them a clearer indication of a rider’s ability if they are considering recruiting him on a permanent basis. Wild card riders cannot however score points for the Teams World Championship.
The rules on wild card entries are as follows:
Moto2 and Moto3 wild cards:
In each class there may be a maximum of two wild card entries. Wild cards may be proposed by an FMN, the FIM or Dorna. Wild card riders must be holders of an FIM “one event Road Racing Grand Prix” licence issued on behalf of any FMN and entries must be submitted to the FIM, on the official entry form issued by the FIM, at least 45 days before the event.
MotoGP wild cards:
There may be a maximum of two wild card entries. Wild cards may be proposed by an FMN, the FIM, the MSMA or Dorna. Wild card riders must be holders of an FIM “one event Road Racing Grand Prix” licence issued on behalf of any FMN.
Wild card appearances take place throughout the MotoGP™ season but are particularly common at the various Grands Prix in Italy, Japan and Spain due to the influence of teams, sponsors and manufacturers - and the plethora of young riding talent in each of those nations.
Japan’s Grand Prix in particular has catapulted a number of wild card riders to stardom by giving them the opportunity to display their abilities on the World stage.
One of the most memorable World Championship performances in the modern era by a wild card came from the now sadly deceased Norick Abe at the 1994 Grand Prix at Suzuka. At just 19, Abe made headlines with a fearless display in which he did battle with the likes of Mick Doohan and Kevin Schwantz before falling just a few laps from the finish line.
That performance earned Abe a regular ride with Kenny Roberts’ Marlboro Yamaha team and just two years later he gained his first win at Suzuka, becoming a national hero in the process as the first Japanese rider to be victorious in a World Championship race since 1982. Abe sadly died in a road accident in 2007.
The late Daijiro Kato also first made his name as a wild card. The MotoGP™ Legend took the world by surprise when he finished third in the 250cc class at the 1996 Grand Prix in Suzuka before winning the quarter litre category race there in 1997 and 1998, each time as a wild card entry. Indeed, in the 1998 race he was followed across the line by two additional Japanese wild cards, Shinya Nakano and Naoki Matsudo – the only time three wildcards have filled the podium at a Grand Prix.
It is not just in Japan that riders spring to prominence as wild cards. Italian rider Stefano Bianco made history in the first race of the 2000 season at Phillip Island as the youngest debutant in World Championship history, at the age of 15 years and two days. He still holds the record for the youngest ever wildcard appearance, but Jorge Lorenzo became the youngest ever rider, at 15 years and one day, when he joined the 125cc class full-time in 2002.
Meanwhile, one of the current starlets of the smaller classes, Pol Espargaro, made history as a wild card in the Catalunya GP in 2006 when he finished 13th to become the youngest ever point scorer in a Grand Prix at the age of just 15 years and eight days. He went on to race in the last six Grands Prix of 2006 and as of 2007 he has been a full-time World Championship participant.