Explosive on-track action still the key

In his latest blog, legendary MotoGP™ commentator Nick Harris looks at what draws in fans by their thousands

In the 75-year history of World Championship motorcycle racing, there have been many diverse reasons why such vast crowds flocked to different venues. Whatever those vital reasons, one fact has stood above all others. The sheer excitement and quality of the racing out on the track has, and always will be, the biggest factor attracting the massive following. Circuit facilities, entertainment away from the racing, camping, ticket prices and even parking, all have played their part in recent years. Before then political divide and even history had a massive influence on the sheer size of some record-breaking attendances.

In 1952 an estimated crowd of around 300,000 packed the Solitude circuit for the very first West German Grand Prix. Nobody is sure just how many fans jammed the 11.4km circuit, just seven years after the end of the second World War. It was such a significant occasion for the West German people. At last, some World Championship sport on home soil following the war, and after being split into two with East Germany.

Nine years later, in 1961, the legendary Sachsenring road circuit staged the first East German Grand Prix. Like Solitude, massive crowds flocked to the tree-lined 8.3km track. Of course, they wanted to witness World Championship sport but it also provided them with a rare glance of freedom. For 12 years, the Grand Prix provided millions of ordinary people caught up in the Cold War and trapped behind the Iron Curtain some joy. In 1971, West German Dieter Braun won the 250cc race. The East German Stasi police were determined to stop the playing of the West German national anthem at the podium ceremony. They knew the 280,000 partisan East German crowd would go wild in protest against segregation. The infamous Stasi switched off the public address system apart from the area where the FIM officials were situated. Many of the vast crowd still celebrated despite the presence of police and dogs. It was such a poignant moment giving those fans the chance to protest at their plight.

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It was very much the same story at another road circuit, Brno in Czechoslovakia. Enormous crowds witnessed life from the other side of the Iron Curtain for three wonderful days of motorcycle racing.

Those divides have now disappeared, but tradition and history has never been forgotten. Enormous 150,000 plus crowds continued to flock to the Sachsenring and to Brno until it staged its last Grand Prix three years ago.

The record crowds in Portimao, Jerez and Le Mans already this year show just how hard everybody has worked to understand what the fans want. The quality of racing is guaranteed but the modern fan demands so much more. They are fun-loving, energetic and enjoy a weekend of entertainment at a decent price. Nowhere better illustrated all these principles than the rise of Le Mans from mediocrity. Giving the fans what they want, a former French MotoGP™ World Champion to support, plus some welcome sunshine, made those cold, dismal, unfriendly and soulless weekends at this legendary venue a distant memory.

So many reasons for big crowds but thankfully MotoGP™ has never lost its basic principle. First and foremost, you must provide the opportunity for teams and riders to compete at the very highest level of competition. Everything else surrounding the racing is vital to its success, but I do not think that 297,471 fans who flocked to Le Mans last weekend went home disappointed with what they had witnessed out on the track.