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Why it’s time to accept Silverstone as MotoGP’s true UK home

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Standing on the balcony of the recently constructed Hilton hotel overlooking the Wing pit complex, as a bike trackday thunders beneath us, brings into focus just how impressive a facility Silverstone has become.

Compared to the first time this writer attended the Northamptonshire venue in 2012, just two years after the wing was constructed, Silverstone has really grown into an impressive complex – complete with hotel, megastore, museum and technology park surrounding the circuit grounds, including Aston Martin’s state of the art new factory.

This year marks the first since 2012 that MotoGP will utilise the wing complex pit and paddock building. Ostensibly space was cited as the reason for using the old National pit and paddock area from 2013 to last year, where the media could enjoy not hearing themselves think in the freezing ‘press centre’ marquee, or enjoy not hearing themselves think in the boiling Woodcote building.

But, as Silverstone managing director Stuart Pringle tells an assembled UK bike racing media, that was definitely a cost issue – one Dorna Sports has been happy to help alleviate to allow its championship to use a world class facility. After all, the Wing complex and revised Abbey/Farm/Village/The Loop section of track was constructed with the aim of bringing top flight motorcycle racing back to Silverstone in 2010.

It did so successfully, returning MotoGP to Silverstone for the first time since 1985 having been moved aside in favour of Donington Park from 1986 to 2009.

Fans of a certain ilk fawn over Donington and are all too happy to tell you why it’s far superior to Silverstone. There’s nothing particularly exciting about Milton Keynes or Northampton, but at least they’re not Derby! Joking aside, Silverstone has long borne the brunt of complaints from fans that views at the track aren’t as good as Donington and the overall atmosphere pales in comparison.

Copying a model that it has implemented successfully to its F1 offering (which in 2023 saw half a million fans across the weekend turn up) Silverstone is trying to make the MotoGP British GP more of a festival than a sporting event. Key to this is musical acts playing across the weekend: Chase and Status, Kaiser Chiefs and Razorlight.

Silverstone hopes to replicate the huge crowds previously seen at Donington Park by turning the British GP into a festival atmosphere

Photo by: Andre Vor / Sutton Images

“I think it does hinge around creating this big weekend festival,” Pringle tells Autosport, before going on to highlight why this is something Silverstone is committing to for the next few years as its contract runs to 2026. “I think we’ve got to try and capture the interest of the bike sports fans in Europe. When you think of how many of us strap a bag to the back [of our bikes] and go to Assen, so many races in Europe people travel to and turn it into a road trip.

“We’ve got to overcome this little bit of blue water between us and them. It’s not difficult or bureaucratic, or none of that nonsense to worry about. And to do that we’ve got to make the end offering really special. The racing here is nearly always very good with premier class bikes.”

Putting aside Brexit making traveling to and from mainland Europe the ache it has become, a key element in this is the cost factor. A weekend ticket for the French GP at Le Mans, which includes camping, grandstand access and bike parking, is €98. It’s a good deal – so good, in fact, that Le Mans set a MotoGP attendance record in 2023.

“If you look at all the peaks of interest in motorcycle racing, be it from Geoff Duke to John Surtees to Barry Sheene to Carl Fogarty to [James] Toseland, Cal [Crutchlow]. With Jake Dixon, we’ve got as good a hope as we’ve had in a long time” Stuart Pringle

Silverstone has looked at its ticketing for 2023 and concedes the strains placed on people now through the cost of living crisis necessitates much more value for money. A three-day general admission ticket for this year’s British GP will cost you £110 and includes access to various grandstands – a hit Silverstone is happy to take to prove to fans that the viewing experience is not as bad as is generally claimed – as well as all of the evening entertainment.

There are “certain practicalities” that work against Silverstone. A massive bone of contention among fans last year was the cost of the car parking. Silverstone’s lack of government support as on a number of occasions put it on the brink of collapse, which has led to the need for money to be made somehow. But a three-day pass for cars will cost you £20 and bikers can park free in 2023.

“I’d just say ‘give us a go’,” Pringle wants to tell Silverstone’s detractors. “I certainly don’t criticise Donington or any circuit. Everything has its merits. But this is now home of the MotoGP and has been for a long time. The championship needs your support and the championship will repay that with great racing at Silverstone, because there’s a lot of fast overtaking because the circuit promotes that.

Silverstone has produced stunning MotoGP action, including Alex Rins and Marc Marquez battling for victory in 2019

Silverstone has produced stunning MotoGP action, including Alex Rins and Marc Marquez battling for victory in 2019

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

“In making a seat available for every ticket holder at no extra cost, that is a very deliberate move from us to demonstrate that there is value there, that you can come and see at Silverstone. You can. We’ve spent a lot of money over the years improving the general admission areas. This place has its merits as well. A lot of people come here and have a great time, and if you’re still saying that you’re not going to come then you are missing out.”

Looking at Dorna’s attendance figures from past years, Silverstone has drawn among the smaller crowds on the calendar. A weekend total of just over 100,000 turned up last year – 42,000 down on 2021, which did have a lot of carryover tickets from 2020 and the added marketing angle of Valentino Rossi’s final UK MotoGP appearance. But you have to go back to 2016 when Silverstone welcomed a 150,000+ crowd, while 2013 marked its biggest turnout of 159,000.

There are two conclusions to be drawn from this. In 2016, there were four riders from Britain and Northern Ireland on the grid: Cal Crutchlow, who started on pole and finished the race second; Scott Redding, Eugene Laverty and Alex Lowes, who was deputising for Bradley Smith at Tech3.

For the 2023 British GP, there will be no UK riders on the premier class grid. However, Pringle believes Jake Dixon – a grand prix winner for the first time in Moto2 last time out at Assen and who has been linked to a MotoGP step in 2024 – could prove to be a big draw for the home fans.

“If you look at all the peaks of interest in motorcycle racing, be it from Geoff Duke to John Surtees to Barry Sheene to Carl Fogarty to [James] Toseland, Cal slightly moved the needle but not much, although he was good and supportive,” Pringle added.

“With Jake Dixon, we’ve got as good a hope as we’ve had in a long time. Not just talking about the fact he just won last time out, but actually he’s got a bit of rockstar look and style about him. He’s an engaging personality, he’s media savvy, he and his wife look like a gorgeous, aspirational couple.”

Looking at the 2013 crowd, it came in a completely different era for MotoGP in the UK in terms of accessibility. The BBC still held exclusive broadcasting rights for MotoGP, bringing it to a wider audience than BT Sport (now TNT Sport) did from 2014 and has done since. This year’s British GP, as it was over the last two years, will be broadcast live on ITV. But it’s clear the loss of free-to-air live television coverage of MotoGP in the UK has taken its toll.

Jake Dixon, who became a Moto2 grand prix winner for the first time last month, is the new poster boy for the British MotoGP

Jake Dixon, who became a Moto2 grand prix winner for the first time last month, is the new poster boy for the British MotoGP

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

“There is no question at all that the visibility of MotoGP in the UK is really poor,” Pringle understates. “That starts with television, and indeed free-to-air made people’s awareness of the sport far greater. That in turn has dropped off the broadsheets and the tabloids in that time as well. So, the whole thing, the whole visibility piece is the fundamental problem.”

The appointment of Dan Rossomondo as CCO by Dorna’s parent company Bridgepoint earlier this year has been viewed positively by the paddock, and Pringle believes his influence will only help the British GP moving forward.

The UK MotoGP experience isn’t how it was 20 years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s changed for the worse

Spectacle-wise, Silverstone has often delivered truly memorable, thrilling racing – three of its grands prix since 2013 have been decided by less than 0.150s. At Donington, that was never the case, even if it did play host to numerous memorable moments over the years.

But nothing is ever as it was, and standing still means nothing ever changes. The UK MotoGP experience isn’t how it was 20 years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s changed for the worse. Silverstone has tirelessly – and continues to do so – worked to make itself a truly world class facility, which is no mean feat for an old Second World War airbase in the middle of the countryside.

The future looks bright for MotoGP at Silverstone

The future looks bright for MotoGP at Silverstone

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images



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