'Drive to Survive' or Ride to Drive? MotoGP looks set to step out of F1's shadow after $4.2 billion deal

Austin, Texas

As the ink dries on a $4.2 billion deal for Formula One owner Liberty Media to add MotoGP to its portfolio, the sport's new owners got their first chance to reign in their investment as motorcycle racing's elite descended on Austin last weekend. , Texas USA's annual GP.

The Circuit of the Americas (COTA) hosts both MotoGP and F1, and a glance at the grandstands showed the bikes have some way to go before they can match their four-wheeled cousins, which attracted 432,000 spectators to the circuit. 2023 F1 Grand Prix.

A question on the lips of fans and teams alike is how the Liberty can help their beloved, but — at least for Americans — major sport move from a mere survival to a thriving state.

One thing MotoGP has in its favor is its often frenetic unpredictability, a far cry from the sometimes rambling nature of F1.

„Liberty doesn't think the game needs fixing and we accept it,” Dorna's chief sporting officer Carlos Espeleta told reporters on Thursday.

Current double world champion Beko Bagnaia agrees. „It's very hard to say what they can improve,” he told CNN. „I think it's already a great show, but it needs to be more popular.”

MotoGP's chief commercial officer, Don Rossomondo, speaks passionately when describing its competitive racing: “Tell me another sport where a guy can go down on the last lap, world champion, and get it done – he didn't. Get fifth, he doesn't get a single point, he gets nothing, zero?”

Rossomondo also believes that F1's success runs deeper than the famously successful „drive to survive” series.

„'Drive to Survive' was a big part of their success, but they got a lot of things right that I think a lot of people don't see. They did a lot of things to take advantage of 'Drive to Survive,'” Rosomondo said.

That documentary series delivered in spades the human drama that made F1's competitors and their teams household names. Six-time premier class champion Marc Marquez says he should be a target for the new owners.

„I'm happy with the news, it means what they've done in Formula One is huge and a huge difference,” Marquez told CNN.

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„The goal is to reach out to the younger generation and build on the big names of the past, big names like Valentino (Rossi), (Dani) Pedrosa, (Jorge) Lorenzo, (Casey) Stoner. And for a lot of people, it's going to be a matter of investing, investing in MotoGP. Invest in growing the program.

Jonathan Hawkins/CNN

Roland Sands is steeped in American motorcycle history.

A wildcard to attract more fans to COTA this year came in the form of King of the Packers, a class that has teased Harley Davidson and Indian bikes. What started as a wacky racers-style trial has turned into a serious concept with experienced riders and substantial budgets behind them.

The Packers' appearance on the COTA cover brought an entourage that included legendary ex-racer and designer of custom high-performance bikes, Roland Sands, and a line of products and apparel.

The epitome of the cool California custom scene, Sands believes MotoGP will work hard to engage the American audience.

„Americans aren't going to worry about Europeans riding around on motorcycles, as long as there's a reason to,” he explained.

„You really have to build characters and you want the feeling of knowing who's behind the helmet, and Liberty has done a fantastic job of not only doing that (with F1), but also telling the backstory of the teams. Now you feel like you know.

Sands believes the language barrier is an issue for any documentary-style MotoGP series in the United States, as Spaniards and Italians dominate the sport.

Jonathan Hawkins/CNN

Maverick Viñales' crew greets him wearing Caped Crusader masks.

„If you're going to do it for America, the show has to be in English, first and foremost, because nobody here wants to see subtitles,” Sands said.

„You need character development, you need to make it a party, get it to the point where people watch it in a bar. I mean now people watch football here. They get up early and go to bars and drink beer.

Rosamondo disagrees, pointing to the success of F1 and European soccer in America as evidence.

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„There's a cultural connection to global sports in America. I look at how the Premier League has done, I look at how F1 has done, and that's a big thing, so we're global, that's a cool thing,” Rossomonto told CNN.

„People say, 'Your guys don't know English,' but that's okay, I mean, when was the last time you heard Lionel Messi being interviewed in English? You didn't. So, I think that's part of the opportunity in America.

Sands says the sport needs to find Valentino Rossi, the charismatic Italian who will finally retire from the sport in 2021.

„What did Rossi bring to the sport? Why was he so cool and why did he help MotoGP grow the way it did? People cared about him, he was personable, he was funny, he celebrated, he gave visual reasons why people liked him.

Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images

Maverick Vinales leads the field during the MotoGP of the Americas – Sprint at Circuit of the Americas on April 13, 2024 in Austin, Texas.

Three-time MotoGP World Champion Wayne Rainey now runs the MotoAmerica series, which nurtures American motorcycle track talent and the King of the Packers. He says the sport has always been off the radar in the States.

“My neighbors didn't know what I did when I was world champion; But I will go to Spain, so I can't leave my house Everyone I know what I did,” the 63-year-old told CNN Sport. „America is 3,000 miles wide and we have all these different states, so it's hard to set foot here.”

„When we launched King of the Bakers four years ago, people were like, 'What are you doing Wayne? I thought you were trying to raise future GP stars?' Rainey added.

„But it's all about entertainment, isn't it? We need entertainment, now the packers are in MotoGP, to build the crowd and build the excitement, and ultimately it's all about entertainment.

Jonathan Hawkins/CNN

Wayne Rainey is a three-time MotoGP World Champion.

Walking down the sidewalk at COTA on Thursday was Natalie Cardenas, her husband, Christopher, and sons Silas and Jack.

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„We've been to every race in Austin,” Natalie said, outlining her passion for MotoGP. „The riders, the intensity of the bikes, the trail riding, our sons love it.”

„I watch a bit of Formula One,” Christopher told CNN, „but MotoGP is my primary sport and that's what I love the most.

„It only comes to America once a year, so it's amazing to experience it in person.”

On track, Sunday's Grand Prix could not have provided a more compelling finale to the weekend.

After Marc Marquez on his Gresini Ducati briefly lost the lead, Maverick Vinales recovered his Aprilia from a disastrous start that left him in 11th to claim a poor win, ahead of rookie sensation Pedro Acosta's Gas Gas engine and a resurgent Enea Bastianini on his factory Ducati.

Jonathan Hawkins/CNN

MotoGP's Chief Commercial Officer, Don Rossomondo, is a passionate advocate of the sport's global footprint.

The win made the Spaniard the first man in the MotoGP era to take GP wins for three different manufacturers and he celebrated in style.

Vinales marched in wearing a helmet emblazoned with the Batman logo, while his entourage wore Caped Crusader masks to greet him.

The feeling among paddocks and fans alike is that once people get a real taste of MotoGP's compelling stuff they'll want more. Liberty Media brought an 11-strong delegation to COTA, and it's hard to imagine them leaving without a spring in their step.

Sands evangelizes about the game's raw materials: “We have to take the riders out and introduce them, explain why they should care about them, and then why the game is so bad.

“It's beautiful to look at, it's incredibly intellectually deep, the reasons why bikes work the way they do, why they don't. It's more technical than any motorsport, isn't it? And it's more visible than F1 cars because you've got the rider style, which has all the makings of something incredibly impressive.

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