Murto: Lorenzo shows skill, courage

By Craig Murto

Jorge Lorenzo is the epitome of a racer: He’s brave, he’s determined, he’s skilled and pain doesn’t keep him from competition.

The Yamaha MotoGP rider broke his collarbone in three places last Thursday while practicing in rainy conditions for Saturday’s Grand Prix of the Netherlands. The Spanish racer flew to Barcelona on Friday for medical treatment, and most thought the two-time MotoGP champion would not return.

But Lorenzo is brave. He’s also as determined as he is skilled. In what will surely be the standout performance of any racer in any series in 2013, Lorenzo endured incredible pain to take his Yamaha from a 12th-place start on the grid to a fine fifth-place finish.

As dangerous as auto racing is, most of today’s racers would never drive a race car from 40 years ago to its limits. Kimi Raikkonen may be incredibly talented, but he would never race any of the Lotus F1 cars that took Jimmy Clark to the World Championship. Most automobile racers today cannot fathom accepting the risk that racers of old faced every time they sat behind the wheel.

But motorcycle racers are a different breed. Helmet technology has improved, and various forms of padding help protect riders if they fall. There are no roll cages around motorcycles, however, so in every way that really counts it is just as dangerous as it’s ever been. As racing leathers and helmets improve, so does the technology built into the motorcycles and the speeds climb.

It takes real bravery to race a motorcycle, and to do it with a broken collarbone is exceptional. Jorge Lorenzo trails Honda’s Dani Pedrosa by nine points in the title chase; after his run in the Netherlands, he deserves to be in the hunt for his third championship.

Any form of motorcycle racing is exciting, and Saturday night one of the highlights of the regional racing calendar comes to Hagerstown Speedway when the AMA Grand National Flat Track motorcycle riders compete in the 32nd Hub City Classic. Racing begins at 8 p.m., and general admission tickets are $30.

The race is part of Hagerstown Bike Week, during which time the city opens up for motorcyclists with special events and entertainment from Friday through Sunday. Visit hagerstownspeedway.com for more information about Hagerstown Bike Week or to order reserved tickets to the race on Saturday.

The $30 ticket may seem steep, but the race will most likely be standing-room only by the time the green flag drops. If you plan to go, get there early.

It’s a real shame that flat track racing doesn’t receive the attention it did a number of years back when Camel cigarettes was the sponsor and every race was televised on ESPN. Since the AMA turned over control of its pro racing to the Daytona Motorsports Group, it was hoped the sport would get a boost. Unfortunately it seems the sport has been left to manage itself, though a nice flat track facility was built on the grounds of Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR’s Nationwide and Cup cars return to Daytona this weekend. It is the site of Danica Patrick’s most competitive race so far, as she qualified on the pole for the Daytona 500 and finished in the top 10. The only other good run she’s had all year was a surprising 12th at Martinsville.

Kyle Petty created a stir last week by observing that Patrick can drive fast, but she doesn’t race very well. It was interesting that the “story” was blown up as it was last week, because Petty has been saying the same thing all season, and because, well, so far it appears to be true.

Just being able to drive fast won’t win any races, except in the world of rally. And nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb proved over the weekend that he hasn’t forgotten how to drive fast.

In 2012, Rhys Millen set a new record at Colorado’s Pike’s Peak Hill Climb, racing on a course that for the first time was fully paved. Loeb, however, took a Peugeot, and in the 97th anniversary event not only broke Millen’s record, he shattered it by taking a minute-and-a-half off the old mark and becoming the first member of the “eight minute club” with a time of 8:13.878.

Loeb was impressive, indeed. Now let’s see him do it on a motorcycle … with a broken collarbone.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.