As I was exiting the premises of the Buddh International Circuit (BIC), a racetrack that is very, very familiar to me, since the jury rounds of the car&bike awards are held every year at BIC, I couldn’t help but feel proud and jubilant. Finally, after months of speculation, weeks of ambiguity, visa issues and extraordinary heat and humidity, the first ever round of MotoGP was done! Three full days of unbridled action, more drama than many K-dramas and heartbreak that can be easily emulated by any of the Bollywood directors into a full-fledged movie, the 2023 Indian Oil Grand Prix of India delivered and how!
Also Read: Marco Bezzecchi Wins 2023 MotoGP Bharat
From L to R: Jorge Martin, Marco Bezzecchi and Fabio Quartararo with their trophies
The whole event started off on a negative note, with the media reporting widely on the non-issuance of timely visas for MotoGP teams, then came the discussion on how the racetrack was unsafe in some areas and what not! One heaved a sigh of relief when the first bikes from Moto3 rolled out from the pits and onto the racetrack, getting in the practice laps. An hour later, came the rather mellifluous symphony of the Moto2 race bikes, with their distinct ‘triple whine’ and after that, it was the loud and booming bikes from the MotoGP class, whose entry on to the track led to even louder cheers from a handful of fans and enthusiasts on Friday, which had scheduled free practice sessions for all three race classes.
Riders having a go at BIC on Friday during the free practice sessions
Friday: Free Practice Sessions
I saw the free practice sessions from the Yamaha stands right in front of C1, which proved to be rather tricky, with riders missing the mark frequently, on the 90 degree right hander. The experience of sitting in the Yamaha stands was something else, with the fans cheering loudly for Fabio Quartararo and teammate Franco Morbidelli every time the pair crossed the stand and entered C1. Admittedly, the cheer was a bit louder for Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez, who seemed to be the fan favourite on all three days, and especially after finishing the sprint in the third position, with the hopes of getting a podium finish on race day as well.
Bollywood superstar Ranveer Singh at the Ducati Pit with Paolo Ciabatti, Sporting Director of Ducati Corse
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There was decent arrangement for food and drinks along with restroom facilities for people in the grandstand and at the Yamaha stands and from what we hear, the arrangements were good at other stands as well. All in all, if you had a seat with a view of C1, you were in for a lot of drama and action, easily one of the best seats in the house.
Saturday: Qualifying & MotoGP Tissot Sprint Race
Jorge Martin rode impeccably to win the Tissot Sprint Race at MotoGP Bharat 2023
On day 2, I was ringside, as close to the action as I could get, near C7, C8 C9 and C10, the parabola, that is. Not only that part offers view of 4 corners and a tight chicane but is also a good spot for getting great photographs of MotoGP bikes in action. Braving the crazy heat and humidity, I settled into a nice spot, waiting for the qualifying and sprint sessions of the MotoGP class. As luck would have it, the dreaded C1 was responsible for many crashes over the weekend, especially the pile-up during the Tissot sprint race with a 5 bike pile-up, so the opportunity was missed there! But sitting at the parabola, the kind of photos and social media content that we got was pretty much incredible, with the MotoGP riders showing their mettle and putting out an entertaining sprint race for the fans and viewers.
Marc Marquez finished 3rd in the Tissot Sprint race
In all, it was Marco Bezzechhi of Mooney VR46 Racing Team who bagged the pole position after the qualifying and also set a lap record of 1:43:947 and also made the record of clocking a top speed of 346.1 kmph. Prima Pramac Racing’s Jorge Martin qualified second while Francesco Bagnaia locked the front row, coming in third after the qualifying session.
Also Read: Marco Bezzecchi Qualifies For Pole Position At 2023 MotoGP Bharat
Marco Bezzecchi of Mooney VR46 Racing Team took the pole position at MotoGP Bharat 2023
After the qualifying, a meeting of riders and the tyre suppliers was held, owing to the extreme heat and humid conditions, along with heavy rain where the schedule was delayed by two hours. The decision of reducing the sprint race by one lap and the final Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP races by 3 laps each was taken. It did mean less of racing, but the safety of riders definitely takes precedence ahead of entertainment.
The Honda RCV213 ready to be ridden by Marc Marquez, at Honda pit
The last event on day 2 was the Tissot Sprint Race which had more drama than your average Indian K-serial. While Jorge Martin and Pecco Bagnaia of Prima Pramac Racing and Ducati Lenovo Racing had a great start and even managed to finish first and second, Marco Bezzecchi had the worst possible start to the sprint race. Without the holeshot device on his bike, he fell behind the other riders and to make matters worse, him team-mate Luca Marini rear-ended him and ended up falling and breaking his collarbone. The collision further led Bezzecchi to drop down the order, but he managed to finish 5th despite the setback. On the other hand, it was Marc Marquez who put in a solid shift and finished third in the Sprint race, adding valuable points in his championship kitty.
Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin battling it out at C1
Day 3: Race Day
The D-Day! As was expected, getting to BIC and then till the parking, was a nightmare. But one had enough time at hand, so it wasn’t a problem. Slowly the stands started filling up but except the main grandstand and the stands at C1, the others were significantly empty. The crowd did get bigger till it was time for the MotoGP race. Estimates suggest that around 58,000 fans attended the MotoGP Bharat in person, and a total of 1,11,000 fans attended the race weekend in total, which are not great numbers to be honest.
Also Read: Riders Praise BIC Layout But Raise Concerns Over ‘Tricky’ Turn 1
Nonetheless, as the riders took their starting positions on the grid, it was a goosebump inducing moment for all the fans and journalists alike! And as luck would have it, the terrifying C1 saw a 5-bike pile-up, which meant the race had to be re-started. After the re-start, Bezzechhi lost his position to Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin.
Marco Bezzecchi at his absolute fastest best, on his way to win the inaugural MotoGP Bharat
But the Mooney VR46 rider easily was the fastest and kept his cool, taking the lead a few laps into the race. While Bezzecchi established a solid 4 second lead by the time the race was halfway, the battle between Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin was thrilling to watch. It was Pecco who got the better of Martin, who made a mistake at C4 and was also distracted by his race leathers opening up during the race. But it was the costly error of Pecco, which saw him crash while on lap 14, almost half a second ahead of Martin. He lost his front end at C5 and ended into the gravel trap, retiring from the race.
Jorge Martin of Prima Pramac Racing accelerating hard out of a corner
During the last few laps, the heat along with his battle with Pecco got to Martin, with Fabio Quartararo of Yamaha overtaking him on a couple of occasions. But Martin did well to wrest back 2nd place off Quartararo, with him finishing the race in third position, respectively.
Fabio Quartararo of Yamaha making the most of Pecco Bagnaia’s mistake and Marc Marquez’s crash in the race. He finished third, his first podium this year
Martin was almost out of steam, thanks to the tough racing conditions and had to be checked out by the MotoGP medical team, but he was fine after rehydrating himself.
Fan favourite Marquez, started the race in 6th position and was doing well, coming up to 4th but had a minor crash on C1, which saw him dropping to 16th. He did well to claw back lost positions and finally finished 9th.
To see these champions of speed, racing at BIC, giving their absolute best was not only a treat, but a privilege
The experience of watching a MotoGP race on Indian soil, executed near perfectly, was a distant dream a few years ago, but not only did it happen, it also provided the kind of entertainment MotoGP is expected to provide. Sure, a few things could be made better, in terms of the track being more rider-friendly and the promoter, FairStreet Sports, could have invested more in marketing the race, so that more tickets could have been sold, but all in all, me being an optimist, I see no reason for MotoGP to come back to India. In fact, for next year, the India round is scheduled for October 6, 2024, provisionally of course.
The author wishes to see Marc Marquez winning a MotoGP round in India, the empty stands, notwithstanding!
The fact that I was a part of the first ever MotoGP round held in India, is yet to sink in. To see these racers ride past you at speeds of 250-300 kmph on their obnoxiously loud and fast motorcycles can give goosebumps to anyone, irrespective of the person being a motorsport fan or not. The 2023 Indian Oil Grand Prix of India has turned me into a believer, and I look forward to seeing it next year as well.
Photography: Kingshuk Dutta