MotoGP: Face Off

Riders may say one thing during a press conference, but their faces say another.

Valentino Rossi at Indy GP 2014

Speaking as a newspaper journalist, I can honestly say no two words are more boring to me than “press conference.” These events usually involve public-relations folks hawking new products, CEOs explaining changes to their businesses, or local politicians talking up how they’re going to fix their cities.

But in the sports world, press conferences are a different, welcome beast. In the case of MotoGP, a well-timed press conference photo often captures the human element of racing and can even exacerbate drama between riders. Take Marc Marquez: Anytime series rivals Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, or Valentino Rossi answer a reporter’s question, Marquez focuses his gaze on them. His dark eyes get sharp and his usual wide, toothy grin disappears.

Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo at Indy GP 2014

At this year’s Indianapolis Grand Prix, the early laps were like watching the History Channel—Rossi vs. Sete Gibernau or Max Biaggi. At the post-race press conference, Rossi laughed and wiped sweat from his forehead, but when he glanced in my direction, he looked disappointed. He really wanted to beat Marquez.

Last year was a different story. At Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Marquez beat Rossi the same way Rossi beat Casey Stoner in 2008. He shortcut the Corkscrew, passed Rossi, and went on to win. Afterward, the pair laughed like old friends and joked about the younger rider’s charisma. Rossi knows the show and so does Marquez, even “early” in his career.

Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi at Mazda Raceway 2013

At Indianapolis last year, Ben Spies was in the middle of a crisis season. He smiled a lot and laughed with other riders, but when the camera was off, his demeanor turned serious quickly. Same for Cal Crutchlow this year. He was tired of being bombarded with questions about leaving Ducati one season earlier than originally announced and gave a few reporters angry, crooked-tooth faces.

As boring as they potentially can be, press conferences force me to look for an angle or a look that really brings out the intensity we admire in motorcycle racing. After all, if humans weren’t there, no one would be twisting the throttle.

Valentino Rossi at Indy GP 2014.

Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo at Indy GP 2014.

Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi at Mazda Raceway 2013.