Superprestigio: Move Over, Elton John…

Make room for Jared Mees, Brad Baker, and Marc Márquez.

Superprestigio Superfinal race start

Only the top acts are booked into Barcelona’s Palau Sant Jordi. Frank Sinatra was there back in the early 1990s. Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson played there. Placido Domingo sung there. So did Bruce Springsteen, but Jay Springsteen was there first. And Steve Morehead was there even before “Springer.” So was Ricky Johnson, Jeff Stanton, and Jeremy McGrath. That’s the kind of town Barcelona is, a motorcycle town, capital of “the autonomous region” (don’t ever call it a province!) of Catalunya, and breeding ground of great motorcycle racers.

And it’s not just the Barcelona region of Spain that adores motorcycling. There is no country in Europe (or anywhere else) that loves motorcycle racing in all its forms—roadracing, motocross, trials, supercross, enduro—as much as Spain. Only Italy comes close.

It’s not often that dirt-track promoters are pressuring Elton John’s crew about getting the piano and lighting and sound system off the stage and the stage torn down as soon as the concert is over because there are 60 truck loads of dirt, 750 cubic meters divided into three layers of Catalonian dirt (granite sand, red-clay base and fresh topsoil).

As soon as the final spectator left the Elton John concert last Saturday, the dirt-track crew started to move in, getting ready for the Superprestigio Dirt Track II that will take place on Saturday, December 13, at the Palau. All over Barcelona, on billboards, on the sides of buses and taxis, the Elton John posters are have been replaced by the image of MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez and AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Champion Brad “The Bullet” Baker wheel to wheel in the Superprestigio Dirt Track I Superfinal held last January.

Palau Sant Jordi basketball court

RPM, the promotions division of Alesport S.A. of Barcelona, has been organizing dirt-track racing in Spain since the very first Barcelona Dirt Track in July of 1981. That first race, won by Toni Elias Sr. (father of the 2010 Moto2 world champion), was held at the “Canódromo Diágonal,” a greyhound track. Now, 33 years later, the Superprestigio Dirt Track II will be held once again in the state-of-the-art Palau Sant Jordi, a facility designed by famed Japanese architect Arata Isozaki for the 1992 Summer Olympics. But before any Olympic gymnast set foot in the Palau, the same dirt crew, led by dirt-guru Juan Bordas, had already built and torn down tracks for supercross, indoor trials and even dirt track.

I say “even dirt track” because this American variety of racing, in spite of early attempts at the Barcelona dog track, only really gained recognition in Spain because American roadracers kept using untranslatable terms like “backing it in,” “scrubbing off speed,” and “pole putting” in post-race press conferences.

I remember Kenny Roberts at Jarama (Madrid) saying, " Hartog was pole putting." I ended up being the go-to guy for translating Roberts into Spanish and to do that meant talking about dirt track. Steve Baker, Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Randy Mamola, Eddie Lawson and later Wayne Rainey, John Kocinski, Doug Chandler, almost everyone in that American dynasty that ran from 1978 until 1993, came from the dirt ovals. Kevin Schwantz was the exception, although he did ride short tracks and TTs.

The first Spanish roadracer to take dirt track seriously was Alberto Puig, who incorporated it into his training program, but the first Spanish world champion to actually ride American-style dirt trackers was Alex Crivillé, a regular at the Kenny Roberts Training Ranch at the Circuit of Catalunya in the late 1990s.

Kenny Roberts Rotax 600 action shot

“Criví” moved from the little Honda XR100s to 600cc Rotax framers. He never actually raced dirt track because, by the time he was getting dangerously fast (lapping the 3/8-mile “Ascot on the Med” in times close to those of Jimmy Filice), he was en route to the 1999 500cc world championship and both Honda and his sponsors (Repsol) were constantly urging him to stay off the Roberts Rotax.

But when the 1999 “Dirt Track Marlboro USA” was organized and run on the Saturday night before the Grand Prix of Catalunya, something happened that Roberts described by saying, “I was scared shitless!”

Dorna, the series promoters, along with Marlboro and the circuit, organized a presentation of riders prior to the dirt-track race and a large group of GP riders was introduced, all wheeling out on scooters. Sete Gibernau, who was a very accomplished dirt-track rider and had been an instructor at the Roberts Training Ranch, wanted to come out on a 600 but was told that there was an insurance problem.

Maybe there was, but when it came time for the biggest hero of all to be introduced and all eyes went to the forming area on the back straight, a big-bore Rotax was fired up (probably the bike that Roberts himself had ridden in practice because it didn't need to be warmed up) and when the speaker announced Crivillé's name he was already backing it into turn 3. To the delight of the crowd and the horror of Honda bosses, the leader of the 500cc points table (and the rider who had stepped up after Mick Doohan's career-ending crash at Jerez to win three in a row) came into view of the main grandstands running high up on the cushion and looking ragged.

Roberts told me, “I was thinking just before he started the bike, ‘Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.’ Alex was all fired up, and when I saw him running up there in the loose stuff where not even Springsteen had been running in practice I thought, “If he breaks a collarbone, I’m going over the back fence before anybody finds me.’”

I’ve talked to a lot of people who went to that event and some folks seem to remember Crivillé winning the dirt-track race in spite of the fact he didn’t compete in it. He did win on Sunday on the roadrace track, his fourth in a row, and he went on to win the title, becoming the first Spanish rider ever to win a premier-class GP title.

Palau Sant Jordi ready for dirt track racing

Marc Marquez was six years old then and already making a name for himself in the competitive world of “infantile racing” in Catalunya. His father had already made dirt-track racing a part of Marc’s program and, even in a time when dirt-track racing began to seem irrelevant due to advances in electronic rider aids, Marc and after him his younger brother, Alex, continued to train on dirt trackers.

The fact that 44 riders, including 10 world champions, will be taking to the 200-meter oval at the Palau Sant Jordi this coming Saturday is due primarily to two people: Jaime Alguersuari, the promoter of motorsport events in the Palau since it was built and Marc Márquez, who, well before winning the 2013 MotoGP world title as a rookie, told his personal manager, former 125cc World Champion Emilio Alzamora, that he’d “really like to get a bunch of roadracers and some Spanish dirt trackers together for a big dirt-track race at the Palau like the ones in the pictures in the old magazines.”

Even though the available dates were bad and the only possible one coincided with a major televised soccer game starting just as the first heats were scheduled, Alguersuari decided to give it a try. Of all the events that RPM has done at the Palau, the only true failure was the second dirt-track race of 1991 when only a couple of thousand fans paid to watch local riders take on Jay Springsteen and Steve Morehead.

Last January’s event didn’t get enough pre-race publicity and came after New Years when Spanish wallets are light, but the event and showdown between Baker and Márquez were huge in the media. If everyone who claims to have been there really had been there, the fire marshal would never have allowed the event to go ahead. And those who are more honest confess that the race they most regret missing was last year’s Superprestigio.

This Saturday, a full house is expected to see Márquez in his rematch with Baker, but it won´t be just those two. RPM has invited current AMA Pro Grand National Champion Jared Mees and, at the last minute, Shayna Texter. The riders who were on the podium along with Baker last year, Moto2 World Champion Tito Rabat and Spanish (FIM CEV International) Superbike Champion Kenny Noyes and the rest of Spain’s serious dirt trackers all figured out that they needed some special components from the states, especially suspension and exhaust pipes.

Toni Elias dirt track bike

Added to this combination of world champions, ex-world champions, and AMA flat-track stars, there are several riders from other disciplines: Taddy Blazusiak of Poland (superenduro), Thomas Chareyre of France (supermoto), Joonas Kylmakorpi of Finland (long-track speedway) and Ivan Cervantes of Spain (enduro).

But perhaps the biggest name, other than Márquez’s, entered in the event, even bigger than Britain’s Guy Martin, a true TT specialist (with 15 podiums on the Isle of Man), is that of 45-year-old Australian Troy Bayliss, three-time World Superbike champion and, currently, holder of the Australian 250/450cc dirt-track titles.

The Superprestigio consists of two races in one. The “Superprestigio Class” (all roadracers) run through a program of heats and semis to reach their final and the “Open Class” riders (all non-roadracers) do the same. Then the top four from each group meet up in the 12-lap “Superfinal.”

This event brings together riders from 11 countries and so many disciplines of motorcycle racing that it is a kind of Race of Champions, all at a cozy and loud indoor stadium and a 200-meter track.

Marc Márquez says he owes a lot to dirt track as a training for controlling slides on his 270-horsepower Honda. If that is true, he is certainly paying dirt track back with interest by focusing world attention on the most American form of motorcycle racing.

Superprestigio Riders (Limit 24)

# RIDER NAT. BIKE CHAMPIONSHIP STATUS
2 Remy Gardner AUS Suzuki 2015 Moto3 rookie
5 Johann Zarco FRA Yamaha Moto2 rider
7 Lorenzo Baldassarri ITA Kawasaki Moto3 rider
9 Kenny Noyes USA Kawasaki 2014 FIM CEV Superbike champion
11 Albert Arenas SPA KTM Moto3 rider
12 Alex Marquez SPA Honda 2014 Moto3 World Champion
15 Dani Ribalta SPA Honda World Endurance rider
19 Xavier Simeon BEL Honda Moto2 rider
21 Troy Bayliss AUS KTM 3-time World SBK Champion
23 Marcel Schrotter GER KTM Moto2 rider
24 Toni Elias SPA Honda 2010 Moto2 World Champion
33 Enea Bastianni ITA Honda Moto3 rider
36 Mika Kallio FIN Suzuki Moto2 rider
38 Bradley Smith GBR Yamaha MotoGP rider
45 Scott Redding GBR Honda MotoGP rider
53 Tito Rabat SPA Honda 2014 Moto2 world champion
60 Jilian Simon SPA Honda 2010 125cc World Champion
87 Luca Marconi ITA TBA World Supersport rider
88 Ricky Cardus SPA Yamaha Moto2 rider
91 Gabriel Rodrigo ARG KTM 2015 Moto3 rookie
93 Marc Marquez SPA Honda 2014 MotoGP World Champion
94 Jonas Folger GER Honda Moto2 rider
99 Christian Iddon GBR Suzuki World SBK rider

All Superprestigio-class riders are or have been world championship roadracing participants (MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3, World Superbike or Supersport).

Open-Class Riders (Limit 24)

# RIDER NAT. BIKE CHAMPIONSHIP STATUS
1 Jared Mees USA Honda 2014 AMA Pro Grand National Champion
3 Jose Pedro Gomez SPA Yamaha Second place Open-class Superprestigio I
4 Thomas Chareyre FRA TM 2014 World Supermoto Champion
6 Brad Baker USA Honda 2013 AMA Pro Grand National Champions
8 Guy Martin GBR Honda 15 podium finishes Isle of Man TT
10 Francesco Cechinni ITA Honda 2013 FIM Dirt-Track Cup Champion
13 Jaume Gaya SPA Honda Rodi-Michelin Cup qualifier
14 Tim Neave GBR Honda 2014 British Dirt Track Champion
16 Angel Grau SPA Suzuki Rodi-Michelin Cup qualifier
17 Gerard Bailo SPA Suzuki Noyes Camp Dirt Track Festival qualifier
18 Franc Serra SPA KTM Noyes Camp Dirt Track Festival qualifier
20 Jose Luis Martinez SPA Yamaha Rodi-Michelin Cup winner
25 Ivan Cervantes SPA KTM 5-time FIM Enduro World Champion
28 Oliver Brindley GBR Kawasaki Noyes Camp Dirt Track Festival qualifier
30 Alan Bristwistle GBR Kawasaki Noyes Camp Dirt Track Festival qualifier
50 Shayna Texter USA Honda 6-time AMA Pro Singles main-event winner
66 Joel Lozano SPA Yamaha Rodi-Michelin Cup qualifier
68 Tom Neave GBR Honda Noyes Camp Dirt Track Festival qualifier
77 Feran Cardus SPA Pursang Noyes Camp Dirt Track Festival qualifier
90 Aidan Collins GBR Honda 4-time British Dirt Track Champion
95 Raul Cardona SPA Kawasaki Noyes Camp Dirt Track Festival winner
111 Taddy Blazusiak POL KTM 5-time SuperEnduro World Champion
121 Fabrizio Vesprini ITA Honda 2-time FIM Dirt Track Cup Champion
610 Joonas Kylmakorpi FIN Zaeta 5-time Long Track Speedway World Champion

Open-class rider are selected on the basis of 1) their accomplishments in dirt track, enduro, supermoto or speedway at world, European, or national levels; 2) the top five riders from the Rodi-Michelin dirt-track series and five more from the Noyes Camp Dirt Track Festival competition; and 3) the winner of the Noyes Camp Dirt Track Pro Series.

Watch the Superprestigio live this Saturday on CycleWorld.com.

Kenny Roberts Rotax 600.

Superprestigio Superfinal start.

Palau Sant Jordi basketball court.

Palau Sant Jordi.

Toni Elias dirt track bike.