MotoGP: Where there’s a will, there’s a way

"Loris Baz never takes the direct way, but he always ends up where he wants to"—the interesting case of Avintia Ducati’s French MotoGP rider

motogp loris baz 2016 preseason
Avintia Ducati's Loris Baz is the tallest rider in the MotoGP category, but even though it's caused him some issues with one manufacturer, he hasn't let it become a hindrance to his racing. His path to MotoGP is an interesting one.Photo courtesy of Avintia Racing

Yes, Loris Baz is a unique case within the rarified world of MotoGP, and not just because his height of 6 feet 2 inches makes him the tallest rider in the category. It’s really because the way to get there on his own was completely different than any other MotoGP rider. And that, incidentally, did have something to do his stature.

"I started racing motocross," explains Baz regarding his beginnings on motorcycles. "Then I tried (road racing). I ran two races in France and after the second one I was invited to Spain. I ended up running all the championships in Spain, which led us to move to Valencia.” We are speaking about Baz when he was just 10 years old.

Interestingly, Baz then explains that his teammate was no one other than Maverick Viñales. The Baz and Viñales families ended up sharing a summer vacation, and since then the two have remained friends.

Baz's teammate was no one other than Maverick Viñales

Baz began his move through the Spanish CEV championship. "I went through all the categories in the CEV until in 2006 I got to 125cc. By then, at 13 years old, I was 5 feet 8 inches tall, which did not help me much in a category where there were riders like Pol Espargaró, Tito Rabat, Maverick and Marc Márquez. Also, to obtain fairly competitive material was a lot of money. A lot.”

"Together with my father we decided to move me to Supersport, but a fatal accident in the championship had the organization them raise the minimum age from 14 to 15...and I was out of the CEV." The Baz family decided to take a sabbatical. But it was only as far as races were concerned, because it was then that he likely put in the most kilometers on a motorcycle in his life thus far. He was 14. "All we did was train. I lapped and lapped at all kinds of circuits in France and Spain, although mostly in Valencia."

motogp loris baz 2016 preseason
Loris Baz's height is apparent in this team introduction photo with 5-foot-7-inch teammate Héctor Barberá. In fact, Baz's height was the reason that his original agreement with the Aspar Team in 2014 was nullified, as Honda reportedly stated that it would cause too many problems for them.Photography courtesy of Suzuki Racing

And reaching the age for admission into the 600cc class in 2015, Baz aimed for the European championship, which he won in his first year. It was clear that he had talent. The next step was to step up into the 1000cc category. "To learn, we decided to go to the British Superbike Championship. My memories from that year are very good."

In the BSB championship, the young Frenchman continued to surprise. But once again something unexpected cut short what promised to be a brilliant season. "I was at home in Valencia preparing to go to the race and I got a call from the team telling me that we couldn’t go to the race because the sponsor had not paid anything since the beginning of the championship, so we had to stay at home."

Baz explains how very difficult that time was, and how at midseason he thought the year was done. But far from throwing in the towel, he and his father went looking for a bike that would allow them to finish the competitive year. "In the end we found not one motorcycle but five," recalls the French rider with a smile. "I did six races in six weeks, on five different motorcycles and three different brands of tires. I did a race in Germany and the 24 hours of Lemans with Yamaha, I raced Superstock at Magni Course with a Honda, then went to Albacete on a Kawasaki and to Portugal with a Honda...They were a brilliant five weeks because I went from having nothing to racing every weekend."

This charmed luck is one of the hallmarks of Baz, a guy with a demeanor of one who has seen the world and has had to fight. It is a situation that often leads to one of two extremes: to live in eternal distrust of everything around you, or to be accepting and deal with what comes to you, and fortunately in the case of Baz, he is the latter.

After all those years as a replacement rider here and there, the opportunity for which he had been working finally arrived: a contract as a factory rider on the Kawasaki Superbike team. "From 2008 to 2012 I had basically been a Yamaha rider, but with the (economic) crisis things got harder. Kawasaki helped me a lot in that time and I made the step to WSBK."

motogp loris baz 2016 preseason
Baz's tall frame means it's easier for him to drag his elbows cornering than most. The Frenchman has been getting along well with the Ducati GP14.2, which is basically the latest version of the 2014 Desmosedici.Photo courtesy of Avintia Racing

In WSBK, Baz was on one of the protagonists, winning races, setting fastest laps. But when the opportunity to make the jump to MotoGP came, Baz did not hesitate. "I was fine with Kawasaki, but at the end of 2014 I ended the contract which was supposed to be for two seasons. By then I knew about the return of Michelin, so it was very clear that it was time to give it a shot...with whom didn’t matter, the important thing was to get into MotoGP."

Honda did not want to work with Baz because of his size. HRC’s experience with Marco Simoncelli had been complicated because of his height, so Honda immediately vetoed Baz

How could it be otherwise, his manner of entering into the GPs again proved to be anything but normal. Baz originally had an agreement to join the Aspar Team on Hondas, but that never materialized because of a surprising decision: Honda did not want to work with Baz because of his size. HRC’s experience with Marco Simoncelli had been complicated because of his height, so Honda immediately vetoed Baz.

He finally found a place with Team Forward on an M1. After so many years racing on his own, Baz again met with Viñales, Espargaró and Marquez. Already a MotoGP rider, he fought until the last race with Hector Barbera for the Open Class title in his rookie year.

And so we come to 2016, a season Loris Baz faces as Ducati rider... having ridden with Kawasaki and Yamaha, on Pirelli, Bridgestone and Michelin tires...Ducati was fate for the French rider.

Just a couple of weeks shy of the start of the season, Baz has again surprised with his good form. Pre-season testing has been more than positive, especially during the last test held in Australia. But he says he realized he would do very well on the Ducati since his first contact with the Michelin-shod Desmosedici. "This bike has good potential, you can see it with Héctor [Barberá] too. You can do good things with this bike."

With the first GP in sight, the next tests are being held in Qatar right now. The tests will be the final review to assess whether Baz’s excellent performance thus so far has been a fluke or if he will be able to realize something important for a team that will use the 2014 Ducati this season.

"Yes, the tests are important. Because the GP will be on the same track and the conditions will not change much. We can find the setting for the race. Finishing in these tests between the sixth and tenth positions like we have up until now will not be a priority. What really is important is to leave with a good feeling to do well in the race. Because we haven’t done more than rehearse at this point, so everything we've done up to now has to be taken calmly."

Okay, his feet are on the ground and he has no unrealistic expectations, but dreaming is inevitable. "Yes, that’s true, because I’m really looking forward to it because the feelings I have with this bike are good and because I enjoy riding it. Yes, I can’t wait to be on the grid in Qatar."