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ENEA BASTIANINI AND JORGE MARTIN INTERVIEW | MotoGP

MotoGP’s newest stars Enea Bastianini and Jorge Martin have been racing each other for the last 10 years. Which one will be the first to win the biggest prize of them all?

In the summer of 1966, Sports Illustrated magazine sent journalist Bob Ottum to spend some time with Giacomo Agostini, multiple motorcycle world champion, part-time movie star and full-time Italian heartthrob. At the end of his visit Ottum surmised Ago’s job thus: ‘to race and skid and crash and then make love and drink wine.’

All those decades ago, top bike racers didn’t usually have steady girlfriends. They lived on the edge of death and behaved like it, celebrating each Sunday survival by boozing and chasing women, or “birding it up,” as 1967 125cc world champion Bill Ivy so charmingly put it.

More than half a century later, MotoGP is a cold, hard science. The motorcycles are ruled by algorithms and the riders are ruled by pitiless training regimes that leave no room for fun and frolics. Most of the MotoGP grid is teetotal, almost a quarter have children with their partners and others admit their results improved once they started thinking about torque-demand maps, instead of, well…

Of course, there’s always one exception that proves the rule.

“I had the same girlfriend for three years – now every week I change!” grins Spaniard Jorge Martin, 24, one of the brightest stars of MotoGP’s new generation, who won his first premier-class GP last August. “When I decided to stop with her last summer I won the next race, so now it’s no way back – alone forever!

“Being with us isn’t easy. We are sport guys and the level is so high, so we have some conditions and if your girlfriend doesn’t accept this then, for sure, it’s a problem. They have to step aside because you are the important one.

“For me it depends on the relationship, if you are okay and the girl gives you stability and support, then that’s better, but if not, it’s better to have fun.”

ENEA BASTIANINI AND JORGE

I’m chatting with Martin and fellow young gun Bastianini together in a Ducati hospitality unit. When Martin confesses his sins, Bastianini collapses into laughter.

“I’ve had the same girlfriend for three years and it’s good,” grins the Italian, who’s a month older and won his first MotoGP race in March.

Martin smiles back. “We sleep in the same truck,” he says, referring to GP Rooms, the paddock’s juggernaut-based hotel, where riders pay 2500 euros ($A3700) each weekend to sleep a minute’s walk from their garages and team hospitalities. 

“Last year on the Saturday night at Valencia [where both had the chance to win the prized Rookie of the Year award] I could hear that he couldn’t
sleep either.”

ENEA BASTIANINI AND JORGE

Bastianini leads Karel Hanika and Martin in the 2013 Red Bull Rookies at Jerez

Then he quickly adds, “but I didn’t hear him with his girlfriend!”

I wanted to talk to Martin and Bastianini together, not especially about their love lives, but because they’ve been racing each other since 2013, riding the same road to MotoGP via Red Bull Rookies, Moto3 and Moto2.

“Since we were young we’ve always been coming up together,” says Martin. “I won the Moto3 world title in 2018, then Enea won the Moto2 title in 2020 and last season we were fighting to be top MotoGP rookie, so the difference between us isn’t so big.”

There’s not one rider on today’s MotoGP grid that got there via any other route than GP racing’s 125cc/Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP categories.

So what’s it like being part of motorcycle racing’s star-making machine? What’s it like living your life, from childhood to adulthood, in a merciless junior/intermediate/senior system, trying to get to the top and trying not to get spat out of the bottom?

Lots of fun, mostly. 

Moto3, Austria, 2018: Bastianini, winner Marco Bezzecchi and Martin

“I’ve battled a lot with Jorge,” says Bastianini. “I especially remember my first fight with him in the Rookies Cup at Jerez in 2013, it was a beautiful battle.”

Have they ever knocked each other off?

“We’ve been close sometimes!” beams Martin. 

“But we have a lot of respect for each other,” adds Bastianini.

“I really remember Sepang 2017 in Moto3, when we arrived at the last corner together,” says Martin. “But I think the best one was Aragon 2019, in Moto2, because we were fighting so close!”

“I remember a lot this race – the last five laps we were on fire!” adds Bastianini. “I think in one lap we made three or four overtakes…”

“I did my last overtake in Turn 12…” says Martin.

“And then I overtook you in the next change of direction,” grins Bastianini, who won that particular duel by 0.145 seconds.

ENEA BASTIANINI AND JORGE

Hanika, Martin and Bastianini on the Red Bull Rookies podium

So who is the bravest?

“Me!” Martin laughs. “No, I’m joking – our level is quite close.”

Were they friends when they were in the Rookies Cup and was the teen championship like being at junior school?

“Yeah, a bit,” says Martin. “When I was in Rookies I always had fun. The Spanish kids stuck together, the Italian kids stuck together and so on.

“For sure there was a lot of friendship, then when you start to climb up the pressure gets bigger and it’s difficult to be friends, so me and Enea just try to have a good relationship and have respect for each other. But for sure you feel the pressure and sometimes it’s better to keep some distance.”

Bastianini agrees: “It’s important to be a great on the track but also in normal life.”

Martin took his maiden MotoGP win last year in Austria

The Rookies Cup encourages this attitude by running a good-behaviour championship alongside the racing championship. Seriously.

“You get points for your behaviour, how you work in the Rookies tent, how you are with the other riders, how many rider briefings you go to and so on,” says Martin.

“We missed some briefings…” laughs Bastianini.

So the fast riders lose the behaviour championship but win the real championship?

“Yeah, exactly, exactly!” Martin laughs.

Bastianini became a MotoGP winner in Round 1 in Qatar

The Rookies Cup was vital for the pair because it’s a zero-cost championship, unlike most other routes into the MotoGP paddock, like the junior Moto3 world championship, where a decent ride costs at least 300,000 euros ($A445k) per season. Money their parents didn’t have.

In 2013 Martin and Bastianini finished second and fourth overall in the Rookies Cup, but only Bastianini got an immediate promotion to GPs, with Fausto Gresini’s Moto3 team in 2014. Martin had to wait another year. He won the 2014 Rookies crown and got his first GP ride with Jorge Martinez’s Moto3 squad in 2015.

“I knew the 2014 Rookies was my last chance,” says Martin. “If I hadn’t won it I would’ve had to go home because my parents didn’t have the money to buy me a ride. I think out of a hundred riders coming up, maybe three don’t pay. The rest must pay, at least for the first years.”

Martin gave the late Fausto Gresini the Moto3 title in 2018

Martin had a tough start in Moto3, riding for Indian brand Mahindra. After switching to Honda he won his first GP at the 2018 season-opening Qatar round. Bastianini took his first world-class success three months later at Barcelona.

The 2018 Moto3 championship went to Martin, who dominated the championship like no one else, before or since. The following year both graduated to Moto2, Martin with the factory-backed Red Bull KTM team, Bastianini with the small but perfectly formed Italtrans team, funded by an Italian trucking company.

Neither won a race in their rookie Moto2 campaigns but they were title rivals in 2020. This time it was Bastianini who got the upper hand, taking the world title with three wins to Martin’s two. Things may have been different if Martin hadn’t missed two races after contracting Covid-19.

ENEA BASTIANINI AND JORGE

Following the retirement of Valentino Rossi, Bastianini might become Italy’s new racing pin-up boy

Last year the pair arrived in MotoGP together, both on Ducati contracts, part of the Italian factory’s eight-rider armada (one third of the grid!), assembled to win back the MotoGP title for the first time in a decade and a half. Ducati assigned Martin to the Pramac team, where he got to enjoy the latest-spec GP21, while Bastianini had to make do with a GP19, run by the struggling Esponsorama squad.

Martin stunned the paddock by taking pole position at his second MotoGP race, where he missed the win by 1.5 seconds. That huge high was followed by a big low at the very next race where a monster crash beat him up badly. He missed four GPs through injury, then won his first premier-class victory a few weeks later.

ENEA BASTIANINI AND JORGE

Martin has become a race contender at Pramac Ducati

That kind of achievement is a mark of greatness in motorcycle racing, where overcoming hideous pain is a basic requirement.

A few weeks later it was Bastianini’s turn to make the headlines. At Misano he beat six-times MotoGP king Marc Marquez for third, never mind the fact he was riding a two-year-old motorcycle. This year he has a much-improved GP21, with Gresini Racing.

Both love being in MotoGP, because they’ve been dreaming of being there since they were kids, dedicating their lives to turning that dream into reality.

“For me a MotoGP bike is better in every way than any other bike,” says Martin. “You can do things you cannot do on anything else, because the grip is unbelievable, so you can lean like crazy. But for me the most impressive thing is the seamless gearbox. When you change gear you don’t feel that little stop you feel with a normal gearbox, instead the engine is always pushing.

“You make the biggest steps forwards when you understand the electronics maps – how to manage the power, where you need the power and at which moment. You make your own style with the maps because every rider is different and it all depends on your feeling with the bike, the tyres and the fuel.”

Martin may have been a Moto2 title winner had he not caught Covid-19

Bastianini agrees. “For me the electronics is the most difficult thing. If you use a map with a lot of power you will be fast but after a while you will be slow because the tyre is spinning too much. These bikes have so much power that the key is using the power in the right moment.”

Although the pair have lived parallel lives, growing up together and racing each other for a decade, they are very different.

Martin is more talkative and when he talks he does so with real authority and confidence. Bastianini is much more laidback, pretty much horizontal, so it’s hard to believe what he does for a living. His nickname reflects his Jekyll and Hyde character: la Bestia, Italian for ‘the Beast’.

Martin’s fans call him the Martinator, from the Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg assassin, because he has a relentlessness about him. He’s a winning machine, with the wildest riding style in MotoGP – he hangs way, way off the bike, dragging his body as far to the inside as he can.

“I’m more out of the bike, to make it turn more, even though it’s more physical, so I can get tired,” he says. “Now we are both at Ducati we can look at each other’s data. Enea brakes so, so hard – it’s unbelievable how strong he brakes, but maybe I’m a bit better exiting the corners.”

Jorge Martin, Indonesian MotoGP test 12 February 2022

Bastianini’s greatest skill is using the front tyre like Marc Marquez, employing his elbows as outriggers. This technique allows him to use the rear tyre less, so in the final laps he has more rear grip than his rivals, which allows him to close in for the kill.

During the coming months the pressure on the pair will increase hugely, because there may be the chance of a Ducati factory-team ride from next year, but there will only be room for one of them.

“For me there’s always pressure, because every year you want to be as fast as possible and every weekend you never know what will happen,” says Bastianini. “But if you feel the pressure too much you are finished and you’ll have to go home. You must always be concentrated, because MotoGP bikes are so fast and if you make mistakes it’s dangerous.”

Bastianini leads MM93 on the way to his first MotoGP win at Qatar

Who will win the MotoGP crown first, if ever one of them do? Most pitlane experts agree that MotoGP’s top riders all have a similar amount of talent, so in the end, it’s the determination that makes the difference. On that basis, Martin should be the favourite, but speculation in motorcycle racing is a futile exercise because there are a thousand different factors that separate success from failure.

Just enjoy these two very different characters as they fight each other and the rest of the grid to reach the very summit of the sport.  

ENEA BASTIANINI AND JORGE

The pair both started the season strongly in Qatar

Interview  Mat Oxley  Photography Gold&Goose & MO