This could not be an understatement: It was the coolest thing the international motorcycle racing scene has ever seen.
It was Carlos Checa, the free-wheeling, unfunny, yet dazzling motocross racer from Cuba, pulling into the paddock of the Milton Keynes-based British Motorcycle Grand Prix track on Saturday morning. Then, his Pramac Suzuki lifted in the air and Checa ducked his head into the driver’s cockpit, as if he wanted to live out a scene from a 70s action movie, except with professional race bikes.
But he didn’t go into it like it was acting — Checa went right into motorcycling. After seven years at Dream Yamaha’s renowned Saitama base in Japan, Checa is making his race bike debut in the MotoGP series, after being invited by Pramac Suzuki at the behest of his manager.
It made the 33-year-old man from Holguin (in eastern Cuba) nearly real, except that it turned out he isn’t actually motorcycling — he drives Riva Junior bikes in a local club called Jinan-2, where he says his Russian sponsors told him they were above professional racing.
He got off the track Friday afternoon and headed to the paddock at Milton Keynes, where he celebrated being signed by the team with a few drinks.
When he arrived on Saturday, he hit the ground running. Checa started the race in the last row, in place of the injured Valentino Rossi, and held on for the 39th and final place in the 29-car field — the eighth-best result of his MotoGP career.
He celebrated what he considered a major milestone, saying his goal was to secure a drive with Pramac Suzuki in a more competitive bike next year.
“I know that I was not in MotoGP, but I just wanted to do my best,” he said. “I rode to the finish. I feel very proud. I was driven, and when I crossed the line I was thinking my victory was someplace in Cuba — I still cannot say where, and this was very emotional for me.”
But race organizers made it clear they weren’t going to have anything to do with Checa’s outrageous ride, and definitely not with Checa driving the bike in the race proper. Organizers have long frowned upon open displays of racing.
After qualifying on Friday, Checa requested to use the track early Saturday morning, when it was closed, so he could fine-tune a bit, and organizers refused.
Checa explained that he was given a roll call by administrators and that he was originally told the motorcycling track would be closed for the day. A day later, officials said that the track would not be closed, and Checa was set to start his round.
Problems followed, and officials came to him several times to talk about continuing his race, but he declined. Eventually they accepted that they would have to keep the track open for him, which did nothing to earn him back the respect of fans, who sent messages of disappointment to the event’s organiser, Richard Nicholson.
Checa gave his all on Saturday, coming home fourth and deciding to push for the winning position with just seven laps remaining. His problems began when he suffered a throttle problem coming out of turn one, which dropped him back a place.
Meanwhile, in the opening laps, Italian champions Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Vinales started a battle, with the defending champion Vinales eventually taking the victory.
It was their battle, one that goes right back to the first race of the season, that put Vinales on the podium at Marlboro Hockenheim, where he’ll start on pole for Sunday’s race.
Checa has had a strong Moto2 career, but never put together a really strong MotoGP finish. But he insists he’s expecting a wild ride next year, while offering this advice for people watching: “Always keep looking forward.”