James Whitham: Crashes, penalties and the blame game - Bikesport News

James Whitham: Crashes, penalties and the blame game

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Incidents like the Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes interface at Jerez are often the things you remember about racing. They divide opinion. Those who’ll dismiss it as ‘racing incident’ and others who will describe Rea’s dive inside on the very last corner as dangerous riding and deserving of a penalty.

It is very subjective, a judgement call and therefore very difficult to be absolutely conclusive. I don’t argue with the decision that penalised Jonathan but I applaud both riders who accepted the panel decision, didn’t go around slagging each other off and seemed to me to conduct themselves with dignity and restraint throughout.

But what I do question the time it took to reach that decision. They gave every indication that the result stood without penalty, the podium ceremony took place without a hint that it was ‘provisional’ and the Prosecco corks were popped. It was not until several hours later they decided that a penalty was in order relegating Rea to fourth place and having him start from the back of the grid for the Superpole race.

Now whether you agree with the penalty or not it was odd the way it came through and took so long to do. The FIM communique which they eventually issued was, to me, something of an excuse as to why it took so long to decide. Yes, they’ve got to look into it and take statements from all concerned but why did they at first confirm the result and then go against what they’d said in the first place?

Yamaha team boss Paul Denning did appeal, although he was assured that no appeal was needed. He probably thought it necessary to make a point for his own rider. Jonathan was apologetic and it ended without acrimony on either side. Of course, Alex isn’t a stranger to a bit of erm, enthusiastic hard riding. Remember the BSB round at Assen when he was the instigator of a coming together with Shane Byrne on his way to the championship trophy?

It always makes me chuckle when people say ‘it’s a racing incident’. Well, if you’re racing and there’s an incident, it is, by definition a racing incident, even if you cannon into the back of somebody at 200mph and it ends up in a ball of flames.

People usually tend to back up the rider they favour but it is all subjective. Both Jonathan and Alex are consummate, intelligent and skilful professionals who had no intention whatsoever of causing harm to one another. What happened was a small mistake from Jonathan having big consequences for Alex, in different circumstances the roles could’ve very easily been reversed.

Twenty years ago the riders involved would be expected to sort it out among themselves, but that doesn’t seem like the format now. These days it seems riders get punished for what might be described as indiscretions. Do I believe the penalty was fair? Either one of the two would’ve been fair in my opinion, docked a place or put to the back of the grid. But both of them?

I only ever stood in front of an FIM panel once in my career and that was a fairly open and shut case of me being an arsehole. I’d punched a marshal in the mouth for trying to stop me get back on my bike after a crash. I threw myself on the mercy of the court and the panel (quite rightly) fined me 500 Swiss Francs. Under my own steam I sought the bruised marshal out and apologised.

Penalties administered or not, I have to confess to feeling really sorry for Alex. He was definitely heading for third at the moment of impact and seemed to be at the beginning of a weekend when he could have finished on the podium in all three races. And there can be little doubt that what happened in race one had an effect on what happened in the other two.

Uncle James would now be saying to him: “Yes of course you’re disappointed but save for something that wasn’t your fault you and the Yamaha team have never been so competitive. You could have/would have been on the podium. And there’s plenty more races to come.”

Indeed, all the Yamahas showed marked improvement following their tests at Misano. Van der Mark was superb, Cortese seemed happier with his bike and Melandri was right on the pace until he tried to fusion-weld his bike to Chaz Davies’ machine and, strangely, was dealt with more leniently than Rea.

Kawasaki for me are still best placed to try and take the fight to Ducati but Yamaha are now making the series more interesting, which it certainly needs.

I cannot leave without mentioning the TT. Weather wise it was one of the worst in living memory but it did produce some good racing in the end particularly by Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison.

There were some complaints from the Hickman camp that they had been forced to run the ailing BMW Superbike in the Senior because the scrutineers insisted that the winning Superstock (which they intended to run) had to be stripped down and couldn’t be put together again quickly enough for the morning Senior TT.

I think it was a case of ‘rules are rules’ son. Frustrating for Hicky, but he didn’t have a bad week really and I’m pleased for Deano bagging his first senior and for Lee Johnstone winning his first ever TT.

But I have to say my real hero of the week was Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson. Pressure from all sides and can’t really afford to make a bad descision. A few more grey hairs I’m sure but what a performance from Mr Unflappable.

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