Motegi (Japan), Oct 22 (IANS): It was a wet morning in Motegi, Japan, when the main qualifiers took place ahead of the Japanese leg of the Moto GP and its subsidiary races. The temperature was hovering around the 15 degrees Celsius mark and the constant drizzle that the Twin Ring Motegi received throughout the preceding night had spilled over into the morning.
Ice-cold rain drops that had settled on the seats had to be wiped off before people could sit on them with their already wet raincoats and clothes. Those sitting in front of the big screen outside had to negotiate the slushy soil underneath.
Once they settled in, spectators realised that there is no such thing called 'settling in' in this weather. The umbrellas would threaten to fly away in the end and much effort went into holding onto them. The process was compounded by the hands feeling colder by the minute. Water dripping from the top of raincoats would find their way onto the seats which hence needed to be wiped from time to time.
As far as ideal conditions were concerned, these were far from it. Not that any of this made much of a difference.
Over 20,000 fans took their places in the stands and thousands of others to settle themselves in front of the big screen outside the gate.
They sat huddled in their uncovered seats underneath their raincoats and umbrellas. Some took cover in doorways that were dug into the stands along the walkways that separated sections, sitting on tiny foldable chairs.
All of this meant that the colours fans were wearing were mostly hidden for much of the morning on Saturday, unless the raincoats and umbrellas were bought from stalls outside which were selling merchandise with the riders' numbers and colours on them.
Those were clear on the day of the main race that came next day. The clouds had made way for clear skies. What challenges the weather posed on Saturday were substituted by the traffic which stretched for a few kilometers outside the main entrance to the circuit on Sunday.
The most dominant among the colours that fans wore were a shade of fluorescent green and black. He maybe well past his prime and is having a bad season this year, but the aura of Valentino Rossi remains unmatched in Japan.
On the first day, with the free practice sessions drawing to a close, the riders were moving in to fulfill their media duties. It wasn't difficult to spot where Rossi was. The area behind the Yamaha paddock was filled with calls of "Vale! Vale!" when the Italian legend walked towards them. Rossi doesn't speak Spanish, neither did most of the fans who lined up there for autographs (or English for that matter, as this reporter discovered while trying to talk to them).
Motegi is a small town about 150 kilometers north of Tokyo which comes alive every year during the Japan GP. Most fans have hence travelled at least 100km to get there. "For Vale!" shouted one of those waiting for Rossi's autograph when asked what makes him travel all that distance.
The mood in the Rossi camp was upbeat and hopeful on the first day. It was a mixed bag two days later. Rossi had started 10th on the grid and was hardly able to move beyond that place throughout the race. With four laps to go, he crashed his M1 and thus ended a fourth race this season without finishing.
As is the case with any ageing sports star, the internet has not been kind on Rossi this year and calls for retirement intensified after his latest DNF. However, the mood was markedly different at the track.
While there were some who were as frustrated as their online counterparts, many felt Rossi has little to prove and that we should be savouring these final races of the 40-year-old's glittering career regardless of how they end.
And it's not that they didn't have anything to cheer for. Marc Marquez's scorching run to victory was one to savour for those that love the sport. His brother Alex's extraordinary save the day before in Moto 2 went down as a highlight of the weekend.
It wasn't Rossi's weekend, neither was it Marquez's or Fabio Quartararo's or of Andre Dovizioso's. It was one they shared with the fans, who beat obstacles, both natural and artificial, to celebrate the two-wheel form of racing.