Monthly Archives: June 2019

So near and not so far away

He was so close to becoming the youngest ever premier class winner in the 70-year history of the sport. It was Fabio Quartararo’s last chance to eclipse Marc Marquez’s record in Barcelona and although second place was not quite enough, there appears plenty of records within the grasp of the 20-year-old Frenchman who has been mighty impressive in his MotoGP™ debut season.

Two pole positions including Barcelona. That first pole in Jerez making him the youngest ever pole setter in the premier class and then on Sunday his first MotoGP™ podium when he finished second to Marquez pushing Mugello winner Danilo Petrucci back to third. Riding the Petronas Yamaha SRT, it was just his seventh MotoGP™ race as he strived to become the first French premier class winner since Regis Laconi way back 20-years-ago in Valencia riding the 500cc Red Bull Yamaha. Olivier Jacque came close in 2005 when he finished second in China riding the Kawasaki and Randy De Puniet two years later on similar machinery finishing second in Japan. Johann Zarco had an equally impressive debut season as Quartararo a couple of years back. The double Moto2™ World Champion finished second in his native France and finished the season with a repeat in Valencia which brought him an impressive sixth place and the Rookie of the Year title.

Both Jacque and Zarco arrived in the Premier class as 250 and Moto2™ World Champions respectively but it’s been a very different route for Quartararo with a more than a few big bumps in the road on the way. I remember meeting and interviewing him for the first time at Le Mans in 2014. The French media and commentators, which included 250cc World Champion and 500cc Grand Prix winner Christian Sarron, were raving about a young Frenchman who’d just turned 15-years-old and the record books agreed with their patriotic excitement. He was well on course for his second FIM Junior Championship and a place was already being prepared for the teenager from Nice in the Moto3™ World Championship. Quartararo made a much-heralded debut in Qatar less than a year later while still 15-years-old. Despite a couple of second places in Austin and Assen he eventually finished tenth in his debut season, but injuries and machine problems pushed him down to 13th the year after.

He was growing fast and joined Sito Pons in the Moto2™ class in 2017. Pons told me despite the Moto3™ problems he thought the young Frenchman was a potential World Champion. It didn’t work out with Sito but last season when he joined the Speed Up Moto2™ team, at last, all that potential and ability gelled into his first Grand Prix win in Barcelona, followed by a second place in Assen.

Despite those results, he was a surprise selection for the new Petronas Yamaha SRT team but his brilliant ride in the 24 lap race on Sunday showed just what a brave brilliant decision it had been. Following his first crash of the season in practice and an arm pump operation after Mugello, the 20-year-old Frenchman displayed maturity and skill well beyond a seven-race MotoGP™ career. While far more experienced others, who really should have known better, fell foul of the slippery condition Quartararo protected his rear tyre and took his chances when they came along.

He may not become the youngest ever premier class winner on Sunday but that first MotoGP™ win is not far away – how about Assen in a couple of weeks’ time?

By | June 21st, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment

MotoGP70: Birth of a dream

A 425.047km race around the most demanding circuit in the world was how it all began. Seventy long years ago on the morning of June 13th 1949 Grand Prix motorcycle racing began its incredible journey on an island in the middle of the choppy Irish Sea situated between the rugged coastlines of Ireland and England. One year earlier than its four-wheel counterparts, the first ever World Championship race was staged on the legendary mountain circuit in the Isle of Man. This was no 45-minute fight for every corner and inch of tarmac that is the blueprint for modern day MotoGP™ racing but a seven-lap marathon round the 60.721km TT Mountain circuit for 350cc machines.

Freddie Frith became the first ever Grand Prix winner riding the British built Velocette, with a lap record on his last lap of 135.50kph. All 75 finishers in the race were riding British built machinery but there was also a poignant reminder that riders chasing their dream could pay the ultimate price when Ben Drinkwater was killed when he crashed on the fourth lap.

Four days later bespectacled Harold Daniell won the first ever premier class 500cc race riding the Norton to success in another seven laps of the Mountain circuit. He averaged an incredible 139.887kph for the race, which took him over three hours to complete. A few years earlier Daniell was refused entry into the armed forces because of poor eye sight. Irishman Manliff Barrington won the first 250cc Grand Prix riding the Italian Moto Guzzi after another seven-lap marathon encounter. Three weeks later the 125cc class made its debut round the 7.280km circuit at Berne in Switzerland where Italian Nello Pagani brought Mondial an historic victory.

Seventy years on there are 19 Grands Prix visiting 15 countries in five continents with riders from 19 countries competing for the ultimate prize in the three classes Moto3™, Moto2™ and MotoGP™. In 1949 there were six Grands Prix all in Europe and, apart from Monza in Italy, all on circuits that were public roads for the rest of the year. The six circuits picked to stage these pioneering races were the Isle of Man, Berne in Switzerland, Assen in Holland, Spa -Francorchamps in Belgium, Clady in Northern Ireland and Monza in Italy. There were four solo classes 125, 250, 350 and 500cc and of course the magnificent sidecars. The 500cc class was staged at every round, but the 350cc at five, the 250cc at four and the 125s at just three.

Motorcycle racing pioneered the World Championships in 1949 and continues to lead the way 70 years later. Never afraid to incorporate changes and welcome new countries, it’s still way ahead of the others.

Happy Birthday Grand Prix motorcycle racing – long may it continue!

By | June 12th, 2019|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on MotoGP70: Birth of a dream

Sheer speed fires the soul

It may not guarantee Grand Prix wins but sheer speed still fires the soul. When I heard that Andrea Dovizioso had disappeared in a snarling red flash racing over the rise before using every part of his body to brake for the dreaded Mugello San Donato right-hander at a record-breaking 356.7 kph (221.6 mph) on Saturday morning I was fired up. I’m sure I was not alone. We are fascinated by top speed in all sport.

How fast was Mo Salah’s penalty travelling when it hit the net in the second minute of the Champions League final on Saturday night? What speed was Rafa Nadal’s serve at Roland Garros over the weekend? All the talk and media hype surrounding the Cricket World Cup that started in England and Wales last week has been about the speed of the fast bowlers who have already inflicted plenty of damage on batsman.

MotoGP™ and all motorsport at any level are no different. Lap times, race strategy and tyre choice win races and World Championships but the most asked question by the public is just how fast do these bikes go?

Just how does it feel to be in charge (hopefully) of a motorcycle at that speed. It’s a sensation that the majority of us will never have the privilege of experiencing. The riders will tell you anything over 300 kph does not feel different although at Mugello, in particular, I don’t totally believe them. Having witnessed through the fingers covering my eyes Shinya Nakano and Marc Marquez walk away from separate frightening crashes coming over the Mugello rise between the safety walls you need no reminding just how fast they were travelling.

It’s always been the same in the 70-year history of Grand Prix racing. I remember the excitement when Shinchi Itoh was reported to have raced past the speed trap in practice for the 1993 German Grand Prix through the Hockenheim forests at over 200 mph (321.8 kph). Riding the fuel injected NSR 500cc Honda two-stroke it was the first time a speed of over 200 mph had been recorded. I had to check that it was his team-mate Daryl Beattie that won the race but I remembered Itoh because of that new record top speed.

Danilo Petrucci showed with that magnificent first Grand Prix win in front of his home crowd at Mugello on Sunday that the top speed of the Mission Winnow Ducati played its part in the triumph that proved a couple of other things. Never give up chasing your dream. It was Petrucci’s 124th Grand Prix race and nice guys can win the top prize. We always said that Danilo used to be a policeman but honestly, I can’t imagine him ever arresting anybody. Perhaps they put him in charge of the radar gun to check the top speed of the motorists, not that it would have registered team-mate Dovizioso’s 356.7 kph on Saturday morning. Even Danilo would have to have arrested him after that.

By | June 7th, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Sheer speed fires the soul