Monthly Archives: August 2019

DANNY WE WILL NEVER FORGET

The reports to emerge last week about a former World Champion and the magnificent Go Pro British Grand Prix at Silverstone this weekend could not have been of a greater contrast but they are inexplicably linked. Life can change so much in four short years but who could forget the celebration of the success starved home crowd at Silverstone when Danny Kent became just the third British rider to win a solo race at his home grand prix. The Union Jack flags not only flew with pride in celebration of his sixth Moto3 win of the season on the Leopard Racing Honda but in the fact that he had established an almost uncatchable lead in the 2015 title chase with six rounds remaining. To the Spanish, Italian, Australia and American riders it may not have been such an unusual situation but for Danny it was a case of re-writing the history books. No British rider has won a solo grand prix World title for 38 barren years since the legendary Barry Sheene captured his second 500 cc title in 1977.The 21 year lad from the West Country did it, but only just after getting nervous in those six races . Ninth place in that final round in Valencia was enough to keep Miguel Oliveira at bay. Britain had a World Champion at last and the sky was the limit for the 21 year old.

Roll the clock forward four years and the news that emerged on the eve of the British Grand Prix. Kent had received a suspended prison sentence after an incident at Tetbury in March. Following the announcement he was sacked by his British Superbike team and the World Champion was in the wilderness. I’m sure like us he is wondering just how did it all go so so wrong.

Just look at what has happened to other Moto3 World Champions.  Maverick Vinales and Joan Mir pursuing successful careers in MotoGP and soon to be followed by Brad Binder. Alex Marques a likely Moto2 World Champion while Jorge Martin is making his mark in the same class. Danny never won another grand prix after that Silverstone success and the fragile confidence just ebbed out of him in a succession of unsuccessful Moto2 rides. It impossible to fathom out just went wrong for a rider who was being earmarked for a meteoric rise into MotoGP.

He had already made difficult to understand career moves before the World title year. Three years earlier Danny won a couple of Moto3 grands prix for the Ajo KTM team and looked poised to mount a serious Championship challenge the next season. Instead he switched to Moto2 on the uncompetitive Tech 3 machine. He soon returned to Moto3 the next season and took a year to recover both his confidence and form. Typically even his historic World title win in Valencia was overshadowed by the Marquez/Rossi war that came to a head later on in the afternoon.

As Danny contemplates his future may I assure him we will never forget that day at Silverstone four years ago and the World title that brought us all so much pride. I hope he shares the same memories.

By | August 30th, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on DANNY WE WILL NEVER FORGET

Paranoid about the weather – surely not

Reluctantly I have to admit us British can be a little paranoid about the weather and Silverstone last year was proof we have every right to be. We used to get so fed up every time we arrived for the British Grand Prix, either at Silverstone or Donington, with the constant sarcastic enquiries from the remainder of the media centre about the ‘dreadful’ British weather and particularly the Spanish and Italians, who just could not understand why we lived on an Island where it has to be known to rain.

We used to point out that the weather at places such as Assen, the Sachsenring, Le Mans and even Qatar could be equally as variable. Our protests disappeared in the storm that deluged Silverstone and its new surface that proved unable to cope with the sheer amount of water falling out of the sky causing the cancellation of our beloved British Grand Prix. The first time in the 69-year history of Grand Prix racing that weather caused the complete and utter cancellation of a Grand Prix on the actual day of a race. There was no point trying to argue with those sodden and frustrated Italian and Spaniard’s as everybody packed up ready for the next round in Misano. This time the weather had won.

I’d had some close shaves before and have missed complete days of practice and qualifying. Race days have been postponed, race programmes and race distances cut short but always racing won albeit such as Qatar in 2009, a day late. Riders actually refusing to race on safety grounds have also produced severely depleted grids but the races have gone ahead. I remember being summoned to Barry Sheene’s motorhome at Nogaro in France in 1982 to draft a letter from all the top riders led by Kenny Roberts telling the organisers they refused to race on safety grounds. Who will forget the sight of Eddie Lawson raising one finger, not to celebrate a victory, while sitting on the pit lane wall in Misano every single lap to Pier Francesco Chili who won a re-started 1989 Nations Grand Prix when the leading riders refused to race after safety issue in the first race.

I never actually arrived at the Salzburgring in 1980 for that opening Grand Prix of the season after being warned you had to dig your way in and out of the paddock because of snowdrifts. We just got through the MotoGP™ race in on our very first visit to Indianapolis in 2008 before the hurricane arrived causing the cancellation of the 250cc race. I’ve talked and talked to less and less bored viewers from lonely commentary boxes with rain, mist and even the threat of lightning causing no chance of track action at venues such as Motegi, Sepang and Qatar but always somehow the races or in some cases, a race went ahead.

In Britain we have a popular expression about the weather called the Michael Fish moment. In 1987 a very well-known BBC weather presenter Michael Fish told millions of viewers not to worry about the weather approaching the South of England. That night the area was hit by the biggest storm and hurricane ever experienced in that part of the world and us paranoid Brits have never forgotten.

Excuse the expression but I’m sure lightning will not strike twice this weekend and even if it did, the resurfaced Silverstone circuit would cope with whatever the elements choose to throw at it.

Bring on the sunshine.

By | August 23rd, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment

Can Dovi play cricket?

The likes of Marc Marquez, Steve Smith, Lionel Messi, Lewis Hamilton and Roger Federer are not quite untouchable. Although, as Dovi showed in the amazing race in Austria on Sunday, you have to produce something so very special to halt the juggernaut.

Marquez arrived at the Red Bull Ring in the form of his life, which is some form if you check out what he had already achieved. Ducati had won on the three previous clashes at the magnificently situated circuit which is the only battleground in the calendar that the Repsol Honda rider has not stood on the top step of the podium. Typically it was something he wanted to rectify and complete the full house.

Qualifying had that familiar feel. Marquez on pole as he chased his seventh win of the season to increase that seemingly uncatchable lead in the Championship. It was his 59th pole position in the premier class making him the most successful of all time, overtaking five times 500cc World Champion Mick Doohan. He made a great start from pole in the race but from the very first corner it was apparent this was going to be a different story as Dovi shoved the Ducati up the inside and did it again at the top of the hill. He was not going to let Marquez get away at the front and it was pretty obvious it was going to come down to the last couple of laps and probably the last corner where Dovi had come out on top against Marc a couple of years ago in a memorable finale. This was even better, Dovi coming from behind to do a Marquez on Marquez for a crucial win for him, Ducati and the Championship.

MotoGP™ could never be accused of being stale but it needed a race like this to fire up the flame. It also gave heart to those defenders trying to stop Messi scoring more goals, Formula One drivers fighting to prevent Hamilton win another world title and tennis players trying to return the Federer serve.

The biggest question mark is can Dovi repeat the dose and do it again at Silverstone at the next round at the flat super-fast and re-surfaced Silverstone circuit. In the meantime, I wonder if Dovi can play cricket. England is gripped in Ashes fever at the moment. The second test match in the fiercely contested battle between old enemies England and Australia starts at Lords in London on Wednesday. Australia won the first match with their batsman Steve Smith scoring runs for fun and destroying England. The media headlines blasted out for the days that followed about how he was impossible to get out – what are you doing on Wednesday Dovi and any chance you becoming an honorary Englishman for the week?

By | August 15th, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Can Dovi play cricket?

Is it really 40 years ago?

Silverstone comes around once again and this is the 43rd successive year that I have attended the British Grand Prix – every year since it replaced the Isle of Man TT races as the British round of the world championship in 1977. Perhaps the most memorable of those 42 previous years was exactly 40 years ago and the great battle between Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts n 1979. Before giving my memories of the race, just a few words about Barry Sheene to set the scene.

My first race meeting at Oulton Park at Easter of 1972 when I saw this young guy with flowing hair and white leathers trounce everyone in the 250cc and 500cc race on his Yamahas.  At the time it was the performance of Cal Rayborn and Ray Pickrell that everyone was raving about,  but for a young lad of 16 it was the style and riding of Barry Sheene that caught the eye.

So you could say that he became my racing “hero” a few years before becoming a household name after his Daytona crash in 1975.  In fact the crash certainly increased his standing in my view as it illustrated that here was a guy worth the hero status – as not only was he a fantastic rider but also incredibly tough and determined.  Of course over the next few years he went on to win his world titles and this was a great time to follow racing as Barry Sheene appeared at many British meetings as well as the Grand Prix, where there would be 40,000 or more spectators turn up to watch.  I can recall one International meeting at Mallory where there was Barry Sheene racing against Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read and Kenny Roberts!!  Can you imagine that now?  I think the only way to compare the effect Sheene had on racing and the way he brought it to the notice of the ordinary guy in the street was, just imagine if Valentino Rossi was English…..someone who is not only the best rider in the world but also has style and charisma.

Now to the race in question.  To be honest when the Grand Prix series arrived at Silverstone in 1979 Barry Sheene was not having a great season and was being well beaten in the Championship by his great rival Kenny Roberts.  Of course for me, as a Sheene fan, Roberts was the arch-enemy. Even though Sheene had qualified fifth, more than 1.7 seconds down on Roberts, there was always belief that he could come good in the race.  Of course at the start of the race everyone’s attention was diverted by the embarrassing crash by Mick Grant on the NR500 at the first corner on his team-mate’s oil!!  Early in the race Wil Hartog was up front.  This was my first experience of the fanatical Dutch supporters, as I was in the Woodcote stands and there was about 50 of them in a group just behind us that went mad every time Hartog came around.  But once Sheene and Roberts got to the front it was just a great race and also great atmosphere there in the Woodcote stand.  I am sure both riders thought they had the other covered……but then it happened, right in front of where I was sitting, when a back-marker got in the way of Sheene going onto the last lap……and we though then that the race was run.  But Sheene broken the lap record on the last lap (amazingly more than one and half seconds faster than his qualifying time) to challenge Roberts right in front again of where I was sitting.  What a great finish to a fantastic race…..but of course a great disappointment to the home crowd.  I don’t think I have been more excited by a race since…..or more disappointed at the result.  

Many years later I was fortunate enough to be producing the official MotoGP statistics and now know that the record books show this as the fifth closest race finish of all time in 500cc class – but as always the record books do not give the full story. Lets hope we are in for another thriller on the 40th anniversary of that race, but this time with a British rider winning by a whisker to give the home crowd something to remember in 2059!

By | August 15th, 2019|Martin Raines Blog, News and Events|Comments Off on Is it really 40 years ago?

No Sheene break for Marc

A delayed start like Brno on Sunday is a nightmare for everybody. Riders have to readjust their brains, stay calm and wait usually for the weather to make up its mind and go one way or the other. Teams are constantly checking the clouds and their forecasting computer screens while preparing tyres for wet, dry and the likely prospect of a flag to flag race. Television and radio commentators keep talking while their people in pit lane scurry round interviewing anybody willing to speak and especially anybody who has inside knowledge of the weather and the rules. Millions of viewers throughout the world either open the fridge for another beer or put on the kettle to make yet another cup of tea.

It’s always been the same dilemma for the riders although some them employed their own special way of dealing with the nerve-jangling wait. Typically, double 500cc World Champion Barry Sheene produced the most attention. While others around scurried around he would simply pull out a cigarette, place into his mouth through a special hole drilled in his helmet for the purpose, light up and have a quiet smoke while the weather and the organisers made up their minds. It was so Barry, playing physiological games to undermine his rivals even before the race had started. It worked most times although a certain Kenny Roberts was neither impressed or intimidated.

There was no visible sign of any rider lighting up on Sunday even round the back of the pit lane garages and certainly not Marc Marquez who seemed so relaxed. Who was surprised after that truly unbelievable lap by the World Champion to qualifying by over two seconds on slick tyres the previous afternoon on a track that had plenty of damp or even wet patches.

Viewers witnessed plenty of replays of that amazing lap while they waited for the weather to make up its mind. We heard from Mick Doohan on the grid how he was still p……… off losing out to Alex Criville after leading all the way to the very last corner at Brno 23 years ago. John Hopkins told us during the nervous wait this was when he was glad he was no longer a MotoGP™ rider. Colin Edwards how he just wanted to get back into his garage and stay focused while relaxing and we heard many opinions on the rumours that Valentino Rossi is considering retirement.

When proceeding got underway Marquez was once again in a class of his own. His 50th MotoGP™ win to join that exclusive club alongside Valentino Rossi, Giacomo Agostini and Mick Doohan. Already we are working out not if but when he is going to retain that World title. Brother Alex is doing a similar destruction job in Moto2™ and that double World title for the family we saw back in 2014 when Alex captured the Moto3™ crown looks more than likely.

Ducati arrive at the Red Bull Ring this Sunday with their best chance of halting, perhaps only temporally, the Marquez freight train. Since MotoGP™ returned to the magnificent circuit the Italian factory have dominated with wins for Iannone, Dovizioso and Lorenzo. A repeat on Sunday would delay what already looks inevitable and might stop my Formula One car friends giving me some well-deserved stick after what I’ve given them over the last few years.

By | August 9th, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on No Sheene break for Marc

Spencer, Gardner, Read convinced Vale can win again

I have this particular record I’d be delighted to lose in the remaining ten Grands Prix of the season. I have commentated on every one of Valentino Rossi’s 89 MotoGP™ wins. From Donington Park in 2000 to Assen in 2017 I was there and the question I get asked more than any other is can he do it again. Of course he can but I’m not the man to ask.

I was at Silverstone at the weekend at the World GP Bike Legends event at the circuit that stages the Go Pro British Grand Prix next month and asked three riders who between them have won 11 World titles and a total of 97 Grands Prix if Vale can stand on the top step of the podium once again. They all agreed that he could but warned don’t leave it too long. Freddie Spencer won three World titles, including the historic 250/500 cc double. Wayne Gardner was the first Australian rider to win the 500cc class and seven times World Champion Phil Read is surely the most underestimated rider in the 70-year history of Grand Prix racing.

“I’m absolutely certain that Valentino can win another Grand Prix but both the conditions and the bike has to be right on the day,” explained Freddie, who incredibly never stood on a Grand Prix podium again after his 27th Grand Prix victory, a 1985 500cc win in Sweden that brought him the historic 250/500 cc World Championship double. “He showed in Malaysia last year when he came so close but the key is he has to be in that leading pack right from the start of the race. I’m sure he can do it.”

The 1987 500cc World Champion Wayne Gardner who won the last of his 18 Grands Prix just three races before he retired in 1992 is also convinced Rossi can win another Grand Prix but warns the Italian that time is running out. “Vale has every chance but as time goes on it gets more difficult. This year we have seen more and more young riders arrive in the MotoGP™ class like Fabio Quartararo and they are only going to get better and so he’s got to do it soon.”

Phil Read knew all about winning Grands Prix. His 52 wins in the 125, 250, 350 and 500cc classes brought him seven World titles. His last Grand Prix win came in the 500cc class when he brought MV Agusta victory in 1975 at Brno in Czechoslovakia and he took a couple of podiums a year later before retiring.

“I think it’s likely because he’s so important to Yamaha but it will not be easy for a 40-year-old, especially against the likes of Marc Marquez who seems to be capable of riding at ten tenths the whole time.”

PS, I’ll let you into a little secret. I actually did not commentate on what many people reckon was Rossi’s greatest ever MotoGP™ win but I was there. Laguna Seca in 2008 and that epic Rossi/Stoner confrontation decided at the Corkscrew and I had completely lost my voice. All I could do was sit in silence at the back of the commentary box and marvel at the battle that raged in the Californian sunshine which was brilliantly described by Gavin Emmett and John Hopkins in my enforced absence.

By | August 1st, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Spencer, Gardner, Read convinced Vale can win again