Monthly Archives: October 2019

Keep dreaming

It could only happen to The Doctor. Minutes after a hug on the Phillip Island starting grid with former crew chief Jerry Burgess and watched by 15 times World Champion Giacomo Agostini, Valentino Rossi led the opening laps of the Pramac Australian Grand Prix on his historic 400th Grand Prix appearance. The forty-year-old Italian heading the way over riders half his age round the legendary 4.448 kms cliff top circuit as he chased his 116th Grand Prix win and 235th podium finish. It was the world of dreams and throughout the globe, his legion of loyal fans held their breath, surely even their hero could not pull this one off.

In the end even the nine times World Champion finally had to succumb to the youthful pack headed by Marc Marquez round the magnificent circuit where Vale had produced some of his greatest performances. At the end of 27 frantic laps as the rain clouds gathered he finally finished in eighth place after a typical 120.096 kms battle with the youngsters that saw him just 1.3 seconds behind local hero Jack Miller in third place.

There were so many glimpses of The Doctor at his very best as he fought with the likes of Mir, Dovizioso, Bagnaia, Iannone and Aleix Espargaro. It brought back the memories of one of the greatest ever Grand Prix riders pitting his amazing talent with surely the very best motorcycle racing circuit in the World. Memories of that first 500cc win at Phillip Island in 2001 that brought him his first premier class title. The bright yellow number 46 Honda involved in the closest-ever 500cc Grand Prix finish with just three seconds separating the first eight riders across the line as Rossi became the youngest ever rider at the time to win World titles in three classes.

I will never forget his tribute to the late Barry Sheene, his father Graziano’s great friend after he won the Island race in 2003 despite starting with a ten second penalty after a yellow flag infringement. On his slow down lap he had a huge flag over his shoulder, made from the bed sheet of his hotel sporting the legendary Sheene number 7 motif.

Like it or not time is running out for The Doctor to win that 116th Grand Prix but as the MotoGP™ show moves onto the heat and humidity of Sepang in Malaysia for the penultimate round of the Championship on Sunday, just cast your minds back 12 months and the race last year. Rossi had already witnessed his step-brother Luca Marini win his first Moto2™ Grand Prix and his teammate Pecco Bagnaia riding for Rossi’s Sky Racing Team VR46 clinch the World title. With four laps remaining of the MotoGP™ race Rossi led Marc Marquez as they flashed across the line. At the first corner, Rossi went down in a shower of sparks in front of the jam-packed sea of yellow Rossi grandstand. His big chance had gone.

On Sunday it may be a different story – keep dreaming.

By | October 31st, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Keep dreaming

Take heart Fabio, at least it’s not another four years

It was a difficult Sunday for the French in Japan. While France was knocked out of the Rugby World Cup by Wales the mighty impressive Fabio Quartararo clinched the MotoGP™ Rookie of the Year title in Motegi but for the fourth Grand Prix in succession could not beat the rampant Marc Marquez to secure that first premier class victory. Surely that first win will come as rich reward for the 20-year-old during the final three races of the year. He should take heart that others have had to wait longer before the floodgates opened while some who started with a bang never went on the win the ultimate prize.

Mick Doohan had to wait until the penultimate round of the 1990 Championship to secure that first win at the Hungaroring on the outskirts of Budapest in his second season in the 500cc class. The Australian went on to win 53 more on route to five World titles. What a contrast to Max Biaggi who arrived in the 500cc class with a bang at Suzuka in 1998. The Italian had dominated the 250cc Championship for the previous four years and what a premier class debut he made at the opening round of the Championship. Max won comfortably on the Honda to send a shiver down the spine of his rivals to become the first rider in 25 years to win a premier class race on his debut. It was quite a day with Biaggi the first European winner of a Premier class race in Japan but he never went onto win the World title. He won 12 more Grands Prix but in the final reckoning always had to play second fiddle to his bitter rival Valentino Rossi.

Even The Doctor didn’t strike first time out and it after a trip to hospital in nearby Nottingham following a practice crash he won for the first time at the ninth round of the 2000 Championship at Donington Park. The rest is history with 88 victories to follow that brought the Italian seven World titles and a legendary status. I’m sure it’s no great surprise to learn that Marc Marquez won at Austin in 2013 in just his second premier class race and went on to win the title at the first attempt.

I remember two maiden premier class wins by two riders who went onto win the ultimate prize. Twenty five of us travelled to Assen in 1975 to support Barry Sheene just four months after his horrendous Daytona crash that made him more famous than any World titles back home in Britain. I’m still convinced our vocal beer-fuelled support for Barry as he crossed the line on equal time as legend Giacomo Agostini convinced the timekeepers to award the race to the British rider who went on to win 18 more and two World titles

Seven years later I ran down the track with notebook in hand towards the legendary Eau Rouge corner at Spa in Belgian determined to be the first journalist to speak to Freddie Spencer after his maiden Grand Prix win. As I breathlessly arrived Freddie was trying to turn the three-cylinder Honda with no steering lock round at the bottom of the hill to get back to pit lane and the celebrations. Unfortunately, after averaging 157.873 kph to win the 20 lap race an exhausted Freddie fell off at around 5 kph and the exclusive interview had to wait. Freddie went on to win 19 more premier class Grands Prix, two 500cc titles and is still the only rider to win 500 and 250cc titles in the same season just three years later.

So take heart Fabio, that first win will come. At least you get another chance at Phillip Island on Sunday while the French rugby team will have to wait four long years.

By | October 24th, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Take heart Fabio, at least it’s not another four years

Tripping over, visa worries… and the wife’s birthday

When as always I tripped over the bulging massive MotoGP bag at the top of the stairs, woke up in the night worried once again I was travelling to Japan without a visa, could still smell the wood preservative on my hands and double checked with my next door neighbour he would deliver my wife’s birthday present I knew my favourite trip of the year was about to start.

Three grands prix in the space of two hectic weeks on the other side of the world in Japan, Australia and Malaysia embracing so very different cultures, contrasting weather and food. Three totally different race tracks in Motegi, Phillip Island and Sepang which so often produced the new World Champion although not this time round.

Packing enough underpants and work shirts was always a problem to see you through the first two weeks before the welcome laundry service at the hotel in Kuala Lumpur.Hence the bulging MotoGP bag although the problem was if you flew in with all your colleagues picking out your bag on the carousel among 100 similar others was nightmare. In over 30 visits to Japan I never had a visa and every time I approached immigration I got that dreaded feeling that everybody was watching me and I would be refused entry and sent home but it never happened. When you are away from home for three weeks on the other side of the World important matters have to be attended to before you go and when you are away. I always had to spray the wooden garden furniture with preservative the week before I departed because I left in the autumn and returned at the start of winter with those horrible dark nights. My hands still smelt as I boarded that first flight to Tokyo. I was always away for my wife’s birthday at the end of October. Cards and presents had to be hidden and in one case a new bike delivered by my next door neighbour on the right day.

The unbelievable Motegi complex is in the middle of nowhere and until the last couple years we used to stay at one of the many golf courses in the area. At night we were the only people there in the middle of the pitch black Japanese countryside and it reminded so much of the film, The Shining .My so called ‘friends’ used to warn me as we went to bed that Jack Nicholson would be breaking down my bedroom door in the middle of the night to announce I’m home. That warning plus a couple earth tremors certainly didn’t help sleep despite the jet lag.

Straight onto Phillip Island which was such a contrast. We always stayed in the main town Cowes named after the town in the Isle of Wight where I spent many a childhood holiday. I loved the fish and chips and especially the local pub where we learnt so much about Australian beer, life on Phillip Island, cricket and a betting system called Pokies.

We would often fly out of Melbourne on the Sunday/early Monday morning to Kuala Lumpur after the race. After two weeks on the road that first swim at the hotel near the airport was pure heaven. It was a break of a couple of days to get the laundry done and sample the delights of the food and markets in sprawling KL while dodging those tropical storms. Negotiating over the price in the markets was a real art which I never quite mastered and so I took Casey Stoner along on one occasion to stand in for me. As expected he was brilliant.

I was ready to go home at the end of three incredible weeks that for me personally was the perfect illustration why I love MotoGP so much both on and off the track. Of course I’m envious of all those flying out this week but at least I’m home for my wife’s birthday and I will not be tripping over at the top of the stairs.

By | October 17th, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment

Nick Harris: after the Lord Mayor’s show

Barry Sheene would have not ridden in another Grand Prix this season. Giacomo Agostini would have picked his races. Freddie Spencer never graced another Grand Prix podium while Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi just carried on winning. I don’t think it takes much of an expert to work out which route Marc Marquez will follow after his eighth world title win following that breathtaking victory in Thailand on Sunday.

Sheene realised after winning his two 500cc titles in the seventies he could make more money by actually not competing in many of the last few Grands Prix with some very lucrative appearance deals at home. Ago would miss out riding at some of the dangerous road circuits on the all-conquering 350 and 500cc MV Agustas and who could blame him.  After Spencer clinched that historic 1985 250/500cc double by winning the penultimate round of the 500cc Championship at Anderstorp incredibly he never again stood on a Grand Prix podium. Doohan and Rossi just ploughed on and won more and more races after title victories.

The ride I will never forget came from Kenny Roberts Jr in 2000 at Motegi in Japan. Just eight days earlier Kenny had clinched the 500cc world title for Suzuki with a calculated sixth place in the race won by Rossi at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to become the first son to win the same premier class title as his father. It was my first visit to Motegi and Roberts showed us all just why he was the World Champion. Both Roberts and Suzuki knew they had to win the title that year with the young cavalry led by Rossi and Biaggi funded by Honda and Yamaha on the charge. Rossi had won his first 500cc Grand Prix at Donington followed by the Rio win while Biaggi was victorious in Brno. Throw in the likes of sliding Australian Garry McCoy who’d already won three Grands Prix that season on the Yamaha and there were plenty of pretenders to Roberts’s crown wanting to put the World Champion in his place but it never happened. Roberts simply blew them all away round the 4.801 kms circuit to beat Rossi and Biaggi by over six seconds, just to let them know who was the Champion of the world. It turned out to be the last of Kenny’s eight 500cc wins and Rossi took over his mantle. The rest is history but the American had made his point in such a masterful way.

There are still four Grands Prix to go this year and Marquez’ next appearance at the home of Honda in Motegi does not exactly spell out good news for his rivals. Perhaps a certain 20-year-old Frenchman may have something to say about that in the next six weeks.

By | October 10th, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment

All prepared and you won’t need the scissors

Repsol Honda will be prepared to celebrate the distinct possibility that Marc Marquez will clinch the MotoGP™ world title on Sunday in Thailand, but I bet they have not mentioned their plans to their rider. It might seem like a miracle when a rider wins a World Championship that he magically appears on the podium proudly wearing a t-shirt proclaiming his amazing achievement.

Often a new helmet miraculously appears on his lap of honour, while, in more recent years, a little pantomime is often played out trackside to make a poignant point or celebrate the exact number of World titles achieved. While all the celebrations are going on at the circuit, the World Champion’s biography with pictures has already been beamed around the world to millions of media outlets.

If Marquez does not clinch his eighth world title at the Buriram circuit, Repsol Honda will have four more opportunities to press the button on their celebration plans but that has not always been the case. In 1992, I was media manager for the Rothmans Honda team and we were prepared for Mick Doohan to clinch the 500cc world title at the final round of an extraordinary Championship at Kyalami in South Africa.

Two hundred and fifty t-shirts were hidden away proclaiming Mick as the new Champion, while a similar number of press kits with his biography and photographs were ready to be distributed in the media centre at the chequered flag. Back home in England, around one thousand similar kits were poised to be posted first class throughout the world – no internet in those days, of course.

Mick arrived in South Africa with a precious two-point lead over current Champion Wayne Rainey after a truly remarkable comeback that had pushed even the Australian’s bravery and determination to a new level after fighting pain and injury. He’d been running away with the title until breaking his leg in a qualifying crash in Assen. An appalling, pain-filled three months followed when he even endured having his two legs sewn together to prevent the unthinkable prospect of having his right leg amputated. He returned to race at the penultimate round, after missing four Grands Prix, still holding a 22-point advantage over Rainey as a shadow of the rider who’d been dominating the Championship until Assen.

The 70-year history of Grand Prix racing has produced some extraordinary rides of pure courage and Mick’s 12th place around the dangerous and slippery Interlagos circuit, on the outskirts of San Paolo in Brazil, was certainly the bravest I’ve ever witnessed. Especially as it produced no World Championship points and Rainey won – only the top ten finishers scored points in those days.

Two weeks later and, so typically, Mick had worked day and night to improve his fitness and build his strength for the near 120-kilometre battle that would decide the outcome of the Championship. He fought like a tiger to finish in sixth place but Rainey did enough. The Yamaha rider rode the perfect race behind John Kocinski and Wayne Gardner to finish third and retain his title by four points.

Cutting up the t-shirts and press kits was an upsetting task after witnessing first hand just how much a rider was prepared to put his body through to win the title. A fitter and stronger Mick returned a year later and, in 1994, at last won his first world title. For five consecutive seasons, he sported that World Championship winning t-shirt that his sheer bravery and ability more than deserved.

However, I don’t think the Repsol Honda Team will be getting out those same cutting up scissors after the next five Grands Prix.

By | October 3rd, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on All prepared and you won’t need the scissors