Monthly Archives: November 2019

NEARLY THREE MILLION FANS VOTE ON THEIR FEET

The weather was not always perfect and Mark Marquez may have clinched that MotoGP World title five rounds from the finish in Thailand but still the fans voted on their feet. To be precise an average of 150,691 pairs of feet propelled those fans to each grand prix this season. A staggering average attendance for the three days which makes up a grand prix weekend. Over two million eight hundred thousand race fans travelled to the 19 grand prix this season and next year with Finland making a welcome return to the 20 race calendar there are going to be more.

When I returned to full time grand prix motorcycle racing after a six year defection to Formula One 19 years ago there was concern about just how people were attending or in some cases not attending certain circuits. You could almost count the number of spectators on one hand in many of those vast empty Sepang grandstands in Malaysia. Just 18,500 fans made it over the three days for the 2000 British Grand Prix at Donington Park .Jeremy McWilliams who finished third behind Valentino Rossi and World Champion Kenny Roberts in the 500cc race, the Doctor’s first premier class victory, nicknamed Great Britain as Superbike Island and he was right.

Roll on 18 incredible years of four strokes, Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez plus so much more and it’s a very different story. This year Sepang. which has dropped its Formula race because of poor attendances, attracted over 170,000 spectators cheering on their home based Petronas Yamaha SRT team. This year it was a case of counting the empty seats on one hand. Last year the British Grand Prix at Silverstone has to be cancelled on race day because of heavy rain which the new track surface could not handle. This year nearly 115,000 returned to this classic re-surfaced venue to witness a classic Marquez/Alex Rins fight to the flag. Even more will return next year.

Three circuits attracted over 200,000 spectators this season. The massive crowds packed two classic venues at the Sachsenring in Germany and Le Mans in France. Innovative marketing and spectator events such as concerts, stunt riding and rider appearances has doubled the Le Mans attendance over the last decade with double World titles for Johann Zarco playing their part.

There was no home – based World Champions or even race winner to cheer on in Thailand but still the Chang International Circuit at Buriram attracted the largest crowd of the season for the second year running. A staggering 226,655 fans travelled to the track in East Thailand. MotoGP has a massive new following in Asia and with Indonesia poised to join the Championship in the next couple of years those crowds are just going to get bigger and bigger.

Of course increased attendances are not the only indication of just how successful the MotoGP World Championship has been over the last couple of decades but surely 2,863,119 fans can’t be wrong.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00November 27th, 2019|Uncategorised|Comments Off on NEARLY THREE MILLION FANS VOTE ON THEIR FEET

The Mike Hailwood of MotoGP™

When I was growing up with totally unrealistic dreams of actually racing a  motorcycle I eagerly devoured every  word in a book on just how to do it by my hero nine times World Champion  Mike Hailwood. The book suggested you should be able to place an imaginary sixpenny piece on every corner round the TT mountain course in the Isle of Man. Then for every lap of the six lap race, a mere 364 kms, you should be able to ride over every one of those sixpences to ensure smooth consistent lines. Hailwood could do it but very few others could. Without a shadow of a doubt Jorge Lorenzo would have hit that imaginary sixpence or euro in his case, on every single bend. In this era of tough aggressive encounters Lorenzo was almost a throwback who reminded me so much of the legendary Hailwood. Of course he could mix it and had to win those five World titles. Even the King of Spain had to step in to calm the explosive feud between him and Dani Pedrosa as they fought for the 250 cc title. Then when he joined the MotoGP elite and everything that goes with it. Lorenzo also had to deal with team-mate Valentino Rossi on and off the track.

I vaguely remember having to add the name of a teenager from Mallorca by the name of Jorge Lorenzo to the entry list on the Saturday of the 2002 125 cc race at the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez. It was the day of his 15th birthday and he was too young to ride in the first two practice sessions on Friday. A year later he won his first grand prix in Rio but I’d already got to know Jorge. He was more nervous about having to speak English at press conferences than he was about riding grand prix motor cycles. We would meet up ten minutes before the conference and he would practice his answers in English to my questions. It was good training and soon no practice was required because he was such a frequent participant in the pole setters and race winner’s press conferences on route to those two 250 cc World titles.

He arrived in MotoGP with a bang. Pole positions, some mighty big crashes, especially that high side in China and that first win in Estoril were the stand out moments of that 2008 season. World titles on the Yamaha followed in 2010, 2012 and 2015 which was almost forgotten in the furore of the Marquez/Rossi war. Like Rossi he made the move to Ducati and struggled in the same way to adjust in that first year but then glimpses of that immaculate smooth style returned with three grand prix wins for the Italian factory.

In the end the pain of so many injuries finally took their toll this year. Lorenzo knew more than most that you paid a price for winning 68 grands prix and five World titles. Who would ever forget that weekend at the 2013 Dutch TT in Assen. Lorenzo crashed and broke his collarbone in the wet second practice session. He was flown to Barcelona to have a titanium plate fitted with ten screws to repair the broken bone. He returned two days later to ride the Yamaha into fifth place after 26 laps of excruciating pain. Winning World titles and grands prix was never easy.

To some people  Lorenzo played second fiddle to first Valentino Rossi and then Marc Marquez  but on his day and especially if he got away at the front, Jorge Lorenzo was quite simply unbeatable. Mike Hailwood would have approved.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00November 22nd, 2019|Uncategorised|1 Comment

Valencia vibes

Twenty years pass in a blink. Was it really two decades ago that Regis Laconi became the last Frenchman to win a premier class race at that very first Grand Prix at the circuit on the outskirts of Valencia? So much has happened to MotoGP™ since that September afternoon. The circuit, named after local hero and World Champion Ricardo Tormo who died of leukaemia, has staged some memorable races in the last 20 years. Since 2002 the track has been the venue for final Grand Prix of the season. Many a World Championship in all three classes has been decided on the tight twisty 4-kilometre circuit, and all witnessed by vast, noisy and patriotic crowds. The track is surrounded by packed grandstands and produces an atmosphere more akin to a big football stadium. Then, there are the fireworks!

Where do you start? Valentino Rossi signing off his Honda career with victory in 2003 on the machine sporting an Austin Powers paint theme. Three years later the late Nicky Hayden winning the MotoGP™ World title in the race in which Rossi crashed and World Superbike supremo Troy Bayliss secured his one and only Grand Prix win. Certainly in the paddock, and especially the media centre, Hayden’s third place and subsequent World title was the most popular of the past two decades.

In 2011 we arrived in Valencia grieving the death of Marco Simoncelli at the previous round in Malaysia. The weekend was a poignant reminder to us all just how dangerous the sport we love can be. Michele Pirro celebrated and honoured the life of his team-mate Marco with victory in the Moto2™ race for the devastated Gresini team. Casey Stoner then rode the finest ever final bend of the season to prevent Ben Spies winning his second Grand Prix in an amazing finish – Marco would have approved.

Nobody was prepared for 2015. The atmosphere coming into that final round of the season may have been toxic, but it was both exhilarating and so exciting to be involved. War had been declared at the previous round in Malaysia between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. It started with words, continued on the track and then in the Stewards Office. There were no grey areas for the millions of fans worldwide. Social media exploded in support of the two protagonists. Tickets for the final showdown were sold out within minutes, riot police were on standby but never required, media accreditation applications poured in from all over the World and Formula One drivers hired private jets to ensure they were there. Global interest and media coverage surrounding Grand Prix motorcycle racing had never experienced or felt anything like this before or since. By the time the 30-lap race finally got underway at 14:00 on an October afternoon, the circuit was at boiling point and ready to explode. Despite the considerable efforts of the aggrieved Rossi, it was Jorge Lorenzo who won the race from Marquez and Pedrosa to clinch the World title to conclude a couple of weeks the sport will never forget.

For me, that day in Valencia was so special and it had nothing to do with Rossi or Marquez. I’d been reporting on Grand Prix racing for 37 years and it was such a barren time for British riders. The likes of Jeremy McWilliams, Bradley Smith and Scott Redding had brightened the gloom with Grands Prix wins but never had I witnessed a British World title since Barry Sheene way, way back in 1977. A lad from the West Country changed all that in Valencia. Danny Kent’s ninth place in the Moto3™ race, at last, brought Great Britain a World title after such a long wait.

No World titles to be settled on Sunday as the curtain drops on the season but Valencia never fails to come up with the goods. Hopefully, we’ll be treated to some late autumn sunshine, the fireworks and, of course, the end of season party.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:46+00:00November 14th, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Valencia vibes

Blood brothers

The Marquez family can never do things by half. Brothers winning Grands Prix is not enough for them. For the second time in five years older brother Marc and his younger sibling Alex have grabbed the ultimate accolade and won world titles. In 2014 it was Moto3™ and MotoGP™. On Sunday in the searing heat of Sepang, it was MotoGP™ World Champion Marc who led the wild celebrations when Alex clinched the Moto2™ title.

They are the only brothers in the 70-year history of the sport to win titles in the MotoGP™ World Championships. Others have tried and both won Grands Prix but never World titles. There are brothers of World Champions you probably have never heard off who were tempted to follow their sibling onto the race track.

Felice Agostini, younger brother of 15 times World Champion Giacomo, finished eighth in the 250cc race at the 1975 Nations Grand Prix at Imola. Scott Doohan finished 12th riding the 500cc Harris Yamaha at the 1994 Australian Grand Prix at Eastern Creek. Brother Mick finished third at this opening round of the year in which he went on to win the first of his five 500cc World titles. The legendary Roberts family are best known for father and son World titles but Kenny Junior’s younger brother Kurtis also competed for their father’s team. His best result was a 12th place in the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring riding the KR212V MotoGP™ machine.

The most successful brothers, apart of course from the Marquez boys, are the French Sarron brothers. Older sibling Christian won six 250cc Grands Prix and the 1984 World title. He switched to the 500cc class and won the 1985 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Younger brother Dominique won four 250cc Grands Prix and finished third in the 1988 World Championship. The three Japanese Aoki brothers came so close to re-writing the family tree. Younger sibling Haruchika won nine 125cc Grands Prix on route to the 1995/96 World titles. Older brother Nobuatsu’s only Grand Prix win came in the 1993 250cc Malaysia Grand Prix at Shah Alam while the middle sibling Takuma failed by just two seconds to beat Alex Criville to victory in the 500cc race at the 1997 Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island.

Onto this season and Valentino Rossi’s stepbrother Luca Marini has found success in the Moto2™ World Championship. Pol and Aleix Espargaro fight it out in the premier class. Younger brother Pol is a 15-times winner in the 125 and Moto2™ classes and won the 2013 Moto2™ World Championship. Aleix still waits for that first Grand Prix win but has a couple of poles and a podium finish in the MotoGP™ class. The 2016 Moto3™ World Champion Brad Binder has tasted Moto2™ success this year before moving up to MotoGP™ next year while younger brother Darryn plies his trade in Moto3™.

There have been plenty of other brothers facing the ultimate test on two wheels including the Kallio’s, Sayle’s, Hayden’s, Barros’, Van Den Goorberg’s and Bolle’s. One thing for sure there is certain to be many more while Marc and Alex Marquez concentrate their sights on both winning MotoGP™ World titles – that should be interesting and test that brotherly love to the very limit.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:46+00:00November 7th, 2019|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Blood brothers