Monthly Archives: April 2020

BEST KEPT SECRET

The good Dr Raines tells us that thirty-one years ago, today Eddie Lawson won his first grand prix for the Rothman Honda team at the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez. After winning three World 500 cc titles for Yamaha Eddie’s move to Honda for the 1989 season was a massive news story.

Behind the scenes Nick Harris was pulling the media strings before the announcement of Eddie’s defection to Yamaha’s great rivals Honda.

 

The phone rang very early one morning in December 1988. Either bad news or from Australia was my first thought as I picked up the phone to receive a right old ear bashing from  a furious Wayne Gardner at home in Wollongong. Did I know that Rothmans Honda had signed his bitter rival three times World Champion Eddie Lawson from Yamaha to be his new team-mate, he demanded. I did not know but I soon found out.

A couple of weeks later just before Christmas I was on the plane to Los Angeles with photographer Malcolm Bryan for a secret visit to Eddie in Uplands just outside LA. As Media Manager for the team I wanted to prepare everything for the announcement of the shock big signing in the new year. It was with more than a little trepidation we met Eddie the next morning in the lounge of the hotel decorated with Christmas trees and fairy lights. Nobody ever doubted Eddie as a truly great grand prix rider, but he could be ‘difficult’ with the media. I was worried that the extensive media campaign demanded by Rothmans would not be Eddie’s cup of tea, but I was wrong.

We had a wonderful and productive couple of days with the World Champion. Nothing was a problem for him as we photographed him running alongside a giant freight train in the desert, driving doughnuts on some vast salt flats and posing in front of his new house. We went out to dinner with his friends who honestly did not know he was a World Champion and a massive name in Europe because typically he had not told them. We flew home with everything we needed and more.

It was an amazing season with that first victory for the team at the fourth round in Jerez the start of the championship winning run. It was a scorching hot day with a typical vast noisy crowd packing every vantage spot around the legendary circuit. Kevin Schwantz looked a likely winner until he crashed, and Eddie took over to really kick–start his World Championship campaign in earnest. Wayne Rainey was second and led the Championship by ten points with Niall Mackenzie third.

Eddie followed up with wins in Belgium, France and Sweden before we set off for the party town of all-party towns, Goiania in Brazil for the final round of the 1989 Championship. Second place was enough for Eddie to join the greats by winning the 500cc World Championships on two different makes of machine. We partied and then Eddie returned to Yamaha with the job done.

He then joined Cagiva and brought them their first 500cc grand prix victory in Hungary before retiring at the end of 1992. Along with Phil Read one of the most underrated truly special riders in the 71-year history of the sport. Four World titles,31 grand prix victories say it all, not that Eddie would have ever told his mates back home.

By |2020-04-29T13:38:12+00:00April 29th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on BEST KEPT SECRET

Past and present: global impact on MotoGP™

Never since Grand Prix racing started in 1949 has the sport and more importantly the world faced anything so serious as the present pandemic. Being a sport that encompasses the globe MotoGP™ has and always will be experiencing world events well beyond just the confines of our sport.

In 1982 the opening Grand Prix of the season was held in Buenos Aires the capital of Argentina. Little did I realise what lay ahead as I first travelled by motorcycle on a six-day adventure from the bustling capital city to the border of Chile high in the magnificent Andes before returning for the Grand Prix. A stunning race between Kenny Roberts, Barry Sheene and Freddie Spencer made the perfect ending to a wonderful trip. Yes, we had stumbled on a massive demonstration by ‘los desaparecidos’ mothers whose sons had been abducted and slaughtered by the military junta. Also, there were military aircraft at the airport when I delivered some colour films from practice to be flown back to England, but we so enjoyed the party-loving and friendly city. It was only when we arrived back in England early on the Monday morning, we realised we had got out just in time. A day later all flights between Argentina and Great Britain were cancelled and war was declared between the two countries just two days later over the Falkland Islands dispute.

A year later the opening round of the Championship once again visited a country that was never far the front-page headlines. South Africa was strangled by the apartheid regime and I remember arriving at the airport in Johannesburg questioning my conscious if we should have been there. I left five days later absolutely certain Grand Prix racing had made the right decision. A united front by the Grand Prix community to ignore the segregation laws imposed on the black population. Sometimes it was not easy, and it would have been easy to turn a blind eye, but nobody did, and it meant so much to so many people. I hope the reaction of an international sporting community to apartheid was a shock to those in power.

In 2002 we flew into Melbourne airport surprised by the thousands of people waiting for the flights to arrive. Naively we thought they’d come to welcome the MotoGP™ riders on route to Phillip Island for the Australian Grand Prix, but they were there for a totally different reason. Just a few days earlier 88 Australians had tragically lost their lives in the Bali bombings and these were relatives of the survivors who were flying back home to their loved ones. I also remember after quietly leaving the airport and travelling down to Phillip Island Randy Mamola rushing to the local medical centre in Cowes offering to give blood.

Nine years later it was the MotoGP™ paddock that flew into Japan for the Grand Prix in Motegi. It was the first major sporting event to be staged in Japan since the earthquake and resulting tsunami had caused a postponement six months earlier. Despite real worries, which later proved unfounded, about a radiation leak at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station the Grand Prix went ahead. Full grids and some great racing brought both joy and relief to a Japanese nation who’d suffered so much uncertainty over the last six months.

When this coronavirus pandemic crisis finally ends, MotoGP™ will return to the racetracks of the world.

By |2020-04-23T13:29:12+00:00April 23rd, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment

Concorde announced Freddie’s Easter arrival

For British motorcycle racing fans, the Easter holiday weekend meant just one thing – the Transatlantic Trophy. Great Britain versus the USA at three so typically British racetracks. Brands Hatch on Good Friday, Mallory Park on Easter Sunday and finishing at Oulton Park on Easter Monday. Massive crowds packed the three circuits to witness the transatlantic showdown with World Champions Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts captaining their respect teams.

Good Friday in 1980 summed it up perfectly. The long wait in the traffic on the A20 unless you were lucky enough to be riding a bike, before reaching the grassy Brands Hatch car parks. Over 50,000 patriotic fans packed the 4.2 km circuit south of London to cheer on Barry Sheene and his team to take on ‘The Yanks’ captained by 500cc World Champion Kenny Roberts. Even the sun was shining.

As the teams prepared for the first round of the battle amid the screech, smoke and smell of two-stroke rocket ships all eyes turned towards the sky. The majestic shape of the supersonic Concorde aircraft leaving a white vapour trail in the blue sky as it roared overhead on route to New York from London Heathrow. Symbolically that white vapour trail announced the arrival on the World stage of an 18-year-old American. Frederick Burdette Spencer had arrived from Shreveport, Louisiana and everybody was about to take notice.

The fans cheered and waved their flags as the riders on the back of an open top lorry completed a lap of honour before the hostilities got underway. Only a few checked their programmes to check the identity of a shy teenager with a huge number eight emblazoned on the back of his blue and white leathers. They were glad they did.

Back in the paddock Erv Kanemoto was warming up the striking silver 750cc Yamaha on which Freddie was going to race for the very first-time outside America. The warning signs were there for the British team and fans with Freddie fastest in practice despite some electrical problems. Nobody was prepared for what happened.

It took Freddie just three laps of the undulating Brands circuit to force the crowd to re-check those well-thumbed programmes on just who was leading the race. Freddie just disappeared into the green Kent countryside leaving the likes of Sheene, Roberts and Graeme Crosby to fight for second.

An hour and a half later the crowd were ready, and Freddie did not let them down in the second race. He led from the start as the pack screamed into the infamous downhill Paddock Hill bend. Roberts and Randy Mamola chased hard, but this was the Silver Yamaha’s day and Freddie was a comfortable start to finish winner.

Just 48 hours into his first trip outside America Freddie had arrived. Three World titles, 27 Grand Prix wins and the only rider to complete the 250/500cc World Championship double in the same season shows we should have taken a little bit more notice of Concorde’s white vapour trails pointing all the way back to the United States on that sunny Good Friday afternoon 40 years ago.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00April 16th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Press Release|Comments Off on Concorde announced Freddie’s Easter arrival

Not only the greatest, but a true legend

My local radio station rang me last Thursday asking me to talk about my sporting legend who would have been celebrating his 80th birthday on that very same day. Oxford boy Stanley Michael Bailey Hailwood (Mike) – I could have talked about him all day long.

Nine times World Champion, 76 Grand Prix wins and 112 podium finishes in just 197 Grand Prix appearances, 14 TT wins on the Isle of Man and two podium finishes in the Formula One car World Championship speak for themselves. But there is so much more to Mike Hailwood who lived just over the hill from where I grew up just outside Oxford.

In 1961 he was the youngest ever winner of a premier-class World Championship race with victory at the TT on the Norton. That same year he became the youngster ever World Champion bringing Honda the 250cc title, the first ever for a Japanese factory. Six years later he won three Grand Prix races in one day at Assen. His wins in the 250, 350 and 500cc races came after 436 kms of racing flat out round the legendary venue. When he switched to four wheels, he won the European Formula Two Championship. In 1973 he was awarded the George Medal, Britain’s second highest bravery award, when he pulled Clay Regazzoni out of a burning Formula One Car with his own overalls on fire during the 1973 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami. In 1978 eleven years after his last motorcycle Grand Prix appearance he returned to two wheels to race at the most demanding and dangerous motorsport venue in the World and won. Hailwood was 38 years old when he returned to the 60.721 kms mountain circuit to send the Isle of Man crazy with the most highly acclaimed victory ever in the illustrious history of the TT races.

Tragically three years later Hailwood and his nine-year-old daughter Michelle lost their lives in a road traffic accident. Hailwood had set up a motorcycle retail business with former 250cc World Champion Rodney Gould and was driving to pick up fish and chips for supper with his daughter Michelle and son David. An articulated lorry illegally drove through a gap separating the duel carriageways and collided with Hailwood’s car.

I remember slouching to school one morning down Park End Street making up the usual excuses why I’d not done any homework when my future miraculously appeared right in front of my very eyes. In the window of Kings of Oxford motorcycle shop Mike Hailwood’s TT winning 250cc four-cylinder Honda reached out to me gleaming in the morning sunlight. Forget Maths, Physics and French homework, I knew where were my future lay.

In 1965 I travelled to the magical Isle of Man to watch my first ever World Championship race. Hailwood versus new boy Giacomo Agostini – surely it could not get any better, but it did. Both crashed at the same place but in separate incidents. Hailwood remounted the MV Agusta to win. I was totally hooked.

Fourteen long years later I was back in the Island working for Motor Cycle News. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I witnessed Hailwood’s last TT win on the 500cc two-stroke RG500 Suzuki in the 1979 Senior race.

Meeting your sporting hero is never easy and often unadvisable. You can end up so disappointed, but I was not. In 1968 I was working as a clerk in a Solicitors office. I was hopeless and very bored. The amiable boss of the firm rang me one afternoon asking me to come to his office. I thought it would be the usual please get your hair cut and trim your beard before meeting clients. He came to the door of his office and told me there was somebody I should meet. It was Mike Hailwood and for once in my life I was totally speechless as he shook my hand.

Mike Hailwood: my sporting hero and a total legend.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00April 9th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Not only the greatest, but a true legend

Happy 100th anniversary Suzuki

It’s an amazing racing heritage that has played such vital part in that 100-year Suzuki success story. As the Japanese factory celebrated its one 100th anniversary last week just reflect what an impact and influence, they have had in their 60 years of Grand Prix racing. Like all the major Japanese factories their success on the racetrack has enabled them to lead the world in innovative motorcycle manufacturing.

Suzuki followed Honda by understanding that success in the ultimate challenge, Grand Prix racing. They travelled to the legendary TT races in the Isle of Man. Just one year after Honda they competed for the first time in the 1960 three lap 125cc race. Two years later they took their first ever Grand Prix victory when Ernst Degner won the 50cc TT race round the infamous 60.721 kms mountain circuit. Since that day on the Isle of Man Suzuki have won 157 more Grands Prix. Including that first victory, they have won 30 in the 50cc class, 35 in the 125 and 93 in the 500cc/MotoGP™ classes. Degner followed his 1962 TT win with further victories in Holland, Belgium and West Germany bringing Suzuki their first World title the same year.

Suzuki led the revolution in bringing their two-stroke expertise into the premier 500cc class that had been dominated by the British and Italian four-strokes. In 1971 New Zealander Jack Findley re-wrote the history books at the Ulster Grand Prix. Not only did he bring Suzuki success for the first time in the premier class but also the very first two-stroke victory against the all-conquering four-strokes. The floodgates opened with a long haired loud British legend Barry Sheene spearheading the Suzuki onslaught riding the magnificent RG 500 four-cylinder rocket ship. Sheene brought Suzuki the 500cc World titles in 1976 and 77. He was followed by Italian’s Marco Lucchinelli and Franco Uncini in the early eighties.

Then Honda and Yamaha dominated before a hard riding rear tyre smoking Texan won back the title in 1993. Nobody embodies the Suzuki spirit of racing these incredible frighteningly fast and unpredictable two-strokes than the 1993 World Champion Kevin Schwantz. Once again Honda fought back but as the two-stroke stroke era was coming to a close the son of a rider who’d so often been the thorn in the side of Suzuki brought them their last World title. Kenny Roberts Junior closed the chapter on the all-conquering RG 500 story with a successful conclusion. The American clinched 2000 World 500cc title before Valentino Rossi and then the four-strokes took over.

Australian Chris Vermeulen brought Suzuki their first four stroke win at Le Mans in 2007 but these were tough times. After a brief respite Suzuki returned to the fray and were rewarded four years ago when Maverick Vinales brought them their first win for nine years. Last year in Austin Alex Rins put Suzuki back on the top step of the podium fighting off nobody less than a certain Valentino Rossi. The Spanish rider repeated their success at Silverstone with a famous win over World Champion Marc Marquez to add to the list of Suzuki Grand Prix winners.

Heading the honours board are New Zealander Hugh Anderson and Schwantz with 25 wins apiece. Schwantz took all his wins in the 500cc class but Anderson, on route to two 50cc and 125 cc World titles, won eight 50cc and 17 125cc Grands Prix. Sheene won 21 Grands Prix for Suzuki. Three in the 125cc class and 18 and two World titles on the 500

Suzuki embark on their new decade in great shape on the racetrack that has played such a major part of their history. Rins and Joan Mir look certain to continue that winning tradition embodied by Anderson, Degner, Sheene and Schwantz over the last 60 glorious years.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00April 2nd, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Happy 100th anniversary Suzuki