Monthly Archives: September 2020

Barcelona with Joey Dunlop, The Who and Queen

Sitting by the hotel pool in Castelldefels with the greatest ever road racer Joey Dunlop watching the equally greatest ever rock bands U2, The Who, and Queen perform live at Wembley Stadium on the television so reminds me of my very first taste of motorcycle racing in Spain.

It was my one and only visit to the legendary Montjuic Park circuit with the roofs and spires of the City of Barcelona shining in the sunshine below the hillside location. The circuit that started the Grand Prix revolution in Spain back in 1951. The 3.790 km Parkland circuit that had staged 17 Spanish Grands Prix.

It was a hot July weekend in 1985 and the Spanish Grand Prix had long moved on to the purpose-built circuit at Jarama on the outskirts of Madrid. Montjuic Park was still alive and certainly kicking. I was there with the Rothmans Honda TT Formula One team for the Spanish round of the Championship. There was also a round of the TT Formula Two World Championship with the real bonus a round of the World Endurance Championship which meant watching motorcycles racing at night on the hallowed tarmac. It was one massive party for tens of thousands of spectators who knew how to party while the mighty monsters roared round the circuit with headlights blazing and exhausts glowing.

Montjuic Park had such a special place in motorcycle folklore. In 1951 it hosted its first Grand Prix and the 500cc race won by Umberto Masetti on the Gilera in 2:10:56.2 at a speed of 93.9 km/h which is the slowest ever average speed recorded for a premier class Grand Prix. Two years later Fergus Anderson became the oldest rider to win a premier class Grand Prix. He was 44 years old at the time and so do not give up Vale, you have three more years

Japanese factories also have good memories. Australian Tom Phillis brought Honda their first-ever Grand Prix win with victory in the 1961 125cc race. Eleven years late Chas Mortimer gave Yamaha their first-ever 500cc premier class win on the 352cc Yamaha (Well Chas said it was 352 cc).

My second visit to Barcelona came seven years after that trip to Montjuic Park. It was a completely different City totally swamped by Olympic fever. New roads, new airport, and most importantly a spanking new Grand Prix circuit on the northern outskirts near Granollers. The showpiece to the World was the magnificent Olympic stadium built on the site of the Montjuic Park circuit. How times had changed in the comparatively short seven years.

The new 4.747 km Barcelona – Catalunya circuit matched everything that Barcelona had built for the Olympics. Brilliant technical track with superb facilities for the 1992 Grand Prix of Europe. It was the way ahead. Wayne Rainey won the first Grand Prix on the new surface in front of Mick Doohan and Doug Chandler. The circuit has staged a Grand Prix every year since then.

Back to Montjuic Park in 1985 coupled with both sadness and joy. British rider Tony Rutter, who had won four consecutive TT Formula Two World titles, was very seriously injured when he crashed his Ducati in the F2 race.

That weekend back in England the greatest ever live concert was being staged at Wembley. Live Aid was beamed throughout the World which of course included Castelldefels. I cannot remember who Joey Dunlop’s favourite band was, but probably U2 instead of Queen or The Who

What a Barcelona weekend.

 

By |2020-09-24T05:42:00+00:00September 24th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Barcelona with Joey Dunlop, The Who and Queen

Basketball or football?

What a unique weekend. MotoGP™ and Formula One Grands Prix in the same country on the same day. Two major but very different World Championship motorsport events in Italy in these challenging times. Two wheels at Misano and four wheels for the very first time at the legendary MotoGP™ venue in Mugello.

I remember once asking Max Mosley, the President at the time of the FIA who controlled Formula One, why there was not more overtaking in Formula One in comparison to Grand Prix motorcycle racing. As always, he came up with a very clever reply.

Mosley likened Formula One to football and Grand Prix motorcycle racing to basketball. On two wheels plenty of overtaking similar to baskets in basketball adding up to the ultimate score and result. In Formula One he suggested that one decisive overtaking manoeuvre in the complete race could produce victory as a single goal can in football

If you think the weekend was unique, there was a time when they would run car races and a motorcycle Grands Prix on the same day at the same circuit. It was a recipe for disaster and controversy which came to a head in the 1974 West German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. Car racers wanted unprotected Armco barriers to stop them from crashing off the track. The motorcycle riders rightly wanted those barriers protected by straw bales. The organisers would not supply enough and so the Grand Prix riders, led by MV Agusta team-mates Phil Read and Giacomo Agostini, refused to race.

As so often happened in those dangerous and uncaring times, the organisers insisted the Grand Prix went ahead. They persuaded just seven local German riders to compete while the World Championship stars looked on or went home. There were just four finishers in the 159.845km race around the 22.835km Nürburgring circuit. Yamaha rider Edmund Czihak won with nearly two minutes to spare to secure his only ever World Championship points with a win.

What a day of racing at Misano. A British win in Moto3™, Valentino Rossi’s half-brother’s victory in Moto2™ and then Franco Morbidelli’s maiden MotoGP™ win. It was the first time since the Sachsenring in 2002 that Italian riders finished first and second in both the premier and intermediate class races on the same day.  Five separate MotoGP™ winners and four for the very first time. Dovizioso leading the Championship despite only finishing seventh and it all starts again on Friday morning

The two Grands Prix did not clash on television times and so I switched over to watch the Formula One race in Mugello. I was fascinated to see just how those magnificent and so fast cars would fare on such a great MotoGP™ circuit. I discovered immediately that when Formula One cars crash, they crash big with the safety car leading the way for the opening laps. When they finally got racing it was an impressive sight because they are so quick.

If the two Grands Prix had clashed at the same time on the television which would I have watched live? I think you know the answer.

I may love my football, but basketball came out well on top this weekend and always will do.

 

By |2020-09-17T14:17:53+00:00September 17th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Basketball or football?

That pure magic title tells you all you need to know

The title of the Grand Prix and the name of the circuit tells you all you ever want to know about Misano. The Gran Premio Lenovo di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli is pure magic, conjuring up images that embrace the very history of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Great battles, tragedy, innovation, national pride and humour. Where do you start?

Personally, I was dispatched by Motor Cycle News to Misano in March 1976 to report on my very first motorcycle race. There was no pre-season testing in those days. Either you bit the financial bullet and went to Daytona in Florida for a week of fun, games, drinking and some racing or you went to the new purpose-built circuit at Misano on the Adriatic coast of Italy.

There had always been pre-season races in this part of the world. The seafront Riccione road circuit had long been established but like many others, a tragedy brought about its demise and the building of the new circuit a couple of kilometres inland at Misano. MV Agusta factory rider Angelo Bergamonti had won both the 350cc and 500cc Grand Prix races at the final round of the 1970 season at Montjuïc Park in Barcelona but was killed at the start of the 1971 season when he crashed at a roundabout on the Riccione seafront.

Both multi World Champions and bitter rivals, Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read were competing at Misano on private Suzuki 500cc two-strokes and, somehow, I managed to have dinner with them both on successive evenings at the legendary Abners hotel. That is where the good news ended. Ago decided when it started to sleet on race morning he would not compete and without their star man, the organisers immediately cancelled the meeting. That was bad enough but then I upset Ago with my Motor Cycle News headline which included the words ‘Pathetic Ago’. Not the great start to a career upsetting the 15-times World Champion with over 100 Grand Prix wins to his name as he reminded me when we met in the paddock at the re-scheduled race meeting on the Modena aerodrome circuit two weeks later.

This Adriatic coast of Italy has always been a hotbed of motorcycle racing. Youngsters brought up racing minibikes on the kart circuits that dot the seaside resorts have produced more World Champions and racing heroes than any other place in the World. Marco Simoncelli’s name is embedded into the name of the circuit. The rider with big hair and a big voice. The 250cc World Champion from Cattolica, who lost his life chasing his first MotoGP™ win Malaysia in 2011, is part of an elite band. Andrea Dovizioso from Forli and, of course, the most famous of them all, a certain Valentino Rossi

The small town of Tavullia is situated just over the hill from Misano and has turned into a shrine for the number 46. When he was voted Mayor of the town, the population walked to the circuit where the new Lord Mayor held the Annual General meeting in the grandstand at the Tramonto corner during a Grand Prix weekend. The celebrations when Rossi won the MotoGP™ races in 2008, 2009 and 2014 lasted for days and even longer than when Casey Stoner brought Ducati a patriotic win in 2007 en route to his World title. Grand Prix racing returned to Misano after a 14-year absence that year on the circuit running the opposite direction to the original. Rossi is determined that the heritage will continue and his racing ranch near Tavullia is already feeding the production line with Italian World Champions.

Pier Francesco Chili was another local hero running a bar and restaurant on the Misano beach. He won his only 500cc Grand Prix at his home circuit in 1989. I remember more about the antics of World Champion Eddie Lawson than the ever-popular ‘Frankie’. The original race had been stopped because of rain on the fifth lap and the top riders refused to return to the track. Chili was contracted to race and duly won. Every lap he passed pit lane Lawson was sat on the wall with one finger in the air that was not indicting to the Italian who was in first place.

Every time I fly into Bologna and drive down the Autostrada to Misano there are two people I always think about. I will never forget the silence of utter despair that descended like a black cloud engulfing the paddock when the news broke of Wayne Rainey’s terrible injuries sustained in his crash at turn one in 1993.  Seventeen years later that black cloud fell again on the paddock when that delightful and so talented Japanese rider Shoya Tomizawa lost his life in the Moto2™ race.

Misano has seen it all. It is such a special place with so many memories.

 

By |2020-09-10T08:25:01+00:00September 10th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on That pure magic title tells you all you need to know

Hopefully the rain will have stopped in 2021

Monsoon like rain totally obliterated the signs to the Silverstone circuit as we drove along the A43 last Thursday afternoon. It would have been a washed-out day before the start of the British Grand Prix in normal circumstances. Silverstone looked desolate, empty and very wet. For the first time since the World Championship started in 1949 there was no British round of the World Championship. Similar monsoon conditions two years ago caused the cancellation of race day, but the British Grand Prix was on that original schedule and practice and qualifying went ahead. Only Britain and Holland had staged a World Championship event every year since 1949 and both had to be cancelled this year in the current pandemic crisis.

In many ways Silverstone, which hosted the first ever Formula One World Championship race in 1949, spearheaded the two wheels safety revolution in the seventies. The road-based circuits that had been the very foundation of those early World Championship pioneering days were just too dangerous for motorcycles that were getting so much faster and more sophisticated. The most famous circuit of them all the 60.721 kms TT mountain circuit on the Isle of Man had staged that first World Championship race in 1949 but in 1976 it ended an era and hosted its last World Championship event. Top riders including multi TT winner and World Champion Giacomo Agostini boycotted the Isle of Man because they thought it was just too dangerous while National Federations like Spain banned their riders from competing.

On August 14th, 1977 Silverstone took over the World Championship status and hosted the British Grand Prix for the first time. It was a major chapter in the history of the sport which just had to happen. A purpose-built safer circuit replacing the legendary road circuit. Others were soon to follow suite. Rijeka in Yugoslavia, Brno in Czechoslovakia, the Nürburgring and the Sachsenring in Germany realised were the future lay. They built new circuits to ensure their futures as World Championship venues while never forgetting the exploits of the riders and teams that had established the very foundations of modern day MotoGP racing with their skill, bravery and in some cases their lives.

It was so close to being the prefect start for Silverstone with a British winner in the 500-cc race. Steve Parrish led the way with a handful of laps remaining urged on by the pit board ‘Gas it Wanker’ held out by his great friend and World Champion Barry Sheene but then a few spots of that dreaded Silverstone rain arrived. Parrish lost the front end of his Suzuki and crashed at Copse corner. Another British Suzuki rider John Williams took the lead then crashed and American Pat Hennen deservedly won the historic race. It was Hennen’s second grand prix win but ironically his career came to an end when injuries forced him to retire after crashing at the now non-Championship TT in the Isle of Man a year later.

Two years later Silverstone staged a 500-cc race that is still talked about today. The BBC televised the race live with the legendary Murray Walker on the microphone and Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene produced a battle that had the whole country mesmerised. Twenty-eight laps of pure undiluted magic. Constant overtaking, two fingered salutes and a Roberts victory by 0.03 s as Sheene tried to ride round the outside of him on the grass at the 200 kph Woodcote corner at the chequered flag.

That was that as far as a British rider winning the premier class race at his home grand prix. There have been some brave attempts by the likes of Ron Haslam and more recently Cal Crutchlow at Silverstone and Niall Mackenzie and Carl Fogarty when the British Grand Prix switched to Donington Park between 1987 and 2009 but no winners for the patriotic British crowd to celebrate.

We cannot wait for Silverstone, along with Assen, to return next year and hopefully it will have stopped raining by then.

By |2020-09-03T08:25:30+00:00September 3rd, 2020|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Hopefully the rain will have stopped in 2021