Monthly Archives: October 2020

Stick or Twist for Mir

History points to Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) twisting in this amazing season of MotoGP™ poker. Take the risk the history books may scream out, but this is a truly unprecedented season. Sticking may be the strategy to claim the biggest prize of them all.

Never in the 72-year-old history of World Championship racing has a rider won the premier class without winning a Grand Prix the year of his success. Only twice in all solo classes has a title been clinched without a victory.

The 23-year-old Spanish Ecstar rider arrives in Valencia with a precious 14-point lead in the Championship with just three rounds remaining. Six podiums, including three second places but no wins have given him the advantage. Eight opponents have won races with two riders grabbing two or more wins, but nobody has matched the consistency of the former Moto3™ World Champion. Mir won 10 Grand Prix in 2017 to clinch the World title with two rounds remaining. It is going to be an awful lot closer this time

How ironic, it was the mentor of the all-conquering Marquez brothers who was the last rider to win a World Championship without actually winning a race in the year of his success. Emilio Alzamora was crowned the 1999 125cc World Champion without a Grand Prix win, but consistency and 10 podium finishes in the 16 round title chase paid off.

The final round at Buenos Aires in Argentina summed up the season perfectly. Alzamora rode a brilliant tactical 23 laps to finish second by just 0.219 seconds behind Marco Melandri. It was enough to win him the title by a single point from Melandri who tried every trick in the book to prevent it happening. I wonder where those Marquez brothers learnt such skills.

Four years earlier Alzamora had won the 125cc race in Argentina and a year later was victorious in Assen. The year after his World Championship victory he won in Jerez and Estoril to finish third in the Championship.

It was another Spanish rider ten years earlier who was the first rider to be crowned World Champion without winning a Grand Prix the year of his success. Once again it was second place in the final race of the season that clinched the title. Manuel Herreros finished second to Herri Torrontegui around the Brno Circuit in the very last 80cc race in the World Championship. Riding the Derbi he finished 12 points in front of Stefan Dorflinger who’s Krauser team-mate Peter Ottl had won the three previous rounds before final showdown. Herreros had won two Grand Prix before his World title. In 1986 he won the 80cc race at the West German GP and a year later was a Grand Prix winner in Misano

Others have come close with just one win in their Championship season and none more so than Frenchman Jean-Louis Tournadre. He was crowned the 1982 250cc World Champion again by a single point from Toni Mang. He finished fourth at the final round in the race won by Mang at Hockenheim. I remember the one and only Grand Prix win of his career. I was summoned to the motorhome of Barry Sheene in the Nogaro paddock before the start of the 1982 French GP. All the top riders were there including 250cc Championship contenders Mang and Carlos Lavado. The assembled riders asked me to draft a letter to the Nogaro organisers saying they would not ride because the Nogaro circuit was not safe enough for World Championship racing. They duly signed the letter and went home. Tournadre felt obliged to race at his home Grand Prix and won from another Frenchman Jean Francois Balde.

So, twist or stick for Mir in those last three races? That decision depends so much on the performance of his opponents. He may have no choice but to twist.

By |2020-10-29T09:15:56+00:00October 29th, 2020|Nick's Blog|0 Comments

We can only dream – Marquez Vs Rea

It was the day that two great World Champions performed on the same stage but unfortunately not in the same race.

Watching Alex Marquez’s superb performance on Sunday riding that that so distinctively branded Repsol Honda brought back memories of MotorLand Aragon eight years ago

Honestly, little did I prophesise that those two riders would go on to totally dominate their respective chosen paths after seeing them compete on that September afternoon in the Spanish sunshine.  It was the closest that MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez and World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea came to the head to the head of all confrontations in a World Championship showdown.

On Saturday Rea secured that record-breaking sixth successive World Superbike title at the final round in Estoril. The Northern Ireland Kawasaki rider is just one short of 100 victories in the Championship. Eight years ago, Jonathan was drafted into the Repsol Honda team to replace the injured World Champion Casey Stoner and partner Dani Pedrosa. It was a big ask but in just two MotoGP appearances he displayed so much ability to make his record-breaking World Superbike career perhaps not such a great surprise.

After finishing eighth in his first race on the Repsol Honda at Misano won by Jorge Lorenzo he came to Aragon. In the 23-lap race in his second, and as it turned out final MotoGP™ ride, Rea finished seventh one place in front of Valentino Rossi in the race won by his team-mate, Pedrosa. That was that. Casey returned to finish the season and then retire. A certain Marc Marquez replaced him, and the rest is history for both riders

Marquez sat at home on Sunday cheering on his younger brother to second place in Aragon, his second successive podium finish. Marc still recovering from those injuries sustained in the opening round in Jerez, competed in a crucial Moto2™ race at Aragon on the same afternoon before Rea made that final MotoGP™ appearance

It was a crucial 21 lap race as he closed in on the Moto2™ World Championship before replacing Stoner in MotoGP™ the next year. Marquez picked up 20 vital points after finishing second behind his great rival Pol Espargaro. Third place in the race went to Scott Redding who ironically finished second to Rea in this year’s World Superbike contest. Marquez clinched the title to add to his 125cc crown and moved on smash all the records that MotoGP™ could throw at him. Six World titles and 56 Grand Prix wins in a style we have never witnessed before.

I am sure there is still more to come from both Champions but sadly not in conflict with each other. How would it have turned out? Marquez with eight World titles and 82 Grand Prix wins versus Rea with six World titles and 99 race victories.

 Unfortunately, we will never find out who would have won the battle of the ‘sixers’ but we can always dream.

By |2020-10-21T20:01:48+00:00October 21st, 2020|Uncategorised|Comments Off on We can only dream – Marquez Vs Rea

No bet on Danilo or Alex

Even my great friend from Yorkshire did not think to place a bet on Danilo Petrucci’s magnificent win at Le Mans. My friend had a good track record at Le Mans and like most Yorkshiremen is known to be particularly careful with his money.

He is the most knowledgeable person I have ever met about his great love MotoGP, but Danilo plus Alex Marquez caught him and all of us by surprise on Sunday. I am pretty sure the odds would have been impressive on what happened in the cold and wet Le Mans rain

Petrucci’s second ever Grand Prix win in what had been such a wretched season for the former policeman. The first MotoGP™ podium finish for former Moto3™ and current Moto2™ World Champion Alex Marquez. Only four sets of brothers have secured premier class podium finishes in the history of the sport. Argentinian brothers Eduardo and Juan Salatino in the early sixties took podium finishes in their home Grand Prix. Eduardo was third in 1962 while Juan grabbed two second places in 1961 and 1962.

The most famous trio of Grand Prix siblings were the Japanese Aoki brothers. Both Nobuatsu, a former 250cc Grand Prix winner, and Takuma grabbed second places in the premier class. Younger brother Haruchika also rode in the premier class but is better known for his two 125 cc World titles. Older brother Aleix Espargaro took his only premier class podium with a second place in Aragon six years ago while younger brother Pol grabbed his first for KTM in Valencia 2018 and of course finished third in Le Mans. Despite those two World titles Alex Marquez has always lived in the shadow of his older brother Mark. Ninety-five premier class podiums for the older brother including 56 wins says it all but Alex is off the mark. Perhaps the biggest surprise of them all on Sunday – Honda secured their first premier class podium of the season. It is the longest period they had gone without a podium since they returned to World Championship racing in 1982.

Le Mans and the Bugatti circuit has always been capable of producing surprise results. My first visit was no exception. I learnt so much. It can be very cold and do not travel round the Peripherique, the Paris Ring Road, on a Good Friday. It took me over six hours to drive to the legendary venue in 1983 from Charles Le Gaulle Airport but it was well worth it. On a freezing cold afternoon in early April British rider Alan Carter won the 250cc race to become at the time the youngest ever Grand Prix winner. He had started from 31st position on the grid. A year later his team-mate in the Yamaha 250cc team was a certain Wayne Rainey who went on to win three 500cc world titles. Sadly, for Alan Le Mans was his only ever Grand Prix win.

Back to my friend from Yorkshire. We sat in the press room at Le Mans in 2007, he looked out of the window at the gathering clouds and declared that Australian Chris Vermeulen could win his first Grand Prix and bring Suzuki their first victory for six years. When somebody checked the odds of 36/1 on such a prediction, we persuaded him to open his first internet betting account and put his money where his mouth was. When Vermeulen romped home with a comfortable win in the difficult conditions we prepared ourselves for a big Sunday night out on his winnings before driving to Paris the next day. We just about managed one round of drinks from those winnings. He had placed the princely sum of £1 for a Vermeulen victory but do not forget he is from Yorkshire.

 

By |2020-10-14T15:57:35+00:00October 14th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on No bet on Danilo or Alex

The Roger Bannister moment in MotoGP™

It may not be a country built for World Championship motorcycle racing, but John McPhee is striving to change all that in the Moto3™ World Championship. The Scotsman won in Misano and is third in the Championship riding the Petronas Sprinta Racing Honda. John’s home in Oban on the West Coast is how most people picture Scotland. Majestic mountains, Caribbean blue sea when the sun shines, beautiful Islands, Atlantic winter storms and midges come to mind rather than Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

While Scotland has produced plenty of motorsport World Champions two wheels have not been so productive but those who have tasted success at the highest level are very special. Three, Bob McIntyre, Jimmy Guthrie and Jock Taylor have worn the kilt with pride

It was June 7, 1957 when McIntyre produced the magic Roger Bannister moment of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in the Isle of Man. Who will forget that moment in my home City of Oxford three years earlier when the athletic track announcer read out Bannister’s time for the one-mile race he had just won. Three minutes and the rest was drowned out by the cheers of the crowd. The very first man to run a mile in under four minutes and that announcement was soon relayed round the World.

Three years on and The Isle of Man was buzzing in anticipation at the start of the eight lap Senior TT race round the 60.721 kms TT Mountain circuit on the Island that had staged that very first World Championship race eight years earlier. Fourteen thousand extra fans arrived by ferry that very morning on the already packed Island to witness the Scotsman riding the four-cylinder Gilera in action. They knew history was about to be made. Nobody had lapped the most demanding and dangerous racetrack in the World at over 100 mph (160.934 kph). It was the Golden Jubilee of the TT races and McIntyre celebrated in true style.

At the end of the second lap the announcement boomed out round the circuit.’ Bob McIntyre leads the Senior TT after a second lap at an average of 101… The rest was drowned out by the cheers. The first rider to lap the Mountain circuit at over 100 mph in a time of 22m23.2s.

Typically, he completed three more 100 mph laps to win the race in three hours 2.57s. The modest Scotsman had already won the 350cc TT race that week and won the 350cc race for Gilera at Monza later in the year. He finished runner-up to team-mate Libero Liberati in the 500cc World Championship. McIntyre went on to win two more Grands Prix bringing Honda 250cc success in the 1961 Ulster and a year later at Spa Francorchamps. Tragically he was killed that same year in a crash at Oulton Park in England.

Twelve years before the World Championship started on August 8, 1937, 40-year-old Jimmy Guthrie was leading the German Grand Prix on the Sachsenring road circuit. The Norton rider was chasing his third successive victory in Germany, where the rumble of war was looming fast. He had already won 19 Grands Prix, but he crashed in the woods on that fateful last lap and died in hospital. Four years after the Second World War ended in 1949 the locals built a memorial to Guthrie where he had crashed. They had never forgotten that Scottish gentleman and a fresh bunch of flowers have been placed on the memorial every week for the last 71 years. Back in the Isle of Man a kiln of stones on the mountain climb out of Ramsey on the TT course is lovingly preserved in memorial of the 19 times Grand Prix and six times TT winner.

Scotland’s only Grand Prix World Championship came on three wheels. My dear friend Jock Taylor with Swedish passenger Benga Johannson captured the 1980 Sidecar World Championship at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. On a truly awful August day in 1982 Jock lost his life in the pouring rain racing over the railway lines at Imatra in Finland when he crashed striving to win back the title that meant so much to him and his country.

Other Scotsman have come close to Grand Prix wins. The nearest was Niall Mackenzie with seven third places and a pole position in the 500cc Championship. His partner in the Silverstone/Armstrong team Donnie McLeod was a top class 250 and 350cc rider while Steve Hislop was a superb Superbike and TT rider.

Can John McPhee go one better than any of them and win a World title on two wheels? It is a mighty big ask but they would certainly approve of his efforts on behalf of their proud and patriotic country.

 

By |2020-10-07T20:58:20+00:00October 7th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on The Roger Bannister moment in MotoGP™

Take heart Vale, you’ve got another five years

I really thought he was going to do it. Just a couple days after the Doctor announced he was keeping the surgery open for at least another year he appeared on course to celebrate in the only way he knows  – a 116th Grand Prix victory and 200th premier class podium finish but it was not to be. When he went down at turn two chasing the leader and eventual race winner Fabio Quartararo the whole world groaned as the 41-year-old picked himself out of the Barcelona gravel but take heart, Valentino Rossi. You have another five years before you would become the oldest Grand Prix winner in the 71-year history of World Championship racing

Many years ago, and far more than I want to think about I met the oldest Grand Prix winner. On the way home from Brands Hatch I stopped at a local pub for a pint. While sitting outside in the sunshine watching the fans roar home down the A20 road I was introduced to a certain Arthur Wheeler. I was transfixed at the stories he told and especially about the 250cc 1962 Argentine Grand Prix in Buenos Aires.

A year earlier the Argentine Grand Prix was the first to be held outside Europe. It was the last race of the 1962 season and many of the stars, including World Champion Jim Redman, decided to give it a miss. Arthur who had raced in that very first World Championship event at the 1949 TT races in the Isle of Man and his Italian Moto-Guzzi team decided to go. It turned out to be a great decision.

He was a comfortable winner by over a lap in the 40 lap 125.600km race There were six finishers from the eight starters, but the record books do not lie. Arthur Wheeler became the oldest ever Grand Prix winner. He was 46 years and 70 days old when he secured just his second Grand Prix win giving Moto-Guzzi their last ever victory. It also secured him third place in the World Championship behind the Hondas of Redman and Scotsman Bob McIntyre.

Vale has also got plenty of time in the Premier class – Over three years to be exact. In 1953 Fergus Anderson won the 500cc Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuic Park. The Moto-Guzzi rider is the oldest winner in the premier class at the tender age of 44 years 237 days. The second oldest is the amiable Jack Findlay who was 42 years 85 days old when he brought Suzuki success in the 1977 Austrian Grand Prix

So, what about the opposite end of the age scale. Turkish rider Con Oncu was just 15 years 115 days old when we won the Moto3™ race in Valencia in 2018. At that age, I was still trying to understand girls while sneaking away for a sly cigarette and certainly not thinking about winning Grand Prix races. He is the youngest ever Grand Prix winner with 31 years separating him and the oldest Arthur Wheeler.

So, hang in there Vale you have got bags of time before you can buy me a pint on the A20 on the way home from Brands.

 

By |2020-10-01T07:38:38+00:00October 1st, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Take heart Vale, you’ve got another five years