Monthly Archives: November 2020

Thank you, Cal – you saved my life!

I made it clear. They would have to transport me out of the commentary box in a wooden box if I did not ever commentate on a British rider winning a MotoGP™ race before I retired. Thanks to Cal Crutchlow, my promise was never put to the test

I had always admired Cal since he arrived in MotoGP™ despite being a little nervous when having to interview him. He just wanted to be a MotoGP™ rider walking away from what would have been a very successful and lucrative World Superbike career. I think even Cal may have doubted he had made the right decision as he struggled in those early days. Typically, he stuck at it and won three MotoGP™ Grands Prix before announcing the finish of his full-time MotoGP™ career to join the factory Yamaha team as their test rider next year.

It was pouring with rain as we arrived at the Brno circuit on the Sunday morning of August 21st in 2016. I had more thoughts of keeping dry as we ran from the car park to the media centre rather than the prospect of a 35-year hoodoo finally being erased.  All those thirty-five years ago I had witnessed, reported and celebrated watching Barry Sheene win the 500cc Swedish Grand Prix in Anderstorp. A more contrasting venue in every single way to the magnificent Brno circuit could not be imagined. The circuit doubled up as the local aerodrome with the entrance in a trading estate, surrounded by dark, ominous-looking woods occupied by gangs of Hells Angles during the race weekend. Barry won the 30-lap race for Yamaha with two Dutchman Boet van Dulmen and Jack Middelburg completing the podium at the last race of the season. I remember taking the pictures of Barry and his great partner in crime Marco Lucchinelli with their heads in the same winner’s garland. Italian Lucchinelli’s ninth place was enough to bring him and Suzuki the World title.

That was that. Despite the gallant efforts from the likes of Niall Mackenzie, Jeremy McWilliams and Ron Haslam and even claiming that 1987 World Champion Australian Wayne Gardner was English because he lived in England, a British rider never stood again on the top step of a premier class podium. Barry Sheene had passed away 13 years earlier and I honestly started to believe it was never ever going to happen again, until along came Cal

That wet day in the Czech Republic started so well. Scotsman John McPhee won his first Moto3™ Grand Prix in the wet race. The rain had stopped an hour before the start of the 22 lap MotoGP™ race, but the track was still wet. Crutchlow was 15th at the end of the first lap but as the track started to dry, he began racing through the field. I still never envisaged what unfolded in front of me. It was around the 12th lap I had the first inkling that history was about to unfold when he moved into fourth place. I so wanted it to happen, but I was panicking because I had nothing, no facts or figures prepared and so always I just kept talking. Four laps later he was at the front pulling away from the likes Rossi and Marquez who knew something about not only winning Grands Prix, but world titles. Commentating on the last lap with your eyes closed may not be very professional but that’s exactly what I did, peeping through my fingers a couple of times, until Cal reached the hill leading up to that dreaded chicane that leads onto the start /finish straight. Please, please do not crash I prayed, and Cal did not. He was a lot calmer than me in the press conference that followed and then two months later when he won again at Phillip Island in Australia. Barry Sheene would have loved it.

So many thanks Cal. Good luck in the future – and lucky Yamaha.

 

By |2020-11-25T19:13:44+00:00November 25th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|0 Comments

Criville waited seven years to unlock the door

Just 168 hours in seven breathless days separated Joan Mir’s first MotoGP™ victory from that World Championship conquest on Sunday. The rider that produced the key to unlock the door to Spanish domination of the premier class had to wait so much longer. A gap of over seven long years separated Alex Criville’s first 500cc Grand Prix win to the title.

I am sure it will not surprise you that I had problems pronouncing Alex Criville’s surname when he brought Spain their first-ever Grand Prix victory in the premier class. I had just about got it right 21 years ago when the very same Criville produced the key to unlock the door to Spanish MotoGP™ World Champions with their first-ever premier class title in 1999

A certain Valentino Rossi stood in their way for the following decade but then the floodgates opened for the likes of Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and, on Sunday, the mighty impressive Joan Mir.

We always admired the brilliance of Spanish riders in the smaller classes but even multiple World Champions Angel Nieto and Sito Pons struggled in the premier class and did not stay around for long. Then came the 1992 Dutch TT in Assen. Crashes had ruled out the likes of Rainey, Doohan, Schwantz and Lawson. Alex Criville was on hand to win a fantastic three-way battle over John Kocinski and Alex Barros.

Mick Doohan then took over with five straight 500cc World Championships and Alex had to wait another three years just for his next victory. Six more followed over the next three years but the first European Grand Prix of the season in 1999 had a familiar sense of déjà vu to this year. Five-time World Champion and Criville’s teammate Doohan crashed at turn four at Jerez and was ruled out for the remainder of the season. It was the end of Mick’s amazing career, although we did not know at the time. Mick’s crash came on the exit to the very same bend that brought Marc Marquez’s short season to a premature halt this year. Alex went onto win six Grands Prix that year including that Jerez race

Like Mir, he clinched the title at the penultimate round at Rio in Brazil. Both races caused television producers a real headache. The race in Rio turned into a breathtaking last lap battle between Norick Abe, Max Biaggi and Kenny Roberts. Criville’s sixth place would be enough to bring Spain that first title. What pictures do you show? They faced the same problem on Sunday as Franco Morbidelli and Jack Miller fought a ferocious last lap duel to the chequered flag. Mir’s seventh place going into the last lap at Valencia was enough to bring him the title. The television producers were spot on and we got a great view of both Morbidelli’s third win of the season and Mir’s World Championship victory.

Both Criville and Mir had won World titles before arriving in the premier class. Alex was the 1989 125cc World Champion but had to wait ten years before that 500cc crown. Joan only had to wait three years between his Moto3™ World title and being crowned MotoGP™ King.

So happy 21st birthday Spanish motorcycle racing and just one more similarity. I had as many problems pronouncing Joan Mir’s first name when he won that Moto3™ World title as I did Criville’s surname in Assen 28 years ago.

 

By |2020-11-18T20:14:43+00:00November 18th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Criville waited seven years to unlock the door

Keep an eye on those T-Shirts

The Suzuki Ecstar team will leave no stone unturned in the next seven days. In the garage they will lovingly be preparing the GSX – RR Suzuki that could bring them their first premier class world title for two decades. Behind the scenes, World Championship winning press conferences and television interviews have to be planned. Videos, photographs and written copy written for immediate release on Sunday afternoon will be prepared and checked while the obligatory World Champion T-Shirts have been designed, printed and dispatched.

For the first time in this incredible season, Joan Mir could and has a real chance of clinching the ultimate prize at the penultimate round in Valencia. Following that maiden premier class win in Valencia, he holds a precious 37-point lead in the Championship. The 23-year-old Spaniard does not need reminding of what he needs to do on the tarmac of the Ricardo Tormo circuit, but he will not need or want to know what happens if he wins the ultimate prize. He can worry about all that afterwards

The only problem for the team, and let us be honest it is a decent one, is that Mir’s team-mate Alex Rins could still win the title, although not on Sunday. Together with Fabio Quartararo, he is 37 points behind. With 50 points up for grabs in the final two races it could still be decided at the final round in Portugal. At least it gives the team time to prepare for both eventualities which was not the case for the Monster Yamaha team in that controversial finale at Valencia five years ago. Valentino Rossi arrived in the caldron of frenzied excitement and toxicity with a seven-point lead but having to start from the back of the grid after the shenanigans in Malaysia. The team, which was divided, had to prepare for both eventualities. Lorenzo won the title and wore the T-Shirt.

I was involved in two very different World Championship winning, planning and celebrations. In 1987 the BBC sent me to Goiania in Brazil for the penultimate round of the 500cc World Championship.  Wayne Gardner had built up a special rapport with their listeners and had a great chance of clinching the title. Part of the deal for my expenses paid trip was that they would get the first live interview with the new World Champion. On arrival at the circuit, I discovered the commentary position was opposite the podium and pit lane in the very public grandstand. There was only one man to help me and he did not let me down. The Chief of Police in Goiania assured me that all would be OK. When race winner and new World Champion Wayne Gardner wearing the World Champion T-Shirt over his leathers soaked in champagne arrived at my commentary position surrounded by six fully armed policemen in full uniform I believed him

It was a very different story five years later at Kyalami in South Africa. A truly battered Mick Doohan arrived hanging onto a precious two-point lead over Wayne Rainey at the final round of the 1992 500cc World title. Never have I witnessed somebody so determined to overcome pain and physical weakness to win his first World title and we owed it to Mick to be prepared. Rothmans Honda Press folders and photographs were prepared for the media at the circuit and thousands back in England to be dispatched throughout the world as soon as the race ended – hardly any social media in those days. The 1992 World Champion T-Shirts were prepared, and worldwide interviews planned.  It was a sad sight after the race watching the folders being burnt and the T-Shirts cut up when Mick failed by four points to clinch the title, he went onto win five times. Years after, a Greek journalist was spotted wearing a 1992 Mick Doohan World Champion T-Shirt. How that happened I have no idea.

I am sure Suzuki are prepared for every eventuality. It is a fantastic situation to be in but keep an eye on those T-Shirts.

By |2020-11-12T09:01:16+00:00November 12th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Keep an eye on those T-Shirts

Teammates – perhaps by name only

In team sports, the role of a teammate is easy to understand and follow but in MotoGP™ it can be a very different story. Many riders will tell you the first person they want to beat to that chequered flag is their very own teammate.

Crunch time for teammates approaches fast with just three rounds remaining of this extraordinary MotoGP™ season starting at Valencia on Sunday. Six riders have a chance of claiming that ultimate prize. In that group there are two sets of teammates. Will the other two contenders be looking for support from the other side of the garage?

I remember the first time I realised just how important a trusted teammate can be on two wheels. It probably comes as no great surprise that Phil Read, seven times World Champion and without a doubt the most underestimated rider in the history of Grand Prix racing, sparked the interest. There is absolutely no doubt Phil was not your ideal teammate as both Bill Ivy and Giacomo Agostini found out.

At the TT in 1968 I watched Read win the 125cc race despite Ivy setting the first 100mph lap riding the beautiful 125cc four cylinder two-stroke. Ivy admitted later he slowed to let teammate Read win because the plan at the beginning of the season was for Read to win his first 125cc title and Ivy his first 250. Everything appeared to be going to plan for the Yamaha team. Read won the penultimate round of the 125cc Championship in Brno to clinch the title. Ivy assumed he would return the compliment and finish second in the 250 but Read had different ideas. He won the race and out of the blue declared he was chasing the title because he wanted Yamaha to continue racing the next year and that he’d done all the work to develop the 250 bringing Yamaha their first world title.

In a toxic atmosphere at the final 250cc round in Monza Read stuck to his guns. He won the 22-lap race from Ivy in which the Yamaha pair lapped the rest of the field. The drama did not end there. Incredibly the teammates found themselves level on points at the head of the 250cc Championship. Read was crowned World Champion after the times from the races they had both completed were added together. Read continued to win more World titles for Yamaha and MV Agusta where his relationship with teammate Agostini was strained, to say the least. A disillusioned Ivy retired to go car racing. To fund his new career, he returned to two wheels riding the 350cc four-cylinder Jawa. He lost his life when the Jawa seized in practice for the 1969 East German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring.

Thirty-eight years later Repsol Honda teammates fell out big time but for a very different reason. You rarely saw Nicky Hayden get angry in public but what he screamed to teammate Dani Pedrosa in the Estoril gravel trap was not difficult to understand. It was the penultimate round of the 2006 MotoGP™ World Championship in Portugal and Hayden arrived with a 12-point advantage over his former teammate and World Champion Valentino Rossi. On the fifth lap of the race Pedrosa, the current 250cc World Champion, was fourth behind Hayden but the situation both in the race and the Championship changed in the blink of an eye. With 23 laps remaining Pedrosa took out the Championship leader at the tight left-hand bend at the end of the slightly kinked back straight. Running onto the kerb he locked the front wheel and skittled Hayden into the Portuguese gravel.

All was forgotten two weeks later when Hayden clinched the World title after finishing third behind the Ducatis of Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi. Rossi crashed defending an eight-point lead and a remorseful Pedrosa protected Hayden’s back throughout at a very safe distance in fourth place.

In the next three weeks those six Championship contenders are going to discover who is a true teammate or even just a true mate.

By |2020-11-04T20:58:03+00:00November 4th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Teammates – perhaps by name only