Monthly Archives: March 2021

Murray Walker, Lennon and Jagger

My teenage mates in the sixties thought I was sad. We would cycle down to the Russell Acott record store on Oxford High Street. After a sly fag behind the Mitre hotel, they would be listening to new 33-inch vinal albums such as Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from the Beatles or Aftermath from the Rolling Stones. I would be at the other end of the shop seeking out the Stanley Schofield long-player recordings from the TT races in the Isle of Man.

They would enthuse over the voices of John Lennon and Mick Jagger while I would be just as excited listening to the voice of Murray Walker. While Lennon and Jagger would tell us about Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds or Mothers Little Helper, I was equally spellbound listening to Murray’s dulcet tones. No drums or guitars in the background just the wail of Mike Hailwood’s Honda six as he raced between the walls and houses on Bray Hill at the start of the TT mountain circuit.

Murray’s voice was my link to a world I could only dream about. The World of Grand Prix motorcycle racing and the TT races. Whether it be from those iconic broadcasts on BBC radio’s Light Programme from the Isle of Man or those well-worn Stanley Scofield records. Murray was the joint commentator with his father Graham who was a TT and Ulster Grand Prix winner. The voice that became legendary throughout the world boomed out from our imposing radio in the dining room, filling the house with the exploits of Duke, Surtees and Hailwood.

Once we managed to ‘borrow’ the speakers from my friend’s parents record player and hide them in the hedge next to the bus stop. People waiting to catch the number 67 to work in Oxford were confused. Murray in full cry and volume describing the start of a TT race on the Glencrutchery road was not what they were expecting at 8.30 in the morning.

My favourite record was that memorable 1967 TT battle between Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini. I can still close my eyes and hear Murray describing Hailwood racing into the pits on the 500 cc Honda four and screaming for a hammer to bash the loose throttle back on the handlebars. Hailwood re-joined the race and won.

When I crossed the road for six years to work in Formula One, Murray was a legend. He was the voice of Formula One known throughout the world. He helped me so much in my new adventure. There was nothing we enjoyed more over a coffee in the F1 paddock than discussing and reminiscing about Grand Prix motorcycle racing and his beloved TT.

His Formula One commentaries are stuff of legends. His sheer enthusiasm and passion for the sport he loved so much came in a loud cacophony of sound, joy and sometimes wonderful gaffs.

God bless you Murray – you were voice for all of us to try and follow. None of us have ever got close.

By |2021-03-21T16:37:34+00:00March 21st, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|2 Comments

Lighting the candles on Yamahas birthday cake

Yamaha presented the perfect birthday cake to celebrate an amazing 60 years of Grand Prix racing: Cal Crutchlow’s iconic red and white livered YZR – M1 Yamaha which positively glowed in the Qatar pit lane sunshine before testing got underway last week.

Sunday, May 21st, 1961 heralded the arrival of another Japanese factory to shake the very core of European domination. Just two years after Honda appeared in the Isle of Man, five Yamaha riders prepared for battle around the Clermont-Ferrand circuit to compete in the third round of the World Championship at the French Grand Prix. Yamaha stepped into the World Championship arena for the first time with Fumio Ito and Taneharu Nogushi spearheading their efforts on the RD48 twin cylinder 250 two-stroke and RA41 single cylinder 125 cc two-stroke. It was tough unless you could get your hands on a four-stroke Honda or two-stroke MZ, but they were up for the fight

Three weeks later Ito grabbed Yamaha’s first-ever World Championship point with a sixth place in the Isle of Man 250 cc TT. Two years later round the same TT circuit, Ito brought Yamaha their first podium finish in second place, with the first win coming two rounds later with Ito victorious in the 250 cc Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps. Grand Prix racing was expensive for the factory but Phil Read convinced Yamaha to compete in all rounds of the 1964 250 cc Championship. His considerable efforts, their engineering skills and financial foresight resulted in Yamaha’s first World title and the first two-stroke machine to capture the 250-cc crown. Honda were desperate to hang onto the title. At the penultimate round in Monza, they produced a truly amazing six-cylinder 250 cc four-stroke machine but Read and Yamaha took the title from their great rivals with victory. The two-strokes ruled.

Where do you start with memories of these 60 years which have brought Yamaha 511 Grand Prix wins? When I saw Crutchlow’s YZR M1 shining in the Qatar pit lane, two immediately sprung to mind

Witnessing in 1968, while sampling a pint of the local ale at Union Mills, Bill Ivy scream past on the four-cylinder Yamaha rocket ship in a blur of red and white on route to setting the first 100 mph 125 cc TT lap.

Commentating on one of the greatest races I have ever witnessed at Welkom in South Africa in 2004. The Valentino Rossi/Max Biaggi head-to-head, wheel to wheel confrontation that simply fizzed and then exploded. Rossi’s first ride for the underperforming Yamaha team against his bitter rival Biaggi who left Yamaha to join Honda. After 28 laps they were separated by 0.210s. Both had gone well beyond their limits and more. Rossi cried with emotion as he kissed and thanked his M1 Yamaha at the finish

It was not only on track memories I recall having to thank Yamaha for, but a couple of vital decisions they made on choosing their riders.

Giving the honour of spearheading their first considerable factory-backed assault on the four-stroke dominated ultimate prize, the 500 cc World Championship to the brilliant Jarno Saarinen. Pulling out of that 1973 Championship when Saarinen was killed at the fourth round in the 250-cc race at Monza.

Returning to the 500-cc fray and giving Giacomo Agostini the opportunity to display what a truly great rider he was. Ago won his 15th World title in 1975 bringing Yamaha and a two-stroke machine their first-ever 500 cc World crown

This is not the first time that Yamaha have reverted to an iconic livery to celebrate a birthday. Sixteen years ago, Yamaha re-produced the Kenny Roberts yellow and black livery that had brought the legendary American three 500 cc World titles. Rossi and Colin Edwards competed in the American Grand Prix in Laguna Seca to celebrate Yamahas 50th year as a motorcycle manufacturer. Rossi completed the celebration by retaining the World title.

Thank you, Yamaha, for the last 60 years. Now It is over to you Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli and Rossi to complete the celebrations by bringing back that MotoGP™ title to light those candles on the birthday cake.

 

By |2021-03-17T15:26:51+00:00March 17th, 2021|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Lighting the candles on Yamahas birthday cake

The sound of music

It had been a long agonising winter of wait so what a moment to savour. The desert was alive with the sound of music. Those lockdown blues were blown away in an instant on Friday. No bird song or tumbling water but a raucous ear-shattering symphony of music. The unique unmistakable sound of 1000cc four-stroke engines in anger suffocating the windy dusty desert air. MotoGP™ was back.

Last month a journalist friend cheered me up and whetted my appetite for the 2021 season. The sound of a single Supersport bike negotiating those two glorious fast right-handers at the back of the Jerez pits in the WSBK test rattled through my phone – I lowered my face mask; the new season was getting closer

Pre-season testing is so brilliantly organised even in these pandemic dominated days. While MotoGP™ got underway in Qatar both Moto2™ and Moto3™ had already started in Portugal. It is a far cry from my early days as a journalist. No organised pre-season testing. Just a couple of race meetings if you were lucky before that first Grand Prix but it had its compensations. A chilly trip to the Adriatic coast of Italy or a flight across the Atlantic to Daytona in the Spring were the usual choices. No disrespect to Misano but there was only one winner.

Florida sunshine, the college students celebrating their Spring break, the amazing beach, the parade and carnival of exotic motorcycles along the Boulevard every night, Supercross, ice-cold beer and even the occasional rocket being launched from nearby Cape Canaveral. What more could you ask for, but I must not forget there was also the racing round the most famous banking in the world.

That amazing 300kph banking was not a place for the faint-hearted. It was where I was fortunate to watch two very special and different riders in action. Straight away I knew I was witnessing something very special, and both went on to win the ultimate prize, the 500cc World title.

In 1981 I met and then watched Freddie Spencer riding for the American Honda Superbike team. Immediately it was obvious why Honda were preparing the young so talented American to spearhead their return to Grand Prix racing the following year. The previous year Freddie had made his first trip to Europe to dominate the prestigious Transatlantic Race series in England. He made his Grand Prix debut at Zolder in Belgium riding a private Yamaha and in 1982 began a Grand Prix career that brought him and Honda two 500 and one 250 cc World title. Freddie is still the only rider to win both 250 and 500 cc titles in the same season.

That same year in Daytona I also met a raw but so fast young Australian who was determined to come to Europe. Riding the naked Moriwaki Kawasaki with those straight handlebars. Wayne Gardner was quick, determined and brave. The three qualities that brought him to Europe a year later were so evident when he re-captured Honda that 500 cc World title in 1987. The first Australian to win the premier title which he followed up by winning the first two Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island.

It is ironic that those trips to Daytona were organised by Mike Trimby who is the CEO and founder of IRTA. Today it is The International Road Racing Teams Association who organise all the pre-season testing with such precision and professionalism.

May I assure Mike that anybody who went on those early ‘Trimby Tours’ to Daytona will never forget them. When we arrived there, we honestly thought we had landed in paradise!

 

By |2021-03-10T16:47:24+00:00March 10th, 2021|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on The sound of music

What’s in a number?

What a fantastic decision to have to make. Only a few mere mortals have been in the position to make a choice the vast majority of us can only dream about. Only World Champions are given the choice – take with pride the number one plate or stick to that original racing number that has brought you success, luck and the ultimate accolade of a World title.

MotoGP™ World Champion Joan Mir joined the minority when he announced a couple of weeks ago that he was sticking with number 36 that had spearheaded his two World titles. The Spanish Ecstar Suzuki rider admitted it had been a difficult choice, but he would not desert his beloved 36. No number one plate but his tried and trusted friend as he defends the ultimate two wheeled crown

Some critics frowned but Mir has joined a very select group of World Champions. Riders who have become synonymous with their racing number. Two from very different eras whose racing numbers became a massive part of their legacy. Barry Sheene and Valentino Rossi or number 7 and number 46 to millions of global fans. Two brilliant riders, national heroes and rebels who were never afraid to speak their own minds and make their own decisions.

It may be 44 years ago that Sheene won the second of his 500 cc World titles for Suzuki but in Britain he is never forgotten. The two World titles, his bravery and determination to return after two life threatening accidents and his celebrity lifestyle and marriage to model Stephanie are all part of that legacy. Alongside all of them was his continental number 7 racing plate. It summed Barry up perfectly. A number 7 with a line through it. Old School Organisers in Britain tried to ban it saying he must stick to a traditional British number 7 with no line through it. To a rider who had drilled a hole in the front of his helmet so he could smoke a cigarette on the start line this was never going to happen. The late Barry Sheene and last British premier class Champion is still known as number 7 to a legion of loyal fans throughout the World.

One of Sheene’s great friends and rivals was a certain Italian by the name of Graziano Rossi. When the son of the three times Grand Prix winner started racing, he adopted the same number 46 racing number as his father. The rest is history. Nine World titles and 115 grand prix wins later Valentino Rossi is still using his dad’s number.

Wherever you go in the World you will see number 46. It can be a tee-shirt in Australia, a sticker in the rear window of a tuk-tuk in India, a car number plate in Rome or a cap in Finland, everybody knows who it represents. Number 46 is as big a part of the Rossi legacy as nickname the doctor or GOAT compliments.

These two legends are not alone in breaking with tradition and refusing the number one plate. Marc Marquez has won those eight World titles and 82 grands prix with his 93-number plate. MotoGP™ World Champion Jorge Lorenzo tried the number one plate after his first premier class title but switched back to his favourite 99 to win two more.

Will we be remembering race number 36 in years to come in the same way as numbers 7,46.93 and 99? Joan Mir certainly hopes so.

 

By |2021-03-03T17:00:53+00:00March 3rd, 2021|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on What’s in a number?