Monthly Archives: April 2021

The kids are alright

A well-known football television pundit and international footballer famously once declared to millions of viewers that a certain top club would never win anything by playing ‘kids’ in their team. Within two years that club won the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup. I wonder what he would have made of MotoGP™ now where the kids are doing even better than alright.

The average age of the three Grand Prix winners in Portimao last week was the youngest ever in the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing. I cannot help wondering how the riders can possibly get any younger and can those MotoGP™ bikes possibly go any quicker? The average age of the three Grand Prix winners in Portugal was just 19 years 289 days. Yes under 20 years old!

Not surprisingly Moto3™ sensation Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo) kept that average age to record levels. The rookie secured his second win of the season aged just 16 years 328 days. Moto2™ winner Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was 20 years 177 days old when he took the chequered flag in Portimao to win his third Grand Prix and first in his rookie Moto2™ season.

Frenchman Fabio Quartararo was positively the ‘old man’ with his second MotoGP™ victory of the season. The Monster Energy Yamaha rider took the lead in the World Championship aged 21 years 363 days.

The previous record was set at the 2014 Americas Grand Prix in Austin. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) won Moto3™, Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) Moto2™ and not surprisingly Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) in MotoGP™. Their average age was 19 years 320 days.

So, what about the other end of the scale and the highest average age of the Grand Prix winners at one event. Sixty-eight years ago, in the 1953 Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuic Park in Barcelona, the average age of the three winners was 40 years 224 days which is more the double the average age in Portugal last week.

Italian Angelo Copeta grabbed his one and only 125 cc Grand Prix victory riding the MV Agusta when he was aged 34 years 163 days. Fellow Italian World Champion Enrico Lorenzetti won the 250-cc race riding the Moto Guzzi aged 42 years 273 days. The oldest of them all was Englishman Fergus Anderson who won the 500-cc race at the tender age of 44 years 237 days. Never was there a clearer indication of how the second world war robbed future Grand Prix winners of their adolescence. In 1953, the war had only ended eight years ago.

Can the average winner’s age possibly drop even further? The Worldwide competitions set up to bring youngsters into Grand Prix racing suggests it could. Could a 40-year-old rider ever win a MotoGP™ race? A little more unlikely, and so over to you Vale to shatter yet another record.

 

By |2021-04-28T21:08:52+00:00April 28th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The kids are alright

A True Warrior

It was more like a scene from the Muppets Show on Friday morning. Two old boys shouting at the television screen while expressing their opinions with very loud voices. My great friend Dr. Martin Raines and I were in the middle of a Zoom call when the first MotoGP™ practice session in Portimao was drawing to a close. A couple of minutes from the finish as the number 93 flashed to the top of the timing screen, the subject of the Zoom call went out of the window as we screamed our approval – how can he do it? Marc Marquez was at the front on his return to the MotoGP™ racetrack.

The agonising 265-day wait was finally over but how could he be leading after such a long time out of the saddle. This was a track the eight-time World Champion had never raced on before. The track for the first session was not in perfect condition and Marquez had already admitted he was going to suffer over the weekend with pain and lack of strength from the humerus he had broken so badly crashing at the opening round last year in Jerez.

Martin and I had been discussing all week just how careful he would have to be to protect the injury, to gain strength and heal. Even Marquez must know this, and any points scored in the tortuous 25 lap race on Sunday would be a starting point we agreed. What I totally forgot was that protect and careful are two words that Marquez could never use in a game of Scrabble because he simply does not understand their meaning.

I thought back to the last interview I did with him after he had won the 2017 MotoGP™ title at the final round in Valencia. It had been a difficult year for him and his Repsol Honda team and Marquez had decided to try and ride a little more conservatively, not take so many risks and ride for the points. Halfway through the season, his hairdresser told him his hair was starting to fall out. There was no baldness in the family, and he rushed to the doctor who confirmed the loss of hair. He suggested to Marc that the loss was caused by stress. Marc immediately worked out the solution. Stop trying to not be Marc Marquez and return to his old ways. Elbows and knees in constant contact with the tarmac may have suffered but he kept his hair and retained his title.

In the end, Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins pushed Marquez back to third in that first session but he was back. He confirmed that return with sixth place and a second row start in qualifying. Anybody who doubted his intent and sheer downright guts and determination could not have watched Marquez at his best in the opening two corners of the race. From that second row, he charged into the riders in front of him like a raging bull who had finally been released after being fenced in for over 12 months.  Marquez was up into third place, but would he last the pace? He had done no more than six continuous fast laps around the undulating, demanding circuit. The eight-time World Champion just gritted his teeth, reminded himself of sitting at home watching his rivals perform on the television and got on with the job he does better than anybody else in the world.

Somehow, he survived those last ten excruciating, painful laps to finish seventh, thirteen seconds behind race winner Fabio Quartararo. It was his first Grand Prix finish for 518 days and, back in the Repsol Honda garage, the tears flowed: surely a combination of pain and relief. Marquez showed he is a true warrior constructed from the same mould as the likes of Mick Doohan and Barry Sheene, who returned from horrendous injuries to win World titles.

The story continues at Jerez in two weeks’ time. Before then there is plenty of zooming and lawns to be cut for the two old boys before the shouting at the screen starts once again.

By |2021-04-22T07:03:58+00:00April 22nd, 2021|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on A True Warrior

Acosta chases history on Sunday, but not on a Bantam

It may be a long time ago, but I remember I only had one thing on my mind on my sixteenth birthday – how can I raise the princely sum of £15 to buy my first motorbike. My friend’s Dad was selling his 125cc Bantam and with some help from my parents, I was on the road.

On Sunday at Portimao in Portugal, a 16-year-old Spaniard will not be worrying about a BSA Bantam but concentrating on re-writing the 73-year-old Grand Prix history books and joining a very exclusive club. Pedro Acosta’s sensational victory in the second round of the Moto3™ World Championship in Qatar opened the doors for some record-breaking at round three on Sunday. That staggering first Grand Prix win when he decimated the field after having to start from pit lane came just a week after his second-place podium finish in Qatar on his Grand Prix debut. A win or even podium finish on Sunday will place the former Red Bull Rookies Champion in a very special place

If Acosta finishes in the top three in Portugal, he will be the youngest rider to open his career with three successive podiums. If the KTM rider wins the race in Portugal he will be the second youngest rider ever to take back-to-back wins, after Maverick Vinales.

In the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing, only four riders have finished on the podium in their first three Grand Prix starts:

In 1949, the first year of Grand Prix racing, Italian Arciso Artesian secured three successive podiums on his debut. The Gilera rider missed the opening round at the TT races in the Isle of Man, but then finished on the podium at Switzerland, Dutch TT and Belgium.

A year later British Norton rider Geoff Duke finished second in the 350cc TT, won the 500cc TT and then was third in the 350cc race in Belgium at Spa Francorchamps. Duke was a sporting hero in post-war Britain winning six World titles for Norton and Gilera

In 1991 the bubbly bespectacled Noboru Ueda was on the podium at the opening three 125cc Grands Prix. In an explosive start to his World Championship career the Japanese Honda rider won the opening round at Suzuka, finished third behind Loris Capirossi and Fausto Gresini at the Eastern Creek in Australia and won again at the opening European round in Jerez. Nobby went on to win 11 more Grands Prix but never a World title. He was second in 1994 and in 1997. In true Acosta style, although not from pit lane, Ueda won a race starting from the back of the grid. At the 1997 Japanese Grand Prix he had qualified on pole, but on the sighting lap noticed the wind direction has changed so he called into the pits to change the gearing. This resulted in him starting from the back of the grid. He won the race which was the second round of the Championship. A young Valentino Rossi won the opening round in Malaysia and then the third and fourth rounds in Jerez and Mugello.

In 1996 the late great Daijiro Kato finished third as a wild card entry in the 250cc Grand Prix at Suzuka in the third round of the Championship. He returned as a wild card entry to win the race for Honda a year later and then in 1998. Despite the gaps, these were Kato’s first three Grand Prix appearances. He went on to win 15 more Grands Prix and the 250cc World title in 2001 before his tragic death in 2003.

So already Acosta had joined an elite band of Grand Prix legends. My beloved Bantam only once touched 55 mph racing down Cumnor Hill. I don’t think the Spanish teenager would have been that impressed.

By |2021-04-15T07:15:26+00:00April 15th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Vive la France

It has been a long four and a half years wait but it cannot be long before that celebratory back flip and perhaps even an airport piano recital returns as Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) leads the French revolution alongside Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP).

A French rider has never won the premier class World title but already the two revolutionaries are re-writing the history books. Zarco, still chasing that first MotoGP™ win, leads the World Championship for the very first time after two superb second places in those breath-taking opening two rounds. Quartararo was back on the podium with a bang with a brilliantly judged win on Sunday. It was the very first time in the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing that French riders had finished first and second in a premier class race

Zarco is certainly no stereotyped MotoGP™ rider, if there is such a person. His last Grand Prix win came at the final round of the Moto2™ World Championship in Valencia in 2016. He had already retained the World title and celebrated in the hotel with a customary winning backflip off the bar. A couple of weeks earlier in the early hours of the morning, I rounded the corner of a deserted Melbourne airport on route to Malaysia to discover the Frenchman totally alone and completely absorbed in playing his very own concerto on a piano he discovered near the departure gate for Kuala Lumpur.

Last year Quartararo was a sensation, but the pressure got to him and he tailed off, not finishing on the podium after Barcelona. He was back to his very best on Sunday. A brilliantly judged win was a stark reminder to the rest of what a threat he will be in just his third MotoGP™ season.

Despite all the obvious problems, this was a sensational start to the new season. I am sure there were the usual feelings as 2021 got underway with the double header. Of course, there were plenty of people regretting the measurements they gave for their uniforms when the 2020 season ended had not taken account of Christmas and the new year. There would have been the usual sadness with the nonappearance of old friends’ faces in the paddock, in the media centre and out on track. All was forgotten the moment that first bike fired into action.

Let us start at the beginning and the grid for that opening race. Eight of the riders on the grid had not been born when Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) made his Grand Prix debut 25 years ago in Malaysia. While Rossi celebrated the start of his 26th season at the tender age of 42 years 40 days, at the other end of the age scale Iker Lecuona (Tech 3 KTM Factory Racing) started his second MotoGP™ season aged just 21 years 81 days. Pecco Bagnaia celebrated his promotion to the Lenovo Ducati factory team by grabbing his first pole position and then finishing on the podium behind two ‘veterans’ Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Zarco

Roll on seven days and rookie Jorge Martin grabbed pole position on the Pramac Ducati in just his second MotoGP™ race. It was the seventh different pole setter in the last seven races. It only seemed like yesterday I was joking with Jorge in the Qualifying press conferences after he had received yet another Tissot Moto3™ pole setting watch but could not win a race. That first win finally came at the final round of 2017 in Valencia. The next year he won seven and clinched the title. Three short years later the Spaniard is in MotoGP™ grabbing pole positions and finishing third in just his second race. As the race progressed, I seriously started to think he could win after leading for so long, but third place was just reward for an amazing weekend.

I am sure you do not need any more convincing just what a start it has been. On Sunday after 22 laps of the Losail International Circuit, just 8.928 seconds separated the first 15 riders across the line. No great surprise, the closest ever.

While I wait for the third round of this amazing Championship in Portugal a week on Sunday and for my second Covid vaccination jab, I raise a glass of my favourite Provence Rosé to the revolution.

 

By |2021-04-07T15:07:25+00:00April 7th, 2021|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Vive la France

What a lockdown – play it again Sam

The daffodils are in full bloom, the motor mowers are buzzing like a 50-cc Grand Prix from a different era. Spring has at last arrived, MotoGP™ is back and the icing on the cake, British riders are winning Grands Prix. Nothing better to dispel those lockdown blues. This is without doubt my favourite weekend of the year. I am prepared to forfeit that hour of sleep to lap up the delights of daylight at 7pm on Sunday night. It felt pretty good already and then Sam Lowes came along and made so much better

Do not let us pretend, it is mighty tough being a British rider, journalist and especially fan in MotoGP™. One World title in the last 44 years thanks to Danny Kent six years ago. Despite the sterling efforts of Scott Redding, Lowes and Jeremy McWilliams, no British World rider has been crowned 250cc/Moto2™ World Champion for a staggering 50 years. Phil Read won the 1971 250cc World Championship riding the twin-cylinder Yamaha and that was that. We have sat back and admired and applauded competing against, writing and commentating on and watching the likes of Roberts, Doohan, Rossi, Stoner and Marquez in action but there has always been that nagging regret at the back of the brain – why are none of these brilliant riders from our shores?

That is why we really do appreciate and savour what happened in that opening Moto2™ race of the season. No British rider has ever won in the 17 years of Grands Prix racing at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar. In the daylight or under the floodlights ‘God Save The Queen’ had never boomed out over the desert sand until this Sunday.

The last British rider to win the opening Grand Prix of the season in any class was Barry Sheene. He won the opening round the 500cc World Championship at the San Carlos circuit in Venezuela in 1979 but eventually finished third in the Championship behind Kenny Roberts and Virginio Ferrari

The story goes on. Incredibly you have to go back another 11 years to find the last British rider to win the opening round of the 250cc/Moto2 World Championship. Bill Ivy, riding the works Yamaha, beat Ginger Molloy on the Bultaco by over three minutes to win the 250cc race at the 1968 West German Grand Prix round the legendary Nürburgring 7.747 kms road circuit. After an acrimonious season of conflict with Yamaha teammate Phil Read, Ivy eventually finished second in the Championship behind Read.

The perfect weekend, and even England and Oxford United won on the football pitch. Play it again Sam, do it again to make Easter even more special than usual. No great surprise, the last British rider to win the opening two Grands Prix of the season was Barry Sheene. In 1976 he won the opening three rounds of the 500cc World Championship in Le Mans, Salzburgring and Mugello. Take note Sam, he went on to win the World title.

Spring has finally arrived and even the sun may shine to celebrate Easter Sunday and another British Grand Prix victory – what lockdown!

 

By |2021-04-01T10:17:01+00:00April 1st, 2021|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on What a lockdown – play it again Sam