Monthly Archives: June 2021

Blog writer’s dream at the Sachsenring

One lap into the Liqui Moly German Grand Prix on Sunday and it was the blog writer’s dream. I was spoilt for choice at the Sachsenring. Sometimes but not very often if at all this season, I have got the old grey cells working overtime to research an interesting subject but no such problems as they started the second lap of the 30-lap race around the shortest circuit on the calendar.

Marc Marquez leading the way chasing his 11th successive win at the Sachsenring and his eighth in the premier class. The Repsol Honda rider qualified in fifth place, the best since his return to Grand Prix racing, and made a great start from the second row diving up the inside at the infamous turn one before taking the lead at the last corner of the first lap. In second place Spaniard Aleix Espargaro chasing his first-ever podium finish on the Aprilia Racing Team Gresini after starting from the front row of the grid. It was the first time the Italian factory better known for 125 and 250 cc two-stroke success had begun a four-stroke race from the front row.

They had never finished on the podium in the four-stroke MotoGP™ era and it was way back in the 500cc class Jeremy McWilliams was bringing them success on the 500cc twin-cylinder machine. Who will ever forget that pole position at Phillip Island in Australia 21 years ago and those two third places at Mugello and Donington by the Ulsterman in 2000?

A year earlier former 250cc World Champion Tetsuya Harada stepped up to the premier class and finished third at Le Mans and Donington. Two years earlier Doriano Romboni brought the Italian factory their first premier class podium with a third-place at Assen behind Mick Doohan and Carlos Checa Four-stroke success did not follow but Aleix was on the charge from the front row.

In third place was pole sitter Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) chasing his first-ever MotoGP™ victory. The Frenchman riding the Pramac Ducati had already finished on the podium four times this season and was second in the Championship behind countryman Fabio Quartararo. Five years ago, Zarco won the Moto2™ race at the Sachsenring on route to retaining his World title and this was his big chance to do it again.

It was the perfect scenario but of course, it could not last. When those spots of rain started to fall it became obvious that the battle at the front between Marquez and the magnificent Miquel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) on the RC16 was going to be the focus. What a return to winning ways for Marquez after a brilliant controlling ride at the front against the Portuguese rider who already looks like a Championship contender. Those two Grand Prix in Austria at the beginning of August should provide some homecoming for KTM.

It was Marquez’s first win since the final round of the 2019 season in Valencia. It was his eleventh successive win at the Sachsenring and his eighth in the premier class. He goes one better than Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) who won seven consecutive premier class races at Mugello but as often happens a certain Giacomo Agostini is still the man to beat. The 13 times World Champion and 122 times Grand Prix winner. won nine successive 500cc races on the MV Agusta at the Imatra street circuit in Finland between 1965 – 1973 and even returned in 1975 to win on the two-stroke Yamaha. He also won eight successive premier class races at the wonderful Spa Francorchamps Belgium circuit all on the four-stroke MV Agusta.

This time it was Marquez but on Sunday in Assen it could so easily be the turn of Aleix or Johann. One thing for certain there will be no problem for the blog writer finding a suitable subject.

By |2021-06-24T08:29:35+00:00June 24th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Blog writer’s dream at the Sachsenring

The birth of a dream

On a welcome dry clear morning, 100 riders dressed in black leather jackets and trousers sporting pudding basin style helmets lowered their goggles and prepared to make history. It was 72 years ago last Sunday (June 13, 1949) and the location a giant granite rock situated between the rugged coastlines of England and Northern Ireland.

The very first race in the World Motorcycle Racing Championship was about to start. The rumble and then roar of 350cc British single-cylinder motorcycle pierced the thin Manx air as the riders lined up on the Glencrutchery road in the Isle of Man. Seven laps of the most demanding test of man and machine in the World, the infamous 60.721 kms TT mountain circuit. The distance, a ‘mere’ 425 kms around an Island that had been staging motorcycle racing on its roads since 1909. When the British Government imposed a 32 kph speed limit on all roads the forward-thinking Manx Government realised that closing their roads for racing could have far-reaching consequences. They were right and the TT races on the Mountain circuit continue to this day. There could have been no better or worthy venue to stage that first World Championship race, a year ahead of the Formula One Championship that started at Silverstone in 1950.

It was just four years since the finish of the second World War when the FIM launched the World Championship. The six round Championship was held only on European circuits and consisted of four solo classes 125, 250, 350 and 500cc plus sidecars. The other tracks selected were Berne in Switzerland, Assen in Holland, Spa Francorchamps in Belgium, Clady in Ulster Northern Ireland and Monza in Italy.

The new World Championship grid looked very similar to those of the late thirties both in personnel and machinery. The biggest change mechanically was the banning of Supercharged engines and German-built machines.

In so many ways that very first 350cc TT race summed up what lay ahead for the next 72 years. Pure excitement and skill, drama, disappointment and tragedy all in one race. Former bomber pilot Les Graham – who had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in 1944 – led the way by 19 seconds at the end of the first lap, but a broken clutch brought his race to a premature halt less than a lap later. The AJS of Bill Doran took over until his gearbox broke on the last lap climbing the mountain section of the track. Freddie Frith riding the Velocette had no idea of Doran’s demise and set the fastest lap of the race on the last lap on route to a historic victory. Ulsterman Ernie Lyons made it a Velocette one-two with another Ulsterman Artie Bell third on the Norton. Graham’s bad luck continued in the 500cc race four days later when he broke down three kilometres from the finish when the magneto shaft shattered on his AJS. Typically, he pushed the stricken machine those final three kilometres to finish in tenth place. He was rewarded at the end of the season by being crowned the first 500cc World Champion.

Tragically TT regular Ben Drinkwater died in a crash at the eleventh milestone on the fourth lap of that opening 350cc race.

The World Championship was up and running but there was one big change from today. The seventy-five machines that finished that marathon 350cc seven lap race on that historic day were all British built – times have changed!

By |2021-06-17T08:34:27+00:00June 17th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Family values: Remy joins an exclusive club

Moto2™ Championship leader, Barcelona and Mugello winner Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) is becoming a member of a very exclusive club next season. The Australian joins a select band of fathers and sons who have both raced in the premier class of Grand Prix racing when he joins the Tech3 KTM Factory Racing team. However, he is only knocking on the front door of this special family club

The Red Bull KTM Ajo rider has all the correct qualifications to join but that is just the start. Can he emulate his father Wayne by winning a premier class Grand Prix leading to a World title? He would be only the third father and son to both win a premier class race. Surely, he could stand for presidency by becoming only the second father and son to win the elite class World title.

There are plenty of fathers and sons who have raced in the premier class. There are fathers and sons who have won Grand Prix races, but not both in the 500cc/MotoGP™ class. Famous names such as Graziano and Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT), Angel and Pablo Nieto, Les and Stuart Graham, Peter and Philipp Ottl, Stefan and Helmut Bradl and of course Wayne and Remy. Both winning in the premier class is a very different proposition and just two families have achieved such an accolade. Kenny Roberts Senior and Junior won 30 500cc Grands Prix between them. Italians Nello and Alberto Pagani won five 500cc Grands Prix with father Nello winning two in 1949 in the first year of the World Championship.

The 30 Grand Prix wins for the Roberts’ is the clue to the ultimate accolade. They are the only father and son to win the elite class World title in the 73-year history of the sport. Kenny Senior won the 500cc World title three times in 1978,79,80 on the Yamaha. Twenty years later Kenny Junior brought Suzuki the 2000 title.

There are plenty of fathers and sons who have both raced in the premier class. Some are obvious but others not so. World Superbike supremo Carl Fogarty and father George both raced in the 500cc class. Canadians Yvon and Miguel Du Hamel. Father Yvon started four 500cc Grand Prix races, but never made it to the finish. Barry Sheene’s brother-in-law Paul Smart and his Son Scott and TT heroes Tony and David Jefferies and Tony and Michael Rutter.

Others are better known including Ron and Leon Haslam, Walter and Cristiano Migilorati, George and Pierre Monneret and Australians Harry and Eric Hilton.

There is one record that is likely to remain for a long time or even forever. The German father and son Ernst and Reinhard Hiller not only raced together but also both scored points at the same Grand Prix.  When many of the stars retired in the 1973 German Grand Prix at the Hockenheim Ernst finished third and Reinhard sixth.

I am sure Wayne would be up for it and tell all who was prepared to listen he would not only race but also of course win. Realistically those days have long gone but at a certain age, we are allowed to dream.

By |2021-06-10T10:12:20+00:00June 10th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Family values: Remy joins an exclusive club

Where have all the Aliens gone….

“Those guys are riding as if from a different planet…” this was the comments made about a select group off riders in MotoGP, who every week seemed to be in a class of their own. This quickly moved-on to these riders being dubbed the “Aliens”. Initially this group of riders consisted of Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo; when Stoner retired at the end of 2012 he was replaced by Marc Marquez, who quickly established himself as one of the group. The following table shows how this group of riders dominated the MotoGP podiums, starting in 2006 when Rossi was joined by Pedrosa and Stoner.

Year

Percentage of MotoGP podiums taken by the “Aliens”

2006

37.2

2007

55.5

2008

81.5

2009

86.3

2010

81.5

2011

70.6

2012

79.6

2013

90.7

2014

88.9

2015

77.8

2016

64.8

2017

55.5

2018

42.6

2019

35.1

2020

2.4

In 2006 Valentino Rossi was was already a five time premier-class world champion and he was joined that year in MotoGP by both Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner. Pedrosa made an immediate impact and eight podium finishes in his rookie season, including two victories. Stoner’s impact was less immediate, finding it tough going on Michelin tyres and a satellite bike, managing a single podium finish in Turkey. In 2007 these two riders really got into their stride with Stoner winning the title from Pedrosa, with Rossi coming in third. The opening race of that year in Qatar was a sign of things to come, and the first podium consisting of three Aliens: Stoner from Rossi and Pedrosa in 3rd. That year these three rider took more than 50% of the podiums on offer.

The real domination of MotoGP by an elite group of riders became evident in 2008, when they were joined by Jorge Lorenzo. These four Aliens took more than 80% of all the podium places that year, with nine of the 18 races resulting in all Alien podiums.

This domination continued through the next seven year, with the addition of Marquez to the ranks to replace Stoner in 2013. As shown in the above table, there was a dip in 2011 and 2012 when Rossi went to Ducati and finished on the podium just three times over the two years. The 2013 and 2014 seasons were particularly dominated by the group of four riders. In 2013 they took 49 of the 54 podium places available (the others going to – Cal Crutchlow x 4, Stefan Bradl x 1, perhaps Crutchlow at that stage was the best of the Earthlings?). In 2014 just 6 podium finishes went to riders other than the Aliens (Andrea Dovizioso – 2, Alvaro Bautista – 1, Aleix Espargaro – 1, Crutchlow – 1, Bradley Smith – 1).

The domination of the elite group was starting to crack in 2016, when a record nine different rider stood on the top step of the podium and a new wave of riders challenged the established order. As shown above, this trend has continued and last year the Aliens could muster only one podium in total, due to the retirement of Pedrosa and Lorenzo, the injury to Marquez and the ageing of the founding member of the group, Rossi.

Of course it may be speculated that the DNA of these five riders have spread throughout the MotoGP field (not literally of course!), raising the level of all. And there is evidence to support this; Pedrosa having no podium finishes in 2018, Lorenzo none in 2019, Rossi now thirteen races with just one top ten finish. So rather than the Aliens losing their superpowers, is it that others have raised their game; maybe the invasion has been successful and they are all Aliens now?

By |2021-06-07T19:49:25+00:00June 7th, 2021|Martin Raines Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Where have all the Aliens gone….

Vale at Mugello – Graziano, Hawaii and Helicopters

It may have only been a few television glimpses of number 46 in the Mugello sunshine on Sunday, but they were enough. Valentino Rossi in action at the magnificent Tuscan circuit the home of the Italian Grand Prix. A rider and venue carved into the very foundations of the last quarter of a century of Grand Prix racing.

Twenty-five years in which Rossi led the revolution at circuits throughout the World but it is Mugello that sums it all up. Massive passionate crowds packing the hillsides supporting a national hero and even an organised track invasion at the finish to celebrate in front of the podium.

Of course, it is about Rossi’s nine Grand Prix wins, including seven MotoGP™ victories in a row, 14 podium and seven pole positions at Mugello but it is so much more

There was quite a melee Italian style round a desk in the press room overlooking pit lane in Mugello. Holding court sitting on the desk was a very young-looking fresh-faced teenager with long hair and already the Italian media were noting down every word he spoke. It was June 1995 at the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, and I had absolutely no idea who he was.

I was told on enquiry he was Graziano Rossi’s son and honestly thought little more about it. Less than a year later Valentino had made his Grand Prix debut in Malaysia and less than six months later won the first of his 115 Grand Prix victories at Brno in the Czech Republic. The headlines soon changed, and the roles reversed – Three times Grand Prix winner Graziano Rossi was now Valentino Rossi’s dad.

Six years after that first meeting, I had organised a photoshoot on the London Eye big wheel overlooking the River Thames. Vale had won the opening three 500 Grand Prix of the 2001 season and was even big news in Britain. After a press conference in the pub next to the Eye I jumped into a taxi with Vale and his great mate Uccio on route to the BBC Studios at White City. They were like a couple of kids on their phones organising the end of School Prom but this was something special for Mugello. They had discovered there was a Rossi fan club in Hawaii, and they wanted to celebrate the fact.

It started off by planning to fly a couple of the fan club in for the race but typically the idea just exploded. By the race weekend in Mugello Rossi ‘s helmet and leathers were both in a Hawaiian flower design. The complete Honda pit crew wearing Hawaiian shirts, the NSR Honda’s fairing was resplendent in Hawaiian flower logo and to finish the theme a plastic swimming pool with a palm tree in the middle was positioned track side. The fans and media just could not get enough of it. This was a phenomenon of fun and self-promotion Grand Prix racing had never witnessed before. Others had tried but did not have the talent where it really mattered out on the track. This was just the start, and the Rossi juggernaut was on the road and building up to top speed

Seven years later in 2010 not only Mugello but the whole of Italy shed tears. Rossi crashed in practice on a cold rear tyre at the Biondetti chicane and broke his leg. As the bright yellow medical helicopter took off to transport him to hospital, he acknowledged those tears with a wave from the stretcher. The television pictures of a young lady waving back with tears streaming down her face just summed up what this passionate nation felt about their hero. He returned just five and a half weeks later to finish fourth at the Sachsenring.

I honestly do not know if Valentino Rossi made his last appearance at Mugello on Sunday. Whatever happens those images of the number 46 racing between the green hills of Tuscany over the last quarter of a century will never be forgotten especially by anybody who was lucky enough to be there.

By |2021-06-03T08:39:04+00:00June 3rd, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment