Monthly Archives: September 2021

Brave Dovi bucks trend to set record

While the world of sport enthuses about the performance of two teenage tennis players, Andrea Dovizioso bucks the trend. The 35-year-old Italian returned to the MotoGP™ fray at Misano on Sunday. He may be almost double the age of 18-year-old Emma Raducanu who won the US Open tennis grand slam last week, but Dovi has committed himself to a Championship that is embracing the surging wave of youth as much as any other sport. Dovi’s return to the saddle after almost a season on the sidelines also produced a record that may never be matched

For the first time in the 73-year history of World Championship motorcycle racing,14 premier class Grand Prix winners lined up on the grid for the 27-lap race at Misano on Sunday. With the return of Dovizioso and with Franco Morbidelli also returning to the Yamaha fold after injury, the record was broken.

Dovi has the remainder of the season replacing Morbidelli in the Petronas SRT Yamaha team to prepare for next season when Yamaha have promised a full factory M1 machine. On Sunday he lined up alongside Valentino Rossi in the Petronas team. Between the two with a combined age of 77 years, they have started in 756 Grand Prix with 598 of them coming in the premier class. A record you cannot ever see being eclipsed although we probably thought that about the number of Grand Prix winners on the starting grid

It’s a brave move by Dovi and he knows better than anybody just how tough it will be, but he has the experience to make it work. This will be the third full factory bike he has ridden in the MotoGP™ class. He brought the Repsol Honda team success in the 2009 British Grand Prix and after one season with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team switched to Ducati. He won the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix and the floodgates opened. The only problem was a certain Marc Marquez was at his peak and despite some masterful breath-taking duels against the Spanish Honda rider that World title never came his way despite 13 more Grands Prix wins. Three years in succession between 2017 – 2019 he finished runner-up in the Championship behind Marquez. His last Grand Prix win came in Austria last year.

When I hear of a rider finishing runner-up in the MotoGP™ Championship three times I always think of Randy Mamola. The exuberant Californian finished runner-up four times after winning 13 Grand Prix. There was no Marquez to spoil his fun in the eighties but the foursome of Kenny Roberts, Marco Lucchinelli Eddie Lawson and Wayne Gardner which was just as formidable. Two so different characters but brilliant on two wheels. Unlike Mamola at least Dovi has tasted World Championship success. He won the 125cc World title in 2004 and was runner-up in the 250cc Championship on two occasions in 2006 and 2007

What lies ahead for the 35-year-old was never better illustrated than on his return to the track over the weekend. He qualified on the back row of the grid alongside Grand Prix winners and fellow Italians Valentino Rossi and Danilo Petrucci. Who would have ever believed such a back row a couple of years ago? Dovi finished 21st in the race won by 24-year-old Pecco Bagnaia who was at Pramac Racing last year.

Stopping the charge of youth is a mighty big challenge even for somebody as level-headed and thoughtful as Dovizioso. He is under no illusions and if he was, he should have watched that New York tennis final last week. It’s going to be a fascinating battle and without a doubt 24 times Grand Prix winner Dovizioso’s biggest ever challenge.

Finally, can you name those 14 premier Grand Prix winners on the Misano grid?

By |2021-09-22T20:54:39+00:00September 22nd, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|0 Comments

Loyalty will be rewarded – patience pays off

Two brilliant wins this week, one on two wheels and the other on four, emphasised that loyalty will be rewarded. Pecco Bagnaia’s magnificent first premier class win at MotorLand Aragon on Sunday coming seven days after Max Verstappen’s Formula One win at Zandvoort sent Holland crazy, were a perfect illustration. The problem is those rewards can be just around the corner for some, but decades away for others

Bagnaia’s successful fight with Marc Marquez secured Italy their 250th premier class victory. Verstappen’s home win in among the Zandvoort sand dunes brought unbelievable celebrations from the patriotic success-starved home crowd. No wonder Holland celebrated because motorsport success, especially on the tarmac, is long overdue to a nation that shows amazing loyalty even without one of their own winning races. What other sport could produce such loyalty despite not witnessing a home rider winning a premier class MotoGP™ race for 40 years.

Name me another sport that could attract record crowds each year to the Assen circuit which has staged Grand Prix racing right from the start in 1949 and has rightly earned the title as the Cathedral of Grand Prix racing. It’s not only the Dutch that have shown such loyalty. Huge crowds flock to the Sachsenring each year despite the only German victory in the premier class coming 47 years ago. Two weeks ago, the restricted Silverstone attendance was sold out despite a British rider never winning a premier class race at his home Grand Prix since it arrived from the Isle of Man.

The Dutch certainly know how to party which I found out 41 years ago. It was one of my first assignments as a Grand Prix reporter to 1980 Dutch TT. Local hero Jack Middelburg won the 16 lap 500cc race from Graziano Rossi and Franco Uncini to spark off celebrations from the 100,000 plus crowd I’ve barely witnessed since. The place went completely crazy. Not the organised pyrotechnics of Zandvoort last week but just an outburst of orange and joy fuelled by some local brews that seemed to go on forever

I rather naively thought every Grand Prix would be like that, but Assen that afternoon, evening and night set a precedent that has barely been surpassed. A year later Middelburg won the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and that was that. A Dutchman never won another premier class race. Nine years later in 1990 Wilco Zeelenberg won the 250cc German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring and Hans Spaan won five 125cc Grands Prix and secured the last ever Grand Prix victory for a Dutch rider, but the crowds continued to flock to Assen every single year.

Despite great success in the smaller classes thanks to the efforts of the likes of Toni Mang, Dirk Raudies, Ralf Waldmann and Stefan Bradl, Germany has only tasted success in the premier class on one occasion and even then, it was controversial. Edmund Czihak won the 1974 500cc German Grand Prix race at the Nürburgring when all the top riders boycotted the race on safety grounds

Cal Crutchlow has brought some much-needed joy to British fans with three premier class wins, but they had to wait 35 years. Before Crutchlow the last British premier class winner was Barry Sheene in 1981 in a sport once dominated by British riders and machinery. They flocked to Silverstone a couple of weeks ago in the knowledge that no British rider had won the premier class race on home soil since it switched from the TT Mountain circuit in 1977.

It was no great surprise that sidecar racing was so popular in Holland, Germany and Great Britain. All three countries produced some brilliant World Champions on three wheels for fans baying for Grand Prix success. No wonder they hosted sidecar World Championship races long after sidecar racing ceased to be part of the official World Championship in 1996.

Sidecar racing will never return to the official World Championship calendar. Max Verstappen may reward those Dutch fans with the Formula One World Championship but what those Dutch, German and British fans really deserve for their loyalty and patience is the ultimate reward of MotoGP™ success. The long wait, however long, will be worth it. Just ask Fabio Quartararo and those French fans.

 

By |2021-09-15T19:50:06+00:00September 15th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Viñales and Ronaldo make headline transfer debuts

It promises to be some weekend for a couple of headlines making sportsmen starting somewhat unexpected new careers. While footballer Cristiano Ronaldo makes his much-publicised debut for Manchester United at the Old Trafford stadium, Maverick Viñales will have already embarked on his new career at MotorLand Aragon

Footballers moving clubs during the season is an accepted part and parcel of the game. Moving manufacturers during the MotoGP™ season is virtually unheard of, but the Spanish rider has done just that. He makes his Aprilia debut on Friday morning after leaving the Monster Energy Yamaha factory team. Ronaldo is a proven record-breaker, while Viñales is seeking a record that only one rider has ever achieved in the 73 years of World Championship racing in the premier class.

Only Mike Hailwood has won premier class Grands Prix in the same season riding for different manufactures. Others have come close but in 1961 the rider who went on to win nine World titles set a record that has never been matched. The British rider won the third round of the Championship in the Senior TT on the Isle of Man Mountain circuit riding a Norton. Before the season ended, he joined Gary Hocking, who went on the win the Championship, in the Italian MV Agusta team. Hailwood won the Nations Grand Prix at Monza in Italy.

A year earlier another British rider came close.  John Hartle finished second in the Senior TT in the Isle of Man riding an MV Agusta in what today we would call a wild card entry. He then raced the remainder of the season on a Norton, which included a win at the Ulster Grand Prix.

In 1964 Phil Read, who went on to win 125, 250 and 500cc World titles, had three podium finishes riding Matchless machinery, before swapping to Norton to win the Ulster Grand Prix on the Dundrod road circuit.

Six years later in 1970 Italian Angelo Bergamonti started the season riding an Aermacchi and then was drafted into the MV Agusta team to support Giacomo Agostini. Bergamonti scored a couple of podiums earlier in the year at Opatija and Assen on the Aermacchi before the switch. He then won the final race of the year for MV Agusta at Monjuich Park in Barcelona after finishing second behind his new team-mate at Monza two weeks earlier. Agostini, having won the title missed that final round to race in a British international event.

Viñales won the opening round of this year’s MotoGP™ World Championship under the Losail International floodlights in Qatar riding for the factory Yamaha team. Last weekend at the Monster Energy British Grand Prix at Silverstone his new teammate Aleix Espargaro brought the Aprilia team their first-ever podium finish in the MotoGP™ four-stroke era with a brilliant third place.

The stage is set for Viñales to emulate Hailwood before the end of the season. A couple of weeks ago his fellow transfer debutant Ronaldo smashed the international football goal scoring record.

It’s now your turn Maverick.

 

By |2021-09-08T20:51:49+00:00September 8th, 2021|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Viñales and Ronaldo make headline transfer debuts

Vale at Vale – gone forever

All that hassle was worth it in one precious moment when I understood exactly why I was there. The pilgrimage had begun at 6.30 on Sunday morning. Even before my alarm went off, I could hear the bikes racing down the nearby A420. It may have been 35 kms from Silverstone but the yellow army was already on the move.

Nothing had changed from our early racing days. Somebody was always late and 50 years later it was the same person. By the time we reached the legendary Green Man pub a couple of kilometres from the Silverstone entrance the traffic was stop and start in double lanes with motorbike after motorbike racing down the middle. Every car and every bike were part of the yellow army. Tee shirts, caps, flags and rucksacks with a simple message in a number – 46 ruled.

As we slowly but surely edged our way nearer and nearer to the entrance I remembered those Sandwiches my mum always lovingly prepared for lunch on race days. I’d always eaten them before we actually arrived.

The car park appeared a long way from the circuit, but we joined the yellow army now marching on foot towards their goal. Over the bridge and a long snaking queue greeted us. This was England and nobody moaned. Nobody jumped in and 40 minutes later our precious tickets were scanned, and we were in.

Now we had to find the grass bank in front of the grandstands at the entrance to Vale corner at the bottom end of the circuit to meet my old friend MotoGP™ statistician Martin Raines. There were plenty of human obstacles to slow our progress. Long queues blocked the roadways which had to be negotiated. People waited and were prepared to wait to buy their VR46 memorabilia for the last time, sample a burger and chips and even go to the loos.

After much searching and phone calls we finally located the good Doctor Raines sitting right next to a family with an enormous 46 flag and union jack at the top of the pole. Somebody more sensible than me had bought some fold-up chairs, definitely something we’d never considered 50 years ago. We settled down to watch an afternoon of MotoGP™.

Only in England would Moto3™ winner Romano Fenati receive polite applause more accustomed to a game of cricket, but he did, perhaps added with a few air horns but the big moment was approaching. Twenty-one years earlier I’d commentated on Valentino Rossi’s first win in the premier class of Grand Prix racing at the British Grand Prix at Donington and here he was making his final appearance on these shores where World Championship racing had started back in 1949. Even before he’d arrived down at Stowe corner on his sighting lap our grass bank at Vale had turned into a sea of yellow. Number 46 was getting the send off he deserved from the success-starved loyal British fans who had adopted him as one of their own a long time ago.

Those home fans are totally unique and so loyal. Every time Jake Dixon appeared in last place in the 20-lap race on a decent MotoGP™ debut they stood and cheered his considerable efforts. They gave equal encouragement and appreciation to race winner and Championship leader Fabio Quartararo but then they let go. Valentino Rossi arrived on his slowing down lap, his last ever lap in Britain and at Silverstone. The last time that number 46 would grace this hallowed tarmac.

At Club corner, he stopped the Petronas Yamaha SRT machine and bid a final farewell to the crowd. Then he was gone, gone forever.

I did have a tear in my eye but please don’t tell my mates.

By |2021-09-01T20:22:20+00:00September 1st, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment