Monthly Archives: October 2021

The transition is complete – keeping ahead of the game

As two former World MotoGP™ World Champions Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo congratulated Fabio Quartararo in pit lane and Valentino Rossi embarked on an emotional final lap in Italy at Misano, the transition was complete. MotoGP™ has raced into a new era to keep ahead of the game. As much as we, especially people of my age, dislike the fact we are getting older, to survive you have to support change and progress. On Sunday afternoon on the Adriatic coast of Italy there was the perfect example of what that means to MotoGP™.

Fabio Quartararo, the first French Premier class World Champion, the sixth youngest winner in the 73-year history of the World Championship. Three times premier class Champion Lorenzo was the last Yamaha rider to take the title six years ago. Six times MotoGP™ World Champion Marquez, who helped Spain win a record-breaking nine successive premier class titles. Seven times premier class winner Rossi whose legion of fans doffed trilby hats to their hero as he completed that final lap on Italian soil.

What a day for Quartararo and France. Only three other French riders had won a premier class race before the new World Champion arrived on the MotoGP™ scene just three years ago. Never did I envisage a French premier class World Champion when I witnessed Christian Sarron winning at Hockenheim in 1985 and Regis Laconi at Valencia in 1999. For both it was their only MotoGP™ win and that was the same for the first French premier class winner Pierre Monneret who won the 500cc 1954 French Grand Prix at Reims riding a Gilera. Rather like Spain until the arrival of Alex Criville, France had tasted success in the smaller classes but was never regarded as a MotoGP™ threat. Johann Zarco won the Moto2™ World titles in 2015/16. Jean – Louis Tournadre won the 250cc title in 1982 followed by Christian Sarron two years later and Olivier Jacque in 2000. Arnaud Vincent was crowned 125cc World Champion in 2002 and Mike Di Meglio six years later. That has all changed and start queuing just after Christmas to get into the French Grand Prix at Le Mans in May next year

To fully understand just what this means to Quartararo and France just check a couple of facts. France is just the seventh country in the 73 years history of the sport to produce a premier class World Champion. The first five are easy to recognize – Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Australia and America but Gary Hocking’s 1961 500cc title for Rhodesia is often forgotten. The new World Champion joins a very special club. Aged 22 years 187 days old Quartararo is just the sixth youngest premier class World Champion. Marc Marquez, Freddie Spencer, Casey Stoner, Mike Hailwood and John Surtees were younger.

Congratulations Fabio, you have joined a very exclusive club and all of them went on to win more World titles. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t do the same. We will always salute progress and the new Champions, but we must never forget the old heroes whose skill dedication and bravery has put this sport where it is today. Some have paid the ultimate price to pave the way for progress and the crowning of a new World Champion.

 

By |2021-10-27T20:09:53+00:00October 27th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The transition is complete – keeping ahead of the game

Criville started that Spanish record-breaking dream

We don’t know if it’s Fabio Quartararo or Pecco Bagnaia who will be crowned MotoGP™ World Champion in the next few weeks, but one thing for certain a record-breaking run will be coming to an end. Joan Mir set the record last season when he became the ninth successive Spanish winner in the premier class. It’s a record in the 73 years history of World Championship racing that has never been matched by another country. Even the greats including Giacomo Agostini, Mike Hailwood, Kenny Roberts and Mick Doohan couldn’t produce a similar consecutive winning run for their countries, although they have come close

It started in 2012 when Jorge Lorenzo won the second of his World titles. Marc Marquez arrived with a bang to win for the next two years with Lorenzo then winning the third and last of his titles in 2015, amid all the Rossi/Marquez controversy. Marquez returned to the top for the next four years with Mir making it nine in a row last year. It’s an amazing record considering how late Spanish riders found success in the premier class.

I’m sure you will not be surprised I had trouble pronouncing Alex Criville’s name correctly when he was the first Spanish winner in the 500cc class at the 1992 Dutch TT in Assen. Spanish riders who had tasted so much success in the smaller classes had found it tough when they moved up to the 500s. Criville’s win was a surprise, but he had opened the gates for both himself and the likes of Alberto Puig (another of Nick Harris nightmare pronunciations) and Carlos Checa

In the previous 33 years, celebrated World Champions had tried to step up but with little success. The late great Angel Nieto won 13 World titles and 90 Grands Prix in the 50, 80 and 125cc classes. He was such a legend, it’s rumoured the King of Spain persuaded Honda to lend Nieto one of World 500cc Champion Marco Lucchinelli’s NS 500cc machines for the 1982 Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama. It was not a successful outing and Nieto returned to dominate the smaller classes.

Sito Pons won two 250cc World titles in 1988/89 before returning to the 500cc class after finishing 13th in 1985. He was tenth in the 1990 500cc Championship which included a couple of fifth places.

Spain had to wait another seven years after Criville’s historic Assen victory to capture the 500cc World title. It was fitting that it was Criville who was crowned the 1999 Champion at Rio in Brazil. It could have come earlier but a certain Honda teammate to Criville called Mick Doohan had dominated the proceedings for five successive seasons before being forced to retire through injury.

Not surprisingly it is Italy and Agostini who are closest to that Spanish record. Ago won seven successive 500cc titles between 1966 – 1972. The USA, thanks to the efforts of Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz, won six between 1988 – 1993 while Doohan brought Australia five successive titles between 1994 – 1998. Britain’s Mike Hailwood won four successive titles between 1962 – 1965.

World Championship racing has changed so dramatically over the last three decades. All four Spanish premier class World Champions have come through the system and won World titles in the smaller classes before moving up to MotoGP™.  They will not make it 10 in a row this season. However, with the return to winning ways by Marc Marquez, the impressive debut of Jorge Martin, the resurgence of Mir and teammate Alex Rins and the arrival of Raul Fernandez from Moto2™, they will be right up there challenging for the ultimate prize in 2022 once again.

The Alex Criville win seems a long time ago; at least I can now pronounce his name correctly.

By |2021-10-20T19:19:48+00:00October 20th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Criville started that Spanish record-breaking dream

The waiting game – Rolls Royce or family time

Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) is discovering the wait is the worst part. So close to that MotoGP™ World title but then an agonising three-week gap, 21 days and counting, between Grands Prix. By the time the Frenchman reaches Misano at the end of the month, he will have run through his strategy a million times.

The second Grand Prix at Misano presents the Yamaha rider with his first chance to take the ultimate prize although with two more races before the end of the season, he may have to be even more patient. So, what does he do during those 21 days of waiting?

I’m sure he wants to ride motocross and dirt track to keep fit but do you risk injury. Of course he will be keeping fit, while also trying to relax at the same time. He is not the first potential World Champion to play the waiting game before the final showdown. They have faced the inactivity in very different ways.

Barry Sheene and Freddie Spencer were two very different characters until they jumped on a 500 cc two-stroke flying machine. Their approach to a final vital round epitomised just that and produced opposite outcomes.

The longest wait I remember was 28 days in 1983. Freddie won the penultimate round at Anderstorp in a controversial clash with his Championship rival Kenny Roberts. Two bends from the finish of the 30-lap race around the 4.031 km circuit, which doubled up as the local aerodrome, Freddie pushed his NS500 Honda up the inside of Kenny’s Yamaha. Both ended up on the grass but on the inside, Freddie reacted quicker and celebrated victory one bend later. Kenny was furious. The three-time World Champion being pushed wide by the young upstart chasing his first World title and opening a five-point lead in the Championship.

Both flew home to the States to contemplate what happened in Sweden, both as you would imagine had very different opinions. They relaxed with family and friends, played golf and went water skiing both in the knowledge that Freddie could finish second behind Kenny to take the title at the final showdown at Imola in Italy. Yamaha drafted in Venezuelan 250cc World Champion Carlos Lavado to help Kenny, but Freddie rode the perfect 25 laps to take the title.  Kenny won the race and tried every trick in his considerable repertoire to unsettle the Champion elect but to no avail. There was total chaos at the end, and I remember being jammed against the door of the medical centre waiting for the first interview with the new Champion as he took longer to produce a urine sample than he did to ride the last five laps earlier.

As you would imagine Barry Sheene’s approach to the Roberts threat was totally different. World Champion Barry knew it was probably going to come down to the final round in 1978 at the 22.835 km Nürburgring and typical he was determined to be ready long before that last race. Neither Kenny nor Barry had ridden 500cc machines at the legendary but ageing venue before. Kenny learnt his way around on a Yamaha Road bike and Barry in a brand new super luxurious and very expensive Rolls Royce Silver Shadow car.

Somehow Barry and his partner in crime Steve Parris persuaded Rolls Royce to lend them a Silver Shadow between the Dutch and Belgian Grands Prix. They decided the best way to test the car and learn the circuit was to have two days of driving around the most demanding Grand Prix circuit in history in a car that was totally unsuitable for such an excursion. They had a fantastic time, but the car was very second hand when handed back to Rolls Royce. Kenny won the first of his three World titles. The American finished third in the race won by Virginio Ferrari with Barry fourth. All that Rolls Royce time did not pay off and the car was certainly not sold as having one careful and considerate owner.

So make your choice Fabio – Rolls Royce or relax!

By |2021-10-14T10:19:39+00:00October 14th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The waiting game – Rolls Royce or family time

The Texas Tornado

Of course, Marc Marquez is Captain America after yet another stunning ride at Austin on Sunday to secure his 84th Grand Prix victory, but a trip to Texas always reminds me of one person who never won one. Passionate, patriotic, funny, fast and friendly earned Colin Edwards the title of the Texas Tornado. Colin was such a giant character in the MotoGP™ paddock even though he never won Grand Prix. He will rather be remembered as the double World Superbike Champion than the rider who competed in most premier class races without a win but take heart, he’s in good company.

One hundred and ninety-six MotoGP™ appearances which included five second places and seven thirds, but then there was Assen in 2006. Never has the crowd and the MotoGP™ community, with a few obvious exceptions, willed a rider to his first Grand Prix win with such passion. It was an all-American affair between Colin, riding the Camel YZR-M1 Yamaha and World Champion elect Nicky Hayden aboard the Repsol Honda. It all came down to the final famous Gert Timmer Chicane on the very last of the breath-taking 26 lap battle.

Edwards could see and smell the chequered flag as he led into the right-hander first part of the chicane. Hayden attempted to pass him, and Edwards lost control, ran onto the astroturf, crashed and was remounting as Hayden took the chequered flag that looked so likely to be his. It was just Hayden’s second Grand Prix win and those five extra points for the victory was the difference between him and Valentino Rossi at the top of the Championship standings at the end of the season. Second place in Assen would have put Hayden on equal points with Rossi who would have been crowned World Champion thanks to more Grands Prix wins. Colin Edwards knew his big chance had gone but had no idea at the time that his demise would bring the World title back to the States.

Looking back, I often can’t believe that there were certain other riders who never won Grand Prix. New Zealander Graeme Crosby won the Daytona 200 and TT in the Isle of Man but never a 500cc Grand Prix. In his 29 Grands Prix, a paltry number compared to Edwards he was second four times and third six times. Croz was on the podium at over a third of his Grands Prix riding both Suzuki and Yamaha machinery in the early eighties.

I know the old memory can play tricks but surely Ron Haslam won a Grand Prix in those 108 appearances, but once again the answer is no. ‘Rocket Ron’ finished third eight times and second once in the mid-eighties. The same for Niall Mackenzie with those seven third places.

One name that often goes unnoticed but not in the record books is Frenchman Raymond Roche. He went on to find success in the World Superbike Championship but before finished second five times and third four times. Roche finished third in the 1984 500cc World Championship behind Americans Eddie Lawson and Randy Mamola.

All these riders have had that Edwards Assen moment that they will never forget. One of today’s MotoGP gladiators Aleix Espargaro competed in his 263rd Grand Prix on Sunday in Austin. One hundred and ninety-three of those have come in the MotoGP™ class. This season at Silverstone he secured the Aprilia team their first-ever four-stroke MotoGP™ podium finish. He had finished on the podium twice before. He was second in the 2014 MotoGP™ race in Aragon riding the Forward Yamaha. Three years earlier Aleix finished third in the Barcelona Moto2™ race on the Pons Kalex.

Often after that initial Grand Prix win, they come along with much more regularity which has been proved by Pecco Bagnaia this year. There is absolutely no doubt the likes of Edwards, Crosby, Haslam, Mackenzie and Roche deserved at least one Grand Prix win to show for their considerable efforts. I don’t think anybody in the paddock would have begrudged them a place on the top step of the podium at least once. I think that goes for the modern-day MotoGP™ community as Aleix Espargaro strives for that first elusive victory.

 

By |2021-10-06T15:49:20+00:00October 6th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The Texas Tornado