Monthly Archives: March 2022

46 embarks on a journey following the Surtees trail

This weekend the legendary number 46 will grace the tarmac once again. The most famous number in World Championship motorsport returns to the racetrack proudly emblazoned on the side of a car. The doctor returns to the racetrack on four wheels and the Imola circuit prepares for a patriotic weekend as the nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi makes his debut in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe less than five months after that emotional goodbye to MotoGP™ in Valencia. Rossi embarks on a well-trodden path from two wheels to four. It’s a tough journey with just a few very notable exceptions finding success in both sports that appear the same but in many ways are very different

You would imagine the switch should not be that difficult, but it is. John Surtees is the only man in the history of MotoGP™ and Formula One to win World titles on two and four wheels. The British rider won seven World titles in the 350 and 500cc classes between 1956 and 1960 which included 38 Grand Prix wins before switching to four wheels. In 1964 he won the Formula One World Championship for Ferrari and ironically brought Honda their first Formula One victory after dominating motorcycle racing for so long.

Since then, nobody has come anywhere near following in Surtees’s considerable footsteps. Nobody has even won Grand Prix in both sports although some have come close. Nine-time World Champion Mike Hailwood won 76 Grands Prix before switching. After winning the European Formula Two Championship he stepped up to Formula One and achieved two podium finishes driving for the John Surtees team before returning to two wheels and that emotional win in the 1978 TT races in the Isle of Man.

Frenchman Jean-Pierre Beltoise is the only competitor to do it the other way round. He won the legendary 1972 Monaco F1 race in the pouring rain. His early racing days had been on two wheels, and he finished sixth in the 1964 50cc World Championship. When I worked for Williams in F1 my switch to four wheels was made easy by spending hours talking bikes with the 1996 World Champion Damon Hill. He admitted after success on two wheels his one aim was to become the next Barry Sheene but realised, he was never good enough which was certainly not the case in an F1 car. Also, I was not so popular with Sir Frank Williams when I organised a test drive for Mick Doohan in Jacques Villeneuve’s World Championship F1 car. Mick was impressive but one slight ‘off’ into a Barcelona barrier amounted to a bill of around 75,000 euros.

The very first 125cc World Champion Nello Pagani drove in one F1 Grand Prix. Five-time World Champion Geoff Duke dabbled but never actually raced in F1. Nineteen-year-old Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto was the youngest ever World Champion at the time when he won the 1975 350cc title. He switched to four wheels with considerable success in touring cars. Two times motorcycle Grand Prix winner and 500cc podium finisher Stuart Graham, son of the first 500cc World Champion Les, won the British touring car Championship. Four-time World 500cc World Champion Eddie Lawson achieved some impressive results in both the Indy Lights and CART Championships in the States. Australian Premier class World Champions Wayne Gardner and Casey Stoner both switched to Touring and Supercar Champions at home and in Japan.

Both sports are dangerous and especially in the sixties and seventies before rider and driver safety became a priority. The likes of Kenny Roberts and Jackie Stewart led the respective campaigns. It was not a moment too soon. The 1961 double 350 and 500cc World Champion Gary Hocking retired from Grand Prix racing after the first round in 1962 when Tom Phillis was killed at the TT races. Following the tragic death of his close friend he went out and won the 500cc race before announcing his retirement. Hocking returned home to Rhodesia to go car racing and lost his life practicing for the Natal Grand Prix in South Africa. The 1967 125cc World Champion Bill Ivy impressed everybody with his speed when he switched to four wheels. The former Yamaha rider needed cash to finance his Formula Two efforts and returned to Grand Prix motorcycle racing on the 350cc Jawa machine. He was killed practicing for the 1969 East German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring road circuit.

While his old friends and foes make the long trip to Termas de Rio Hondo in Argentina on Sunday Valentino makes the short car journey from his Tavullia home to Imola to start a new adventure. Remember him on the top step of the podium wearing the Argentine football shirt seven years ago. Good luck Vale and I wonder if you have an Italian football shirt ready – just in case.

 

By |2022-03-31T12:42:51+00:00March 31st, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on 46 embarks on a journey following the Surtees trail

OXFORDSHIRE YOUNGSTERS TAKE FIRST STEPS ON THE MOTOGP LADDER

A group of Oxfordshire boys and girls, some as young as six years old, embark on their first steps towards the MotoGP World Championships next week. The dedicated group of young motorcycle racers compete in the first round of the British Mini Bike Championship at Lydd in Kent.

The well-established eight round British Championship is held on Kart tracks throughout Britain. The riders compete on mini motorcycles to get their first taste of competitive racing in a safe and controlled environment. The Championship is regarded as the first steps towards the ultimate goal of competing in the MotoGP World Championship.

The next step for the youngsters is to compete in the FIM MiniGP series which is organised by MotoGP Promoters Dorna with separate national Championships as far afield as India, Australia, and Japan.

So many of the MotoGP stars such as Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez began their racing careers competing on Mini Bikes on kart tracks before moving on to World title and grands prix wins. The Oxfordshire youngsters hope they are starting on the same path beginning at Lydd on the weekend beginning 2nd April.

 

BRADLEY SMITH SUPPORTS OXFORDSHIRE YOUNGSTERS ON THEIR FIRST STEPS TO MOTOGP

MotoGP star Bradley Smith knows better than anybody you must start young if you are going to achieve success on the biggest stage of them all. The Oxfordshire grand prix motorcycle rider who started his career as a schoolboy Motocross rider went on to finish sixth in the 2015 MotoGP World Championship and runner-up in the 2009 125 cc World Championship, winning three grands prix.

“Starting at a young age is crucial in a competitive but safe and organised environment if you are going to succeed when you are older. So many of the current MotoGP stars started in a Mini Bike series before progressing through the ranks. It teaches you so much about both racing and yourself and prepares you for everything that lies ahead. I wish them all the very best of luck and will follow their progress with great interest. Hopefully, we will be watching them in the MotoGP World Championship in around ten years’ time.”

 

AN AREA STEEPED IN GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING HISTORY

From Mike Hailwood to Bradley Smith, Oxfordshire and the surrounding area have produced some of the greatest riders to grace the 74-year history of grand prix Motorcycle racing.

MotoGP broadcaster, journalist and author Nick Harris has followed their fortunes for the last 60 years with real pride.

“My home county and surrounding areas has produced so many great riders that are household names with millions of people throughout the World. Mike Hailwood who lived on Boars Hill is still regarded by many people as the greatest rider of all time. He won nine World titles with 76 grands

Prix wins between 1959 – 1967. He then switched to car racing and received the George Medal for bravery after rescuing Clay Regazzoni from a blazing Formula One car. He returned to two wheels and won the 1978 TT on the Isle of Man when he was 38 years old. He was tragically killed together with his young daughter in a road traffic accident.

More recently Bradley Smith’s brilliant grand prix career has been well documented and there are plenty of others. Banbury based Rod Gould, who celebrated his 79th birthday last week, won the 1970 250 cc World Championship while David Madsen Mygdal originally from Cumnor, holds the record number of finishes at the TT races in the Isle of Man.

Long may the tradition continue with these talented youngsters taking their first steps on a long ladder that Hailwood, Smith and Gould climbed with such success.”

 

THE RIDERS

AEZIAH DIVINE

Twelve years old and currently living in Oxford. He has always shown a wild side for speeding on two wheels and athleticism. Growing up on the sunny island of Bermuda allowed him to lead an active outdoor lifestyle and play a variety of sports including gymnastics, running, football, swimming, sailing and motorcycle racing.

After a short spell on an electric motocross bike at the age of 4, he trained on a Yamaha PW50 and progressed to a 90cc pit bike, becoming the 2017 BMRA Minibike Junior Champion in his first year of competitive racing.

In late 2018 his family moved to England, where his Dad is from, and in 2020 he debuted in MiniGP racing in the UK through the FAB-Racing Minibike British Championship. This year, Aeziah is preparing for a competitive season in the MK50 class on FAB-Racing’s signature 2-stroke Metrakit motorcycles. He aims to achieve consistent podium finishes at each race round. In addition to competing in the MK50 class, Aeziah will start training on higher powered bikes in Europe to begin preparing for the British Talent Cup as a major milestone on Dorna’s “Road to MotoGP.”

 

HARLEY BAKER
Twelve years old – Started last season in the AC40 rookies
Best achievement 1st overall at Redlodge
Best podium finish 1st
Favourite track Redlodge

“This season i will be competing in the AC40 Pro class and MK50 class.
I hope to carry on leaning and improving my skills on both bikes and hope to see some more podium finishes.”

PRESTON BAKER
Seven years old – Fancied following in his brother’s footsteps so competed in 2 race weekends as an AC40 Rookie last season finishing all races. Best finish 16th

Looking forward to a whole season this year as an AC40 Rookie on a new improved and upgraded bike.  Looking forward to seeing a podium finish.

 

AUSTIN AND BYRON JOHNSON

Austin and Byron Johnson both began riding motorbikes at a very early age. Austin was 4 years old and Byron 2. Their first bike was a PW50 which they rode around the garden and in a local farmers field. This led to them trying out mini moto’s at M4 Karting and joining the M4 Mini Moto Academy. Both boys quickly showed a passion and talent for racing which led them into the Fab-Racing paddock. While riding at M4, in their mini moto winter championship, the boys were spotted by Andy Weedon of Team Evolution Engineering and asked to represent Team Evolution in the Fab-Racing Rookie Championship 2020, on a factory Teevo each, supplied by Andy and his team. 2020 was their first full year of racing in a championship which was unfortunately changed into a cup event. It was a race for each rider to gain 329 points which would see them graduate from the Rookies into the Pro’s. Byron was the first rider to reach 329 points with Austin hot on his tail as the second rider to gain enough points to move up to the Pro’s only halfway through the season.
In 2021 both boys continued their racing journey supported by Team Evolution Engineering, representing them in the Pro and Elite classes at Fab-Racing on Team Evolution Teevos. They rode with 14mm air cooled engines in the Pro’s and liquid cooled engines in the Elites. This was a year to learn to ride with faster engines, but it also showed some great results for the boys. Austin completed the Pro championship in third place and Byron the youngest rider at only 8 years old completed the Pro championship in 5th Overall.

As well as competing in Fab-Racing both boys also enjoy riding Motor cross and Super Moto bikes. Along the way, as well as being sponsored by Team Evolution Engineering, they have also picked up sponsorship from LS2 Helmets, Merkko Builders Merchants Abingdon, Oxfordshire Concrete Ltd and C&G Concrete Pumping Ltd. Team Johnson Racing, which consists of Dad – Paul, Mum – Rowena and little sister – Thea, as well as Austin and Byron are very proud of the progress the boys have made and their achievements so far.

This year the boys will continue to represent Team Evolution Engineering on their Teevos with Austin looking to pick up a first overall in the Elites and Byron a first overall in the Pro’s. As well as competing on their mini motos they will also be moving up to some bigger bikes. They will be riding in their first championship on their 50 cc Metrakit bikes and looking to place in the top six.

 

REX AUSTIN

Seven years old and started riding at the start of lockdown on his uncle Mike’s 1989 Honda QR at our yard in dry Sandford. Rex’s love for Moto GP leads us to joining the M4 riders academy near Chippenham. On his second training session Rex was awarded a medal for slow bike control which sparked the want to race. So, a few short months later we were at round one of the FAB racing championship in Lydd (Kent) with the ambition not to be a danger to the other riders by being so slow. Never did we think Rex would perform so brilliantly throughout the season that he would pick up podiums and a race win earning him third overall in the rookie championship. At the tender age of seven Rex is now moving up to the pro class to put himself against older, faster more experienced riders. We are off to Spain to do some pre-season training at the beginning of March to hopefully gain some good bike time and set us up for the coming season.

 

MATTHEW THOMAS

Nine years old and showed his love for motorbikes from a young age with Marc Marquez as his idol. At the age of six asked his dad can he become a racer. Following this he began training on tracks at the age of seven but first sat on a bike at the age of four.

His best finish was pole position and race win at red Lodge.

He finished second in his rookie season.

His goal for this season is to improve his riding ability with hope of challenging for podiums. He is also starting to practice on his geared bike with a goal of getting it on track.

 

DAISEY POLDEN

Eight years old and completed AC40 rookies last year coming in point scoring finishes – entering at a new level to the sport it was great to see some point on the board! This year Daisy is hoping to come in the top ten and build on confidence and technicalities to achieve this! Favourite track is Red Lodge and favourite racer is Alex Rins.

 

RONNIE AND BILL HARRIS

Both boys started at the Scott Redding Mini Moto Academy at Swindon Karting at the end of 2016.

Ronnie, then aged 9, entered FAB-Racing in the Mini Moto Rookie class in 2017 and finished 10th in the championship.  He also won “Rider of the Year” at the Scott Redding Academy.

2018 Ronnie competed in the mini moto Pro class and finished 6th in the championship.  Bill, then 8, entered the Rookie class and came 10th in the championship.

2019 saw Ronnie in the Mini Moto Elite class, where he started getting on the podium regularly and finished 4th in the championship.  He also had his first year on a Metrakit GP50.  He was the fasted newcomer in this class and finished 6th in the championship.  Bill came 10th overall in the Rookies for a second year.

2020 was a great year for Ronnie in the MK GP50 class.  He was rarely off the podium and came 2nd in the championship.  Bill came 7th in the Mini Moto Pro class.

2021 was Ronnie’s first year on the MK GP70 and he finished 4th in the championship.  Bill had his first year on a Metrakit and came 5th in the MK GP50 class.

Both boys will be back on the Metrakits for the 2022 season.  Ronnie will be in the MK GP70 class riding for the MLav Visiontrack Academy team.  Bill will be in the MK GP50 class.

Ronnie is now 14 and Bill is 12.  This will be Ronnie’s last year in FAB (on the Metrakit).  Hopefully 2023 will see him in the British Talent Cup.

 

 

FOR FURTHER DETAILS PLEASE CONTACT GARY AUSTIN

 

Phone number 07789698593

Email ga.austin@radley.org.Uk 

By |2022-03-25T20:50:52+00:00March 25th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on OXFORDSHIRE YOUNGSTERS TAKE FIRST STEPS ON THE MOTOGP LADDER

Singing in the rain

I must be honest and admit my first reaction, I thought those days were over when my alarm clock woke me with a start at 6am on Sunday morning. My immediate thought was do not forget your media pass, mobile phone and have I got time for breakfast before we leave for the circuit. Then I realised I was at home on a glorious Oxfordshire spring morning. All I had to do was let the dog out, switch on the kettle and settle down in front of the television screen to watch the Pertamina Grand Prix of Indonesia MotoGP™ race.

All was well at home, but it was a very different story at the Mandalika circuit. The thunder rolled around ominously loud, scary lightening momentary lit up the gloom as the rain hammered down turning the track into a series of lakes and streams. Wet races and delays – a commentator’s nightmare. Memories of some long, lonely afternoons talking about nothing as the rain hammered on the commentary box window at circuits as far afield as Motegi and Indianapolis afternoons flooded back.

Remember the days when riders like Australian Ant West would perform a rain dance in pit lane because they just loved racing on a streaming wet track. Further back, chaos often reigned when the rain fell. Races were stopped and started before flag to flag was introduced. In 1989 at Spa the 500cc race was stopped and started two times. In the end Eddie Lawson was declared the winner but only awarded half points because it was decided the second restart was not allowed under the rules. They are still arguing about the result of the 1978 British Grand Prix at Silverstone that was awarded to Kenny Roberts amidst chaos in the pouring rain.

No such problems when the rain stopped after a one hour 15-minute wait on Sunday. No arguments because everybody agreed it was so special watching such a spectacle in the wet and spray. Where do you start. Twenty laps of pure theatre in appalling condition where the rider’s skill and bravery shone through like those bolts of lightning that had lit up the dark sky earlier. What a ride by Miguel Olivera parting a passage though the waves for those behind him. Previously the Portuguese KTM rider had scored just nine points in his last ten races. On Sunday it was twenty-five points in single race. A performance worthy of a World Champion by Fabio Quartararo in second place with Johann Zarco cursing himself after the race for not pushing harder to claim that first MotoGP™ victory

How about the performance of Darryn Binder? Just his second MotoGP™ race after missing Moto2™ and jumping directly from Moto3™ amid a fair amount of cynicism. Tenth place was just reward for a brilliant ride that reminded me of the likes of Australians Garry McCoy and Jack Miller who also missed out the middle class before achieving considerable success in the premier class. McCoy won a couple of 125cc Grands Prix before switching to the 500cc class with great success winning three Grands Prix in 2000 on route to fifth place in the Championship.

Miller must have fancied his chances on Sunday. Who will forget his first MotoGP™ win in the Assen rain in 2016. That win came just two years after he had finished second in the 2014 Moto3™ World Championship winning six Grands Prix the same year. Binder’s only disappointment was that he did not manage to finish in front of his older brother Brad who eventually was eighth, but it was close.

As with all new venues of course there was logistical problems over the weekend, but they will be rectified. For those amazing Indonesian mad MotoGP™ fans singing in the rain there will be more opportunities to watch their heroes in action. They had waited 25 years for Grand Prix racing to return to their country and so the one hour 15-minute delay for the rain to abate was a small but wet inconvenience. For me I really do not mind getting up 6.00 am on a Sunday morning to witness such a spectacle especially with a cup of tea and in the dry.

 

By |2022-03-24T08:52:12+00:00March 24th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Singing in the rain

Very, very hot and the cold beer tastes great

The legendary journalist, the late John Brown, summed up perfectly his two visits to Sentul for the Indonesian Grands Prix a quarter of a century ago. Very, very hot and the cold beer tasted great was how JB described his visits to a country that is such a hotbed of MotoGP™ support. Grand Prix Motorcycle racing makes a welcome return this weekend 25 years after its last visit and Indonesia cannot wait. Then it was Doohan, Biaggi and a young fresh-faced Rossi they flocked to support and watch at the Sentul circuit. Two-strokes ruled in all classes and if you did not have a Honda in the 500cc class it was hardly worth turning up. It was a decade ruled by Doohan and Honda but already two young riders were making their mark, especially in the 1997 Grand Prix at the bumpy 3.965 kms Sentul circuit situated forty-five kms south of Jakarta

A year earlier Valentino Rossi had finished 11th at Sentul in just his second 125cc Grand Prix. He returned in 1997 already crowned the 125 cc World Champion to win his 11thGrand Prix of the season which is a record for the 125cc/Moto3™ class. Bigger things beckoned for the Italian, and he so nearly made it as the only rider to compete at Sentul and then the Portamina Mandalika circuit on Sunday. Jorge Martinez finished third in 1997 which was his last ever podium finish before retiring at the end of the season after 14 years of racing which brought the Spaniard four World titles. The previous year the youngest of the Aoki brothers Haruchika finished second behind Masaki Tukudome but went on to retain his 125cc World title.

Max Biaggi and Rossi were talking in those days. Rossi’s bitter rival in years to come won the 250cc race riding the Honda to open a six-point lead in the Championship. At the final round in Phillip Island Biaggi’s second place behind Ralf Waldmann was enough to clinch his fourth consecutive World title. A year earlier Tetsuya Harada won his only 250cc Grand Prix of the season giving Michelin tyres their last ever 250cc victory.

The big surprise of that sweltering weekend in 1997 was that Mick Doohan did not win the 30 lap 500cc race. The only way to beat the all-conquering Aussie those days was to shadow him until the last corner, if you had the nerve, and then make your move. It worked for Alex Criville and at Sentul for his teammate Tadayuki Okada who grabbed his first 500cc victory by 0.069s. The mighty Mick was not impressed with such tactics especially from his Honda teammates, but he should not have worried. He had already secured his fourth World title, won 12 Grands Prix that season and that second place gave him a record-breaking 340 points for the season, but Mick hated losing. He had won the Sentul race a year earlier with Alex Barros and Loris Capirossi completing the podium.

So, on Sunday a new circuit, a new audience, and a new breed of hungry riders on such a variety of four stroke machinery but one thing will never change. It will still be very very hot, and the cold beer will taste just as good.

 

By |2022-03-17T09:55:23+00:00March 17th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Very, very hot and the cold beer tastes great

Now part of that history for Fausto

When Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) was still riding in the Moto3™ World Championship we sat down in a tiny swimming pool in Argentina to talk about the TT Races in the Isle of Man. The teenager was fascinated by the history of Grand Prix racing and on Sunday he became part of that history in such an emotional evening not only for the Gresini team but the complete MotoGP™ Paddock

For over an hour we sat and talked in the hotel pool in the back streets of Termas de Rio Honda about the 60.721 km mountain circuit that staged the first-ever premier class race on June 17th, 1949. On Sunday Bastianini joined that elite band of premier class winners with a stunning victory under the Lusail International floodlights. Who would have ever dreamed of floodlit Grand Prix races 74 years ago?

What a fantastic start to the 2022 season. Never has there been a more graphic indication that times are changing. The new breed of MotoGP™ riders has arrived led by the likes of winner Bastianini and pole setter Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing). The podium was completed by two more riders who are surely going to figure in the headlines as the season unfolds. What a start to the race by Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) on the KTM while Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) , who did all the donkey work at the front, is surely going to secure his first premier class victory on the revitalised Honda long before the season ends.

At last, hopefully, a Covid free season lies ahead. We certainly had our appetites whetted on Sunday, but this was a night that belonged to one of MotoGP™’s true heroes, who lost his life to Covid last year. His legacy could not have been celebrated in a finer way and how he would have loved every minute of it. Fausto Gresini so loved nurturing young talent in the smaller classes before launching them on the biggest stage of them all. No wonder there were tears when the rider they nicknamed the Beast arrived back in pit lane on Sunday after that maiden MotoGP™ victory. I am sure Fausto was looking down with a massive smile and already planning the next win and even World title.

After he had won two 125cc World titles and twenty-one Grands Prix Fausto formed his own team based near the Misano circuit in that hotbed of Grand Prix racing on the Adriatic coast of Italy. He produced World Championship-winning machines for Daijiro Kato and Toni Elias in the 250cc and then Moto2™ World Championships. In a similar style to Bastianini, who won the 2020 Moto2™ World title, both moved into MotoGP™. Elias brought the team success in the 2006 Portuguese Grand Prix, while the likes of Marco Melandri and Sete Gibernau won MotoGP™ races for the team but never the World Championship. Both Gibernau and Melandri came closest in 2004 and 2005 when they were runners-up riding the Movistar Hondas behind Valentino Ross

The team has also had to handle tragedy. Kato was killed at the 2003 Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka. Eight years later another former 250cc World Champion Marco Simoncelli lost his life at the Malaysian Grand Prix just a week after securing his second MotoGP™ podium finish in Australia. On both such tragic occasions, the team led by Fausto handled the heart-breaking situations with both pride and dignity. They continued racing, and who will ever forget Michele Pirro’s emotional Moto2™ win in Valencia just two weeks after the death of Simoncelli.

Dignity and pride are what Fausto Gresini was all about. He led from the front, both from the saddle and then in pit lane. I am sure everybody in Qatar and across the World celebrated Bastianini’s historic win with his team and especially his wife, Nadia.

 

By |2022-03-09T21:34:57+00:00March 9th, 2022|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Now part of that history for Fausto

When the sun sets…

As that massive red fireball of the sun dropped below the Qatar desert skyline the wind, sprinkled with sand that you could taste, picked up to signal the start of the season. Drifting in the wind was the sound of mighty engines across the barren sand-laden landscape while the battlefield of tarmac was bathed in bright light from thousands of bulbs. The MotoGP™ season was about to start

Sunday night in Qatar will be no different apart from the desert skyline. Nothing like as barren and now filled with the twinkling lights of massive sports stadiums and skyscrapers. No sign of the camels that we used to follow on our way to the circuit. A Grand Prix paddock fired up, nervous and excited about the battles that lie ahead for the next eight months. It is that feeling of anticipation that never goes away.

Twenty-one Grands Prix scheduled in the longest season in the 74-year-old history of the sport. The second earliest start to the season since Daytona staged the 1964 American Grand Prix. It is the first battle of a long campaign that looms ahead. How much will we take from the results on Sunday, when the last round is staged a long time ahead at Valencia in November.

Let us start with the new MotoGP™ World Champion Fabio Quartararo. The last time a reigning World Champion won the opening round of the season was in 2016 when Jorge Lorenzo was victorious in Qatar on the Yamaha. So how important is it to win the opening round. Looking at the record in the MotoGP™ era, very important. Valentino Rossi won the first race for four successive years starting in 2002 and went on to be crowned World Champion on each occasion including the switch to Yamaha in 2004. Casey Stoner did it in 2007 and 2011 on both Ducati and Honda machinery. The Spanish duo of Lorenzo and Marc Marquez also won the first race and title in 2012 and 2014, respectively. However, in that same MotoGP™ era only two riders have retained their titles the following season. No great surprise it is Rossi and Marquez.

So, what about the newcomers facing the daunting prospect of their first MotoGP™ race. The history books are not on the side of Remy Gardner, Raul Fernandez, Darryn Binder, Fabio di Giannantonio and Marco Bezzecchi. The last rookie to win on his premier class debut was Max Biaggi in 1998, riding the Honda at Suzuka. The Italian is only one of five riders to have achieved such a feat. The very first premier class World Championship race at the 1949 TT was won by Harold Daniell in the Isle of Man. A year later Geoff Duke won at the TT on his 500cc World Championship debut. Circumstances helped two debutant winners to their only Grand Prix wins. Jorge Kissling won in 1961 in Argentina and Edmund Czihak at the Nürburgring in Germany in 1974 when the leading riders boycotted the race on safety grounds. Finnish rider Jarno Saarinen won the opening two rounds riding the new two-stroke 500cc Yamaha in 1973 before losing his life in that tragic 250 cc Grand Prix at Monza. Only Duke went on to win the premier class title although Saarinen would surely have won the World title, probably for many years to come.

Honda’s last winner in the opening round was Marc Marquez in 2014. Suzuki’s in 1999 with Kenny Roberts junior. Andrea Dovizioso, who returns on Sunday riding the WithU Yamaha RNF, brought Ducati success in 2019. Both relative newcomers KTM and Aprilia chase their first opening round success. Maverick Vinales has twice won in Qatar riding for Yamaha including last year. He returns with Aprilia chasing their first MotoGP™ victory. He teams up with Aleix Espargaro who has been so impressive in testing, but is the only rider in the 24-rider field who has not won a Grand Prix in any class.

My old friend the former 500cc Motocross World Champion Graham Noyce always told me, when the flag drops the bullshit stops. In Qatar on Sunday, it is more a case of when the sun drops.

 

By |2022-03-02T21:02:03+00:00March 2nd, 2022|Uncategorised|Comments Off on When the sun sets…