Monthly Archives: April 2022

Class act – it had to be Jerez

The venue had to be Jerez to induct one of the true stars of the last decade into the MotoGP™ Hall of Fame on Saturday. When we talk about the aliens the names of Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, and Casey Stoner flow but Jorge Lorenzo was right up there with the very best. On his day Jorge was unbeatable. That smooth, round the outside style a throwback to the days of Hailwood and Agostini. Jorge was something very special and he made it look so easy

It was a style that brought him 68 Grands Prix victories and five world titles. Forty-seven of those came in the MotoGP™ class on his way to three premier class world titles. Three of those came towards the end his career on the Ducati. He won the 250cc World Championship in 2006/07 winning 17 Grands Prix for Aprilia before joining Rossi at Yamaha. He started his first three MotoGP™ races from pole and won in just his third race at Estoril in Portugal.

It was never going to be easy on and off the track being team-mate to ‘God’ Rossi. The first three poles and then the race victory did nothing to cement a relationship. Rossi soon realised that Lorenzo was not only a young teammate but a real threat to his superiority and riding the same Yamaha machinery. The usual fun and games started, including a wall down the middle of the Yamaha garage to separate the two teams. Jorge stood firm and was determined not to be Rossi’s fall guy. He won his first premier class title in 2010. Jorge repeated the victory two years later and won again in 2015 when the eyes of the world were focused on the Marquez/Rossi feud.

So why is Jerez such a special place for Jorge? Not quite a love hate relationship with a lot more love than hate. He arrived at Jerez from Mallorca at the beginning of May 2002 ready to make his Grand Prix debut in the 125cc Spanish Grand Prix but had to wait. He celebrated his 15th birthday on the Saturday by riding in the third practice session after missing the two Friday sessions because he was too young.

His domination of the 2006 and 2007 World 250cc Championships on the Aprilia was never better emphasised than with his two Jerez wins in those years. Jorge won his first MotoGP™ race at Jerez in 2010 on route to his first premier class World title. He won again two years later and then in 2015, the year of his final world title.

It did not always go to plan for him at Jerez and especially with the eyes of the world focused on his victory celebrations after his first MotoGP™ win at the circuit. He had witnessed so many times first-hand the legendary victory celebrations of teammate Rossi and decided he should and could match them. After victory at Estoril in 2009 he dressed as an astronaut and completed a slow-motion moonwalk through the gravel track to plant a Lorenzo Land flag. A year later it all went terribly wrong at Jerez at the second Grand Prix of the season.

After winning a fantastic battle with Dani Pedrosa and Rossi he decided to celebrate by jumping into the trackside lake. Jorge soon realised that wearing a helmet, leathers and boots was not conducive to a bit of breaststroke and had to be unceremoniously hauled out by the marshals – embarrassed, wet but still victorious on the rostrum. Three years later the infamous turn 13, the final corner at Jerez, was named in a special ceremony the Jorge Lorenzo curve. A couple of days later he came out second best at his very own corner after a mighty coming together with Marquez in a fight for second place.

A couple of weeks ago TT legend John McGuinness said that two-time Grand Prix winner this season Enea Bastianini reminded him of Jorge Lorenzo. Some endorsement and praise indeed because Jorge was such a class act.

 

By |2022-04-28T09:10:12+00:00April 28th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Class act – it had to be Jerez

World Championship means what it says on the tin

When you call it a World Championship you must mean it. MotoGP™ arrives in Europe this weekend after a journey of approximately 43,000 km dropping off in four countries on three separate continents and that is just the opening four rounds of 21. Exhilarating and exhausting all rolled into one.

The logistical freight problems first encountered, and then brilliantly overcome by the MotoGP™ community in Argentina, is part of crisscrossing the globe week after week. Twenty-one races in 17 separate countries on six continents in just eight frantic months is bound to cause problems and not only for the teams and riders

Ironically 40 years ago I made my first journey outside Europe to report on a Grand Prix. There had not been a 500cc race outside Europe for three years when we ventured to the 1982 opening round in Buenos Aires for the Argentine Grand Prix. It was the same circuit that had hosted the first-ever Grand Prix outside Europe in 1961, 12 years after the birth of the World Championship. I had been to Daytona in Florida a couple of times for the pre-season races, but this was so different. Somehow Peter Clifford and I persuaded our editor that we should go a week earlier to ride across Argentina to the border of Chile high in the Andes in a Che Guevara style motorcycle trip. We returned after an amazing journey to witness a classic Grand Prix. Kenny Roberts fighting off the Yamaha of Barry Sheene by 0.67s with Freddie Spencer, spearheading the Honda return to Grand Prix racing, in third place. We had no idea there were problems between Argentina and Great Britain. We arrived back in London on the Monday after the race. Two days later war was declared between the two countries over the Falkland Island dispute.

I had been due to go to Venezuela two years earlier, but the Grand Prix was cancelled. Barry Sheene had won at the San Carlos circuit at the three premier class races between 1977-79. Most people and certainly journalists had been forced to stay 100 kilometres from the circuit. Typically, Barry got friendly with the local fire brigade and slept in the fire station in the local town

The year after the Argentine adventure we went to South Africa for the first time and the Kyalami circuit on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It was an amazing trip where the MotoGP™ community ignored the apartheid regime. I had severe doubts about making the journey but honestly felt by going we had helped in our small way to fight against prejudice. Freddie Spencer won that first 500cc race but two years later crashed when his rear wheel collapsed. He arrived to the airport to fly back to London in a wheelchair. Flying films out of South Africa at the time was not easy because the authorities want to develop films to see what pictures were going to be distributed. Freddie took the films and sat on them in his wheelchair, and we sailed through customs and on the plane.

In 1987, Grand Prix racing returned to Japan after a 20-year absence. It was my first trip to a country whose machinery had dominated the World Championship for so long. It was a wonderful experience flying to Suzuka. In those days you could not fly to Japan in one go and we landed at Anchorage in Alaska to refuel where we were told they had the biggest duty-free shop in the world and there was a massive stuffed bear outside the entrance. The racing and hospitality were fantastic but something else was my highlight. We met ‘Mr Fax’ in the media centre who persuaded us if we put a sheet of paper in his machine it would arrive at the other end in London. It worked and those long hours on a Sunday night typing out the race results that could be from six classes at some Grands Prix had disappeared at that moment. We loved ‘Mr Fax.’

By |2022-04-20T17:34:22+00:00April 20th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on World Championship means what it says on the tin

The American Dream will return

Come on admit it, you did feel a tingle when the Star-Spangled Banner boomed out over the COTA circuit and the jets roared over the start and finish line before the start of the MotoGP™ race in Texas on Sunday. The stirring United States National Anthem that was such a part of Grand Prix motorcycle racing for the last 45 years has not been heard at a podium ceremony for eleven long years. There was a glimmer of hope at COTA that its return will not be so far away

The lack of American success is unbelievable. This is a country that has produced seven MotoGP™ and two 250cc World Champions. This is a country that in 2013 staged three Grand Prix in one season at Laguna Seca, Indianapolis, and COTA. This is the only country that has produced father and son World Champions in the premier class. This is a country that produced 173 Grands Prix wins. One hundred and fifty-four in the premier class between eleven riders and nineteen in the 250cc class between four riders.

The lack of American success is unbelievable. This is a country that has produced seven MotoGP™ and two 250cc World Champions. This is a country that in 2013 staged three Grand Prix in one season at Laguna Seca, Indianapolis, and COTA. This is the only country that has produced father and son World Champions in the premier class. This is a country that produced 173 Grands Prix wins. One hundred and fifty-four in the premier class between eleven riders and nineteen in the 250cc class between four riders.

At one point in the eighties, it was more like the Pilgrim Fathers but in reverse. All you had do was click your fingers and World Champions would arrive by the boat load across the Atlantic in Europe. Kenny Roberts started the migration in 1978 when he shook Grand Prix racing to its very core on and off the track. Three successive 500cc World title and an outspoken campaigner for riders’ safety and recognition made him the unmistakable President of the American Dream. Soon the likes of Freddie Spencer, the only rider to win both 250 and 500cc World titles in one season, four times 500cc World Champion Eddie Lawson for both Yamaha and Honda, three times World 500cc Champion Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz followed their President. At the start of the new decade Kenny Roberts Junior emulated his father by winning the 2000 500cc World title and six years later Nick Hayden’s success in the 2006 MotoGP™ World Championship was as popular throughout the World as it was back home in Kentucky, but that was that. Despite the considerable efforts of Ben Spies the World titles and then the Grand Prix wins dried up like summer in the Arizona desert.

Domestic Racing in America slumped. Those contrasting and superb Laguna and Indianapolis venues disappeared from the World Championship calendar. Out of the gloom came a new President of the American dream. Three times World 500cc World Champion Wayne Rainey who had been paralysed in a crash at Misano while on the verge of winning his fourth World title in 1993 decided enough was enough. He had seen his old boss Kenny Roberts desperately trying to promote the sport in the States in the nineties. In 2015 Wayne organised and then spearheaded the new MotoAmerica Championship. Motorcycle racing in America has been revitalised and refreshed. Slowly but surely American riders are returning across the Atlantic to compete in both the MotoGP™ and World Superbike Championships. Patience is something that Wayne has cruelly been forced to learn the hard way. There is still a long way to go but he is convinced all their hard work will pay off and the United States will return as a serious breeding ground for Grand Prix winners and World Champions.

Wayne should know better than most and as another famous American Bob Dylan always told us – “Times they are a-changin.”

 

By |2022-04-14T10:17:28+00:00April 14th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The American Dream will return

A true warrior who never gave up after 17 years and 155 days

Seventeen years 155 days after making his Grand Prix debut Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team) finally did it. There has never been a more popular winner in the 74-year history of Grand Prix racing. No wonder there was a raw emotional mixture of tears and cheers in the Termas de Rio Hondo pit lane on Sunday for a true MotoGP™ warrior who just never gave up

Little did Aleix realise just how long it would take to stand on the top step of the podium when he made his Grand Prix debut in the 125cc race at Valencia in 2004. It was the final race of the season, and he was just 15 years old. It took another 283 Grands Prix of pain and frustration before he experienced that winning feeling in his 200th MotoGP™ race. He had married and was the proud father of two children. He had watched and celebrated as his younger brother Pol (Repsol Honda Team) won the Moto2™ World Championship wondering if his day would ever come. It certainly has and he heads the cavalry charge on his Aprilia stead into Texas this weekend leading the MotoGP™ World Championship after three rounds.

I am sure leading the cheers and perhaps shedding a few tears was Jeremy McWilliams. Twenty-two long years ago the Ulsterman began the Aprilia adventure into the 500cc premier class. In 2000, three years after Doriano Romboni gave Aprilia their first 500cc podium he brought the Italian factory two third places at Mugello and Donington and a pole position at Phillip Island in Australia. Riding the Aprilia twin-cylinder two-stroke McWilliams took on the mighty four-cylinder Japanese giants that had dominated the two-stroke era. Aleix and Jeremy are true warriors built from the same mould. Never afraid to take on the established teams and superstar riders. Never afraid to express their feelings and frustrations. Fighting back after injury and setbacks and never giving up on the dream of success.

I am sure leading the cheers and perhaps shedding a few tears was Jeremy McWilliams. Twenty-two long years ago the Ulsterman began the Aprilia adventure into the 500cc premier class. In 2000, three years after Doriano Romboni gave Aprilia their first 500cc podium he brought the Italian factory two third places at Mugello and Donington and a pole position at Phillip Island in Australia. Riding the Aprilia twin-cylinder two-stroke McWilliams took on the mighty four-cylinder Japanese giants that had dominated the two-stroke era. Aleix and Jeremy are true warriors built from the same mould. Never afraid to take on the established teams and superstar riders. Never afraid to express their feelings and frustrations. Fighting back after injury and setbacks and never giving up on the dream of success.

The signs that this was a special weekend of history-making were flashing loud and clear after qualifying at Termas de Rio Hondo on Saturday. Espargaro brought Aprilia their first premier class pole since Phillip Island 22 years ago. Before his 200th MotoGP appearance, the next day he became the only rider in the modern MotoGP™ era to take three pole positions on different machinery. His first Aprilia pole came after similar achievements for Suzuki and Forward Yamaha.

He sat in the Argentine sunshine on Sunday before the 25-lap race in pole position as the only rider on the grid never to have won a Grand Prix. This was his big chance, and you could taste and feel the tension. After a couple of unsuccessful lunges up the inside of early leader Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing), he finally found his way to the front and history was about to be made. At the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last year, he brought Aprilia their first podium finish in the MotoGP™ era, now it was time for Espargaro and the Italian factory to go one better.

After those two podium finishes in 2000, McWilliams returned to the 250cc class a year later. His one and only Grand Prix win came that year in Assen. It may have taken Aleix Espargaro longer to win that first Grand Prix, but you have the feeling that this is the beginning of a new chapter for a true modern-day warrior. He deserves all the success that comes his way.

 

By |2022-04-06T20:24:17+00:00April 6th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on A true warrior who never gave up after 17 years and 155 days