Nick Harris

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So far Nick Harris has created 235 blog entries.

Keep an eye out Pecco

No wonder Pecco Bagnaia is smiling at the moment. A third win in a row and a Sprint and Grand Prix double at Mugello is obviously the main reason, but there are others. Before that first engine was even fired up in anger at the opening round of the season, the World Champion signed a new two-year extension to his Ducati contract which still had a year to run. Done, dusted and no clandestine meetings with other factories, constant press speculation and doubts about the future. Just get on with the job of defending that MotoGP™ world title with Ducati Lenovo for the third year running.

He must also be smiling about all the hype and speculation around on who will be his Ducati teammate next season. Of course, Bagnaia will be more than interested and may have been given the chance to voice his own opinion. All riders will tell you their number one priority in Grands Prix is to ensure you beat your team-mate. Seeing Mugello legend Valentino Rossi on the grid on Sunday was a reminder just how important the right teammate can be

Vale’s first MotoGP™ world title came in 2001 when, for the second year, he was the single rider in the 500cc Nastro Azzurro Honda team. When the four-strokes arrived, he gave teammate rookie Nicky Hayden plenty of advice. Switching to Yamaha, teammates were no problem at first. Carlos Checa and Colin Edwards were no great threat to his superiority, but a certain young Spanish upstart was on the horizon.

Double 250cc Champion Jorge Lorenzo joined Rossi at Yamaha in 2008 and life in the garage was never quite the same. It was soon very obvious that Lorenzo was not prepared to play second fiddle to the World Champion and wanted his world title. Two years later he did just that and Yamaha were literally split right down the middle. A dividing wall was constructed down their pit lane garage at every Grand Prix. While the riders feud made the headlines, Yamaha just sat back and kept winning. Lorenzo won two more world titles with Rossi runner-up two more times.

Sometimes a teammate can wreck your chances of a world title. The 250cc World Champion Dani Pedrosa joined Nicky Hayden at Repsol Honda in 2006. At the penultimate round of the Championship Hayden led his former teammate Rossi by 12 points at Estoril in Portugal. Hayden was running in a comfortable third place when at turn six Pedrosa went down skittling Hayden out of the race. Hayden still won the world title when Rossi crashed in the final round. No need to build a dividing wall this time.

Being a teammate to the great Mick Doohan was never going to be easy. Alex Criville soon realised he would not be receiving Christmas cards from the five-time World Champion, especially after the 1996 Czech Republic Grand Prix in Brno. Criville shadowed his Repsol Honda teammate for the whole race before overtaking him at the final corner to win by 0.002s of one second. Mick was not amused.

Without a doubt the most difficult teammate in the 75-year history of the sport was seven times World Champion Phil Read. He was totally focused on winning at all costs, nothing was going to stand in his way and especially teammates. He fell out big time with MV Agusta teammate Giacomo Agostini and especially Yamaha teammate Bill Ivy. In 1968 the dominant Yamaha factory decided that Read would win the 125cc world title and Ivy the 250. Ivy helped Read to the 125 crown but Read reneged on the deal and also grabbed the 250cc title. Ivy never forgave him.

The greatest teammate battle for a world title came at the final race of the 2000 World 250cc Championship at Phillip Island. Olivier Jacque tailed his Tech3 Yamaha teammate Shinya Nakano until the final straight when he pulled out of his slipstream in the 25-lap race. He won the race by 0.014s and the title by seven points.

Keep an eye on what is going on next door Pecco. There could be some fun and game in that Ducati garage next season.

 

By |2024-06-05T19:55:49+00:00June 5th, 2024|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Keep an eye out Pecco

A passionate warrior who could not give up

Legendary status is acquired for many different reasons. In MotoGP™, Legends are crowned for world titles, Grand Prix wins and bravery. Perhaps that Legend title is too easily awarded these days in all walks of life and especially sport. That is definitely not the case with Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing).

The 34-year-old Spaniard has won three Grands Prix and no world titles. He is a true and rightful legend of our sport for very different and rightful reasons. While the likes of Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Barry Sheene, Wayne Rainey, Mick Doohan, Valentino Rossi, and Marc Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) tick all the correct legend boxes, Aleix comes from a very different place.

He is the true passionate warrior who never gave up in 20 years of Grand Prix racing. A rider who wore his heart on his sleeve both on and off the track. His passion and belief finally paid off but it was a long and tortuous journey.

No other rider in the 75-year history of the sport had to wait so long for that first GP win. After the 15-year-old made his Grand Prix debut in the 2004 125cc race in Valencia, Aleix competed in World Championship racing for another 17 years, 155 days before that first win finally arrived. On his 284th appearance he finally did it at an emotional 2022 Argentinian GP.  It was such a special day for everybody. Aleix had waited so much longer than anybody to see the chequered flag. The previous longest wait belonged to Jack Findlay who only had to endure a mere 189 GPs. It was Aprilia’s first victory in the premier class and it really set the ball rolling for the Italian factory.

It was tortuous emotional journey. Aleix always gave maximum love and support to his younger brother. While Pol won the Moto2™ title and 15 Grands Prix, Aleix just soldiered on through every adversity, injury, and disappointment. He never gave up the fight. After winning the FIM CEV he began Grand Prix racing in the 125cc and 250cc classes. He finished fourth in the 2009 250cc Dutch TT and got his first taste of MotoGP™ the same season, as a rider replacement in the Pramac team. He remained in the team the next season but returned to the intermediate class, now Moto2™, in 2011. After taking his first podium he returned to MotoGP™ a year later where he became a CRT frontrunner. In 2014 he joined the Forward Yamaha team and grabbed his first MotoGP™ podium and pole position. The momentum was picking up. In 2016 he was awarded his first contract with Suzuki. Aleix brought the team their first pole since 2007 before moving onto Aprilia. In 2021 they celebrated their first podium together at Silverstone. A year later history was made in Argentina. Two more Grands Prix wins arrived at Silverstone and Barcelona last year where he also won the Tissot Sprint.

There could have been no more appropriate venue for Aleix to make his retirement announcement last week at Circuit de Barcelona–Catalunya with its giant grandstand within sight of his hometown of Granollers. An emotional farewell after 20 years with his beloved family and children, friends and rivals. Of course it was not the final goodbye. Typically, Aleix is determined to go out with a bang. Pole position, the Sprint win and fourth place in the Grand Prix was just a start. He finally calls it a day at Valencia in November and so plenty more racing, hopefully wins and passionate displays of riding in the most competitive motorsport World Championship. By the end of the season, Aleix should have ridden in more premier class Grands Prix than any other rider, apart from Valentino Rossi.

Next year the MotoGP™ grid without Aleix Espargaro will be a strange place, because this one-off passionate warrior is a true MotoGP™ legend.

 

By |2024-05-30T11:52:31+00:00May 30th, 2024|Uncategorised|Comments Off on A passionate warrior who could not give up

Explosive on-track action still the key

In the 75-year history of World Championship motorcycle racing, there have been many diverse reasons why such vast crowds flocked to different venues. Whatever those vital reasons, one fact has stood above all others. The sheer excitement and quality of the racing out on the track has, and always will be, the biggest factor attracting the massive following. Circuit facilities, entertainment away from the racing, camping, ticket prices and even parking, all have played their part in recent years. Before then political divide and even history had a massive influence on the sheer size of some record-breaking attendances.

In 1952 an estimated crowd of around 300,000 packed the Solitude circuit for the very first West German Grand Prix. Nobody is sure just how many fans jammed the 11.4km circuit, just seven years after the end of the second World War. It was such a significant occasion for the West German people. At last, some World Championship sport on home soil following the war, and after being split into two with East Germany.

Nine years later, in 1961, the legendary Sachsenring road circuit staged the first East German Grand Prix. Like Solitude, massive crowds flocked to the tree-lined 8.3km track. Of course, they wanted to witness World Championship sport but it also provided them with a rare glance of freedom. For 12 years, the Grand Prix provided millions of ordinary people caught up in the Cold War and trapped behind the Iron Curtain some joy. In 1971, West German Dieter Braun won the 250cc race. The East German Stasi police were determined to stop the playing of the West German national anthem at the podium ceremony. They knew the 280,000 partisan East German crowd would go wild in protest against segregation. The infamous Stasi switched off the public address system apart from the area where the FIM officials were situated. Many of the vast crowd still celebrated despite the presence of police and dogs. It was such a poignant moment giving those fans the chance to protest at their plight

It was very much the same story at another road circuit, Brno in Czechoslovakia. Enormous crowds witnessed life from the other side of the Iron Curtain for three wonderful days of motorcycle racing.

Those divides have now disappeared, but tradition and history has never been forgotten. Enormous 150,000 plus crowds continued to flock to the Sachsenring and to Brno until it staged its last Grand Prix three years ago.

The record crowds in Portimao, Jerez and Le Mans already this year show just how hard everybody has worked to understand what the fans want. The quality of racing is guaranteed but the modern fan demands so much more. They are fun-loving, energetic and enjoy a weekend of entertainment at a decent price. Nowhere better illustrated all these principles than the rise of Le Mans from mediocrity. Giving the fans what they want, a former French MotoGP™ World Champion to support, plus some welcome sunshine, made those cold, dismal, unfriendly and soulless weekends at this legendary venue a distant memory.

So many reasons for big crowds but thankfully MotoGP™ has never lost its basic principle. First and foremost, you must provide the opportunity for teams and riders to compete at the very highest level of competition. Everything else surrounding the racing is vital to its success, but I do not think that 297,471 fans who flocked to Le Mans last weekend went home disappointed with what they had witnessed out on the track.

 

By |2024-05-22T19:43:47+00:00May 22nd, 2024|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Explosive on-track action still the key

The Usain Bolt of MotoGP™

Of course, actual Grands Prix wins are more important for points and prestige. Jorge Martin’s superb double at Le Mans was the perfect proof, but those race winning Tissot Sprint performances have given the Spaniard that commanding lead in the World Championship.

Martin is the undisputed Usain Bolt of MotoGP™. The fastest sprinter in the world on two wheels and as we witnessed on Sunday, pretty useful over the longer distances. The Prima Pramac Ducati rider leads World Champion Pecco Bagnaia by an impressive 38 points in the Championship after five breathtaking rounds. He has collected a grand total of 50 points in the Sprint races this year, including wins in Portimao, Jerez and Le Mans. In complete contrast Bagnaia’s total from his five Sprints is a paltry 14 points

Those short sharp conflicts where risks must be taken are tailor-made for Jorge Martin’s style and temperament. In his early Moto3™ days he was often taking pole, before that first long-awaited victory came along in the final race of the 2017 season at Valencia. Martin went on to win the Moto3™ World Championship the next year. His win over Marc Marquez and Bagnaia on Sunday was his 17th Grand Prix win and his seventh in the MotoGP™ class. In the 24 Sprint races since the start of last season the Spaniard has won 12 times. A 50 per cent win ratio is mighty impressive in any class, but in the rough and tumble of a Sprint race it says much about the rider.

The Tissot Sprint races have become an integral part of a MotoGP™ weekend in such a short space of time. I think some of the former Grands Prix greats would have loved the short sharp shock on a Saturday afternoon. Others may not have been so keen. The format was just made for Marc Marquez. On it from the word go, and the eight times World Champion certainly was on Saturday. What an opening first part of the first lap as he pushed, shoved and carved his way into fifth place, after starting from the fifth row of the grid in 13th place. He finally finished second for the third Sprint podium this season. The sparks will fly in Barcelona in a couple of weeks.

I am sure Valentino Rossi would have loved it. Never afraid to take risks the format was made for the doctor. Just a shame it came along too late. A good start is a vital part of Sprint success and nobody made better than Dani Pedrosa. Perhaps if the Sprint had been around at Pedrosa’s peak, he may have converted those three runner-up spots in the MotoGP™ World Championship to a well-deserved World title. His third place in the Sprint at Jerez two weeks ago, while competing as a wildcard for Red Bull KTM, was a testimony to what a difference it could have made.

Those American 500cc wizards and later the likes of Nicky Hayden, were brought up and honed their skills on the one-mile dirt tracks back home before coming over to Europe to conquer the World. Over 20 riders sliding into that first bend at over 120 kph would have set them up perfectly for a Sprint. Just imagine the likes of Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey, who needed no excuse to fight, and the first of the sliders King Kenny Roberts in a Sprint. Throw in Randy Mamola who was always up for a scrap and the Australian Garry McCoy, who won three 500cc Grands Prix sliding like a speedway rider. There would have been some fun and games.

I was not totally convinced about the new Sprint race at the start of last season. It only took a couple of races to become a massive fan. Nobody knows better than Championship leader Jorge Martin that those precious 12 winning points could be the difference between winning or losing the World title.

Just ask Usain Bolt.

 

By |2024-05-16T14:41:22+00:00May 16th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The Usain Bolt of MotoGP™

If ever a country deserves a World Champion

For 75 years and before, hundreds of thousands of partisan Grand Prix fanatics have flocked to their shrine in the north of Holland. The Van Drenthe circuit in Assen is rightly called the Cathedral of MotoGP™. Every June since 1949, apart from Covid, it has staged World Championship motorcycle racing. It is easy for the Spanish to travel to Jerez to support the likes of Marquez, Lorenzo and Pedrosa. There was nowhere better to go in the World of Motorsport when Valentino Rossi was competing and winning at Mugello. Every year the fans have supported the Dutch TT with passion and pride despite having so few Dutch riders to cheer. The lack of success by Dutch riders in the World Championship has never kept them away, but at Jerez on Sunday there were signs they could be rewarded for such loyalty.

Nineteen-year-old Collin Veijer won the superb Moto3™ battle with David Muñoz and Ivan Ortola by just 0.045s. The lanky Dutchman lies third in the Moto3™ World Championship behind Daniel Holgado and David Alonso. Last season Veijer set the wheels in motion with the first Dutch Grand Prix win for 33 years, when he was victorious in Malaysia, riding the Liqui Moly Intact Husqvarna. It was such a barren period from the last win by Hans Spaan in 1990 at the 125cc race at Brno in Czechoslovakia

You think that was a long gap. It was an incredible 50 years ago that a Dutch rider was crowned World Champion. The Dutch riders and teams loved the technical complications of preparing and riding multi-geared 50cc machines. Henk van Kessell won the 1974 50cc world title for Kreidler and that was that. Three years earlier Jan de Vries brought Holland and Kreidler their first world title. He won 14 Grands Prix and regained the title in 1973.

With solo classes so devoid of success, the patriotic Dutch fans turned their support to the sidecars. I saw exactly the same thing happen in England when we were going through a similar barren period. In England it was World Champion Steve Webster and in Holland the bearded Egbert Streuer and his passenger Bernie Schneiders became national heroes. They won 22 Grands Prix and three World titles.

Dutch riders have tasted success in the premier 500cc class but only with Grands Prix wins. Wil Hartog was one of the first Grand Prix riders to wear white leathers. You could not miss him with that bright red helmet. He won five 500cc Grands Prix for Suzuki including at Assen in 1977. Three years later Assen was my first assignment as a proper Grand Prix reporter. Jack Middelburg won the 500cc race and the atmosphere and celebrations have only been matched by Jerez and Mugello in recent times. Middelburg’s other win came in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He was also involved in the horrific Barry Sheene practice crash at Silverstone in 1982. The only other Dutch 500cc winner was the likeable chain-smoking Boet van Dulmen, who won at Imatra in Finland in 1979.

Sidecars and 50cc solos have long disappeared from the World Championship scene. Dutch success went with them but Collin Veijer is on the verge of changing all that. Those Dutch fans have waited so long and he could be the rider to reward their loyalty, support, and patience.

It has been far too long a wait.

 

By |2024-05-02T08:22:25+00:00May 2nd, 2024|Uncategorised|Comments Off on If ever a country deserves a World Champion

All roads lead south for Pedro

Pedro Acosta arrives at this legendary venue knowing he has another seven Grands Prix to re-write the history books. The Spanish teenager could wait until the German Grand Prix in the Sachsenring at the beginning of July to become the youngest rider to win a premier class race in the 75-year history of Grand Prix racing. The GASGAS rider has already displayed so much patience and maturity on the track. This will be tested to the absolute limit in the maelstrom and Spanish patriotic frenzy pouring from the hillsides and grandstands on Sunday.

Acosta is a Moto3™ winner in Jerez but this will be so different. Already he is making history in his debut MotoGP™ season. The teenager is the youngest rider to take back-to-back premier class podium finishes after those brilliant rides in Portimao and COTA. He replaced Marc Marquez who will be replaced once again if Acosta takes that win in the next seven races. It was 11 years ago that Marquez replaced Freddie Spencer as the youngest with a victory that he repeated many more times at COTA. There was a 31-year gap between Freddie’s victory at Spa Francorchamps and Marc’s in Texas. It will not be such a long wait this time round

Spain was the hotbed of brilliant riders and World Champions in all the smaller classes but they struggled on the blue riband 500cc machines. While the likes of Angel Nieto, Sito Pons and Ricardo Tormo dominated in the 50,125 and 250cc title battles, those passionate Spanish fans had to be patient – not something they are known to enjoy.

In 1992 Alex Criville’s win at the 500cc race in Assen almost went unnoticed. I remember having trouble pronouncing his name as he took the chequered flag to become the first Spanish rider to win a 500cc Grand Prix. It was a weekend of crashes and drama, especially for Mick Doohan and Kevin Schwantz, that stole the headlines. The floodgates had not been opened but the momentum was mounting.

Three years later Jerez went crazy. Alberto Puig became the first Spanish rider to win a 500cc race on home soil. With Criville in third place, it was the first time two Spanish riders had finished on a 500cc podium. The spell had finally been broken. Criville won three in a row at Jerez between 1997-1999 and became the first Spanish 500cc World Champion in 1999.

World titles and Jerez victories flowed like the Sherry that had made Jerez famous before the racetrack arrived. Home victories for Sete Gibernau, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez were celebrated on and off the track in true Jerez style. World titles arrived for Lorenzo and Marquez. Corners are named after the winners. The track is now called the Jerez Angel Nieto circuit, named after the legendary 13-time World Champion and 90-time Grands Prix winner.

All roads lead south this weekend. Jerez is the absolute example of what MotoGP™ is all about both on and off the track. No other World Championship motorsport event can generate such passion and pure excitement. The arrival of Pedro Acosta could step it up to another level, if that is possible. I don’t think he can wait until the Sachsenring.

 

By |2024-04-24T20:20:40+00:00April 24th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on All roads lead south for Pedro

The spirit of Soichiro Honda will put them back on track

The results at COTA on Sunday simply compounded what we already knew, Honda are desperately trying to dig themselves out of a very deep hole. Maverick Vinales re-wrote the history books for Aprilia and there were three separate manufacturers on the podium while Hondas’s last premier class win came in Texas a year ago. Since then, there have been just two Tissot Sprint races and one Grand Prix podium for Marc Marquez, before he departed at the end of the season. It is going to be a long, hard and painful journey back to the top step of the podium, but they will make it. When, rather than if, is the question. They have been here before and always come out the other side because the spirit, determination and desire of their founder will never die.

Seventy years ago, a certain Soichiro Honda arrived in the paddock at the second round of the 1954 World Championship in the Isle of Man. He left a week later announcing he would return one day with motorcycles capable of beating the best in the world, and a suitcase full of carburettors, chains and tyres. 72 constructors’ world titles and 821 Grands Prix wins later, were proof Mr Honda was a man who could always be trusted to keep his word.

He had been shocked by the speed and engineering prowess of the manufacturers competing at the TT, especially the German NSU factory’s 125 and 250cc machines. Five long hard years passed before he returned to the Isle of Man. Not alone this time but with a team to start a dream that climbed heights even Soichiro Honda would never have believed.

In 1955 the Honda team started racing at the Mount Asama Volcano race located in a village at the foot of an active volcano on the Island of Honshu, Japan. The riders started in pairs around the 19km track on the compressed volcanic ash surface. Their main challenge came from Yamaha and Suzuki. A battle that started around a Volcano soon switched to the world stage.

I was only 12 years old in 1959 but I can still remember those pictures from the TT races. Not the bikes of riders in action, but those Japanese riders far from home sitting on those uncomfortable so-British stripped deck chairs outside the TT prize giving at the Villa Marina on the Douglas seafront. They had won the 125cc prize for the Honda team with the most finishers in their first World Championship appearance. Three Japanese riders who had never competed on a complete tarmac track. Their RC142 machines featured a bevel-drive DOHC engine with four valve heads. They were down on horsepower to the Italian and East German opposition, and lack of practice on a road surface resulted in poor handling. Typically, they stuck to their task.

American Bill Hunt was the liaison officer but also competed in the 173.650km race around the Clypse course. He was joined by Japanese riders Giichi Suzuki, Junzo Suzuki, Naomi Taniguchi and Teisuke Tanaka. The team was managed by Kiyoshi Kawashima, who later became the President of the Honda Motor Company. Not only did Honda collect the team prize for most finishers, but Taniguchi’s sixth place brought their very first World Championship point. The journey had started. Two years later the floodgates opened. Australian Tom Phillis brought Honda their first Grand Prix win in the 125cc 1961 Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuic Park.  Three weeks later at Hockenheim in West Germany, Kunimitsu Takahashi became the first Japanese Grand Prix winner with victory on the 250cc Honda. The season ended with Mike Hailwood and Phillis bringing Honda the first two of their 72 constructors world titles. Phillis also became the first Honda World Champion, winning the 125cc title.

Rather like the first Honda racetrack challenge round that Volcano, there have been plenty of bumps in the road en route to those 821 Grands prix wins. Ill-fated four-stroke projects in the two-stroke age, withdrawing from racing because of engineering restrictions, tragedy, the defection of Valentino Rossi to Yamaha and domination by other Japanese factories, have all been overcome.

Honda will return to winning ways and Soichiro Honda will be looking down checking every move.

By |2024-04-17T17:33:07+00:00April 17th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The spirit of Soichiro Honda will put them back on track

Marc’s American Dream

The Spaniard arrives in his very own Narnia. His special magical kingdom that has so many happy memories. The eight-time World Champion can pick no better place to start winning Grand Prix races again.  The Spanish rider has won seven MotoGP™ contests at the Circuit of The Americas. Nobody would rule him out making it eight on Sunday, with his first ride on the Gresini Ducati at the Texas track. It is not only the Texas venue that holds so many memories, but also California and Indiana. Marc Marquez quite simply loves racing motorcycles in America and it is easy to understand just why.

Eleven years ago, Marquez arrived in Texas with expectations as stretched as they will be for Pedro Acosta this weekend. After clinching the 125cc and Moto2™ world titles, his arrival in the premier class was as explosive as anything we have witnessed before or since in the 75 years of Grand Prix racing. He finished third behind the Yamaha Supremos Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo at the opening round in Qatar. Marquez set the dice rolling with his first premier class pole, before demolishing the opposition in the 21-lap race. His love affair with the Circuit of The Americas and then the country of America had started

Incredibly, for the only time in the history of the sport, there were three Grands Prix at American circuits in 2013. They started in Texas and moved on to California and the magnificent Laguna Seca circuit, sadly for the very last time. The American riders, led of course by Kenny Roberts, always told us until you had raced down the infamous corkscrew corner high in the Monterey hills you were a bit of a coward, although they used a slightly more provocative word.

They were not wrong. What a circuit, what a venue and what a bend. Just a month later we were at a vastly different circuit and location, but equally more impressive in a very different way. I loved going to the Indianapolis International Motor Speedway a bit more than the riders. The biggest motorsport venue in the world with those towering grandstands surrounding the famous banking and the yard of bricks on the start and finish line. The road circuit inside the oval was nothing special, but the rest and the people made it such an atmospheric place.

If that Texan win had not been enough Marquez raced through the States in 2013 like a whirlwind. He won on his only premier class race at Laguna and followed with victory at Indianapolis, which he repeated for the next two years. In his three Indianapolis premier class races he was unbeaten. Those three American wins played a massive part in that first MotoGP™ world title

Marquez was simply unbeatable at the Circuit of The Americas for the next five years, but never without incident. Massive slides with elbow and shoulder on the ground, bombastic overtaking manoeuvres and even high jumps over the Armco barriers, to get to his second machine to ensure qualifying on pole were all part of the show.

It’s 903 days since Marquez won a Grand Prix but take heart, many have waited so much longer. Seven times World Champion Phil Read was the most patient in the premier class. The 125, 250 and 500cc World Champion waited an incredible 3200 days between winning the 1964 Ulster Grand Prix and the 1973 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Andrea Dovizioso had to wait 2653 days between victory at Donington Park in 2009 and 2016 in Sepang. Even Valentino Rossi had to wait longer than Marquez. Nine hundred and ninety-three days separated his win at Sepang in 2010 and Assen three years later.

I do not think anybody expects Marquez to wait so long. If he is going to start winning Grands Prix again, he will have no better chance than on Sunday.

 

By |2024-04-11T12:22:23+00:00April 11th, 2024|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Marc’s American Dream

That very first superstar

Sporting those immaculate one-piece tailor-made black leathers and swept-back black hair when the helmet came off. Winning your first World Championship race and going on to six world titles. Leading a strike against the promoters over start and prize money; Geoff Duke was always going to be that first Superstar. Every era had one. Giacomo Agostini in the ’60s, Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts in the ’70s and Valentino Rossi in the 2000s. All World Champions have that special talent but only a select few had that bit extra to earn the superstar status. Charisma, charm, good looks and the desire to fight for their and others’ rights made them different. In the early ’50s, when World Championship motorcycle racing was just finding its feet, along came the very first of those Superstars: Geoff Duke was the trailblazer both on and off the track to lead the way for those who followed.

The British public were desperate for a sporting hero after the rigours of the Second World War and Duke did not let them down. He won his very first 500cc World Championship race at the TT in the Isle of Man in 1950, riding the single-cylinder Norton with the revolutionary featherbed frame. He fought tooth and nail for both the 350cc and 500cc world titles on British machines but had to settle for second in both. A year later he went one better on both counts.

With the nation behind him, Duke fought off the considerable challenge of the four-cylinder Italian Gilera machines to win his first 500cc world title. He completed the double with the 350cc Championship. Duke became a household name and the number 1 sportsman in Britain. He was voted Sportsman of the Year by BBC television viewers and was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1953.

To the delight of those British fans, Duke decided to stay with Norton to meet the Italian challenge head on in 1952, but the writing was on the wall. Despite retaining the 350cc Championship the four-cylinder Gilersas and MV Agustas took over the premier 500cc class. Duke joined Gilera in 1953 after much deliberation. Overnight the good-looking English gentleman’s popularity switched to the adoring Italian fans, as he regained the 500cc world title leading the Gilera treble. He retained the title a year later and in 1955 stood up for the privateer riders who were treated so shabbily by money-grabbing promoters. It all came to a head at the Dutch TT in Assen.

Twelve 350cc riders completed just one lap in protest against the paltry start money on offer. The organisers panicked when the 500cc riders, led by Duke and team-mate Reg Armstrong, threatened to do the same in support of the privateers. After some last-minute negotiations, the race went ahead but the FIM were not happy. At the end of the season, they suspended Duke, who won his fourth 500cc title and Armstrong, plus 12 other riders for six months. Much against his better judgement, Duke made a tongue-in-cheek apology and the FIM relented, but only just. Duke was allowed to race in domestic competitions which meant he missed the two opening rounds of the World Championship the following year. Despite his fame and fortune Duke was prepared to stand up for what he believed. Twenty-four years later a certain World Champion Kenny Roberts did exactly the same with much greater success.

Duke dabbled in car racing and as a team manager for a revitalised Gilera team after his retirment. He lived where it all started on the Isle of Man and died in 2015. He was the true trailblazer to those superstars who followed and not just because of those one-piece black leathers.

By |2024-04-05T09:48:16+00:00April 5th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on That very first superstar
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