Nick Harris

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So far Nick Harris has created 113 blog entries.

Criville waited seven years to unlock the door

Just 168 hours in seven breathless days separated Joan Mir’s first MotoGP™ victory from that World Championship conquest on Sunday. The rider that produced the key to unlock the door to Spanish domination of the premier class had to wait so much longer. A gap of over seven long years separated Alex Criville’s first 500cc Grand Prix win to the title.

I am sure it will not surprise you that I had problems pronouncing Alex Criville’s surname when he brought Spain their first-ever Grand Prix victory in the premier class. I had just about got it right 21 years ago when the very same Criville produced the key to unlock the door to Spanish MotoGP™ World Champions with their first-ever premier class title in 1999

A certain Valentino Rossi stood in their way for the following decade but then the floodgates opened for the likes of Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and, on Sunday, the mighty impressive Joan Mir.

We always admired the brilliance of Spanish riders in the smaller classes but even multiple World Champions Angel Nieto and Sito Pons struggled in the premier class and did not stay around for long. Then came the 1992 Dutch TT in Assen. Crashes had ruled out the likes of Rainey, Doohan, Schwantz and Lawson. Alex Criville was on hand to win a fantastic three-way battle over John Kocinski and Alex Barros.

Mick Doohan then took over with five straight 500cc World Championships and Alex had to wait another three years just for his next victory. Six more followed over the next three years but the first European Grand Prix of the season in 1999 had a familiar sense of déjà vu to this year. Five-time World Champion and Criville’s teammate Doohan crashed at turn four at Jerez and was ruled out for the remainder of the season. It was the end of Mick’s amazing career, although we did not know at the time. Mick’s crash came on the exit to the very same bend that brought Marc Marquez’s short season to a premature halt this year. Alex went onto win six Grands Prix that year including that Jerez race

Like Mir, he clinched the title at the penultimate round at Rio in Brazil. Both races caused television producers a real headache. The race in Rio turned into a breathtaking last lap battle between Norick Abe, Max Biaggi and Kenny Roberts. Criville’s sixth place would be enough to bring Spain that first title. What pictures do you show? They faced the same problem on Sunday as Franco Morbidelli and Jack Miller fought a ferocious last lap duel to the chequered flag. Mir’s seventh place going into the last lap at Valencia was enough to bring him the title. The television producers were spot on and we got a great view of both Morbidelli’s third win of the season and Mir’s World Championship victory.

Both Criville and Mir had won World titles before arriving in the premier class. Alex was the 1989 125cc World Champion but had to wait ten years before that 500cc crown. Joan only had to wait three years between his Moto3™ World title and being crowned MotoGP™ King.

So happy 21st birthday Spanish motorcycle racing and just one more similarity. I had as many problems pronouncing Joan Mir’s first name when he won that Moto3™ World title as I did Criville’s surname in Assen 28 years ago.

 

By |2020-11-18T20:14:43+00:00November 18th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Criville waited seven years to unlock the door

Keep an eye on those T-Shirts

The Suzuki Ecstar team will leave no stone unturned in the next seven days. In the garage they will lovingly be preparing the GSX – RR Suzuki that could bring them their first premier class world title for two decades. Behind the scenes, World Championship winning press conferences and television interviews have to be planned. Videos, photographs and written copy written for immediate release on Sunday afternoon will be prepared and checked while the obligatory World Champion T-Shirts have been designed, printed and dispatched.

For the first time in this incredible season, Joan Mir could and has a real chance of clinching the ultimate prize at the penultimate round in Valencia. Following that maiden premier class win in Valencia, he holds a precious 37-point lead in the Championship. The 23-year-old Spaniard does not need reminding of what he needs to do on the tarmac of the Ricardo Tormo circuit, but he will not need or want to know what happens if he wins the ultimate prize. He can worry about all that afterwards

The only problem for the team, and let us be honest it is a decent one, is that Mir’s team-mate Alex Rins could still win the title, although not on Sunday. Together with Fabio Quartararo, he is 37 points behind. With 50 points up for grabs in the final two races it could still be decided at the final round in Portugal. At least it gives the team time to prepare for both eventualities which was not the case for the Monster Yamaha team in that controversial finale at Valencia five years ago. Valentino Rossi arrived in the caldron of frenzied excitement and toxicity with a seven-point lead but having to start from the back of the grid after the shenanigans in Malaysia. The team, which was divided, had to prepare for both eventualities. Lorenzo won the title and wore the T-Shirt.

I was involved in two very different World Championship winning, planning and celebrations. In 1987 the BBC sent me to Goiania in Brazil for the penultimate round of the 500cc World Championship.  Wayne Gardner had built up a special rapport with their listeners and had a great chance of clinching the title. Part of the deal for my expenses paid trip was that they would get the first live interview with the new World Champion. On arrival at the circuit, I discovered the commentary position was opposite the podium and pit lane in the very public grandstand. There was only one man to help me and he did not let me down. The Chief of Police in Goiania assured me that all would be OK. When race winner and new World Champion Wayne Gardner wearing the World Champion T-Shirt over his leathers soaked in champagne arrived at my commentary position surrounded by six fully armed policemen in full uniform I believed him

It was a very different story five years later at Kyalami in South Africa. A truly battered Mick Doohan arrived hanging onto a precious two-point lead over Wayne Rainey at the final round of the 1992 500cc World title. Never have I witnessed somebody so determined to overcome pain and physical weakness to win his first World title and we owed it to Mick to be prepared. Rothmans Honda Press folders and photographs were prepared for the media at the circuit and thousands back in England to be dispatched throughout the world as soon as the race ended – hardly any social media in those days. The 1992 World Champion T-Shirts were prepared, and worldwide interviews planned.  It was a sad sight after the race watching the folders being burnt and the T-Shirts cut up when Mick failed by four points to clinch the title, he went onto win five times. Years after, a Greek journalist was spotted wearing a 1992 Mick Doohan World Champion T-Shirt. How that happened I have no idea.

I am sure Suzuki are prepared for every eventuality. It is a fantastic situation to be in but keep an eye on those T-Shirts.

By |2020-11-12T09:01:16+00:00November 12th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Keep an eye on those T-Shirts

Teammates – perhaps by name only

In team sports, the role of a teammate is easy to understand and follow but in MotoGP™ it can be a very different story. Many riders will tell you the first person they want to beat to that chequered flag is their very own teammate.

Crunch time for teammates approaches fast with just three rounds remaining of this extraordinary MotoGP™ season starting at Valencia on Sunday. Six riders have a chance of claiming that ultimate prize. In that group there are two sets of teammates. Will the other two contenders be looking for support from the other side of the garage?

I remember the first time I realised just how important a trusted teammate can be on two wheels. It probably comes as no great surprise that Phil Read, seven times World Champion and without a doubt the most underestimated rider in the history of Grand Prix racing, sparked the interest. There is absolutely no doubt Phil was not your ideal teammate as both Bill Ivy and Giacomo Agostini found out.

At the TT in 1968 I watched Read win the 125cc race despite Ivy setting the first 100mph lap riding the beautiful 125cc four cylinder two-stroke. Ivy admitted later he slowed to let teammate Read win because the plan at the beginning of the season was for Read to win his first 125cc title and Ivy his first 250. Everything appeared to be going to plan for the Yamaha team. Read won the penultimate round of the 125cc Championship in Brno to clinch the title. Ivy assumed he would return the compliment and finish second in the 250 but Read had different ideas. He won the race and out of the blue declared he was chasing the title because he wanted Yamaha to continue racing the next year and that he’d done all the work to develop the 250 bringing Yamaha their first world title.

In a toxic atmosphere at the final 250cc round in Monza Read stuck to his guns. He won the 22-lap race from Ivy in which the Yamaha pair lapped the rest of the field. The drama did not end there. Incredibly the teammates found themselves level on points at the head of the 250cc Championship. Read was crowned World Champion after the times from the races they had both completed were added together. Read continued to win more World titles for Yamaha and MV Agusta where his relationship with teammate Agostini was strained, to say the least. A disillusioned Ivy retired to go car racing. To fund his new career, he returned to two wheels riding the 350cc four-cylinder Jawa. He lost his life when the Jawa seized in practice for the 1969 East German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring.

Thirty-eight years later Repsol Honda teammates fell out big time but for a very different reason. You rarely saw Nicky Hayden get angry in public but what he screamed to teammate Dani Pedrosa in the Estoril gravel trap was not difficult to understand. It was the penultimate round of the 2006 MotoGP™ World Championship in Portugal and Hayden arrived with a 12-point advantage over his former teammate and World Champion Valentino Rossi. On the fifth lap of the race Pedrosa, the current 250cc World Champion, was fourth behind Hayden but the situation both in the race and the Championship changed in the blink of an eye. With 23 laps remaining Pedrosa took out the Championship leader at the tight left-hand bend at the end of the slightly kinked back straight. Running onto the kerb he locked the front wheel and skittled Hayden into the Portuguese gravel.

All was forgotten two weeks later when Hayden clinched the World title after finishing third behind the Ducatis of Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi. Rossi crashed defending an eight-point lead and a remorseful Pedrosa protected Hayden’s back throughout at a very safe distance in fourth place.

In the next three weeks those six Championship contenders are going to discover who is a true teammate or even just a true mate.

By |2020-11-04T20:58:03+00:00November 4th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Teammates – perhaps by name only

Stick or Twist for Mir

History points to Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) twisting in this amazing season of MotoGP™ poker. Take the risk the history books may scream out, but this is a truly unprecedented season. Sticking may be the strategy to claim the biggest prize of them all.

Never in the 72-year-old history of World Championship racing has a rider won the premier class without winning a Grand Prix the year of his success. Only twice in all solo classes has a title been clinched without a victory.

The 23-year-old Spanish Ecstar rider arrives in Valencia with a precious 14-point lead in the Championship with just three rounds remaining. Six podiums, including three second places but no wins have given him the advantage. Eight opponents have won races with two riders grabbing two or more wins, but nobody has matched the consistency of the former Moto3™ World Champion. Mir won 10 Grand Prix in 2017 to clinch the World title with two rounds remaining. It is going to be an awful lot closer this time

How ironic, it was the mentor of the all-conquering Marquez brothers who was the last rider to win a World Championship without actually winning a race in the year of his success. Emilio Alzamora was crowned the 1999 125cc World Champion without a Grand Prix win, but consistency and 10 podium finishes in the 16 round title chase paid off.

The final round at Buenos Aires in Argentina summed up the season perfectly. Alzamora rode a brilliant tactical 23 laps to finish second by just 0.219 seconds behind Marco Melandri. It was enough to win him the title by a single point from Melandri who tried every trick in the book to prevent it happening. I wonder where those Marquez brothers learnt such skills.

Four years earlier Alzamora had won the 125cc race in Argentina and a year later was victorious in Assen. The year after his World Championship victory he won in Jerez and Estoril to finish third in the Championship.

It was another Spanish rider ten years earlier who was the first rider to be crowned World Champion without winning a Grand Prix the year of his success. Once again it was second place in the final race of the season that clinched the title. Manuel Herreros finished second to Herri Torrontegui around the Brno Circuit in the very last 80cc race in the World Championship. Riding the Derbi he finished 12 points in front of Stefan Dorflinger who’s Krauser team-mate Peter Ottl had won the three previous rounds before final showdown. Herreros had won two Grand Prix before his World title. In 1986 he won the 80cc race at the West German GP and a year later was a Grand Prix winner in Misano

Others have come close with just one win in their Championship season and none more so than Frenchman Jean-Louis Tournadre. He was crowned the 1982 250cc World Champion again by a single point from Toni Mang. He finished fourth at the final round in the race won by Mang at Hockenheim. I remember the one and only Grand Prix win of his career. I was summoned to the motorhome of Barry Sheene in the Nogaro paddock before the start of the 1982 French GP. All the top riders were there including 250cc Championship contenders Mang and Carlos Lavado. The assembled riders asked me to draft a letter to the Nogaro organisers saying they would not ride because the Nogaro circuit was not safe enough for World Championship racing. They duly signed the letter and went home. Tournadre felt obliged to race at his home Grand Prix and won from another Frenchman Jean Francois Balde.

So, twist or stick for Mir in those last three races? That decision depends so much on the performance of his opponents. He may have no choice but to twist.

By |2020-10-29T09:15:56+00:00October 29th, 2020|Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Stick or Twist for Mir

We can only dream – Marquez Vs Rea

It was the day that two great World Champions performed on the same stage but unfortunately not in the same race.

Watching Alex Marquez’s superb performance on Sunday riding that that so distinctively branded Repsol Honda brought back memories of MotorLand Aragon eight years ago

Honestly, little did I prophesise that those two riders would go on to totally dominate their respective chosen paths after seeing them compete on that September afternoon in the Spanish sunshine.  It was the closest that MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez and World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea came to the head to the head of all confrontations in a World Championship showdown.

On Saturday Rea secured that record-breaking sixth successive World Superbike title at the final round in Estoril. The Northern Ireland Kawasaki rider is just one short of 100 victories in the Championship. Eight years ago, Jonathan was drafted into the Repsol Honda team to replace the injured World Champion Casey Stoner and partner Dani Pedrosa. It was a big ask but in just two MotoGP appearances he displayed so much ability to make his record-breaking World Superbike career perhaps not such a great surprise.

After finishing eighth in his first race on the Repsol Honda at Misano won by Jorge Lorenzo he came to Aragon. In the 23-lap race in his second, and as it turned out final MotoGP™ ride, Rea finished seventh one place in front of Valentino Rossi in the race won by his team-mate, Pedrosa. That was that. Casey returned to finish the season and then retire. A certain Marc Marquez replaced him, and the rest is history for both riders

Marquez sat at home on Sunday cheering on his younger brother to second place in Aragon, his second successive podium finish. Marc still recovering from those injuries sustained in the opening round in Jerez, competed in a crucial Moto2™ race at Aragon on the same afternoon before Rea made that final MotoGP™ appearance

It was a crucial 21 lap race as he closed in on the Moto2™ World Championship before replacing Stoner in MotoGP™ the next year. Marquez picked up 20 vital points after finishing second behind his great rival Pol Espargaro. Third place in the race went to Scott Redding who ironically finished second to Rea in this year’s World Superbike contest. Marquez clinched the title to add to his 125cc crown and moved on smash all the records that MotoGP™ could throw at him. Six World titles and 56 Grand Prix wins in a style we have never witnessed before.

I am sure there is still more to come from both Champions but sadly not in conflict with each other. How would it have turned out? Marquez with eight World titles and 82 Grand Prix wins versus Rea with six World titles and 99 race victories.

 Unfortunately, we will never find out who would have won the battle of the ‘sixers’ but we can always dream.

By |2020-10-21T20:01:48+00:00October 21st, 2020|Uncategorised|Comments Off on We can only dream – Marquez Vs Rea

No bet on Danilo or Alex

Even my great friend from Yorkshire did not think to place a bet on Danilo Petrucci’s magnificent win at Le Mans. My friend had a good track record at Le Mans and like most Yorkshiremen is known to be particularly careful with his money.

He is the most knowledgeable person I have ever met about his great love MotoGP, but Danilo plus Alex Marquez caught him and all of us by surprise on Sunday. I am pretty sure the odds would have been impressive on what happened in the cold and wet Le Mans rain

Petrucci’s second ever Grand Prix win in what had been such a wretched season for the former policeman. The first MotoGP™ podium finish for former Moto3™ and current Moto2™ World Champion Alex Marquez. Only four sets of brothers have secured premier class podium finishes in the history of the sport. Argentinian brothers Eduardo and Juan Salatino in the early sixties took podium finishes in their home Grand Prix. Eduardo was third in 1962 while Juan grabbed two second places in 1961 and 1962.

The most famous trio of Grand Prix siblings were the Japanese Aoki brothers. Both Nobuatsu, a former 250cc Grand Prix winner, and Takuma grabbed second places in the premier class. Younger brother Haruchika also rode in the premier class but is better known for his two 125 cc World titles. Older brother Aleix Espargaro took his only premier class podium with a second place in Aragon six years ago while younger brother Pol grabbed his first for KTM in Valencia 2018 and of course finished third in Le Mans. Despite those two World titles Alex Marquez has always lived in the shadow of his older brother Mark. Ninety-five premier class podiums for the older brother including 56 wins says it all but Alex is off the mark. Perhaps the biggest surprise of them all on Sunday – Honda secured their first premier class podium of the season. It is the longest period they had gone without a podium since they returned to World Championship racing in 1982.

Le Mans and the Bugatti circuit has always been capable of producing surprise results. My first visit was no exception. I learnt so much. It can be very cold and do not travel round the Peripherique, the Paris Ring Road, on a Good Friday. It took me over six hours to drive to the legendary venue in 1983 from Charles Le Gaulle Airport but it was well worth it. On a freezing cold afternoon in early April British rider Alan Carter won the 250cc race to become at the time the youngest ever Grand Prix winner. He had started from 31st position on the grid. A year later his team-mate in the Yamaha 250cc team was a certain Wayne Rainey who went on to win three 500cc world titles. Sadly, for Alan Le Mans was his only ever Grand Prix win.

Back to my friend from Yorkshire. We sat in the press room at Le Mans in 2007, he looked out of the window at the gathering clouds and declared that Australian Chris Vermeulen could win his first Grand Prix and bring Suzuki their first victory for six years. When somebody checked the odds of 36/1 on such a prediction, we persuaded him to open his first internet betting account and put his money where his mouth was. When Vermeulen romped home with a comfortable win in the difficult conditions we prepared ourselves for a big Sunday night out on his winnings before driving to Paris the next day. We just about managed one round of drinks from those winnings. He had placed the princely sum of £1 for a Vermeulen victory but do not forget he is from Yorkshire.

 

By |2020-10-14T15:57:35+00:00October 14th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on No bet on Danilo or Alex

The Roger Bannister moment in MotoGP™

It may not be a country built for World Championship motorcycle racing, but John McPhee is striving to change all that in the Moto3™ World Championship. The Scotsman won in Misano and is third in the Championship riding the Petronas Sprinta Racing Honda. John’s home in Oban on the West Coast is how most people picture Scotland. Majestic mountains, Caribbean blue sea when the sun shines, beautiful Islands, Atlantic winter storms and midges come to mind rather than Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

While Scotland has produced plenty of motorsport World Champions two wheels have not been so productive but those who have tasted success at the highest level are very special. Three, Bob McIntyre, Jimmy Guthrie and Jock Taylor have worn the kilt with pride

It was June 7, 1957 when McIntyre produced the magic Roger Bannister moment of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in the Isle of Man. Who will forget that moment in my home City of Oxford three years earlier when the athletic track announcer read out Bannister’s time for the one-mile race he had just won. Three minutes and the rest was drowned out by the cheers of the crowd. The very first man to run a mile in under four minutes and that announcement was soon relayed round the World.

Three years on and The Isle of Man was buzzing in anticipation at the start of the eight lap Senior TT race round the 60.721 kms TT Mountain circuit on the Island that had staged that very first World Championship race eight years earlier. Fourteen thousand extra fans arrived by ferry that very morning on the already packed Island to witness the Scotsman riding the four-cylinder Gilera in action. They knew history was about to be made. Nobody had lapped the most demanding and dangerous racetrack in the World at over 100 mph (160.934 kph). It was the Golden Jubilee of the TT races and McIntyre celebrated in true style.

At the end of the second lap the announcement boomed out round the circuit.’ Bob McIntyre leads the Senior TT after a second lap at an average of 101… The rest was drowned out by the cheers. The first rider to lap the Mountain circuit at over 100 mph in a time of 22m23.2s.

Typically, he completed three more 100 mph laps to win the race in three hours 2.57s. The modest Scotsman had already won the 350cc TT race that week and won the 350cc race for Gilera at Monza later in the year. He finished runner-up to team-mate Libero Liberati in the 500cc World Championship. McIntyre went on to win two more Grands Prix bringing Honda 250cc success in the 1961 Ulster and a year later at Spa Francorchamps. Tragically he was killed that same year in a crash at Oulton Park in England.

Twelve years before the World Championship started on August 8, 1937, 40-year-old Jimmy Guthrie was leading the German Grand Prix on the Sachsenring road circuit. The Norton rider was chasing his third successive victory in Germany, where the rumble of war was looming fast. He had already won 19 Grands Prix, but he crashed in the woods on that fateful last lap and died in hospital. Four years after the Second World War ended in 1949 the locals built a memorial to Guthrie where he had crashed. They had never forgotten that Scottish gentleman and a fresh bunch of flowers have been placed on the memorial every week for the last 71 years. Back in the Isle of Man a kiln of stones on the mountain climb out of Ramsey on the TT course is lovingly preserved in memorial of the 19 times Grand Prix and six times TT winner.

Scotland’s only Grand Prix World Championship came on three wheels. My dear friend Jock Taylor with Swedish passenger Benga Johannson captured the 1980 Sidecar World Championship at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. On a truly awful August day in 1982 Jock lost his life in the pouring rain racing over the railway lines at Imatra in Finland when he crashed striving to win back the title that meant so much to him and his country.

Other Scotsman have come close to Grand Prix wins. The nearest was Niall Mackenzie with seven third places and a pole position in the 500cc Championship. His partner in the Silverstone/Armstrong team Donnie McLeod was a top class 250 and 350cc rider while Steve Hislop was a superb Superbike and TT rider.

Can John McPhee go one better than any of them and win a World title on two wheels? It is a mighty big ask but they would certainly approve of his efforts on behalf of their proud and patriotic country.

 

By |2020-10-07T20:58:20+00:00October 7th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on The Roger Bannister moment in MotoGP™

Take heart Vale, you’ve got another five years

I really thought he was going to do it. Just a couple days after the Doctor announced he was keeping the surgery open for at least another year he appeared on course to celebrate in the only way he knows  – a 116th Grand Prix victory and 200th premier class podium finish but it was not to be. When he went down at turn two chasing the leader and eventual race winner Fabio Quartararo the whole world groaned as the 41-year-old picked himself out of the Barcelona gravel but take heart, Valentino Rossi. You have another five years before you would become the oldest Grand Prix winner in the 71-year history of World Championship racing

Many years ago, and far more than I want to think about I met the oldest Grand Prix winner. On the way home from Brands Hatch I stopped at a local pub for a pint. While sitting outside in the sunshine watching the fans roar home down the A20 road I was introduced to a certain Arthur Wheeler. I was transfixed at the stories he told and especially about the 250cc 1962 Argentine Grand Prix in Buenos Aires.

A year earlier the Argentine Grand Prix was the first to be held outside Europe. It was the last race of the 1962 season and many of the stars, including World Champion Jim Redman, decided to give it a miss. Arthur who had raced in that very first World Championship event at the 1949 TT races in the Isle of Man and his Italian Moto-Guzzi team decided to go. It turned out to be a great decision.

He was a comfortable winner by over a lap in the 40 lap 125.600km race There were six finishers from the eight starters, but the record books do not lie. Arthur Wheeler became the oldest ever Grand Prix winner. He was 46 years and 70 days old when he secured just his second Grand Prix win giving Moto-Guzzi their last ever victory. It also secured him third place in the World Championship behind the Hondas of Redman and Scotsman Bob McIntyre.

Vale has also got plenty of time in the Premier class – Over three years to be exact. In 1953 Fergus Anderson won the 500cc Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuic Park. The Moto-Guzzi rider is the oldest winner in the premier class at the tender age of 44 years 237 days. The second oldest is the amiable Jack Findlay who was 42 years 85 days old when he brought Suzuki success in the 1977 Austrian Grand Prix

So, what about the opposite end of the age scale. Turkish rider Con Oncu was just 15 years 115 days old when we won the Moto3™ race in Valencia in 2018. At that age, I was still trying to understand girls while sneaking away for a sly cigarette and certainly not thinking about winning Grand Prix races. He is the youngest ever Grand Prix winner with 31 years separating him and the oldest Arthur Wheeler.

So, hang in there Vale you have got bags of time before you can buy me a pint on the A20 on the way home from Brands.

 

By |2020-10-01T07:38:38+00:00October 1st, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Take heart Vale, you’ve got another five years

Barcelona with Joey Dunlop, The Who and Queen

Sitting by the hotel pool in Castelldefels with the greatest ever road racer Joey Dunlop watching the equally greatest ever rock bands U2, The Who, and Queen perform live at Wembley Stadium on the television so reminds me of my very first taste of motorcycle racing in Spain.

It was my one and only visit to the legendary Montjuic Park circuit with the roofs and spires of the City of Barcelona shining in the sunshine below the hillside location. The circuit that started the Grand Prix revolution in Spain back in 1951. The 3.790 km Parkland circuit that had staged 17 Spanish Grands Prix.

It was a hot July weekend in 1985 and the Spanish Grand Prix had long moved on to the purpose-built circuit at Jarama on the outskirts of Madrid. Montjuic Park was still alive and certainly kicking. I was there with the Rothmans Honda TT Formula One team for the Spanish round of the Championship. There was also a round of the TT Formula Two World Championship with the real bonus a round of the World Endurance Championship which meant watching motorcycles racing at night on the hallowed tarmac. It was one massive party for tens of thousands of spectators who knew how to party while the mighty monsters roared round the circuit with headlights blazing and exhausts glowing.

Montjuic Park had such a special place in motorcycle folklore. In 1951 it hosted its first Grand Prix and the 500cc race won by Umberto Masetti on the Gilera in 2:10:56.2 at a speed of 93.9 km/h which is the slowest ever average speed recorded for a premier class Grand Prix. Two years later Fergus Anderson became the oldest rider to win a premier class Grand Prix. He was 44 years old at the time and so do not give up Vale, you have three more years

Japanese factories also have good memories. Australian Tom Phillis brought Honda their first-ever Grand Prix win with victory in the 1961 125cc race. Eleven years late Chas Mortimer gave Yamaha their first-ever 500cc premier class win on the 352cc Yamaha (Well Chas said it was 352 cc).

My second visit to Barcelona came seven years after that trip to Montjuic Park. It was a completely different City totally swamped by Olympic fever. New roads, new airport, and most importantly a spanking new Grand Prix circuit on the northern outskirts near Granollers. The showpiece to the World was the magnificent Olympic stadium built on the site of the Montjuic Park circuit. How times had changed in the comparatively short seven years.

The new 4.747 km Barcelona – Catalunya circuit matched everything that Barcelona had built for the Olympics. Brilliant technical track with superb facilities for the 1992 Grand Prix of Europe. It was the way ahead. Wayne Rainey won the first Grand Prix on the new surface in front of Mick Doohan and Doug Chandler. The circuit has staged a Grand Prix every year since then.

Back to Montjuic Park in 1985 coupled with both sadness and joy. British rider Tony Rutter, who had won four consecutive TT Formula Two World titles, was very seriously injured when he crashed his Ducati in the F2 race.

That weekend back in England the greatest ever live concert was being staged at Wembley. Live Aid was beamed throughout the World which of course included Castelldefels. I cannot remember who Joey Dunlop’s favourite band was, but probably U2 instead of Queen or The Who

What a Barcelona weekend.

 

By |2020-09-24T05:42:00+00:00September 24th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Barcelona with Joey Dunlop, The Who and Queen

Basketball or football?

What a unique weekend. MotoGP™ and Formula One Grands Prix in the same country on the same day. Two major but very different World Championship motorsport events in Italy in these challenging times. Two wheels at Misano and four wheels for the very first time at the legendary MotoGP™ venue in Mugello.

I remember once asking Max Mosley, the President at the time of the FIA who controlled Formula One, why there was not more overtaking in Formula One in comparison to Grand Prix motorcycle racing. As always, he came up with a very clever reply.

Mosley likened Formula One to football and Grand Prix motorcycle racing to basketball. On two wheels plenty of overtaking similar to baskets in basketball adding up to the ultimate score and result. In Formula One he suggested that one decisive overtaking manoeuvre in the complete race could produce victory as a single goal can in football

If you think the weekend was unique, there was a time when they would run car races and a motorcycle Grands Prix on the same day at the same circuit. It was a recipe for disaster and controversy which came to a head in the 1974 West German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. Car racers wanted unprotected Armco barriers to stop them from crashing off the track. The motorcycle riders rightly wanted those barriers protected by straw bales. The organisers would not supply enough and so the Grand Prix riders, led by MV Agusta team-mates Phil Read and Giacomo Agostini, refused to race.

As so often happened in those dangerous and uncaring times, the organisers insisted the Grand Prix went ahead. They persuaded just seven local German riders to compete while the World Championship stars looked on or went home. There were just four finishers in the 159.845km race around the 22.835km Nürburgring circuit. Yamaha rider Edmund Czihak won with nearly two minutes to spare to secure his only ever World Championship points with a win.

What a day of racing at Misano. A British win in Moto3™, Valentino Rossi’s half-brother’s victory in Moto2™ and then Franco Morbidelli’s maiden MotoGP™ win. It was the first time since the Sachsenring in 2002 that Italian riders finished first and second in both the premier and intermediate class races on the same day.  Five separate MotoGP™ winners and four for the very first time. Dovizioso leading the Championship despite only finishing seventh and it all starts again on Friday morning

The two Grands Prix did not clash on television times and so I switched over to watch the Formula One race in Mugello. I was fascinated to see just how those magnificent and so fast cars would fare on such a great MotoGP™ circuit. I discovered immediately that when Formula One cars crash, they crash big with the safety car leading the way for the opening laps. When they finally got racing it was an impressive sight because they are so quick.

If the two Grands Prix had clashed at the same time on the television which would I have watched live? I think you know the answer.

I may love my football, but basketball came out well on top this weekend and always will do.

 

By |2020-09-17T14:17:53+00:00September 17th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Basketball or football?