HAPPY CHRISTMAS AND A SAFE SUCCESSFUL NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL
Nick and Martin
Nick Harris Media Communications
We are not sending out Christmas cards this year and instead are donating to Homeless Oxfordshire
HAPPY CHRISTMAS AND A SAFE SUCCESSFUL NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL
Nick and Martin
Nick Harris Media Communications
We are not sending out Christmas cards this year and instead are donating to Homeless Oxfordshire
At least they had three days before the new season got underway although they had to travel to Jerez. How the riders, teams and let us be honest many of the media, hated it when the next year’s testing started the day after on the Monday morning following that final round in Valencia. No time to party, celebrate or commiserate just turn up the next morning at the same circuit and start the new season. Some teams softened the blow for the riders by letting many an ill-prepared journalist ride a MotoGP™ bike for the first and only time before serious testing got underway.
This year the testing started at Jerez on Thursday although the provisional 2022 entry lists appeared on my computer on Tuesday morning. Of course, for the first time in 22 years, there was no number 46 on the MotoGP™ list. There were other absentees that did not attract the same attention but will leave enormous gaps when the new season gets underway beneath those Qatar floodlights next year.
No Danilo Petrucci in the MotoGP™ class and no Tom Luthi in Moto2™ meant that two such special riders had called it a day after distinguished but very different careers. The ever-cheerful larger than life Danilo and the former World Champion Tom who competed in a record-breaking 233 intermediate Grands Prix will be sorely missed.
After the tears in the Valencia paddock on Sunday evening, the two times MotoGP™ winner Petrucci said goodbye and prepared for the next challenge. The Italian will place everything on the very limit when he competes for KTM in the toughest test for man and machine in the World, the Dakar rally. It will be a unique experience, if that is the correct word, for a MotoGP™ winner but there has been a rider who made the reverse journey.
In 1992 Frenchman Jean Michel Bayle shocked the Motocross world when he announced he was switching to the tarmac. The rider regarded as one of the all-time greats, if not the greatest, decided not just any strip of tarmac for his road racing debut. The former 125 and 250cc World Champion and who had won the AMA Supercross, 250 and 500cc titles in America the previous year chose to make his debut in the 250cc French Grand Prix at Magny Cours in the same Rothmans Honda team of World Champion Luca Cadalora.
Bayle finished 24th in his debut race but returned the next season on Aprilia machinery. His best result was a fifth-place with one pole position at Argentina in 1995. He switched to the 500cc class with Yamaha in 1996 and then Modenas a year later. His best result was fourth at Imola in 1996 and he took two pole positions at Brno in 1996 and Imola two years later.
Tom Luthi seems to have been around forever and it was sixteen long years ago he brought Switzerland the 2005 125cc World Championship three years after his Grand Prix debut. He is fourth in the all-time list of Grands Prix starts. The race in Valencia was his 318th Grand Prix, a number only bettered by Rossi, Capirossi and Dovizioso. He won five 125cc Grands Prix and twelve intermediate class races resulting in two runner-up Moto2™ Championship positions in 2016/17. Only Rossi, Nieto, Capirossi and Dovizioso have a longer period between his first and last podium finish which was an extraordinary 16 years 155 days.
I hope everybody including Danilo and Tom found time to celebrate and party at Valencia on Sunday evening with no next day test to worry about. May I assure you that you all fully deserve a bit of a party after producing yet another amazing season despite everything the modern-day world could throw at you?
Apart from those incredible and very loud fireworks, the event I really enjoyed in Valencia was always the photocall on the grid for the new World Champions. I would look out of the media conference room window before the final conference of the season to see the new World Champions standing on the saddle of their Championship winning machines as the cameras flashed and clicked. This year was a unique occasion for Fabio Quartararo, Remy Gardner, and Pedro Acosta. For the first time in 15 years all three of them were crowned World Champions for the very first time. It is only the ninth time in the 73-year history Grand Prix racing this has happened.
The fact that Quartararo is the first French premier class World Champion, Remy Gardner is only the second father and son to win a World title and Acosta is the second youngster ever 125cc/Moto3™ World Champion is special enough in itself, but first-time winners make it even more unique
The last time this happened was in 2006. Nicky Hayden clinched the MotoGP™ title at the final round in Valencia after a season-long battle with Valentino Rossi. Jorge Lorenzo won the first of his World titles in the 250cc class while fellow Spaniard Alvaro Bautista was the 125cc World Champion. Six years earlier it happened again with Kenny Roberts Junior MotoGP™ Champion, Olivier Jacque 250cc and Roberto Locatelli 125cc Champions, respectively. It turned out to be the only World titles in any class for the three of them.
New Champions in the nineties were more common. In 1990 Wayne Rainey won the first of his three 500cc titles while John Kocinski, who went on to win the World Superbike title was crowned 250cc Champion and Loris Capirossi the youngest ever 125cc Champion. Three years later in 1993 Kevin Schwantz clinched his one and only 500cc title while Tetsuya Harada and Dirk Raudies followed suit in the 250 and 125cc classes. A year later Australian Mick Doohan won the first of his 500cc titles for Honda. Max Biaggi won the first of his 250cc crowns with Kasuto Sakata successful in the 125cc class.
In the 1980s, no season produced new World Champions in every class but 1978 was a significant year. Kenny Roberts arrived from the States and blew Europe apart winning the first of his three successive 500cc titles. South African Kork Ballington won both the 250 and 350cc World titles for Kawasaki. Eugenio Lazzarini was crowned 125cc World Champion while the rider who the Valencia circuit is named after, Ricardo Tormo won the first of his two 80 cc World titles.
Seventeen years earlier in 1961 Rhodesian Gary Hocking brought MV Augusta both the 350 and 500cc titles. Mike Hailwood won the first of his nine World Championships in the 250cc class with Honda’s first-ever Grand Prix winner Australian Tom Phillis crowned 125cc World Champion.
Of course, it happened in the first year of Grand Prix racing in 1949 when Les Graham, Freddie Frith, Bruno Ruffo and Nello Pagani were crowned the first-ever World Champions, but since then it has only happened eight times including Valencia this Sunday
Just to emphasise what a special season we have witnessed Quartararo is the first rider to win a first premier class title without having won a title in one of the smaller classes since Casey Stoner brought Ducati success in 2007.
When will this all happen again? Times are changing fast and long may it continue.
I just jumped on the rollercoaster and hung on tight for the next 17 remarkable years and had absolutely no idea what lay ahead but the timing was perfect. I arrived back full time in the MotoGP™ paddock following six years of Formula One adventures in 2000. The same time and place that the 125cc and 250cc World Champion Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) made his premier class debut at Welkom in South Africa.
Eighty-nine Grand Prix wins and seven World titles later, Vale says goodbye this weekend after taking all of us on a journey that none of us will ever forget.
I had worked with and commentated on some truly great World Champions over the previous 20 years. I had arrived from a Formula One World Championship, after witnessing the sheer power and wave of publicity that great drivers such as Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher had generated throughout the world, but nothing had prepared me for the Valentino Rossi effect. I do not think anybody ever doubted his ability, apart from perhaps Casey Stoner at turn one at Jerez in 2010, but the rest of it was truly amazing.
MotoGP™ had experienced a tough time in the late nineties. Mick Doohan and Honda dominated. In Britain World Superbikes led by Carl Fogarty stole all the headlines and so just what happened?
Suddenly everybody knew who the Doctor, number 46 and Vale was. A young man who came from the Adriatic coast of Italy and raced motorcycles for a living had become a World star, a celebrity. A charismatic, cheeky, fun-loving World Champion who became a true legend; I just jumped aboard and loved every minute of it. In Britain just 18,500 fans watched Vale win his first-ever 500cc Grand Prix at Donington Park in 2000. A year later the crowd had doubled, three years later trebled and four years later quadrupled.
I commentated on every one of those eighty-nine wins and hosted the press conference afterwards. I tell a small lie. I was in the commentary box but had lost my voice for one of the greatest battles of them all in 2008. The epic encounter between Vale and Casey Stoner and all I could do was croak my approval. A victory only surpassed by the win at Welkom in 2004 on his first ride for Yamaha.
Vale was the only person I knew in international sport that could regularly use the f… word in press conferences and nobody told him to stop. There were plenty of those conferences to remember. I loved it when he won a Grand Prix because, after a long weekend, all I had to ask was how the race had gone and then just sit back as he explained every aspect and every lap. Of course, some did not go quite as smoothly. Most riders found attending the pre-event Press Conferences of Thursday afternoons a bit of a bore. Vale was no exception but sometimes more than livened up the proceedings. Two at Sepang in Malaysia when he just dived headlong into the reputations of Sete Gibernau, and Marc Marquez I will never forget. It was rarely boring.
Hosting a Yamaha function at Phillip Island in 2017 I was feeling a bit sorry for myself with just three Grand Prix remaining before I retired. Unbeknown to me, Vale had just recorded a wonderful message for my retirement video. He came up to me put his arm around my shoulder and declared. ‘Oh f… what am I going to do without you Nick because now I will be the oldest person in the MotoGP™ paddock!.’ After Valencia, this week I am sure it is a title he will not mind losing
No sport better than MotoGP™ understands the need for change and progress. On the track, the sport is in such a good place with that new breed of young riders and World Champions ensuring the future is bright. Of course, it will continue to flourish without Valentino Rossi but to be honest I do not think it will ever be quite the same without the Doctor.
Little did I realise when I arrived at Welkom back in 2000 on that March morning what lay ahead. It is two decades of my working life I will never ever forget.
Ciao Vale and thank you.
So which World Champion is Fabio Quartararo going to emulate in the final two races of the season with that world crown firmly planted on his head? In decades past once they had won the ultimate prize the likes of Giacomo Agostini and Barry Sheene turned their back on the Championship. Others such as Kenny Roberts Junior set out to show the world just why they were a worthy Champion.
Competing in the World Championship in the sixties and seventies could prove an expensive business even if you were World Champion. Ago’s decision not to race at certain circuits once he’d won the 500cc World title was both down to safety and finance. Why risk your life at a dangerous road circuit, especially if you could ride at a non-championship race in another country on the same afternoon and earn more cash. Ago’s absence at those races produced some record-breaking results.
In 1969 he missed the penultimate round at Imola and the race was won by Alberto Pagani, the first time the son of a Grand Prix winner repeated the victory. A week later, at the Opatija road circuit in Yugoslavia with Ago again absent, Godfrey Nash brought Norton their last Grand Prix win. It was also the last single cylinder victory in the premier class.
Ago’s MV Agusta team-mate Angelo Bergamonti scored his one and only 500cc victory at the final round at Montjuic Park in the 1970 Spanish Grand Prix while his teammate rode in a non-Championship race in England. A year late at Jarama in Spain, Dave Simmons brought Kawasaki the first of their two premier class victories with Ago absent. In 1972, Ago again missed the final round at Montjuic Park and Chas Mortimer gave Yamaha their very first premier class win riding the 352cc two-stroke machine.
Barry Sheene missed the final three rounds at the Imatra, Brno and Nürburgring road circuits in 1976. Pat Hennen became the first American Grand Prix winner in Finland. John Newbold grabbed his one and only 500cc victory at Brno while Ago won for the last time on the four-stroke MV Agusta in Germany. It was the last of his 68 500cc victories.
Move the clock forward to 2000 and Motegi in Japan. Kenny Roberts junior brought the title to Suzuki with a sixth place at Rio in Brazil in a race won by Valentino Rossi, after a fantastic fight with local hero Alex Barros. It was the perfect ride by Kenny but was overshadowed by the Rossi/Barros scrap. Eight days later the new World Champion destroyed the opposition led by Rossi at Motegi to show the world just why he had followed in the footsteps of his illustrious father.
I had to smile last Sunday imagining the disbelief and then panic in press rooms, studios, and commentary boxes throughout the world when the unfortunate Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) crashed so close to the finish of the race in Misano leaving Quartararo as World Champion. We have all been there, script or copy written and ready to go at the final whistle or in this case, the chequered flag. Many times it has happened to me with a last-minute goal at a football match completely changing the whole story. On two wheels or three, I will never forget Brno in 1988. I sat with my feet on a spartan desk in the commentary box dreaming of a bottle of that pink Russian champagne you could buy at Brno for under five euros.
I was full of self-praise for what I thought had been a good afternoon work for the BBC. I had just interviewed new World 500cc Champion Eddie Lawson live on the radio and commentated on the race. I told the producer back in London best to wait for the final voice piece so I could add ten seconds on the sidecar race even though British World Champion Steve Webster was eighteen points behind Rolf Biland at this final round. Steve had little chance of the title that meant so much to British fans with no success in the solo classes.
Webster, with stand-in passenger Gavin Simmons, led the way with potential Champion Biland comfortable in fourth. Suddenly out of the blue Biland started to slow and then coasted over the start to a halt four laps from the end. Total pandemonium in the commentary box but I managed to commentate on the last two laps live and interview Webster. It had been close and certainly took longer than ten seconds, but it was well worth it when the National Anthem boomed out over the Brno countryside.
So, to all the media before the Algarve on Sunday, be patient. Do not start writing until those Moto3™ and Moto2™ races have finished. Fabio, I am certain will follow the example of Kenny Roberts to celebrate that MotoGP™ world title.
As two former World MotoGP™ World Champions Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo congratulated Fabio Quartararo in pit lane and Valentino Rossi embarked on an emotional final lap in Italy at Misano, the transition was complete. MotoGP™ has raced into a new era to keep ahead of the game. As much as we, especially people of my age, dislike the fact we are getting older, to survive you have to support change and progress. On Sunday afternoon on the Adriatic coast of Italy there was the perfect example of what that means to MotoGP™.
Fabio Quartararo, the first French Premier class World Champion, the sixth youngest winner in the 73-year history of the World Championship. Three times premier class Champion Lorenzo was the last Yamaha rider to take the title six years ago. Six times MotoGP™ World Champion Marquez, who helped Spain win a record-breaking nine successive premier class titles. Seven times premier class winner Rossi whose legion of fans doffed trilby hats to their hero as he completed that final lap on Italian soil.
What a day for Quartararo and France. Only three other French riders had won a premier class race before the new World Champion arrived on the MotoGP™ scene just three years ago. Never did I envisage a French premier class World Champion when I witnessed Christian Sarron winning at Hockenheim in 1985 and Regis Laconi at Valencia in 1999. For both it was their only MotoGP™ win and that was the same for the first French premier class winner Pierre Monneret who won the 500cc 1954 French Grand Prix at Reims riding a Gilera. Rather like Spain until the arrival of Alex Criville, France had tasted success in the smaller classes but was never regarded as a MotoGP™ threat. Johann Zarco won the Moto2™ World titles in 2015/16. Jean – Louis Tournadre won the 250cc title in 1982 followed by Christian Sarron two years later and Olivier Jacque in 2000. Arnaud Vincent was crowned 125cc World Champion in 2002 and Mike Di Meglio six years later. That has all changed and start queuing just after Christmas to get into the French Grand Prix at Le Mans in May next year
To fully understand just what this means to Quartararo and France just check a couple of facts. France is just the seventh country in the 73 years history of the sport to produce a premier class World Champion. The first five are easy to recognize – Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Australia and America but Gary Hocking’s 1961 500cc title for Rhodesia is often forgotten. The new World Champion joins a very special club. Aged 22 years 187 days old Quartararo is just the sixth youngest premier class World Champion. Marc Marquez, Freddie Spencer, Casey Stoner, Mike Hailwood and John Surtees were younger.
Congratulations Fabio, you have joined a very exclusive club and all of them went on to win more World titles. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t do the same. We will always salute progress and the new Champions, but we must never forget the old heroes whose skill dedication and bravery has put this sport where it is today. Some have paid the ultimate price to pave the way for progress and the crowning of a new World Champion.
We don’t know if it’s Fabio Quartararo or Pecco Bagnaia who will be crowned MotoGP™ World Champion in the next few weeks, but one thing for certain a record-breaking run will be coming to an end. Joan Mir set the record last season when he became the ninth successive Spanish winner in the premier class. It’s a record in the 73 years history of World Championship racing that has never been matched by another country. Even the greats including Giacomo Agostini, Mike Hailwood, Kenny Roberts and Mick Doohan couldn’t produce a similar consecutive winning run for their countries, although they have come close
It started in 2012 when Jorge Lorenzo won the second of his World titles. Marc Marquez arrived with a bang to win for the next two years with Lorenzo then winning the third and last of his titles in 2015, amid all the Rossi/Marquez controversy. Marquez returned to the top for the next four years with Mir making it nine in a row last year. It’s an amazing record considering how late Spanish riders found success in the premier class.
I’m sure you will not be surprised I had trouble pronouncing Alex Criville’s name correctly when he was the first Spanish winner in the 500cc class at the 1992 Dutch TT in Assen. Spanish riders who had tasted so much success in the smaller classes had found it tough when they moved up to the 500s. Criville’s win was a surprise, but he had opened the gates for both himself and the likes of Alberto Puig (another of Nick Harris nightmare pronunciations) and Carlos Checa
In the previous 33 years, celebrated World Champions had tried to step up but with little success. The late great Angel Nieto won 13 World titles and 90 Grands Prix in the 50, 80 and 125cc classes. He was such a legend, it’s rumoured the King of Spain persuaded Honda to lend Nieto one of World 500cc Champion Marco Lucchinelli’s NS 500cc machines for the 1982 Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama. It was not a successful outing and Nieto returned to dominate the smaller classes.
Sito Pons won two 250cc World titles in 1988/89 before returning to the 500cc class after finishing 13th in 1985. He was tenth in the 1990 500cc Championship which included a couple of fifth places.
Spain had to wait another seven years after Criville’s historic Assen victory to capture the 500cc World title. It was fitting that it was Criville who was crowned the 1999 Champion at Rio in Brazil. It could have come earlier but a certain Honda teammate to Criville called Mick Doohan had dominated the proceedings for five successive seasons before being forced to retire through injury.
Not surprisingly it is Italy and Agostini who are closest to that Spanish record. Ago won seven successive 500cc titles between 1966 – 1972. The USA, thanks to the efforts of Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz, won six between 1988 – 1993 while Doohan brought Australia five successive titles between 1994 – 1998. Britain’s Mike Hailwood won four successive titles between 1962 – 1965.
World Championship racing has changed so dramatically over the last three decades. All four Spanish premier class World Champions have come through the system and won World titles in the smaller classes before moving up to MotoGP™. They will not make it 10 in a row this season. However, with the return to winning ways by Marc Marquez, the impressive debut of Jorge Martin, the resurgence of Mir and teammate Alex Rins and the arrival of Raul Fernandez from Moto2™, they will be right up there challenging for the ultimate prize in 2022 once again.
The Alex Criville win seems a long time ago; at least I can now pronounce his name correctly.
Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) is discovering the wait is the worst part. So close to that MotoGP™ World title but then an agonising three-week gap, 21 days and counting, between Grands Prix. By the time the Frenchman reaches Misano at the end of the month, he will have run through his strategy a million times.
The second Grand Prix at Misano presents the Yamaha rider with his first chance to take the ultimate prize although with two more races before the end of the season, he may have to be even more patient. So, what does he do during those 21 days of waiting?
I’m sure he wants to ride motocross and dirt track to keep fit but do you risk injury. Of course he will be keeping fit, while also trying to relax at the same time. He is not the first potential World Champion to play the waiting game before the final showdown. They have faced the inactivity in very different ways.
Barry Sheene and Freddie Spencer were two very different characters until they jumped on a 500 cc two-stroke flying machine. Their approach to a final vital round epitomised just that and produced opposite outcomes.
The longest wait I remember was 28 days in 1983. Freddie won the penultimate round at Anderstorp in a controversial clash with his Championship rival Kenny Roberts. Two bends from the finish of the 30-lap race around the 4.031 km circuit, which doubled up as the local aerodrome, Freddie pushed his NS500 Honda up the inside of Kenny’s Yamaha. Both ended up on the grass but on the inside, Freddie reacted quicker and celebrated victory one bend later. Kenny was furious. The three-time World Champion being pushed wide by the young upstart chasing his first World title and opening a five-point lead in the Championship.
Both flew home to the States to contemplate what happened in Sweden, both as you would imagine had very different opinions. They relaxed with family and friends, played golf and went water skiing both in the knowledge that Freddie could finish second behind Kenny to take the title at the final showdown at Imola in Italy. Yamaha drafted in Venezuelan 250cc World Champion Carlos Lavado to help Kenny, but Freddie rode the perfect 25 laps to take the title. Kenny won the race and tried every trick in his considerable repertoire to unsettle the Champion elect but to no avail. There was total chaos at the end, and I remember being jammed against the door of the medical centre waiting for the first interview with the new Champion as he took longer to produce a urine sample than he did to ride the last five laps earlier.
As you would imagine Barry Sheene’s approach to the Roberts threat was totally different. World Champion Barry knew it was probably going to come down to the final round in 1978 at the 22.835 km Nürburgring and typical he was determined to be ready long before that last race. Neither Kenny nor Barry had ridden 500cc machines at the legendary but ageing venue before. Kenny learnt his way around on a Yamaha Road bike and Barry in a brand new super luxurious and very expensive Rolls Royce Silver Shadow car.
Somehow Barry and his partner in crime Steve Parris persuaded Rolls Royce to lend them a Silver Shadow between the Dutch and Belgian Grands Prix. They decided the best way to test the car and learn the circuit was to have two days of driving around the most demanding Grand Prix circuit in history in a car that was totally unsuitable for such an excursion. They had a fantastic time, but the car was very second hand when handed back to Rolls Royce. Kenny won the first of his three World titles. The American finished third in the race won by Virginio Ferrari with Barry fourth. All that Rolls Royce time did not pay off and the car was certainly not sold as having one careful and considerate owner.
So make your choice Fabio – Rolls Royce or relax!
Of course, Marc Marquez is Captain America after yet another stunning ride at Austin on Sunday to secure his 84th Grand Prix victory, but a trip to Texas always reminds me of one person who never won one. Passionate, patriotic, funny, fast and friendly earned Colin Edwards the title of the Texas Tornado. Colin was such a giant character in the MotoGP™ paddock even though he never won Grand Prix. He will rather be remembered as the double World Superbike Champion than the rider who competed in most premier class races without a win but take heart, he’s in good company.
One hundred and ninety-six MotoGP™ appearances which included five second places and seven thirds, but then there was Assen in 2006. Never has the crowd and the MotoGP™ community, with a few obvious exceptions, willed a rider to his first Grand Prix win with such passion. It was an all-American affair between Colin, riding the Camel YZR-M1 Yamaha and World Champion elect Nicky Hayden aboard the Repsol Honda. It all came down to the final famous Gert Timmer Chicane on the very last of the breath-taking 26 lap battle.
Edwards could see and smell the chequered flag as he led into the right-hander first part of the chicane. Hayden attempted to pass him, and Edwards lost control, ran onto the astroturf, crashed and was remounting as Hayden took the chequered flag that looked so likely to be his. It was just Hayden’s second Grand Prix win and those five extra points for the victory was the difference between him and Valentino Rossi at the top of the Championship standings at the end of the season. Second place in Assen would have put Hayden on equal points with Rossi who would have been crowned World Champion thanks to more Grands Prix wins. Colin Edwards knew his big chance had gone but had no idea at the time that his demise would bring the World title back to the States.
Looking back, I often can’t believe that there were certain other riders who never won Grand Prix. New Zealander Graeme Crosby won the Daytona 200 and TT in the Isle of Man but never a 500cc Grand Prix. In his 29 Grands Prix, a paltry number compared to Edwards he was second four times and third six times. Croz was on the podium at over a third of his Grands Prix riding both Suzuki and Yamaha machinery in the early eighties.
I know the old memory can play tricks but surely Ron Haslam won a Grand Prix in those 108 appearances, but once again the answer is no. ‘Rocket Ron’ finished third eight times and second once in the mid-eighties. The same for Niall Mackenzie with those seven third places.
One name that often goes unnoticed but not in the record books is Frenchman Raymond Roche. He went on to find success in the World Superbike Championship but before finished second five times and third four times. Roche finished third in the 1984 500cc World Championship behind Americans Eddie Lawson and Randy Mamola.
All these riders have had that Edwards Assen moment that they will never forget. One of today’s MotoGP gladiators Aleix Espargaro competed in his 263rd Grand Prix on Sunday in Austin. One hundred and ninety-three of those have come in the MotoGP™ class. This season at Silverstone he secured the Aprilia team their first-ever four-stroke MotoGP™ podium finish. He had finished on the podium twice before. He was second in the 2014 MotoGP™ race in Aragon riding the Forward Yamaha. Three years earlier Aleix finished third in the Barcelona Moto2™ race on the Pons Kalex.
Often after that initial Grand Prix win, they come along with much more regularity which has been proved by Pecco Bagnaia this year. There is absolutely no doubt the likes of Edwards, Crosby, Haslam, Mackenzie and Roche deserved at least one Grand Prix win to show for their considerable efforts. I don’t think anybody in the paddock would have begrudged them a place on the top step of the podium at least once. I think that goes for the modern-day MotoGP™ community as Aleix Espargaro strives for that first elusive victory.
I’ll never forget a couple of Eddie Lawson’s friends back home in Uplands California asking me over a beer what exactly Eddie did for a living. They knew it was something to do with racing motorcycles but nothing more. At the time Eddie was already three times World 500cc Champion and I was there to prepare the launch of his multimillion-pound switch to Honda in 1989. He was a sporting icon in Europe. Being so anonymous at home suited Eddie but it clearly illustrated just how tough it was to convince an American public what World Championship motorcycle racing was all about and at the time just what success, fame and fortune their countrymen had achieved on foreign shores. The return of Grand Prix racing to the States obviously helped, but it’s always been an uphill struggle.
Back in the sixties, Daytona hosted a couple of Grand Prix but the United States Grand Prix finally established itself at Laguna Seca in California and how we loved it. Who would not enjoy staying on the Monterrey peninsula jutting out into the Pacific Ocean? Sometimes the fog would roll in to engulf the circuit in the hills some 15 kms inland but usually the sun never stopped shining and then there was the Corkscrew. The likes of Kenny Roberts had been telling us about the Corkscrew for many years in his own bombastic style. When we arrived there for the first time in 1988, I rushed up to the Corkscrew for the first practice session and I had to admit to Kenny, which was never easy, he was right. Surely one of the most iconic strips of tarmac in the history of Grand Prix racing which gained legendary status thanks to a certain battle between Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner in 2008. I can still visualise them side by side on the brakes before plunging down the step and then off the edge of the World into the Corkscrew. Rossi was forced onto the outside and then onto the dirt and dust of the inside as they switched left to right coming out of the bottom, but he was still leading, with Stoner having to run wide to avoid a massive coming together.
Incredibly in that same year, suddenly, there were two Grands Prix in America when the most iconic motorsport battleground of them all – The Indianapolis International Speedway – staged its first motorcycle Grand Prix. In 1909 it was seven motorcycle races that opened the new circuit and although 99 years later the 4.216 kms Grand Prix track in the centre incorporating part of the famous oval was not that exciting, for me, just being there at ‘the Brickyard’ was enough. The biggest sports stadium in the World with a capacity of over 250,000 featuring the famous line of original bricks forming the start and finish line. I could smell the petrol and tyres and imagine the roar of the crowd above the announcer’s excited voice at the Indy 500 the first time I stepped into the vast empty arena.
I have made many gaffes during my commentary career but Indianapolis in 2008 was one my friends never let me forget. A hurricane was approaching fast, and the MotoGP™ race stopped after 20 laps and never re-started. That resulted in an enormous amount of talking about nothing by yours truly as the television audience was diminishing rapidly. Advertising hoardings were being tossed around in the threatening winds. It was an advertising banner being blown up pit lane that prompted me to announce there was a White Horse trotting up pit lane and rightly I’ve never been allowed to forget it.
It was not a white horse but the circuit dog that reminds me of the first time we went to the superb Circuit of the Americas at Austin in Texas in 2013. The first practice session had to be delayed because the circuit dog had escaped on the track but at least I got the correct animal this time. Would you believe there were three Grands Prix in America that year with Laguna Seca and Indianapolis on the calendar? Not only was the circuit the absolute test for riders and especially that massive climb to the first corner, but the town had the reputation as the finest live music venue in the World. Enough said, Austin was and still is a great place.
Austin is now the only circuit hosting Grand Prix motorcycle racing in America. It’s crucial the Circuit of the Americas continues staging MotoGP™ to keep that incredible heritage and American Dream alive.