Nick Harris

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So far Nick Harris has created 34 blog entries.

Party time in Valencia

No World Championships to be decided this time round and so it’s party time in Valencia before the 2019 season gets underway on Tuesday. Enjoy Sunday night because by Tuesday morning those 19 Grands Prix this year are a thing of the past as the first test of the new season get underway. MotoGP™ can certainly never be accused of standing still but thank goodness the test does not start on the Monday as it used to. Plenty of sore heads out on the track, in pit lane and in the media centre on those best to be forgotten Monday mornings which would also include test rides on the MotoGP™ machines for selected members of the media causing more headaches for the teams and not caused by the night before.

This is the 20th Grand Prix to be staged at Valencia with that first race at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in 1999. The circuit has staged the final Grand Prix for the last 17 years making it the venue that has staged the final event on most occasions. The MotoGP™ title has been decided on four occasions in Valencia. Who will forget 2006 when Nicky Hayden clinched the title finishing third after Valentino Rossi had crashed out. The decency and sportsmanship of Nicky’s Dad Earl knocking on the door of Rossi’s motorhome to offer his condolences before returning to celebrate his son’s title. It was a total contrast in 2015. Never in the 69-year history of the sport has there been such a poisonous acrimonious build up to a race, let alone before one that would decide the title. Never has a race sparked so much global interest in the Marquez/Rossi war that resulted in the title going to Jorge Lorenzo. There was certainly no knocking on motorhome doors that time round. Marquez clinched his first MotoGP™ title at Valencia in 2013 and his fourth last year.

Beware this year’s World Champions Marc Marquez, Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin. There has never been a year when the three Championship winners have all won their respective races since the final round has been staged in Valencia.

Dani Pedrosa bows out of Grand Prix racing on Sunday at a circuit he has won more races than any other rider. Four MotoGP™ wins are joined by two 250s and one in the 125cc class. A final goodbye from Dani with a victory would certainly spark a big party. Not perhaps everybody in the fountain, hotel furniture in the swimming pool, Brazilian police being called with the hotel waterfall being diverted into the lobby and guns being fired into the ceiling of the Zoom Zoom club in Goiania in the hellraising non-social media days of the eighties and nineties but never the less one hell of a party to rightly celebrate a fantastic career.

By | November 16th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Party time in Valencia

So close

It was so so close to the absolute perfect day in Malaysia for a rider who has experienced so many in that amazing career. Four laps from the finish of the MotoGP™ race at the Shell Malaysia Grand Prix on Sunday Valentino Rossi was on course to experience a day that most sportsman at any level can only dream about.

His step brother Luca Marini had just won his first Grand Prix after victory in the Moto2™ race. Marini’s team-mate Francesco (Pecco) Bagnaia clinched the Moto2™ World title after finishing third in the same race and both riding for Rossi’s Sky Racing Team VR46 team. Could it get any better – yes was the answer because Vale himself was leading the MotoGP™ race as they flashed across the line at Sepang with four laps remaining. Just over 22km remaining on the red-hot tarmac before the 39 year old Italian would be celebrating his first win of the season to end a perfect day even by his incredible standards.

Nine World titles and 115 Grands Prix wins in 22 years of Grand Prix racing have taught Vale never to count his chickens, never presume in any circumstances in a sport that has a habit of wrecking the party just as you are putting up the decorations and the guests are about to arrive. Less than ten seconds after racing past his pit board telling him Marc Marquez was closing he went down at turn one in front of a sea of yellow flags in the Rossi grandstand.

The perfect day may have been ruined but this should take nothing away from the Sepang experience that is the perfect illustration on why the man from Tavulla has had a bigger impact and influence both on and off the track than any other rider in the 69-year history of the sport. Who else at 39 years old could lead a MotoGP™ race for so long in such sweltering conditions around one of the most demanding race tracks in the 19 race calendar? Who else would form his own team after being dismayed at the lack of young Italian talent on the world scene and then build a dirt track and ranch to train with the youngsters who have gone on to become World Champions? Who else could protect and deal with the publicity the arrival of his step brother in the World Championship generated and then help him become a Grand Prix winner.

Who else would have already announced his plans to carry on racing for at least two more years as he approaches that dreaded 40th birthday? Who else would just relish the fact that his protégés are now lining up to take him on in the ultimate MotoGP™ test with the latest World Champion Bagnaia joining Jack Miller next season in the Alma Pramac Ducati team?

There is nobody else because there is only one person and his name is Valentino Rossi.

By | November 9th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on So close

Early start

The sold-out signs are being printed for Sepang this Sunday as MotoGP™ mad Malaysia prepares for the penultimate round of the Championship. What a turn around. Remember those early days at Sepang. You could count the number of spectators in some of those vast grandstands with the amazing roofs. We would sit in the stand that towered above the back straight eating our hamburgers purchased from a deserted stall in the mall watching a practice session and we would be the only people there.

I first went to Sepang which is situated close to Kuala Lumpur International airport in 1999 to work at the Formula Car race and returned a year later for MotoGP™. The contrast was enormous with Kuala Lumpur buzzing about the arrival of Formula One at this state of the art glitzy shiny circuit and paying little interest in the bikes; so what happened to produce such a total transformation in two decades. Formula One has gone through dwindling crowds and interest and MotoGP™ has exploded.

The very nature of the two sports has helped with the pure excitement of close racing and overtaking on two wheels bringing the crowds flocking. You only have to stop at any set of traffic lights in Kuala Lumpur to realise just what a vast market Malaysia and the rest of the Far East is to the major motorcycle manufacturers. Ticket prices and facilities to suit the customers by the forward-thinking SIC Ceo Dato Razlan Razali has embraced all these facts while four times Sepang has witnessed the crowning of a new MotoGP™ World Champion, being the penultimate round definitely has its advantages. Finally, the adulation of Valentino Rossi that has lifted many a circuit into the black and a decent bank balance has never been more obvious.

The Doctor has won six times in Sepang on both Honda and Yamaha machinery and in the 500cc and MotoGP™ classes. Three times he’s clinched the MotoGP™ World Championship in 2003, 2005 and 2009 with his then team-mate Jorge Lorenzo winning the title at Sepang a year later although typically Rossi won the race and stole the limelight.

You could not imagine the total contrast in the facilities between Sepang and when we arrived for that very first Malaysian Grand Prix 27 years ago at Shah Alam. Full marks to the old circuit which ironically was situated near the old International airport before they both switched to pastures new but just as close. Shah Alam laid the very foundations for today’s success story staging seven Malaysian Grands Prix before Johor took over for a single year. Sepang hosted its first motorcycle Grand Prix in 1999 with Kenny Roberts victorious on the 500cc Suzuki.

The Sepang circuit will be jammed to the very rafters of those amazing grandstands on Sunday. It’s more like being at a massive football match with adrenalin fuelled noise, excitement and colour; that’s before the racing even gets underway. The only problem is that you have to leave the hotel an awful lot earlier than you ever did all those years ago.

A very small price to pay to enjoy a Grand Prix that is the perfect illustration of the MotoGP™ revolution that has transformed the sport over the last two decades.

By | November 2nd, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Early start

Should Ago and Vale start looking over their shoulders?

When Marc Marquez intimated at the weekend he has every intention of carrying on racing for at least ten years or more I reached for the MotoGP™ bible, the red book of statistics. The new Champion has a long way to go but should Giacomo Agostini and Valentino Rossi start to get worried? We can’t predict what is going to happen to any of us in the next decade but if you follow the bible’s statistics the 25-year-old Spaniard could become a real threat to a couple of record breakers we never expected to be eclipsed.

When Marquez clinched his seventh World title with another masterclass at Motegi on Sunday those records continued tumbling. It was the third time he’d clinched the MotoGP™ title for his Repsol Honda team at Motegi; the home of Honda. The other two were in 2014 and two years ago.

Only Agostini and Rossi have won more premier class titles. It was Marquez’s fifth on Sunday to equal Mick Doohan’s record from the nineties. He’s closing in on Ago with eight and Vale on seven. It’s the next two statistics that show just what he has achieved and what he could go on to completely rewrite those history books we always thought were cast in stone.

Marquez is the youngest-ever rider to win five premier class World Championship titles, at the age of 25 years 246 days, taking the record from Rossi who was 26 years 221 days when he won his fifth successive premier-class title in 2005.

He is also the youngest rider of all-time to reach the milestone of seven World Championship titles across all classes, taking the record from Mike Hailwood who was 26 years 140 days old when he won his seventh title – the 1966 350cc world championship.

This is his seventh World title across all classes, five MotoGP™ and one apiece in Moto2™ and 125; the only Spanish rider with more world titles than Marquez is Angel Nieto who won thirteen World Championship titles, seven 125cc, six 50cc. He equalled the record of Doohan by winning the premier class title five times for Honda.

Will anybody ever eclipse Ago’s seemingly untouchable record of 122 Grand Prix wins with even Vale admitting it’s going to be tough because he’s still seven behind. Marquez is still way back on 69 but with 43 wins in just six years in the premier class another ten in the saddle could reap its rewards’.

A long way to go and Ago and Vale achieved those records riding two separate makes of machinery with both two–stroke and four stroke power. Agostini on MV Agusta and Yamaha and Rossi on Honda and Yamaha. Would Marquez also have to change machinery at some point to push the two legends?  Of course, it’s far too early for Ago and Vale to start looking over their shoulders but after witnessing the first 25 years of Marquez’s life, never say never.

By | October 26th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Should Ago and Vale start looking over their shoulders?

Home sweet home

He may say Barcelona, but the race is too early in the season and so there can be no better place for Marc Marquez to clinch his seventh World title on Sunday than at the home of Honda, the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Japan.

Motegi is an amazing place. A sprawling complex high in the wooded hills and virtually in the middle of nowhere some 100kms north east of Tokyo. A racing circuit surrounded by an Indy Style oval with a massive towering grandstand overlooking the proceedings from both. Two tunnels to let the road circuit wind beneath the oval are a unique feature but there is so much more to celebrate the success of Honda in all forms of world motorsport. A small speedway track, a trials course that has staged World Championship rounds and of course the Honda Hall of fame.

It was in 1954 a certain Soichiro Honda arrived at the TT races in the Isle of Man without so much as a sideways glance from anybody in the paddock. He announced that Honda would one day return because his dream was to take on and beat the finest motorcycles on the most famous venue in the world. Few took much notice at the time, but he returned five years later with the birth of that dream. Mr Honda was shocked at the speed and engineering prowess of the manufactures and especially the German NSU 125 and 250 cc superbly built bikes that were dominating the World Championships that year. He flew home knowing he had a mountain to climb and with a suitcase full of chains, carburettors and tyres.

A year later Honda started competing at the Mount Asama Volcano race located in a village at the foot of an active volcano. Like the TT riders started in pairs to race round the 19 km circuit track on a surface of compressed volcanic ash. Their main challenge, especially in the smaller classes, came from Yamaha and Suzuki. Nothing changed a decade later with the only difference it was now for a World title. In 1959 Honda returned to the TT but this time to compete in the 125 cc race. They went home to Japan with the Manufacturers trophy – the rest is history.

Over 750 Grands Prix wins in all five classes since their arrival in the 1959 125 cc World Championship says it all. Marquez has won five of his world titles on Honda powered machinery and with four rounds of the Championship remaining, he is 77 points in front of Andrea Dovizioso after that superb last couple of laps in Thailand. There is nothing more Ducati, Yamaha and Suzuki like more than beating Honda on their home ground. Last year Dovi brought Ducati success, Lorenzo and Rossi have won for Yamaha.

Who knows on Sunday and it’s that level of competition that inspired Soichiro Honda to embark on his dream nearly six decades ago. You can feel his very presence among those wooded hillsides every time you go to Motegi.

By | October 19th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Home sweet home

Contrasting fortunes

After witnessing yet another stunning performance by Marc Marquez just days after reading of Scott Redding’s departure to the British Superbike Championship I thought back to that youngest ever podium in the history of Grand Prix racing. It was the 125cc race at the 2008 British Grand Prix staged at Donington Park. It’s a story of contrasting fortunes.

It was a historic podium in so many ways. Redding won the race to become the youngster ever Grand Prix winner at the tender age of 15 years 170 days. Frenchman Mike Di Meglio was second on route to the 125 cc World title while in third place and looking even younger than Redding was a certain Marquez. It was the first time the Spanish teenager had stood on a Grand Prix podium and little did we realise what lay ahead. The average age of the three riders was just 17 years 29 days and it would have been considerably lower with Di Meglio pushing it up. He was the old man at that considerable age of over 20 years old.

Marquez went on to do what Marquez does and there will be even more after the Japanese Grand Prix next weekend. Di Meglio stepped up to the 250cc and Moto2™ classes before a couple of years in MotoGP™ while Redding broke plenty of records but just missed out on a world title after an eventful 11 years in the Grand Prix paddock.

Redding and Marco Melandri are the only two 15-year-old riders to win a Grand Prix race. The Donington Park win was the first British 125 cc winner since Chas Mortimer in 1973 and the first British solo class winner at the British round of the World Championship for 22 years. Redding is the only British Grand Prix winner in any class at Donington Park. Moving up to the Moto2™ class he continued to break the record and came so close to clinching the title in 2013, eventually finishing runner-up after a battle royal with Pol Espargaro.

His first Moto2™ win came at Le Mans in that Championship chasing year, making him the first British intermediate class winner since Jeremy McWilliams 12 years earlier. That win meant that he pipped a certain Barry Sheene to become the youngest British rider to win in two classes of Grand Prix racing and the first in 40 long years. He also won the British Grand Prix to become the first British winner at Silverstone since the return of the Grand Prix from Donington.

Redding’s much anticipated MotoGP™ career never quite took off despite two podium finishes in difficult conditions at Misano and Assen. In the end, it was inevitable he would move on.

MotoGP™ will miss so much about Scott Redding both on and off the track. He gave us success-starved British fans some real hope and great fun after such a barren time in the Grand Prix wilderness. He should be proud of that achievement as the youngest ever Grand Prix winner. A record that will surely remain with him forever.

By | October 11th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Contrasting fortunes

Fresh pastures

Don’t get me wrong. I still loved going to the likes of Mugello, Jerez and Phillip Island but I’d been there so many times that when a new circuit, and especially new country, appeared on the schedule it made life more interesting and in many case, a little bit more exciting.

I’m sure that’s just how everybody feels as they make their way to Thailand this week. Not only a new venue at the Chang International Circuit, but a new country in Thailand to stage a MotoGP™ race. ™

Thailand is the first new country to stage a MotoGP™ race since Turkey in 2005. Remember the week before we were in Australia and flew back over the Istanbul circuit from Melbourne, then flew back to Istanbul from London followed by a three hour drive to find first the circuit and then the hotel (that was a polite word for where we were staying).The Istanbul circuit was magnificent, especially watching the race winner Marco Melandri slide the Honda round the fast fifth gear right hander. The rest of the trip was more than a little scary but we survived.

Thailand is the 30th country to stage a World Championship event since the Championship started in 1949. We went to Malaysia for the first time in 1991 at the Sham Alam circuit which was close to the old Kuala Lumpur airport. I really did not know what to expect. Immediately we all loved KL. The food, the nightlife and the friendly people but Shah Alam offered a few worries for us westerners. They told me; although I assure you I never went in and checked that a python was asleep in the rafters when they opened the press office. Our office was an old shipping container, the lack of flushing loos was a major problem for anybody who’d overloaded on that spicy food while it was rumoured that the marshals would not help riders at a certain corner because the undergrowth was full of poisonous snakes. We survived but only just, especially with the spicy food problem.

Sometimes the problems going to a new country are a lot more serious and played on my conscious before our first trip to South Africa in 1983. I remember coming through the arrival gate at Jan Smits airport in Johannesburg recalling the television pictures of the rebel England cricket team arriving amid so much controversy the previous year and wondering if I’d done the right thing. I left five days later knowing we had all done the right thing by totally ignoring all the restrictions that had been imposed on the black population. I received some pretty scary letters after pictures appeared of me sitting on a motorbike surrounded by the black workers at the Kylami circuit.

The Chang International Circuit is the 28th different venue to stage a Grand Prix event since the four-stroke MotoGP™ era started in 2002. With the addition of Thailand to the schedule, the 19 event 2018 season is the longest in the 70 year history of the sport. I’m sure it will come as no great surprise it will be the 37th different circuit where Valentino Rossi has competed at a Grand Prix event – he’s never had time to be bored.

By | October 5th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Fresh pastures

Backyard move

Watching Andrea Dovizioso lead the race on that red Ducati at Aragon on Sunday triggered a moment of real sadness. It was nothing to do with the Italian in with a chance of bringing Ducati their first win at the magnificent circuit since Casey Stoner in 2010, or even that he had the chance to break that Spanish Iron grip at the race. It was a flashback to an overtaking manoeuvre on the last lap of 28 lap MotoGP™ race that first year at Aragon in 2010.

Nicky Hayden was fighting for a rare podium finish on the Ducati with the Yamaha of the World Champion elect Jorge Lorenzo. Afterwards, at the press conference, Nicky described his overtaking move as they raced side by side under the shadow the big wall through turns 13 and 14 as something his Dad Earl had taught him in their backyard back home at Owensboro, Kentucky many years ago. Earl as with most things in life turned into the perfect tutor and Nicky took just his second podium in third place on that tough period with the Ducati. It was just so Nicky and Earl – a combination that brought them that world title in 2006 but so much more. Humility, respect and humour in surely the toughest and certainly most dangerous of World sporting arenas. They were like a breath of fresh air in a paddock of intrigue and rumour but they took no gip or nonsense.

Perhaps it was the fact the previous MotoGP™ race a couple of weeks ago was at Misano so close to where Nicky tragically lost his life in that cycling accident over a year ago that triggered all those memories. The pillion ride for Earl after Nicky had won at Laguna Seca. The World title at Valencia in 2006 with Earl knocking on the door of Valentino Rossi’s motorhome to shake his hand and offer his condolences. Earl’s stories on how he would knock on the front door and Nicky would go round the back and jump in the car that needed to be returned to their second car dealer business because the payments had stopped. The dignity that Nicky showed as his MotoGP™ career began to fade and the enthusiasm he put into his new horizon in the World Superbike Championship. Nicky’s brother Roger retired this weekend after such a successful career.

How Nicky would have admired the performance of both Dovizioso and especially Marc Marquez on Sunday riding for teams he knew so well. Casey Stoner is still the only non-Spanish rider to win the MotoGP™ race at Aragon, ironically on Ducati and Honda machinery. Thank goodness Brad Binder with that superb Moto2™ win prevented another Spanish whitewash in all three classes.

PS. Remember I told you about my favourite national newspaper showing the Fenati pictures a couple of weeks ago? Surprise Surprise three more pictures this week of Lorenzo’s spectacular crash at turn one but typically they did not mention that Marquez won the race. I should not moan because progress is being made.

By | September 27th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Backyard move

All news is good news?

My old News Editor used to drum two facts into us raw recruits – all news is good news and never spoil a good story with the facts. I’m not sure about either of them now and certainly not the first one after the goings on at Misano last Sunday.

Suddenly MotoGP™ was on the radar of the national media and they certainly milked it. Romano Fenati’s disgraceful act at Misano was flashed round the world on video and photographs in seconds. My usual Sunday evening snooze was interrupted by video of the incident on the national television news that had ignored Cal Crutchlow’s Grand Prix victories a couple of years ago. In the morning my favourite daily newspaper that could not offer a column inch in its massive sports section when Marc Marquez clinched the title last November, gave half a page of photographs to show their readers just what had happened in the Moto2™ race. Even in my local pub where the main topic of conversation is usually football and Formula One, Fenati’s action were top of the list.

We have to accept and certainly in this part of the world, to get MotoGP™ in the evening news or in the sports sections of the Daily Newspapers there has to be more than just a racing angle. Of course, it makes me so angry but I’ve had to learn to accept it. It just does not matter if we had the closest finish and sensational race in the 69-year history of Grand Prix racing, its Rossi not shaking hands with Marquez or his problems with the Italian tax authorities that will excite the news desks.

It’s always been the same story. Back in the seventies it was the front page revelation about the romantic liaison between Barry Sheene and Stephanie at the Kobenzl hotel on the eve of the Austrian Grand Prix that made the headlines. Understandably the tragic deaths of TT legend Joey Dunlop and Marco Simoncelli have received massive and deserved coverage. The alleged coming together of Rossi and Max Biaggi on the steps of the Barcelona podium and years before those massive fall outs between Phil Read and his team-mates Bill Ivy and Giacomo Agostini that have excited the media.

I’m afraid we have to accept it because it’s all part of the game, but it’s a double-edged sword. If we want more coverage bringing more interest and investment into the sport, we have to accept and in some cases even encourage these outside of the box angles. But there has to be strict boundaries. Going into the Aragon race this Sunday I think I would go back to my Mum’s favourite piece of advice when I was setting out of my life’s travels. She told me that no news is good news and I think we’d all stick with that this weekend in Spain.

By | September 21st, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on All news is good news?

A forty one year wait still on hold

As Bradley Smith and Scott Redding manfully fought without success for some precious World Championship points on Sunday I could not help thinking back three years at the MotoGP race in Misano. A race in tricky conditions on the Adriatic coast in which the two British riders finished on the podium behind Marc Marquez. They gambled in the changing track conditions with Smith, riding the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha second and Redding third on the Marc VDS Honda. Roll on those three years and it looks certain we are going to lose both Smith and Redding as full time MotoGP™ riders. All the excitement and optimism generated by those 28 laps at Misano seems a long time ago.

Both riders were products of the Dorna Academy and both came so close to bringing World Championship success to Britain in the smaller classes before joining MotoGP. Smith was runner-up to team-mate Julian Simon in the 2009 125 cc World Championship and won three grands prix in the class. Redding is still the youngest ever Grand Prix winner when he won the 125 cc British Grand Prix in 2008 and went onto finish second in the 2013 Moto2™ World Championship winning three Grands Prix in the class, including his home race at Silverstone.

In that same year of his second place in Misano Smith finished sixth in the MotoGP™ Championship and looked to have such a bright future in the premier class. Injuries and the switch to Michelin tyres slowed his progress and after two years at KTM he is moving on but still in the class as the test rider for Aprilia, which will include some Grand Prix wild card entries. Redding, who finished third at Assen in the rain a year after his Misano podium, could be lost to the class forever after 11 years in Grand Prix racing.

Incidentally I bumped into the other British star from that Dorna Academy a couple of weeks ago on the start line of the TT Classic races in the Isle of Man. As bubbly as ever Danny Webb, a 125 cc pole setter for Mahindra, was about to do battle on a glorious sounding Manx Norton with the 60.271 kms infamous TT Mountain circuit. His grand prix career and the Academy seemed a long way away.

It appears that the so capable Cal Crutchlow will take on the sole responsibility for the success–starved British fans. Those broad shoulders have already ended a 35 year nightmare when he brought the LCR Honda victory in the 2016 MotoGP™ race in the Czech Republic, which he followed up a couple of months later with a superb win at Phillip Island in Australia. The last British winner in the premier class had been Barry Sheene in 1981.

Good luck Bradley and Scott in the future. Cal’s third place at Misano on Sunday shows he still has a good few Grands Prix wins and podiums in him and we hope the new British Talent Cup will unearth somebody, but that will not happen overnight. Barry Sheene was the last British rider to win the premier class in Grand Prix racing 41 long painful years ago and that long wait for the new Sheene to emerge after four decades of disappointment still seems to have no end.

By | September 14th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on A forty one year wait still on hold