Nick Harris

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So far Nick Harris has created 232 blog entries.

Explosive on-track action still the key

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

By |2024-05-22T19:43:47+00:00May 22nd, 2024|Uncategorised|0 Comments

The Usain Bolt of MotoGP™

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just ask Usain Bolt.

 

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

If ever a country deserves a World Champion

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has been far too long a wait.

 

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

All roads lead south for Pedro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The spirit of Soichiro Honda will put them back on track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc’s American Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

That very first superstar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Special One

We all knew who ‘The Special One’ was waving the chequered flag at the finish of the MotoGP™ race in Portimao, but who was ‘The Special One’ on the track? Legendary football Manager, Jose Mourinho, enjoys the kudos of his title but take your pick after three days of grand prix racing on the Algarve.

Jorge Martin with a masterful victory in the Tissot Grand Prix, leads the MotoGP™ World Championship by 18 points after just two rounds. It was the perfect demonstration of just how to dominate a race from the front riding the Prima Pramac Ducati. The Spaniard could take some shifting from that top spot.

Second place Enea Bastianini has painful memories of Portimao. Last year the Italian broke his right shoulder blade when he crashed on his debut for the factory Ducati Lenovo team. It wrecked his debut season but Bastianini will be a major threat this year. Fastest in the first day of practice on Friday, followed by his first pole since 2022. It was only his second MotoGP™ pole. He messed up the start of the Sprint race but fought back to sixth before the podium on Sunday

Where do you start with 19-year-old Pedro Acosta? Third in just his second MotoGP™ race, after taking on the likes of legends Marc Marquez and Pecco Bagnaia and coming out on top. A fearless ride, not hampered by tyre degradation or worry, he was nothing short of sensational. Already a debut season matching that of Marquez who won his second MotoGP™ race at the Circuit of the Americas 11 years ago. It’s the third MotoGP™ race for Acosta in three weeks’ time at the very same circuit. Was it the frustration of being outfought by the teenager, that caused the collision between the two riders who have eight MotoGP™ titles between them? They have got to get used to it and meet the challenge head-on because it is not going away.

A clear favourite for the special title emerged after Saturday’s sprint race. Maverick Viñales had lost two and a half kilos of weight due to a stomach bug over the weekend. Perhaps the weight loss helped because he brought Aprilia victory in the Tissot Sprint race. It was the first non-Ducati Sprint or Grand Prix win for 19 races, but it was not quite enough for the Spaniard to join a very exclusive club.

Only four riders, Mike Hailwood, Eddie Lawson, Randy Mamola and Loris Capirossi have won a premier class race, on three different makes of machine in the 75-year history of Grand Prix racing. Correctly, the Sprint race cannot count but then on Sunday Viñales came so close to getting his membership card. The MotoGP™ winner on Yamaha and Suzuki machinery chased Martin so hard in the MotoGP™ race. He looked a certain second when a technical problem caused him to crash the Aprilia on the first bend of the last lap.

So they are the riders vying to take the Special One title from Mourinho in his home country, but perhaps the title should go to the Tissot Grand Prix of Portugal. A record weekend crowd for a Portuguese Grand Prix of 175,000 fans was a 41 per cent increase on last year. I think those without a vested interest breathed a silent sigh of relief. Jorge Martin, Pecco Bagnaia and Ducati dominated the proceedings at that opening round in Qatar without much overtaking, but this weekend was very different.

Do not worry Jose, nobody was trying to steal your Special One title, although there were plenty of contenders.

 

By |2024-03-27T19:55:07+00:00March 27th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The Special One

Without them, none of this would have happened

That in-built desire and hunger to win was the same but everything else was totally different. Just what would those riders dressed in two-piece black leathers, pudding basin helmets and goggles, made of the MotoGP™ grid that lined up under the Qatar floodlights last Sunday?

Seventy-five years earlier the World was a very different place. To launch a World Championship less than four years after the finish of the most devastating war the World had ever witnessed was brave, some would have thought impossible, but it happened. The first ever Motorsport World Championship and one of the first in any sport since the Second World War ended. The six-round Motorcycle World Championship was launched in June on the TT Mountain circuit in the Isle of Man.

Six European countries had been involved in a bitter bloody conflict that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Countries that had been occupied by the enemy and countries that had fought each other just four years earlier, came together to produce the birth of a dream. Great Britain, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Ireland, and Italy hosted the new Championship that incorporated five separate classes. The 500, 250, 350 and 125cc solos and sidecars lit up the darkness that clouded a recovering Europe. The quality and intensity of the racing between riders and manufacturers set the benchmark for the next 75 years

It was a long and painful ten years for riders and manufacturers since the last international races. Star riders from the thirties had to wait a decade before returning to the saddle on the international stage. Many had represented their countries in a very different way. Some paid the ultimate price never to return home. Others fought and then returned home to continue their racing careers with great success. Les Graham the first 500cc World Champion was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery, flying a Lancaster bomber in 1944. Bespectacled Harold Daniell won that first round of the 500cc World Championship on the Norton. He had been refused entry to the armed forces to fight in the war because of poor eyesight.

It was tough for the Italian riders, especially at the opening round on the Isle of Man which had been the site for an Italian Prisoner of War camp, but they did so much to restore national pride and respect. Bruno Ruffo won the 250cc world title riding the Italian Moto Guzzi. In the 125cc class, Nello Pagani clinched the world title for Mondial in the final round at Monza. Freddie Frith brought the British Velocette factory victory in the 350cc class after winning that very first Grand Prix on the Isle of Man. The ever-popular sidecar Championship went to the British pair of Eric Oliver and Denis Jenkinson.

It was equally tough for the manufacturers ravaged by the effects of war. Many of the Midland-based British factories had been damaged by German bombs. They realised their resurgence was based on the publicity gained from international success. The lack of development in the war meant that changes in design and engines were just beginning. The biggest change was that supercharged engines were banned. Otherwise, the World Championship grid looked very similar both in personnel and machinery to the late thirties. However, missing were the German manufacturers like BMW. They had dominated the 1939 TT race with their Boxer Supercharged 500, but were banned from competing in that first World Championship. The only challenge to the British domination in the 500cc class came from Italy and the Ancore-based Gilera factory. They only had to wait one more year for success.

It’s a truly amazing story. When the grid lines up at Portimao on Sunday, close your eyes, remember and salute those pioneers. Without them, none of this would have ever happened.

 

By |2024-03-20T20:31:20+00:00March 20th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Without them, none of this would have happened

Only one winner in the desert showdown

Of course, I am biased, but there was only one winner in the desert showdown over the weekend. Three world sporting events in the sand and heat of the Middle East. The opening round of the MotoGP™ World Championship in Qatar. Across the desert the second round of the Formula One World Championship at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Saturday. A heavyweight boxing fight between Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou again in Saudi Arabia on Friday night. Three massive sporting confrontations 1500 kms apart on the same weekend.

For the second weekend in succession World Champion Max Verstappen totally dominated the Formula One race from the start, finishing with a 13.6 second advantage over his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez. The long-awaited clash of the heavyweight giants Joshua and Ngannou lasted just two rounds when the Englishman knocked out his opponent. The opening round of the MotoGP™ World Championship just crackled with drama, excitement, and breathtaking racing over three proper days of track action. Where do you start

On Friday the Marc Marquez style save with elbow, shoulder, and any other part of his body by Spanish teenager Pedro Acosta on his MotoGP™ debut. On Saturday morning just nine-hundredths of one second separated Jorge Martin, Aleix Espargaro and Enea Bastianini in qualifying. In the afternoon the brilliant Jorge Martin won the Sprint to lay his cards on the table in the first points-scoring encounter of the season. Sunday was even better!

An immaculate display by Pecco Bagnaia chasing his third successive MotoGP™ World title on the Lenovo Ducati, while the sparks flew between his pursuers. Binder claimed second on the Red Bull Factory KTM ahead of Sprint winner Martin and an impressive Marc Marquez. Acosta learnt so much on route to ninth place on his MotoGP™ debut. Earlier, just 0.041 seconds separated David Alonso and Daniel Holgado in a Moto3™ battle, which was decided on the final bend. It was nearly as close in Moto2™ with Alonso Lopez and Barry Baltus separated by 0.055 seconds at the chequered flag

The only saving grace on the track for Formula One was the performance of 18-year-old British driver, Oliver Bearman, who finished seventh on his Grand Prix debut driving for Ferrari. Formula One needed a ray of light to penetrate the non-racing dramas clouding their paddock. Thank goodness MotoGP™ is in no such need, but if it was, Pedro Acosta like Bearman would be the savour. What a debut by the 19-year-old Moto2™ and Moto3™ World Champion. That save at turn one on Friday and then finishing third after the opening two practice sessions. Qualifying eighth and finishing eighth in the Tissot Sprint race on Saturday. An audacious overtake on Marc Marquez during his ride to ninth place on Sunday. We are going to hear a great deal more about Acosta and Bearman in the coming weeks. They are the future on two and four wheels.

So of course, I’m biased but I am sure the neutrals would agree there was only one sporting event to be at in the Middle East over the weekend. Under the floodlights at the Lusail International circuit in Qatar was the only place to be. Quite honestly it was no contest!

 

By |2024-03-14T19:03:19+00:00March 14th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Only one winner in the desert showdown
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