Nick’s Blog

MotoGP™ A-listers are on the track

It was only when the most famous national newspaper in the world started printing pictures of A-lister celebrities on the grid, instead of race action on the track, that I realised just how lucky we are. Pictures of the stars on the grid and in the hospitality suites, replacing race action from the Grand Prix at the four-wheeled equivalent of MotoGP™. All sports need the publicity and charisma gained from the big names grinning on the starting grid, but the A-listers in MotoGP™ are the riders and not the people who have come to watch.

It’s crucial not to let all the hype and glitter submerge why we are at 20 venues throughout the world. We are there to race. The best riders/drivers in the world competing on space-age technology-driven motorcycles and cars to discover who is the very best. From that very first World Championship race in the Isle of Man nearly 75 years ago the battle between man and machines has always been the priority. We are so lucky that the principle was fully endorsed after a season of racing that was right up there as one of the very best in the last three quarters of a century

I think that the final round in Valencia was the perfect example of why all that hype and glitz in the world is no match for the action when it’s as good as it was. It had everything to keep the massive boisterous fans and tens of millions of television viewers more than happy. Two riders after 20 Grands Prix, Tissot Sprints included, in nine months were separated by just 21 points going into those final two races. We were not let down. Fantastic racing, mind games, controversy, and crashes but when the dust settled, Pecco Bagnaia, the only Ducati rider in the history of the sport to retain the premier class title. It was everything that final rounds in other motorsport World Championships just could not match.

There was certainly no time to reflect, celebrate or rest even for the fans. The Valencia Test just two days later gave us a delicious aperitive to next season’s main menu. Of course, Marc Marquez’s Ducati debut made the headlines. The smile when he removed his helmet said it all. Throw in the Honda debut for Luca Marini, with Fabio Di Giannantonio replacing him at Mooney VR46 Racing, and a MotoGP™ debut for Moto2™ World Champion Pedro Acosta. I think you had enough to keep you going over Christmas and the new year.

Of course, there have been bumps in the road in such a long tiring journey. I think the Tissot Sprints were a great success and certainly made the weekend more interesting. I will not pretend to exactly understand the new tyre pressure rule. Some controversial decisions by the Stewards brought the same reaction to VAR in football. Ten Grands Prix in the last 13 weeks of the season put a strain on everybody. An understanding family is crucial to anybody embarking on the great adventure. Next year there are 22 Grands Prix scheduled. I think that is enough to maintain the welfare of everybody in the MotoGP™ family.

Never has a winter break been more richly deserved for everybody involved after such a pulsating season in all three classes. It was a year that totally summed up what the sport we love is all about. Stick to those racing principles and do not make it too complicated. A sport where the riders are still the A-listers.

 

By |2023-12-06T10:59:34+00:00December 6th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on MotoGP™ A-listers are on the track

Never say never, but history is against Jorge

So, it’s come to the last round showdown as expected but not quite as we hoped. 21 points is a massive advantage for Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team). Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) would have to make history to be crowned MotoGP™ World Champion at Valencia on Sunday. Never in the 74-year-old history of Grand Prix racing has a rider pulled back such a big deficit at the final round of the premier class to take the title. Of course, the introduction of the Tissot Sprint race this season has changed the situation. Now, there are 37 priceless World Championship points up for grabs instead of 25, but it’s still a massive ask for the Pramac rider.

19 times in that 74-year-old history the premier class world title has been decided at the final round. Only three times has the rider not leading the Championship going into that final round won the title. The biggest deficit pulled back was in 2006 at that never-to-be-forgotten final MotoGP™ race in Valencia. Valentino Rossi, riding the factory Yamaha, had an eight-point advantage over his old Repsol Honda team-mate Nick Hayden. The American had been brought down by his team-mate Dani Pedrosa at the penultimate round in Estoril and we all thought his big chance had gone. We were wrong. Rossi crashed, Hayden finished third behind the Ducatis of Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi to become the last American to win the title.

It was a lot more controversial in 2015, when Rossi arrived for the final Valencia showdown with a seven-point advantage over Yamaha team-mate, and not best friend, Jorge Lorenzo. Just two weeks earlier Rossi had been involved in a couple of unforgettable clashes with Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) at Sepang in Malaysia. As a result, together with an earlier penalty, the Italian had to start the 30 lap race from the back of the grid and Lorenzo knew exactly what to do. He won the race with Rossi fighting his way through the field to fourth, but it was not enough. Lorenzo grabbed his third and last world title by five points. Rossi’s big chance to win his tenth world title had gone for good.

The first time a rider not leading the Championship won the title at the final round in 1992 was in very different circumstances. Mick Doohan arrived for the final round at Kyalami in South Africa with a two-point advantage over World Champion Wayne Rainey, but that does not tell the true story. Australian Doohan, riding the Rothmans Honda, held a 65-point advantage when he broke his leg in a qualifying crash in the eighth round at Assen. Severe complications prevented him from returning until the penultimate round at Interlagos in Brazil

Doohan could hardly walk, let alone race, but somehow fought through the pain to finish 12th in the race which was won by Rainey. He held that precious but fragile two-point lead going into 28 laps of the Kyalami circuit two weeks later. Doohan gave it all and more to finish sixth. Rainey’s third place retained the title for the World Champion by four points. I remember as media manager for the Honda team I had to organise the instant destruction of 200 World Championship-winning tee-shirts, press kits and photographs before Mick saw them.

Doohan was devastated, but two years later won his first world title for Honda. He captured four more consecutive titles for Honda, and so take heart for the loser this weekend. Look to the future after disappointment and don’t dwell on the past. So, Jorge, history is against you but never say never. Win that Tissot Sprint on Saturday and the pressure is on.

 

By |2023-11-23T12:23:30+00:00November 23rd, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Never say never, but history is against Jorge

Settling Pecco and Jorge rather than starting in Qatar

When that enormous red ball of the sun disappeared below the barren desert landscape and you heard thousands of light bulbs clicking into action, you knew the new season was underway. For 16 years the floodlit Lusail circuit was the beginning of a new season, but now the roles are reversed. Suddenly the 5.380km circuit is the venue where a MotoGP™ World Championship can be settled rather than started. 14 precious points separate Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) at the penultimate round on Sunday. For the first time this season, the title race could be settled after the Tissot Sprint and the Qatar Airways Grand Prix race in the desert

Arrival in Doha always heralded a complete change of life. The winter was over and family and friends knew better than anybody the travelling lifestyle had returned, after a seemingly too-short winter. You soon discovered the waistline you had requested on the uniform trousers had changed dramatically over those hungry winter months. The shoes you requested were too big and those shirts had problems covering your larger than it had been in November tummy. You reunited with colleagues who you were going to spend much of the next eight months within commentary boxes, media centres, airports, hotels and, of course, bars.

The Lusail International Circuit staged its first Grand Prix in 2004 and its first opening round in 2007. The heat and television timings back in Europe made it tough and so Qatar came up with a solution, which I honestly thought was pie in the sky. Flying in over hundreds of kilometres of desert sand the next year suddenly the silhouette of the floodlit Lusail circuit pierced the darkness below. In 12 months the circuit had been floodlit. The 2008 Qatar Grand Prix was the first ever World Championship motorsport event on tarmac to be staged under lights. The transformation took just 175 days. The opening round was staged under the Lusail lights until this season with just one break for Covid.

I loved those Thursday afternoon Championship photo sessions on the Losail start and finish straight, before the first practice session of the season the next day. There had been Valencia and pre-season testing but this was the first time we saw the bikes and riders in their new livery. Valentino Rossi on a Ducati in 2011 and back on the Yamaha two years later. Casey Stoner on a Repsol Honda in 2011 and four years earlier, even before the floodlights arrived, the first Ducati ride that led to a World Championship in 2007. That same year the number 1 plate was proudly displayed on Nicky Hayden’s Honda for the first time. Marc Marquez made his MotoGP™ debut for the same team in 2013 and Jorge Lorenzo in Ducati leathers for the first time, after leaving Yamaha in 2017.

Qatar will be full of added tension and anticipation with so much at stake this weekend, but it will be different. Already the Moto2™ World Championship is sorted and 37 points are up for grabs in MotoGP™. The first chance for Pecco Bagnaia to retain his world title, although Valencia looks the most likely showdown venue a week later. I always remembered the Lusail circuit as the start of the adventure. Next year it returns to herald the start of the 2024 season. Marc Marquez’s first race on the Ducati sums up my memory and feelings perfectly, although Sunday could be a very special Championship decider.

 

By |2023-11-15T20:42:15+00:00November 15th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Settling Pecco and Jorge rather than starting in Qatar

Can Bautista do a Bayliss?

The circumstances are so remarkably similar. As the world focuses on the superb battle for the MotoGP™ world title, the World Superbike Champion arrives to join in the fun. Double World Superbike Champion Alvaro Bautista, fresh from that amazing final round in Jerez returns to MotoGP™ in Malaysia on Sunday. His appearance as a wildcard on the factory Ducati brings memories flooding back to 2006 and a certain Australian, Troy Bayliss.

After winning the World Superbike Championship, Bayliss was brought in by Ducati to replace the injured Sete Gibernau at the final round of the MotoGP™ World Championship in Valencia. The world was totally focused on the Nicky Hayden/Valentino Rossi fight for the ultimate prize, the World Championship.

Sounds familiar so far. Bautista joins the grid on Sunday while the world focuses on the fight for the title between Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing). Bayliss had plenty of MotoGP™ experience with four podium finishes for Ducati before returning to Superbikes. Bautista not only returns to a series that brought him a world title,16 Grand Prix wins and three MotoGP™ podiums but to a track that he loves, no wonder why. The Spaniard has won two Grands Prix at the sweltering Sepang circuit on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. In the same year as Bayliss’s Valencia success, Bautista won the 125cc race and the title. Two years later he won the 250cc Grand Prix by over two and a half seconds on his way to second place in the Championship.

Seventeen years ago in Valencia, history was made. Bayliss won the Grand Prix from fellow Ducati rider Loris Capirossi with Hayden crowned World Champion after finishing third. The very first Ducati one/two in the premier class did not go exactly unnoticed but Hayden’s first and only world title stole all the headlines. Bayliss returned to Superbikes to continue his domination after producing a ride that has never been replicated. He is the only current World Superbike Champion to win a MotoGP™ race. American Ben Spies is the only other rider to win a MotoGP™ race after winning the World Superbike Championship but not as the reigning Champion. The Yamaha rider won the 2011 Dutch TT in Assen two years after his Superbike Championship success. Without a doubt fellow American and Superbike Champion Colin Edwards deserved to join him. Who will ever forget the Texan crashing at the final esses in the 2006 Dutch TT with the chequered flag already fluttering in the breeze ready to celebrate his first Grand Prix win? Edwards stood on the podium 12 times and finished fourth and fifth in the World Championship.

The reverse scenario is not quite so barren but probably contains fewer riders than you would imagine. The 250cc World Champion John Kocinski won 500cc Grands Prix on Yamaha and Cagiva machinery before becoming World Superbike Champion. Four time 250cc World Champion Max Biaggi won premier class Grands Prix for Yamaha and Honda before dominating the Superbikes. Carlos Checa won a couple of 500 cc grands prix for Yamaha before switching and winning the World Superbike Championship.

So, can history repeat itself after 17 years in the 20-lap race at Sepang on Sunday? Understandably the spotlight will fall on the Bagnaia/Martin fight for the Championship with three rounds remaining. I promise you I will be paying a little more attention to Bautista than I did on Bayliss during the historic afternoon in the Spanish sunshine in 2006.

 

 

By |2023-11-08T17:02:50+00:00November 8th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Can Bautista do a Bayliss?

The next Marc Marquez faces his biggest test yet

I would think Pedro Acosta was licking his lips with anticipation after watching those last two incredible MotoGP™ races.  The 19-year-old Spaniard will be joining in the fun next year and I bet he can’t wait to get involved. I’m sure there is also a certain amount of trepidation for the Murcia rider who has exploded into Grand Prix racing. Six wins in his first season brought him the Moto3™ title. After finishing fifth in his first Moto2™ season last year Acosta is poised to add the Moto2™ crown after seven wins on the Red Bull KTM Ajo machine. He needs to finish fourth or higher at the Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix in a couple of weeks’ time to be crowned the Moto2™ World Champion with two rounds remaining.

If he wins the World title this year he will achieve something no other rider in the modern era has done. Acosta will be the only rider to win two world titles in separate classes in his first three years competing in World Championship racing. Not even the likes of legends Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa or Jorge Lorenzo arrived so quickly with World titles under their belt

In those first three years, Acosta has won 16 Grands Prix. Fifteen of those came in his first 50 starts and only Valentino Rossi has done better. The nine-time World Champion won 20 Grands Prix in his first 50 starts. Rossi also won 17 races before his 20th birthday. Pedrosa is the youngest rider to clinch two world titles. The Spanish Honda rider was just 19 years 18 days old when he won the first of his 250cc world titles to add to his 125cc crown. As long as Acosta wins the Moto2™ crown this year he will be the second youngest to win two world titles. At the moment Marquez is the second youngest with Rossi third. Marquez won an incredible 26 Grands Prix before his 20th birthday with Pedrosa on 21, Rossi on 17 Maverick Vinales (Aprilia Racing) on 16 and Lorenzo with 15.

Despite all the headlines and success, the next step into the premier class is massive for Acosta. When he joins the MotoGP™ grid under the Qatar floodlights on the GASGAS Factory Racing machine at that opening round of 22 next season, the pressure will be on. Comparing him to Marc Marquez is understandable after his success so far but it’s a tag that will hang heavy around his neck. Remember when Marquez arrived in MotoGP™ in 2013. He blew the premier class apart on the Repsol Honda. He won just his second Grand Prix in Austin and went on to re-write the history books. He won five more Grands Prix and the world title after finishing third in the final round in Valencia. Marquez and Kenny Roberts are the only riders in the 75-year history of the sport to win the premier class in their first season, apart of course from Les Graham who was the 500cc World Champion in the very first year in 1949.

Even Marquez did not win his first MotoGP™ race, but others have, starting with Geoff Duke in 1950 when he won the TT on the Norton. Jarno Saarinen won the opening two 1973 500cc rounds on the two-stroke Yamaha before his tragic death. Who will forget Max Biaggi’s debut with that stunning win at Suzuka in 1998.

I don’t think anybody is expecting Acosta to emulate these feats, especially Marquez with a title win. Never has the level of competition been closer or more intense. Twenty-two Grands Prix and 22 Tissot Sprint races is the longest and toughest test we’ve ever witnessed. Acosta first has to win the Moto2™ World Championship before that massive step into MotoGP™.

The next Marc Marquez? Only time will tell but I can’t wait to see how he fares.

 

By |2023-11-02T09:59:40+00:00November 2nd, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The next Marc Marquez faces his biggest test yet

Worth the wait

I have waited six years and 209 days to write this blog about ‘The Professor’.  At last, a MotoGP™ winner after 120 Grands Prix for a rider who certainly does not fit the stereotypical picture of a world class racer. Johann Zarco’s (Prima Pramac Racing) incredible last lap win was not only totally deserved but universally celebrated. The long wait after 19 previous MotoGP™ podiums was worth it for the double Moto2™ World Champion who is a unique figure in the crazy world of MotoGP™.

It was 1.30 am on a Monday morning at a deserted Melbourne airport seven years ago, when we made our way around the empty corridors to find our flight to Kuala Lumpur, en route to the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix. I heard a piano playing in the background but took little notice. It had been a long hard and exhilarating day at Phillip Island and piped airport music was not going to stir the soul. Rounding the corner I saw, sat all alone at a keyboard, Johann Zarco happily playing away without another person in sight. The Moto2™ World Champion totally absorbed in his music. The World Champion overcoming his disappointment not to retain his world title that afternoon in the Australian Grand Prix after finishing 12th. He made amends six days later at Sepang.

Three weeks later, the celebrations in our hotel after the final Grand Prix of the season in Valencia were in full cry. Zarco was celebrating with his team the second Moto2™ World Championship before moving onto MotoGP™

As we saw, after that historic win on Saturday, every win for the Frenchman is celebrated with the legendary back flip off a safety barrier. This time no barrier and so the bar was cleared of glasses for the Champion to back flip amidst the cheers.

We nicknamed Zarco ‘The Professor’ for the way he would explain and analyse in detail every question. The quietly spoken Frenchman was like a college professor explaining to his students what had happened in qualifying but of course there is another side. You don’t win 17 Grands Prix and two world titles without a ruthless streak. He had already upset some of his Moto2™ rivals before taking on the big boys. Nothing changed and Valentino Rossi, in particular, was not happy as his rattled a few of the MotoGP™ legends, especially in that first season.

Only once did I witness Johann switch personalities from track to press conference. In Barcelona, an Italian journalist was asking some probing questions about the fatal accident of Luis Salom in 2016. The Frenchman took exception to the tone and threatened to jump over the media conference desk to sort things out. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) stepped in, to calm things down

Others have had to wait longer for that first premier class win. Jack Findlay made his 500cc debut at Nürburgring in 1958. His first win came at the Ulster Grand Prix in 1971, which was his 92nd 500cc start, a wait of 13 years and 25 days.

Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) rode in even more Grands Prix before that first win. The Spaniard made his debut at Indianapolis in 2009. That first win in Argentina 2022, was his 200th MotoGP start, a wait of 12 years 216 days.

We waited quite a time for Zarco’s first and only 125cc victory. He arrived as the Red Bull Rookies Champion and that first Grand Prix win came in 2011 at Motegi after six second places that same season. Zarco then switched to Moto2™ the next season and once again he had to be patient before the Grands Prix wins flowed. He started in the 2015 Argentine Grand Prix and 14 more Grands Prix and two world titles followed. The Frenchman switched to MotoGP™ in 2017, starting at the Qatar Grand with that first win coming six years 290 days later in Australia.

I hope Johann found that same piano in Melbourne airport on Monday morning to celebrate in true Zarco style. He deserved it.

By |2023-10-25T21:16:45+00:00October 25th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Worth the wait

52 overtakes and 13 lead changes – Overtaking Island

We joked after the 2015 Australian Grand Prix that there were more overtakes and lead changes in the 27 laps than the complete Formula One season. It was probably not correct but after commentating on a race that included 52 overtaking manoeuvres and 13 lead changes it’s not difficult to understand why we may have got a little bit carried away.

True or not it was the perfect illustration that Phillip Island is the most magnificent circuit for Grand Prix motorcycle racing on this planet. After that amazing Grand Prix in Indonesia, where amongst all the action the World Championship lead changed three times, there can be no better venue to stage the next round of the title fight. This will be a very different battle. Phillip Island invites overtaking and there is plenty champing at the bit to get out there and give it a go.

Re-designed for Grand Prix motorcycles by Bob Barnard, this 4.448 km ribbon of tarmac has everything. Fast and slow corners, sweeping bends on the cliffs overlooking surf beaches and undulations that provide riders with the ultimate test.

The very first Grand Prix on an island, far more famous for its amazing penguins waddling up the beach some eight kilometres from the circuit, was the perfect illustration of what lay ahead. In 1989 national hero Wayne Gardner won a fantastic 500cc battle with Wayne Rainey and Christian Sarron. Australia went crazy and I thought the Island was going to sink. Wayne was a national hero becoming the first Australian 500cc World Champion two years earlier. The stage was set for so many more great races and Australian celebrations. Gardner won again in 1990, Five-time World Champion Mick Doohan won once, while Casey Stoner brought Ducati and Honda success six times at his home circuit. Little wonder all three riders have corners named after them.

Valentino Rossi loved the Island. It provided the great Champion with a stage to show every facet of his repertoire. He won eight times including two 250cc wins and clinched his first 500cc world title there in 2001. The Italian borrowed a sheet from his hotel and covered it with an enormous number seven to celebrate the life of his friend Barry Sheene two years later. I’d started my live television commentating career with Barry and Formula One World Champion Alan Jones in Phillip Island in 1989. I said my final farewell to Barry on the Island in 2002 before his premature death early the next year.

All classes have been involved. In 2000 Olivier Jacque kept his nerve to shadow his Tech3 team-mate Shinya Nakano for nearly 25 laps at the final round of the 250cc World Championship. Coming down the final straight with the chequered flag out, the Frenchman pulled out of his slipstream to steal the world title from his team-mate. Back to MotoGP™ and who will ever forget Marco Melandri pulling a one-handed wheelie coming out of that final bend to celebrate victory in 2006?

Yes, Phillip Island is a very long and expensive journey from Europe. Clearing immigration and Customs at Melbourne airport can be a long business. All four seasons of weather in one day is not unusual. A wicked wind can whip in over the Bass Straight all the way from Antarctica.

All this will be forgotten when the lights change on Sunday, as the grid races down the Gardner Straight towards the Doohan right-hander, with the Bass Straight glimmering in the background. There is no better venue in the world for this incredible World Championship battle to continue. Remember last year when just over eight-tenths of one second separated the first seven riders?

Phillip Island is such a special place. It won’t let us down.

By |2023-10-19T08:49:23+00:00October 19th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on 52 overtakes and 13 lead changes – Overtaking Island

Marquez signs on to join exclusive top five club

In the 74-year history of Grand Prix racing only five riders have won the premier class world title on two different makes of machinery. It’s a very special list. Geoff Duke, Giacomo Agostini, Eddie Lawson, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner need no introduction. Next season Marquez grabs the chance to join them realising time was running out at Honda. He had to move before he was too old.

Duke switched to Gilera in 1953 after winning the 1951 500cc world title for Norton. It was a great move for both. The combination went on to dominate the Championship for three successive years. In 1972 Ago won his last 500cc Championship for MV Agusta. The two-strokes were coming, and he switched to Yamaha in 1974. It was a massive moment for the sport, and a year later Ago became the first two-stroke winner of the premier class winning the last of his 15 world titles.

Without a doubt, Lawson’s move to Honda from Yamaha in 1989 was the biggest surprise. I was the Media Manager of the Rothmans Honda team at the time. Lawson had won three 500cc World titles for Yamaha and was expected to continue meeting Honda head on. I was dispatched to California on a secret mission to interview, photograph, and film Eddie at home in Uplands before the announcement he was joining his great rival Wayne Gardner in the same team. Eddie just loved the new challenge and made it world title number four with second place in that final round in Brazil

Rossi’s move to Yamaha was so brave and the defection of a rider brimming with confidence and at the very top of his game. Typically, Vale had been drip-feeding his intention to leave Honda for months. His bye-bye baby helmet was a clear indication he was leaving a Honda team that he had brought three premier class titles on both two and four-stroke bikes. The move to Yamaha was announced after that final Grand Prix of the 2003 season in Valencia. The rest is history.

Stoner’s move to Honda from Ducati was certainly no such shock but produced the same result. Casey had brought Ducati their first premier class title in 2007 but the Italian factory was struggling, and the Australian switched to Honda in 2011. He dominated the Championship in typical style, and was 90 points ahead of Jorge Lorenzo at the finish. The biggest bombshell from Casey came just two years later when he announced his retirement in a shocked press conference in Le Mans.

It looks certain that Marquez will be on Ducati next season. As with those five other World Champions, some people will question his ability to make the switch. Great riders are World Champions for a reason. Eddie Lawson proved his point by winning the title for Honda in that first year and then returned home to Yamaha the next season.

Could Marc do the same? Don’t rule it out.

 

By |2023-10-11T22:05:26+00:00October 11th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Marquez signs on to join exclusive top five club

Be prepared – it could decide the Championship

The warning signs flashed brightly at the last two Grands Prix. The weather could play a massive part in the outcome of the MotoGP™ World Championship. The heat and humidity in India and the torrential rain in Japan could be the foretaste of what lies ahead for Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing). That three point advantage could be submerged by heavy rain, melted in searing heat or simply blown away in those final six rounds.

A World Championship truly means Championship of the World. Success is achieved by both riders and teams who are prepared to travel tens of thousands of kilometres around the globe. They learn to cope with jet lag, the setup and contrasting circuits. They must adapt to different cultures and languages, and as was so clearly illustrated in India and Japan, the weather.

In India, Martin virtually collapsed in pit lane with heat exhaustion after a heroic ride into second. In Japan, despite bringing in flag-to-flag regulations the race had to be stopped on the flooded track. It could not be restarted as the rain continued to fall. Despite reducing the number of laps in India and the flag-to-flag in Japan, the weather, as it usually does, came out on top. With the next four Grands Prix in Indonesia, Australia, Thailand, and Malaysia, contrasting weather is guaranteed.  Even in those final two rounds, there could be problems. It has rained at night in Qatar, and Valencia can be a bit chilly at the end of November.

It’s certain that flag-to-flag races will play their part in the intrigue, especially in those next four Grands Prix. Ever since James Ellison pulled into the Phillip Island Pit Lane to change bikes in 2006, becoming the first flag-to-flag participant, they have added to the overall plot. I always think of the likes of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Chris Vermeulen and Dani Pedrosa changing from slicks to wet with perfect timing. Dani changing at the end of the warm-up lap in Valencia 2012. He crossed the line in 20th place at the end of the first lap and went on to win by 37 seconds. The ones I tend to forget are the wets to slicks changes. Marc at Brno in 2017 made the switch earlier than anybody else and found himself down in 19th place on the drying track. It was brave but perfect timing. The World Champion held a 12-second winning advantage over teammate Pedrosa at the finish.

So, plenty of exciting tyre changes but what about those who stayed out there on what they started? Brad Binder’s heroic victory through the Austrian rain on the slick shod KTM at the Red Bull Ring in 2021 is surely the highlight. Bradley Smith’s second place at Misano in 2015 with fellow Brit Scott Redding third despite a crash on the Honda. It takes guts and skill, and both beat or equalled their best-ever MotoGP™ result in the race won by Marquez who had switched tyres.

The days of looking up at the clouds above or hanging out a piece of seaweed to check the weather have long gone. Modern-day technology, especially radar, can give an indication of what is about to arrive. The teams and riders will be ready for what the elements choose to throw at them in those next four Grands Prix.

They will be prepared. They know it could be the difference between winning or losing that world title.

By |2023-10-04T15:30:12+00:00October 4th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Be prepared – it could decide the Championship

Dani brings back memories of Japanese wildcards!

I blame the incredible performance of Dani Pedrosa in Misano and Jerez for bringing back memories of Japanese wildcards. I loved going to Japan but often dreaded commentating. Pronunciation of names was one aspect of the job I never found easy and that is putting it mildly! Going into that crucial Grand Prix at Motegi on Sunday Cal Crutchlow as the wildcard for Yamaha would not have caused a problem but it was not always the case. Not only were their Japanese wildcards to get my head round but they often won the races. Some of these riders went on to become World Champions and Championship contenders. Others just disappeared, while one career ended in tragedy.

On my very first visit to Japan in 1987 at Suzuka I got a clear indication of what lay ahead. Masaru Kobayashi won the 250cc race at the Japanese Grand Prix for Honda and then almost disappeared from sight. He finished third at Suzuka a year later. They were the only World Championship points he ever scored. Fifteen years later Osamu Miyazaki won the 250cc race at Suzuka as a wildcard entry riding a Yamaha. Second place went to the Honda of Daisaku Sakai scoring his only ever World Championship points

Other Japanese wildcard entries went onto greater things. Daijiro Kato won the 250cc race at Suzuka in 1997 and 1998 before embarking on a Championship winning career. He won the 2001 250cc World Championship for the Gresini Honda team before tragically losing his life when he crashed in the 2003 MotoGP™ race at Suzuka. The lovable Nobby Ueda won the 1991 125cc race at Suzuka on his Grand Prix debut. He raced for the next 11 years and finished second in the 125cc World Championship on two occasions.

Takumi Ito finished third in the first ever Premier class Japanese Grand Prix riding the V4 Suzuki in 1987. Eight years later Takumi Aoki was third on his Premier class debut. In 2002, the first-ever, history-making four-stroke MotoGP™ race was won by Valentino Rossi, Akira Ryo brought Suzuki second place on a historic afternoon.

The only wildcard or rider replacement winner in the modern MotoGP™ era came in 2006, but it almost went unnoticed. While the world focused on the Nicky Hayden/Valentino Rossi fight for the Championship at a dramatic final round in Valencia, history was made. The World Superbike Champion Australian Troy Bayliss returned to MotoGP™ replacing the injured Sete Gibernau at Ducati. He won the race from Loris Capirossi giving Ducati their first Grand Prix one two. Can history be repeated in Malaysia next month?

World Superbike Champion Alvaro Bautista returns to MotoGP™ to ride for the Ducati Lenovo team as a wildcard. Bautista has won both 125 and 250cc Grands Prix at the Sepang circuit and will be up for the fight.

Great to see Cal Crutchlow and a British rider back in Grand Prix action at Motegi on Sunday. He finished second there in 2018 riding the LCR Honda. It’s been a tough year for Yamaha, but a little bit of rain could make a big difference – ask Olivier Jacque. In 2005, a year before Bayliss’s historic win, out of the blue he came close to beating Valentino Rossi in China. Replacing the injured Alex Hoffman in the Kawasaki team, the former 250cc World Champion eventually finished second 1.7 s behind World Champion Rossi in the rain.

It can rain at Motegi and I would have no problem pronouncing the winner’s name.

 

By |2023-09-27T21:37:38+00:00September 27th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Dani brings back memories of Japanese wildcards!
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