Nick’s Blog

AND THAT WAS THAT

March 7th seemed like a normal Saturday on the road with Oxford United. Meet in the car Park at Ardley United for yet another journey up north, with a little bit of West this time. The usual friendly banter about my age from my colleague was perhaps a little bit more relevant with the news that morning 70-year olds may be banned from future games with a certain virus on route from China. I gave as good as I got. 

My usual pre-match meal of a McDonalds crispy hot chicken wrap tasted the same as ever. Nathan Cooper never fails to find the coffee and Jerome Sale was as usual rightfully concerned I was going to kick out one of the wires as I sat next to him in the crammed commentary position at the Montgomery Waters Meadow Stadium, the home of Shrewsbury Town.

An important game for United chasing their fifth successive win to push hard for at least a League One play off place at the end of the season. Whatever the result there would be no need to panic because there would still be nine games to go. Three points would be great but plenty of time left but great to keep the momentum going if possible was the consensus. That was certainly the feeling when United went two nil down. Shrewsbury then had a man sent off; Marcus Browne pulled one back for United right on the stroke of half time. Dan Agyei equalised early in the second half, but it looked like United would have to settle for a point until the 88th minute. I am telling listeners ‘What a free kick, what a header, what a goal and what a celebration. Marcus Browne with the free kick, Josh Ruffels with the header and goal and United fans behind the goal celebrating the late winner. A great moment that lifted United up into third place in the League One table but do not forget still nine games to go.

We packed up at 6pm in great spirits. I remember because it was the first time since October the previous year that it was still light as we made our way across the big car park. I planned the programme notes for the home game next Saturday against Milton Keynes because it was my turn to compile the BBC Radio Oxford page.

And that was that. One hundred and eighteen days, two and a half hours since the final whistle in Shropshire, United “kick a ball in anger” for the very first time on Friday evening. Not just any old league fixture but one of the most important games of the millennium for Oxford United and their fans – the first leg of the League One play-off semi-finals down on the South coast against Portsmouth.

Nobody knew what lay ahead as we drove home to Oxford on that March evening. Without that Josh Ruffels header United would not have reached the play offs. If I had known that at the time, I would have screamed so much louder into the microphone and we would have stopped for a pint or two on the way home. Still plenty of time for both in the next couple of weeks.

By |2020-07-01T09:57:11+00:00July 1st, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|0 Comments

NOISE OR NO NOISE – THAT IS THE QUESTION?

Delighted they may be but sports fans in England are now faced with a major dilemma. It probably will not make that much difference when MotoGP at last returns to our screens on July 19, but football fans in particular have a big choice to make. Background animated canned crowd noise or comments from players and Managers that remind me of many a cold wet Sunday morning league game at Cutteslowe Park in Oxford?

Like most I have tried both. At first no crowd noise and telling myself how interesting it was to hear the players shouts, claims and in some cases screams. Managers without face masks barking instructions from the side lines. All very grown up and educational to us football followers. After the first game I switched to the canned crowd noise channel. It was like one of those embarrassing comedy shows where the laughter and applause is popped on as an afterthought to make it feel live. I think the sound comes from the football video games and of course it has not got a hope in hell of replicating the Kop or the Holt in full cry. Is there a person sitting in a little studio, probably near Heathrow airport, with his hand ready to press the home or away supporters, foul, penalty or the ultimate home or away goal button? Sounds like a tough job especially with no laughter button that may be well received by Arsenal fans after witnessing their side’s attempts to defend.

I have gone down the canned noise route for now, but my big test is about to come when the mighty Oxford United travel to Portsmouth a week on Friday for the first leg of League One play-offs. There may not be a choice and at least United do not face Fleetwood who play Wycombe in the other play off. When they score at their Highbury home Fleetwood play the Captain Pugwash theme song. United have heard it far too many times and at least we should be spared at Wembley for the final if they both get through.

MotoGP will be much more like the real thing. No canned engine noise needed but just the real thing to get the adrenalin flowing once again. Will the riders miss the crowd noise probably nothing like as much as the media and other spectators? Just turn up at Mugello or as the riders will in three weeks’ time at Jerez as the sun rises over the surrounding hills on the Sunday morning of the grand prix for a wonderful reminder what this extraordinary sport is all about. Ten of thousands of fans have been partying on the hill sides all night and in the morning the flares, flags and air horns greet the gladiators as they arrive in the arena filled with noise and smoke. We will all miss that but when the lights change, nothing will change out on the track, crowd or no crowd.

No noisy celebrations, track invasions or Captain Pugwash but some racing to savour at last.

By |2020-06-25T08:57:43+00:00June 25th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on NOISE OR NO NOISE – THAT IS THE QUESTION?

NO IDEA ADVENT OF DYNASTY HAD ARRIVED

Come on admit it we had no idea what the next ten years was going to bring. Personally, I just enjoyed commentating on the cracking 2010 125 cc Italian Grand Prix at Mugello with the first four riders covered by less than two tenths of one second after 20 laps around the legendary venue.

When  17 year old  Marc Marquez had fought off the challenge of Nico Terol, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith to win his first grand prix I didn’t prophesy that this was the start of a dynasty that would completely take over the World for the next ten years.

For me it was another young Spanish rider winning his first grand prix. Of course, like many of them before and since Marc was talented and perhaps a future World Champion. Eighty-one more grand prix victories and not one World title but eight, might be a clue I should have taken a little bit more notice.

My memories up till that fateful day where of a young rider with a fearless riding style and attitude that often resulted in some spectacular crashes and plenty of finger wagging from other riders. I remember remarking that perhaps he should be at school rather than standing on the Donington Park podium when he finished third at the British Grand Prix two years earlier after finishing third behind Scott Redding and Mike Di Meglio. It was the first of his 134 podium finishes, although that first grand prix win was still two years away. When it came the floodgates opened in a deluge that grand prix motorcycle racing had never experienced.

Riding the Derbi he won the 125 cc World title the same year and switched to Moto2. In 2012 riding the Suter he added the World title to his collection winning nine races, before joining the elite a year later. Would the teenager win grand prix that year and could he finish in the top three against the likes of Rossi and Co where the questions posed. The answers came back thick and fast. He won just second time out at Austin to become the youngest ever winner of a premier-class grand prix. He went on to become the youngest ever premier-class World Champion in 2013 riding the Repsol Honda. The record books were ripped apart by the teenager from Cervera with the ant emblem on his helmet. Five more premier class World titles thanks to 50 more grand prix victories. Ten successive grands prix wins in 2014 to match his peers Giacomo Agostini and Mick Doohan. That same year he won 13 grands prix. Last year he won 12 races on route to that sixth premier class title amassing a record number of 420 points. Over the last six decades the Sachsenring in Germany has learnt a thing or two about world class riders – Marquez has won there for the last ten years in a row.

Dominating the proceedings, the way he has over the last ten years is obviously down to sheer raw talent. Marquez has that talent in bucket loads, but great World Champions have so much more. He has overcome a number of career threatening injuries. In 2011 he could not complete the Moto2 season with an eye injury that threatened to end his career. Crashes especially while training have broken many bones and it was not a rare sight to see him pop a dislocated shoulder back into place and go on and win the next race. His aggressive style has upset the authorities and he has been penalised by having to start from the back row of the grid, of course going on to win the race. 

His biggest off-track triumph was taking on the king of the mind games Valentino Rossi in 2015 and not succumbing the pressure that has destroyed many others.

To say it has been an amazing decade since that day in Mugello is a vast understatement. Where will it all end?. Then there is his younger brother Alex. He has already won the Moto3 and Moto2 World titles and joins Marc as team-mate at Repsol Honda this season. The Marquez dynasty is set to continue for at least another decade.

Must be something in the water of Cervera.

By |2020-06-04T14:24:59+00:00June 4th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on NO IDEA ADVENT OF DYNASTY HAD ARRIVED

ITALY BROUGHT TO A HALT

Twenty years ago today Mugello, as only Mugello can, prepared itself for the battle of all battles. They packed those magnificent Tuscan hillsides dressed in yellow, red and fewer in black and white accompanied by a symphony of unsilenced engines and air horns. The smell and smoke of coloured flares filled the warm Sunday morning air as the leather clad gladiators arrived in the Colosseum.

They had been there for most of the night and when the Italian trio finally appeared in the morning sunshine Mugello went completely crazy. This was the Italian Grand Prix and a home rider had never won the premier class 500cc race at this legendary venue nestling between the hills 20 miles from Florence.

The likes of Agostini, Lucchinelli and Uncini may have captured the ultimate prize but never the premier class win in front of the Tifosi at Mugello. This year was surely going to be different.

It was the fight those passionate Italian fans had been savouring for a long time. Bitter rivals Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi meeting head to head for the first time in a grand prix race on home soil. Completing the trio Loris Capirossi who had already joined a legendary club by winning 125,250 and 500cc grands prix. Prodigal son Rossi’s first season in the 500cc class after winning both 125 and 250 cc World titles. Four times 250 cc World Champion the Roman Emperor Biaggi who had won first time out in the 500cc class two years earlier at Suzuka. Capirossi was probably the underdog with so much media hype focusing on Rossi and Biaggi, but Loris had already been round the block and back. Two 125 cc World titles and then that controversial 1998 World 250 cc title after he ‘collided’ with teammate and Championship rival Tetsuya Harada at the final bend in the final round in Argentina. Sandwiched between those titles Capirossi had won the 500cc race in the 1996 Australian Grand Prix when Alex Criville brought down team-mate Mick Doohan in the last corner at Eastern Creek.

The three Italians had not won at the opening five rounds of the 2000 World Championship, but this was a battle that was fought with far more than 25 world championship points at stake. This was the race everybody in Italy had been waiting for and the trio put on a show that brought the country to a halt.

The real fun and games started with seven of the 23 laps remaining with the three exchanging blows and the lead at the front. Something had to give and Rossi was the first when he lost the front end of the Honda under braking. Then there was two and going into the last lap Capirossi on the Pons Honda led the Yamaha of Biaggi who momentarily got to the front before being pushed back to second. He came back at Capirossi at the last right-hand bend but preparing for a final corner assault got too close. His front brake lever touched the rear seat of the Honda and down Biaggi went in a cloud of dust and gravel.

A triumphant Capirossi crossed the line with arms aloft to celebrate just his second 500cc victory. Rossi returned to Mugello to win seven times in a row. Biaggi never won a premier class race at Mugello. Capirossi went on to win seven more grands prix, none at Mugello but May 28th, 2000 was his day.

Not only did number 65 become the first Italian to win the 500-cc race at Mugello but the win brought Honda their 140th 500cc grand prix win. Ironically, it was one more than the Italian MV Agusta factory.

By |2020-05-28T08:23:10+00:00May 28th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on ITALY BROUGHT TO A HALT

IT SEEMS LIKE YESTERDAY

It was 47 years ago today, but it seems like yesterday. The announcement on the BBC News that there had been a tragic accident at Monza in Italy and that two riders Jarno Saarinen and Renzo Pasolini had lost their lives. I just could not believe the news as I stared at the radio on that sunny Sunday afternoon.

Two of my heroes killed in a split second in an avoidable accident in the 250-cc race at the Nations Grand Prix in Monza just did not seem logical or possible but it was.

The Finn Jarno Saarinen who we had followed, admired and even idolised watching him enjoy the complexities of British short circuit racing when he like many other grand prix stars came to ride in the International meetings. The TT races in the Isle of Man were still the British round of the World Championships and it was at the likes of Mallory Park, Silverstone and Brands Hatch we realised we were watching somebody so special.

Much to the disgust of some of our friends we had even decided to forgo our annual trip to the TT races on the Isle of Man that year. Instead we decided it was time to go to grand prix to watch Saarinen in World Championship action at the 1973 Dutch TT in Assen. At least it was a TT but a very different one to the mountain circuit that we had so enjoyed for many years. It was the right time to go because Saarinen had taken the World Championship by storm, in a similar style to Rossi and Marquez in later years. The previous year he won the 250 cc World Championship for Yamaha. The Japanese factory launched a two-stroke attack on the four stroke – dominated 500cc World Championship in 1973. They knew Saarinen was the man capable of their first and the first 500 cc two-stroke title. Of course, he did not let them down. He won the opening two rounds in France and Austria and only a broken chain prevented the hat trick in Germany. In addition, Saarinen won the opening three rounds in the defence of his 250-cc title. No wonder he was nicknamed the ‘Flying Finn.’

Such was the impact of his death that Yamaha immediately withdrew from the 500cc Championship for the remainder of the season and Monza did not stage another motorcycle grand prix for many years.

Ironically, it was at the TT races we fell in love with Italian Renzo Pasolini. The bespectacled Elvis Costello look alike on board that glorious looking and sounding Benelli won our hearts in the 1968 350 cc TT race in the Isle of Man. We sat on the wall at Greeba Castle and could hear at least five miles away first Giacomo Agostini on the MV Agusta and then Pasolini on the Benelli racing through the gears towards us with that glorious sound bouncing between the Manx stone walls and houses. The master Agostini arrived first, fast, smooth and so immaculate. It took us a good minute to catch our breath before Pasolini arrived in a very different but equally quick manner. He was all over the place and almost mounted the grass verge in front of us before disappearing leaving just the haze of exhaust fumes and that wailing sound as he stormed on towards Ballacraine. We were totally hooked.

I don’t think it’s fair to try and work out or compare how sportsman from different eras would have fared against each other but perhaps Jarno Saarinen should be the exception. Would he have been the greatest grand prix motorcycle racer in the 71-year history of World Championship racing?

I think he would.

By |2020-05-20T10:04:40+00:00May 20th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment

NOT TOO MANY THURSDAY AFTERNOONS LIKE THAT ONE

We would have been enjoying the Shark Helmets French Grand Prix at Le Mans this weekend. On the Thursday afternoon the usual pre-event press conference would be underway. Eight years ago Championship leader Casey Stoner more than brightened up the proceedings at one such conference

Let us be honest those essential pre-event press conferences on a Thursday afternoon were usually bland and boring most of the time. The riders would explain how they liked the circuit and everybody in the team was working so hard preparing for the race. There were some notable exceptions especially when Valentino Rossi was involved. The Gibernau and later Marquez condemnations in Sepang and the announcement that he was sacking Crew Chief Jerry Burgess in Valencia stand out. However, that Thursday afternoon in Le Mans eight years ago when Casey Stoner informed us he was retiring at the peak of his career came right of the blue. It caught everybody and especially Rossi by surprise.

Just 15 minutes before the conference was due to start in that tiny, dusty and dark press conference room at the back of the towering start and finish straight grandstand in Le Mans I was asked to get there early. On arrival in an even smaller room more like a Village Hall and full of stacked chairs behind the stage of the Conference room I met Casey and Repsol Honda Media Manager Rhys Edwards. They told me Casey would like to make an announcement before the start of the press conference. Dorna Communications Manager Ignacio Sagnier agreed, and I thought along with everybody else that Casey was going to announce a renewal of his Honda contract. A bit of real news to brighten up the Thursday proceedings.

The media duly assembled and jammed into the room. The riders sat down in their allocated places and I announced that Casey would like to make a statement. The World Champion did not bat an eyelid and calmly revealed that he’d enough of MotoGP in no uncertain terms and announced he was retiring at the end of the season. There was total silence for around ten seconds. The other riders and Valentino in particular were visibly shocked.

After all this was Casey Stoner. One of the great Australians who had brought Ducati their first premier class title and Honda their first 800 cc crown. Casey who had won 35 premier class grands prix including the last two in Jerez and Estoril. This was Casey who typically told Rossi that his ambition had outweighed his talent when the Italian went down pit lane to apologise after crashing the Ducati, that was once the Australian’s property, into him at turn one in Jerez the previous year. Casey who had made the legendary Phillip Island circuit his very own by winning the Australian Grand Prix for the previous five years. This was Casey who had won over the sceptical Rossi loving British fans with a stunning display of wet weather mastery at a cold wet Silverstone a year earlier.

With the stunned ten second silence coming to end people all around started to rise to their feet clapping. Soon everybody was standing and clapping a very special rider and World Champion.

There were not too many Thursday afternoons like that one before or after that.

 

By |2020-05-13T15:05:41+00:00May 13th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment

SPEACHLESS AT VALE’S GREATEST TRIUMPH

Nick Harris has witnessed all of Valentino Rossi’s 89 MotoGP wins but has commentated on only 88. It is hard to believe but it was 19 long years ago today that Valentino Rossi made it three wins in a row with victory on the 500 cc Honda at the 2001 Spanish Grand Prix at a packed crazy Jerez. It was the fifth of his 89 MotoGP wins and a real indication, not that we needed one, to what lay ahead.

 

I witnessed every one of those 89 victories but it would be a lie to state that I commentated on all of them because I was speechless at probably the greatest of them all.

What a time and place to lose your voice but it happened in the Californian sunshine at Laguna Seca in 2008. I started to croak during qualifying and the press conference on Saturday. By Sunday morning after BBC World Service had to curtail my pre-race chat back to London when that usually so loud voice finally gave up the ghost, I knew I had no chance. I sat at the back of the commentary box on the finish line at Laguna croaking with excitement as the brilliant Gavin Emmett and John Hopkins described that head to head confrontations of all confrontations between Rossi and Casey Stoner. That move at the legendary Corkscrew is still regarded by many but not Ducati, as one of Rossi’s greatest. This was a true World Champion at his very best and showing the World why regaining the title meant so much to him, Yamaha and Italy.

I remember that first win at the British Grand Prix at Donington Park in 2000. It was crucial to MotoGP in Britain with World Superbikes led by Carl Fogarty ruling the roost. Just 18,500 spectators turned up that whole weekend but Rossi’s win and Jeremy McWilliam’s third place lit the fire. There was three times the number one year later to cheer their new hero Rossi to victory.

Seventeen amazing years later in 2017 I was on the microphone at Assen when ‘the Doctor’ fought off the considerable challenge of Daniel Petrucci chasing his first grand prix win. It was his 89 th win in the Premier class and he came mighty close to making it 90 a year later in Malaysia when he crashed while leading with the chequered flag beckoning.

After my speechless performance at Laguna perhaps I am biased but my favourite victory in those 89 came at Welkom in South Africa in 2004. You could not have written the script. Rossi’s debut for Yamaha after leaving Honda going head to head with his bitter rival Max Biaggi who had left Yamaha to join Honda. Nobody, including myself gave Rossi much of a chance. Yamaha were in a big mess and had not won a race the previous year. Rossi changed all that in 28 laps of pure drama around the Phakisa Freeway circuit. Sliding the Yamaha and braking so late somehow he won the duel after an amazing last lap in which Biaggi set the fastest lap of the race.  At the finish Vale parked the M1 Yamaha against the guardrail kissed the number 46 as the tears flowed inside his helmet.

I was so lucky to commentate on the performance of somebody so special as I was for the other 88 wins minus one.

 

By |2020-05-06T08:53:45+00:00May 6th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on SPEACHLESS AT VALE’S GREATEST TRIUMPH

BEST KEPT SECRET

The good Dr Raines tells us that thirty-one years ago, today Eddie Lawson won his first grand prix for the Rothman Honda team at the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez. After winning three World 500 cc titles for Yamaha Eddie’s move to Honda for the 1989 season was a massive news story.

Behind the scenes Nick Harris was pulling the media strings before the announcement of Eddie’s defection to Yamaha’s great rivals Honda.

 

The phone rang very early one morning in December 1988. Either bad news or from Australia was my first thought as I picked up the phone to receive a right old ear bashing from  a furious Wayne Gardner at home in Wollongong. Did I know that Rothmans Honda had signed his bitter rival three times World Champion Eddie Lawson from Yamaha to be his new team-mate, he demanded. I did not know but I soon found out.

A couple of weeks later just before Christmas I was on the plane to Los Angeles with photographer Malcolm Bryan for a secret visit to Eddie in Uplands just outside LA. As Media Manager for the team I wanted to prepare everything for the announcement of the shock big signing in the new year. It was with more than a little trepidation we met Eddie the next morning in the lounge of the hotel decorated with Christmas trees and fairy lights. Nobody ever doubted Eddie as a truly great grand prix rider, but he could be ‘difficult’ with the media. I was worried that the extensive media campaign demanded by Rothmans would not be Eddie’s cup of tea, but I was wrong.

We had a wonderful and productive couple of days with the World Champion. Nothing was a problem for him as we photographed him running alongside a giant freight train in the desert, driving doughnuts on some vast salt flats and posing in front of his new house. We went out to dinner with his friends who honestly did not know he was a World Champion and a massive name in Europe because typically he had not told them. We flew home with everything we needed and more.

It was an amazing season with that first victory for the team at the fourth round in Jerez the start of the championship winning run. It was a scorching hot day with a typical vast noisy crowd packing every vantage spot around the legendary circuit. Kevin Schwantz looked a likely winner until he crashed, and Eddie took over to really kick–start his World Championship campaign in earnest. Wayne Rainey was second and led the Championship by ten points with Niall Mackenzie third.

Eddie followed up with wins in Belgium, France and Sweden before we set off for the party town of all-party towns, Goiania in Brazil for the final round of the 1989 Championship. Second place was enough for Eddie to join the greats by winning the 500cc World Championships on two different makes of machine. We partied and then Eddie returned to Yamaha with the job done.

He then joined Cagiva and brought them their first 500cc grand prix victory in Hungary before retiring at the end of 1992. Along with Phil Read one of the most underrated truly special riders in the 71-year history of the sport. Four World titles,31 grand prix victories say it all, not that Eddie would have ever told his mates back home.

By |2020-04-29T13:38:12+00:00April 29th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on BEST KEPT SECRET

Past and present: global impact on MotoGP™

Never since Grand Prix racing started in 1949 has the sport and more importantly the world faced anything so serious as the present pandemic. Being a sport that encompasses the globe MotoGP™ has and always will be experiencing world events well beyond just the confines of our sport.

In 1982 the opening Grand Prix of the season was held in Buenos Aires the capital of Argentina. Little did I realise what lay ahead as I first travelled by motorcycle on a six-day adventure from the bustling capital city to the border of Chile high in the magnificent Andes before returning for the Grand Prix. A stunning race between Kenny Roberts, Barry Sheene and Freddie Spencer made the perfect ending to a wonderful trip. Yes, we had stumbled on a massive demonstration by ‘los desaparecidos’ mothers whose sons had been abducted and slaughtered by the military junta. Also, there were military aircraft at the airport when I delivered some colour films from practice to be flown back to England, but we so enjoyed the party-loving and friendly city. It was only when we arrived back in England early on the Monday morning, we realised we had got out just in time. A day later all flights between Argentina and Great Britain were cancelled and war was declared between the two countries just two days later over the Falkland Islands dispute.

A year later the opening round of the Championship once again visited a country that was never far the front-page headlines. South Africa was strangled by the apartheid regime and I remember arriving at the airport in Johannesburg questioning my conscious if we should have been there. I left five days later absolutely certain Grand Prix racing had made the right decision. A united front by the Grand Prix community to ignore the segregation laws imposed on the black population. Sometimes it was not easy, and it would have been easy to turn a blind eye, but nobody did, and it meant so much to so many people. I hope the reaction of an international sporting community to apartheid was a shock to those in power.

In 2002 we flew into Melbourne airport surprised by the thousands of people waiting for the flights to arrive. Naively we thought they’d come to welcome the MotoGP™ riders on route to Phillip Island for the Australian Grand Prix, but they were there for a totally different reason. Just a few days earlier 88 Australians had tragically lost their lives in the Bali bombings and these were relatives of the survivors who were flying back home to their loved ones. I also remember after quietly leaving the airport and travelling down to Phillip Island Randy Mamola rushing to the local medical centre in Cowes offering to give blood.

Nine years later it was the MotoGP™ paddock that flew into Japan for the Grand Prix in Motegi. It was the first major sporting event to be staged in Japan since the earthquake and resulting tsunami had caused a postponement six months earlier. Despite real worries, which later proved unfounded, about a radiation leak at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station the Grand Prix went ahead. Full grids and some great racing brought both joy and relief to a Japanese nation who’d suffered so much uncertainty over the last six months.

When this coronavirus pandemic crisis finally ends, MotoGP™ will return to the racetracks of the world.

By |2020-04-23T13:29:12+00:00April 23rd, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment

Concorde announced Freddie’s Easter arrival

For British motorcycle racing fans, the Easter holiday weekend meant just one thing – the Transatlantic Trophy. Great Britain versus the USA at three so typically British racetracks. Brands Hatch on Good Friday, Mallory Park on Easter Sunday and finishing at Oulton Park on Easter Monday. Massive crowds packed the three circuits to witness the transatlantic showdown with World Champions Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts captaining their respect teams.

Good Friday in 1980 summed it up perfectly. The long wait in the traffic on the A20 unless you were lucky enough to be riding a bike, before reaching the grassy Brands Hatch car parks. Over 50,000 patriotic fans packed the 4.2 km circuit south of London to cheer on Barry Sheene and his team to take on ‘The Yanks’ captained by 500cc World Champion Kenny Roberts. Even the sun was shining.

As the teams prepared for the first round of the battle amid the screech, smoke and smell of two-stroke rocket ships all eyes turned towards the sky. The majestic shape of the supersonic Concorde aircraft leaving a white vapour trail in the blue sky as it roared overhead on route to New York from London Heathrow. Symbolically that white vapour trail announced the arrival on the World stage of an 18-year-old American. Frederick Burdette Spencer had arrived from Shreveport, Louisiana and everybody was about to take notice.

The fans cheered and waved their flags as the riders on the back of an open top lorry completed a lap of honour before the hostilities got underway. Only a few checked their programmes to check the identity of a shy teenager with a huge number eight emblazoned on the back of his blue and white leathers. They were glad they did.

Back in the paddock Erv Kanemoto was warming up the striking silver 750cc Yamaha on which Freddie was going to race for the very first-time outside America. The warning signs were there for the British team and fans with Freddie fastest in practice despite some electrical problems. Nobody was prepared for what happened.

It took Freddie just three laps of the undulating Brands circuit to force the crowd to re-check those well-thumbed programmes on just who was leading the race. Freddie just disappeared into the green Kent countryside leaving the likes of Sheene, Roberts and Graeme Crosby to fight for second.

An hour and a half later the crowd were ready, and Freddie did not let them down in the second race. He led from the start as the pack screamed into the infamous downhill Paddock Hill bend. Roberts and Randy Mamola chased hard, but this was the Silver Yamaha’s day and Freddie was a comfortable start to finish winner.

Just 48 hours into his first trip outside America Freddie had arrived. Three World titles, 27 Grand Prix wins and the only rider to complete the 250/500cc World Championship double in the same season shows we should have taken a little bit more notice of Concorde’s white vapour trails pointing all the way back to the United States on that sunny Good Friday afternoon 40 years ago.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00April 16th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Press Release|Comments Off on Concorde announced Freddie’s Easter arrival