Nick’s Blog

RANDY MAMOLA – WHERE DO YOU START?

Never has anybody deserved that ultimate accolade of being inducted a MotoGP Legend than Randy. The problem is finding enough space to tell you why because he ticks every box apart from one.

Randy will not thank me for reminding you he is the first non World Champion to join the exclusive club but in so many ways this makes his election even more special and richly deserved. His passionate dedication to the sport, rider’s safety and the Riders for Health charity, his ability to fight back from adversity, loyalty, stubbornness, a true family man and for being one of the funniest men I’ve ever met will do for a start.

The record books can’t tell the real story. Thirteen 500cc grands prix wins, more than World Champions Marco Lucchinelli, Franco Uncini and Kenny Roberts Junior, brought him a heart-breaking runner – spot in the World Championship on four separate occasions. He was a brilliant grand prix rider who certainly ran out of luck at the wrong time and found himself racing in a golden era of rich talent especially from his very own homeland. From the moment the brash freckled faced Californian teenager arrived in Europe we knew we were in for fun and games on and off the track.

On the track I remember that first grand prix victory on a rare visit to Zolder in 1980 followed with a victory at the British Grand Prix. The much televised save of the Rothmans Honda in Italy and two brilliant wins in Assen. Off the track Randy was the undisputed World Champion leading the way in an era of paddock parties, wrecked hire cars and  wild Sunday night celebrations before moving on to place your life and body on the line at the next race.

In 1987 we arrived at the party town of Goiania in Brazil where the outcome of the World Championship was to be decided. Randy had won in Japan, France and San Marino and still had a slim chances preventing Wayne Gardner taking the title. It was the first ever grand prix in Goiania and the night before the first day of practice the riders, sitting round the swimming pool, were asked to judge the Miss Brazilian Grand Prix competition. We were surprised not to see Randy on the judging panel but when a freckled faced ‘lady’ appeared on the catwalk dressed to the nines with a full face of make –up we realised why.

 It was especially tough for Randy when he retired. No World Championship to celebrate and no rich rewards for his glittering career after some disastrous investments by others. He fought back in the same way he had ridden those awesome 500 cc two-strokes. Randy spearheaded the Riders for Health campaign to combat disease in Africa with the same passion and single minded approach that had made him such a great rider. He is worthy ambassador for companies involved in MotoGP, an inspirational riders mentor and does a superb job riding the two-seater providing the ride of a life time for those lucky Ducati guests. Most of all his love of the sport that has brought him such a roller coaster of emotions has never once wavered and that wicked sense of humour and fun is never far away. 

 Randy Mamola a true friend and MotoGP legend.

By | April 20th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|0 Comments

IT’S A LONG WAIT – 38 YEARS 344 DAYS TO BE PRECISE

My long black hair rested on my shoulders and was supplemented by an equally thick beard and the compulsory flared jeans. If you’d foreseen the technical revolution of Mobile phones and the internet you would have probably been led away to a quiet room. Nottingham Forest won the European Cup (Champions League) and Art Garfunkel’s song Bright Eyes was the bestselling record in Britain.

It seems like a long time ago and it was. To be precise 38 years and 344 days. Little did we imagine we would have to wait well over half a life time to witness another British rider leading the Premier class in World Championship racing. Once again it was Cal Crutchlow that put the previous 589 grands prix of misery for British fans to bed with his brilliant victory on the LCR Honda in Argentina on Sunday. Cal has this wonderful habit of destroying records set by the legendary late Barry Sheene. Seventeen months ago he won the MotoGP race at Brno in the Czech Republic to become the first British premier class winner since Sheene’s 1981 victory at Anderstorp in Sweden.

Sheene led the old 500cc Championship after winning the opening round on the Suzuki at a scorching hot San Carlos in Venezuela at the opening grand prix of 1979. That lead lasted for just 43 days with Italian Virginio Ferrari taking over at the front after finishing second at the second round at the Salzburgring in Austria. That was that until last Sunday.

There is now only one place for Cal to go. The Isle of Man –based Midlander has just and it’s a very big just, to win the premier class Championship to finally eclipse that desperately barren period of drought for British racing. Of course it was Barry Sheene who was the last premier class World Champion. Forty one, yes 41, years ago he retained the 500cc in 1977 after clinching the title for the first time the previous year.

It’s a mighty big ask for Cal Crutchlow but he arrives at Austin next week with a precious three points     lead over Andrea Dovizioso. He is brimming with confidence as he mixes it with the factory bikes and Cal knows that consistency is going to be the key while others both crash and win. There are 17 grands prix to go before that final round at Valencia in November.

Sheene eventually finished third in the 1979 Championship behind Kenny Roberts and Ferrari. Yes it’s a big ask but I think us British fans deserve a bit of a dream which Crutchlow ignited back in Brno 17 months ago.

I would have to grow a beard and look out those flares if that dream is fulfilled.

By | April 13th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|3 Comments

ARGENTINA PRICKED THE MOTOGP BUBBLE

The MotoGP bubble takes over your life when you are on the road. Practice, qualifying times and tyre choice plus any gossip about take potential rider moves fill your brain and conversations for three days and nights. Then it’s on to the race itself. The outside world rarely gets a look in. It has to be something pretty big and special to break in as I discovered on my first trip to Argentina.

I’d never heard of the Falkland Islands when we flew into Buenos Aires on a sunny spring morning in 1982. By the time we landed back home in Gatwick ten days later I certainly knew exactly where they were. Who can blame me and my colleague Peter Clifford for knowing nothing about a group of isolated Islands that were about to grab the headlines for many months to come.

After all we were on the trip of a lifetime. Somehow and I still don’t know how, we’d persuaded our editor that a Chez Guevara ride across Argentina into the Andes and the Chilean border was the perfect prelude to the Argentine Grand Prix. Honda provided the machines and Peter with a scoop with three RS 500s lying naked in the workshop when we went to pick up our bikes and everybody was at lunch. Freddie Spencer was due to make his Honda grand prix debut on the one of the new three cylinder two-strokes. The expected battle between the young American and the old warhorses Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts turned into a classic.

We returned from a memorable 1000 mile road trip to Buenos Aires and the grand prix which was the opening round of the 1982 Championship. We’d seen a newspaper headline in Mendoza about the Falkland Islands but thought nothing more. Even when Barry Sheene lent me his hire car to take some colour films to the airport in order to have pictures on the front page next Wednesday I didn’t notice the presence of military transport aircraft on the runway. We were having such a great time in an amazing city although there were a few worry aspects. One evening when seeking a shop that sold cheap leather jackets we found ourselves in the middle of a demonstration. Thousands of women with placards demanding to find out what had happened to their lost sons and a large contingent of riot police armed with water cannons was a grim sight.

Away from demonstration Buenos Aires was buzzing. Great restaurants, night life and to us Brit’s not a mention of the Falkland’s. We rode our Honda road bikes to the circuit on the morning of the race. New Zealander Graeme Crosby, who had just signed a massive deal to ride for Giacomo Agostini’s factory Yamaha team, insisted on a lift with Peter before his much publicised debut. A pair of flip flops and shorts was not the ideal clothes for the occasion but this was Croz. Of course being the TT and Daytona winner it was not going to be an easy ride and on the approach roads to the parkland circuit he started standing on the rear footrests. It was obvious to me riding behind what was going to happen and of course it did. Croz lying in the middle of the road with a Honda road bike on top of him a couple of hours before his factory Yamaha debut with blood pouring from his knee.

A little bit of instant first aid and a grazed Croz arrived on time for his debut and Yamaha and Ago were none the wiser. The 32 lap 500cc race round the Autodromo was a classic. At the finish Roberts beat Sheene by just 0.67 s with Spencer an impressive third.

Racing over we rushed to the airport to catch the British Caledonian Sunday night flight to Gatwick. Good job because it was one of the last flights to fly out of Argentina to England for many a long year but still we were oblivious to what was happening. Arrival at Gatwick changed all that with the morning newspaper headlines screaming about the invasion of the Falkland’s by Argentina. We had escaped by the skin of our teeth and war was declared two days later.

For once that MotoGP bubble had been burst.

By | April 6th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|4 Comments

MR STEADY IS READY

I’m finding it hard to type with one hand because I’m being honest and have the other hand above my head. Come on; keep your hand down if at the start of the MotoGP season last year you expected Andrea Dovizioso to be challenging for the Championship going into that last Valencia round.

Like me you expected the charming Mr Steady Italian to be picking up a few podiums even poles plus at the best a win or two on the factory Desmosedici Ducati. After all some people thought he was lucky to even keep that Ducati ride ahead of his very different team-mate Andrea Iannone and his new team-mate, amid a blaze of publicity. was Jorge Lorenzo. There had been no real hint of the truly extraordinary 18 round adventure that lay ahead.

Of course Dovi has always been quick, growing up mini-bike racing on those infamous kart tracks that dot the Adriatic coast of Italy. You don’t win the 125 cc World title while still a teenager and finish runner-up in the 250 cc title chase before switching to MotoGP without oozing racing talent but was he good enough to join the great at the very pinnacle of the sport.

Early indications pointed to an impressive MotoGP career but a world title challenger, perhaps not. He won that damp British Grand Prix at Donington Park in 2009 for the Repsol Honda team but it was not until the penultimate 2016 round in the pouring Malaysian rain he secured that second win. In between he had done a great job for the Tech 3 Yamaha satellite team before joining the ailing Ducati outfit in 2013. He was the ideal person to start restoring the fortunes for that passionate Italian factory that had really lost their way after the halcyon days of Casey Stoner. They were ready to challenge for the world title once again at the start of 2017 when three times MotoGP World Champion Lorenzo arrived to spearhead their challenge- well that’s what we all thought.

So what happened to a rider that was always going to be remembered as the really nice guy? Off the track, friendly, honest and accommodating. Perhaps that was the view we also had of him on the track. We could not have been more mistaken. While Lorenzo struggled Dovi just grabbed the opportunity to show a level of raw aggression and sheer confidence his rivals and Marc Marquez in particular had never witnessed before. He was quite happy to meet the World Champion head to head in epic final bend confrontations. Those wins over the Spaniard in Austria and Japan showcased the fact he had taken that giant step from grand prix winner to serious Championship contender. It’s a step that few make.

Typing is getting easier with both hands on the keyboard after witnessing Dovi destroy Marquez once again in Qatar last week. I will not make the same mistake again.

Mr Steady – I don’t think so.

Dovi is ready and more than capable.

By | March 23rd, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|4 Comments

CAMELS – NEVER

You will not believe me but I promise you we did see camels on the way to the circuit. OK it may have been over a decade ago but camels were definitely out there in the Qatar desert. Today it’s a very different story.

We assembled in the hotel lobby for our first day back at school. The new shoes still a little tight, the new trousers as always too long and the crisp white MotoGP shirts still hiding a couple of painful pins, after only being unpacked from their cellophane wrapping 15 minutes earlier.

Anything more different to a trip down the A43 to Silverstone or the road between Cowes and Phillip Island could not be imagined. No Green Man pub on the left or signs to the Penguin parade as the circuit signs give notice we are getting close. Central Doha and the road to Al Khor was more like a trip to Mars.

Massive and I mean massive glass towers filled the sky. You imagined you are in New York, Hong Kong or Dubai but no this was Doha and it’s growing before our very eyes. Extra floors seemed to be added every day and in some cases overnight, to the plethora of new skyscrapers that filled the skyline. It was windy, it was dusty with giant cranes swaying in the desert winds and then there was the traffic.

In addition to those extra floors, new roads, roundabouts and routes appeared overnight. The army of four wheel drive monsters that fight you for pole position at every traffic light, junction and particularly roundabouts lapped up the challenge. It was a nightmare just surviving.

We passed a massive railway station that no doubt will feed tens of thousands who will flock to the concrete fortress like stadiums that will host the World Cup in four years’ time. Again they just appeared overnight where there used to be sand and more sand. We passed the Pearl, a millionaire’s playground of luxury apartments before at last a diversion sign pointed to the Al Khor road and the Losail International circuit. No sign anymore of the petrol station that used to fill our hire cars for less than a fiver and the café and mosque.

Fourteen years ago when MotoGP made its first visit to Qatar on a sweltering hot 40’ Saturday afternoon this was the desert road to Losail. Today the landscape was un recognisable. The new Losail city loomed on the right, cement lorries queued to be loaded from giant mountains of white sand while the obligatory new football stadium was under construction, surrounded by clouds of dust.

I will never forget my first glimpse of the magnificent Losail circuit glimmering in the piercing sunshine surrounded by a sea of white sand 14 years ago. Once again it has all changed. Not only do the hundreds of floodlight poles signal its appearance a lot earlier but a few years ago a space ship style stadium appeared out of nowhere during the winter. It’s like a scene from Star Wars with this enormous space ship landing in the desert. I’m told it’s no such thing but actually a handball stadium but you can only dream.

Over the redundant cattle/camel grid and turn right. The entrance beckoned and the MotoGP season was about to start – Bring it on but shame about the camels.

 

By | March 14th, 2018|Nick's Blog|1 Comment

LAWN MOWER AND PARISH NEWS REPLACE VALE AND MARC

I’d be lying to say I do not feel a bit strange at the moment as the new MotoGP season beckons. For the first time in 38 years I’m not involved but I’ve filled the time in by buying a lawn mower and writing features for the Cumnor Parish News. I’ve also had a bit of a think what I will miss most about not being in Qatar for that opening race in three weeks’ time.

Saturday and Sunday breakfasts at Ducati where they called me Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses. Best scrambled eggs in the world.

The very British IRTA enclave in the paddock with cups of tea and British television on tap. Keith Huewen from BT Sport was a great tea maker.

Watching Premier League football with Matt Birt and Steve Day in Alpine Stars Hospitality on Saturday nights while discussing the fortunes of Cornish Pirates Rugby Club with Jeremy Appleton over a beer. It was always good if Arsenal and Leicester won and Spurs lost.

Alerting the Manchester – based studio of BBC World Service it was time to put the kettle on because I always rang at tea time, 15.00 on a Sunday afternoon with the race report.

Sneaking a read of the free copy of the Daily Mail on British Airways flights without Gavin Emmett from BT Sport noticing.

Suppressing uncontrollable laughter when somebody, often myself, had produced a rather nasty smell in the commentary box. Very childish but very funny.

Remembering Dylan’s name down in pit lane.

Practicing the pronunciation of the name of the Tissot Representative who was awarding the Qualifying watch winners, with MotoGP Media Manger Frine Velilla. I still got it wrong.

Checking the Oxford United full time score on my phone while the pole setters were answering my questions in the Qualifying press conference.

Locking myself in my office at Phillip Island in Australia when the python arrived to be draped over the riders shoulders in the pre-event photo-shoot.

That first cold beer on a Sunday night when work had finally finished.

Hoping that Valentino Rossi would not say f….. too many times in the press conference.

Trying to compose good questions for Cal Crutchlow because his answers sometimes scared me.

Trying not to say thank-you too many times to Marc Marquez in the press conferences.

So many great bars and restaurants but must mention Don Pepe in Jerez, Isle of Wight Pub in Phillip Island, The Brewery in Brno and the Sami Sami hotel bar and street food in Malaysia to name but a few.

Trying to keep up with Matt Birt as he strode through airports like Usain Bolt at a million miles per hour. It was something I never achieved especially on those escalators.

Being told to shut the f…… up in my headphones by Spanish producer Victor when the TV broadcast was coming to an end.

Staying at a Castle with a moat and drawbridge in Austria.

There are very a few things I won’t miss but seriously I’m already missing so much this truly incredible sport and the amazing people who work in it. That’s it, no more time for reminiscing I’ve got to trim the hedge and get that lawn ready for its first cut!

By | February 22nd, 2018|Nick's Blog|11 Comments

ILL – YOU WOULD HAVE NEVER GUESSED

The great thing about us blokes is we never moan or go on about it when the dreaded flu or in most cases heavy cold strikes at the end of January. I would not think of telling just how rotten I’ve felt for the last week and a half because we just get on with it and never moan especially to our partners.

However, while not moaning of course, it did give me the chance of taking a longer look than normal at some other sports on the television and in the newspapers. The superb three days of MotoGP testing went ahead in Sepang unnoticed and in most cases totally unreported which is no great surprise on the evidence of last season. The 2018 MotoGP season looks like another superb spectacle of close racing and pure excitement in front of record crowds and especially at the new Far East venue in Thailand. So how are the other Motorsport World Championships reacting and shaping up.

I was excited to find a double page spread in my favourite Daily Newspaper, despite the paper failing to mention Marc Marquez had clinched the 2017 Moto in their Monday edition after Valencia, about the Formula One World Championship. Would it look into new rule changes and plans to freshen up the sport they devote so many column inches to during the season. I was disappointed to find that while the Sepang test was not mentioned a lot of space was taken up telling us how Formula One was going to replace Grid Girls with Grid Kids this coming season. Some would argue replacing some of the complicated rules and making the racing a trifle more exciting might have been a greater priority.

Football rules in Britain and most of the world which is reflected in its wall to wall coverage. While not moaning of course, I even had to miss Oxford United’s brilliant away win at Charlton on Saturday because of my ailment, blimey I must have been actually poorly. One of the big talking points has been the use of Video Action Replays in certain games to check if the ball has crossed the line and important offside positions. The trouble was it took a long time for the video referee back in the studio on some distant trading estate to make the final decision. It was a bit like not letting the riders onto the rostrum because VAR had still not decided the winner. It will work in football with a bit of fine tuning and you only have to look how Tissot’s instant finish line pictures determine race and rostrum finishers in MotoGP.

I watched and marvelled at the unbelievable play of Roger Federer in the Australian Open Tennis. What an athlete and competitor showing as much unbridled enthusiasm and pure joy of playing his chosen sport as a young teenager in his very first season. It all has a familiar ring to it. Swap the tennis court to the race track and there stands Valentino Rossi. Proper sporting legends are few and far between and these two are right up there with the gods of their chosen profession.

Finally I love cricket and during the last couple of weeks have tried to recoup the considerable amount of cash I owe Jerry Burgess, Rossi’s former Crew Chief. For over a quarter of a century we have always bet of the England /Australia Ashes series and I think I’ve paid him enough cash to finance his times with Honda, Ducati and Yamaha all put together and this year looks no exception. Don’t worry I’ll get the call from Adelaide reminding me of the exact amount.

By the way thanks for asking and I’m feeling much better now. Not that you would have ever known I’d been ill.

By | February 8th, 2018|Nick's Blog|3 Comments

THE AUDACITY TO ORGANISE THE COLLEGE GIRLS SPRING BREAK

This is a message to all those lucky people on the long flight to Sepang for the first MotoGP test of the 2018 season. Back in the day long before official test sessions for all the teams had been dreamed of we were sent to Daytona for the 200 miler event, which many of the top grand prix riders used as a pre-season test.

What a nightmare assignment it was as I’m am sure you can imagine. Two long weeks in the Florida sunshine at the end of February having to watch 750cc missiles race round the most famous piece of banked tarmac in the world. To make matters even worse you had to watch and yes even report on Supercross and short track racing, while witnessing more Harley Davidsons than you’d ever seen in your life parade up and down the Daytona strip every warm evening before enjoying more than one cool beer. Would you believe on a couple of occasions they even had the audacity to organise the college girls spring break at the same time of the races, now just how inconsiderate was that.

One year I even had to share a room with a colleague. The fact that it was enormous and overlooked the massive long beach with the sound of the Atlantic Ocean luring you to sleep each night, or in most cases early morning, was irrelevant. After so much hard work some nights it was difficult to take an early night because the band and particularly the girl lead singer who both looked and sounded like Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac for you youngsters) were too loud. They played in the bar of the hotel five nights a week, not that we went to the bar on that many occasions in those 14 tough days. On another occasion our sleep was interrupted when they launched a moon rocket from nearby Cape Canaveral, just another thing to moan about to my editor on return to a cold wet England in early March.

At the circuit some days you often had to keep out of the sun while watching a young Freddie Spencer in action for the first time on the four-stroke Honda taking on the likes of Kenny Roberts and Graeme Crosby on those frightenly quick 750cc Yamahas that would twitch and wriggle at over 150 mph on the banking.

It was a nightmare and you people on that long flight to Sepang just don’t know how lucky you are!

By | January 25th, 2018|Nick's Blog|4 Comments

OVER TWO AND A HALF MILLIONS FANS CAN’T BE WRONG

I’m so naive about believing facts and statistics. Like many people I’m happy to use them when they suit my purpose and to hide them when they don’t while not really knowing deep down if to believe them or not. However, I do believe the facts produced by Dorna regarding last year’s MotoGP World Championship because I was there first hand to check. I’m not pretending that I spent every race weekend counting the number of spectators in the grandstands on my fingers but I’m not surprised that the average attendance for each race weekend was just under 150,000 and was in fact 148,100.

It’s a staggering figure which was rarely eclipsed by any other 18 round World Championship in any sport and certainly in any other form of Motorsport. Two million six hundred and sixty five thousand eight hundred and six fans witnessed the action last year despite rain at some stage of the three day race weekend at 11 of the 18 events.

The final showdown of the season in Valencia attracted a sell-out crowd of 110,220 fans on race day and a weekend attendance of 209,707 to witness Marc Marquez capture a memorable championship. The Red Bull Ring in Austria was jam packed with 201,589 MotoGP fans which was around three times bigger than the attendance for their Formula One event. Sepang in Malaysia staged its last Formula One race for the time being while the MotoGP race brought in nearly 100,000 race day fans despite the rain.

Despite all the uncertainty about its future The British Grand Prix at Silverstone still attracted a weekend crowd of over 128,00 which should increase this year with Silverstone endorsing it’s faith in the event. Another venue looking for an increase is the legendary Sachsenring in Germany. Despite a date change which affected the ticket sales nearly 165,000 fans watched their local hero Jonas Folger finish second.

Naïve I may be about attendance statistics but I do understand they are a true indication just what a great show MotoGP produces for the masses. The equally impressive social media figures are more of a grey area for a grey head like me but on good authority, by people considerably younger than myself, I’m told they are equally impressive – I have to believe them.

The official MotoGP web site attracted 70 million visits, 24 million unique users with 208 million pages being visited which sounds like a lot to me. Facebook attracted 12.7 million fans, Instagram 4.9 million followers, Twitter 2.3 million followers and YouTube 1.2 million subscribers. The new MotoGP eSport Championship was a massive success with 25 million video views, 2.8 million engagements and a reach of 75.5 million.

The worldwide success of MotoGP is a clear indication that by producing a spectacle that excites and stimulates the fans whether at the venue, on the television or social media is the key to success. Build the infrastructure round the principle that the product has to be right before you can gain the benefits – Other sports should take notice and follow their example.

By | January 18th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment

THE TWELVE DAYS OF MOTOGP CHRISTMAS

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

Zarco’s debut podiums three.

 

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

Second place for Dovi

Zarco’s debut podiums three.

 

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

Three wins for Maverick

Second place for Dovi etc …….

 

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

4.9 million Instagram followers

Three wins for Maverick etc ……….

 

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

Five gold Rins

4.9 million Instagram followers etc…….

 

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

Six Franco poles

Five gold Rins etc ……

 

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

Seven Sepang swimmers

Six Franco poles etc ……..

 

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

Marc’s eight Tissot watches

Seven Sepang swimmers etc …..

 

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

Nine Luca’s coaching

Marc’s eight Tissot watches etc …….

 

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

Ten Joan’s winning

Nine Luca’s coaching etc ……..

 

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

150,000 fans at each grand prix

Ten Joan’s winning etc ……..

 

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love sent to me:

12 European venues

150,000 fans at each grand prix

Ten Joan’s winning

Nine Luca’s coaching

Marc’s eight Tissot watches

Seven Sepang swimmers

Six Franco poles

Five gold Rins

4.9 million Instagram followers

Three wins for Maverick

Second place for Dovi

Zarco’s debut podiums three.

By | December 22nd, 2017|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment