Nick’s Blog

Barcelona with Joey Dunlop, The Who and Queen

Sitting by the hotel pool in Castelldefels with the greatest ever road racer Joey Dunlop watching the equally greatest ever rock bands U2, The Who, and Queen perform live at Wembley Stadium on the television so reminds me of my very first taste of motorcycle racing in Spain.

It was my one and only visit to the legendary Montjuic Park circuit with the roofs and spires of the City of Barcelona shining in the sunshine below the hillside location. The circuit that started the Grand Prix revolution in Spain back in 1951. The 3.790 km Parkland circuit that had staged 17 Spanish Grands Prix.

It was a hot July weekend in 1985 and the Spanish Grand Prix had long moved on to the purpose-built circuit at Jarama on the outskirts of Madrid. Montjuic Park was still alive and certainly kicking. I was there with the Rothmans Honda TT Formula One team for the Spanish round of the Championship. There was also a round of the TT Formula Two World Championship with the real bonus a round of the World Endurance Championship which meant watching motorcycles racing at night on the hallowed tarmac. It was one massive party for tens of thousands of spectators who knew how to party while the mighty monsters roared round the circuit with headlights blazing and exhausts glowing.

Montjuic Park had such a special place in motorcycle folklore. In 1951 it hosted its first Grand Prix and the 500cc race won by Umberto Masetti on the Gilera in 2:10:56.2 at a speed of 93.9 km/h which is the slowest ever average speed recorded for a premier class Grand Prix. Two years later Fergus Anderson became the oldest rider to win a premier class Grand Prix. He was 44 years old at the time and so do not give up Vale, you have three more years

Japanese factories also have good memories. Australian Tom Phillis brought Honda their first-ever Grand Prix win with victory in the 1961 125cc race. Eleven years late Chas Mortimer gave Yamaha their first-ever 500cc premier class win on the 352cc Yamaha (Well Chas said it was 352 cc).

My second visit to Barcelona came seven years after that trip to Montjuic Park. It was a completely different City totally swamped by Olympic fever. New roads, new airport, and most importantly a spanking new Grand Prix circuit on the northern outskirts near Granollers. The showpiece to the World was the magnificent Olympic stadium built on the site of the Montjuic Park circuit. How times had changed in the comparatively short seven years.

The new 4.747 km Barcelona – Catalunya circuit matched everything that Barcelona had built for the Olympics. Brilliant technical track with superb facilities for the 1992 Grand Prix of Europe. It was the way ahead. Wayne Rainey won the first Grand Prix on the new surface in front of Mick Doohan and Doug Chandler. The circuit has staged a Grand Prix every year since then.

Back to Montjuic Park in 1985 coupled with both sadness and joy. British rider Tony Rutter, who had won four consecutive TT Formula Two World titles, was very seriously injured when he crashed his Ducati in the F2 race.

That weekend back in England the greatest ever live concert was being staged at Wembley. Live Aid was beamed throughout the World which of course included Castelldefels. I cannot remember who Joey Dunlop’s favourite band was, but probably U2 instead of Queen or The Who

What a Barcelona weekend.

 

By |2020-09-24T05:42:00+00:00September 24th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Barcelona with Joey Dunlop, The Who and Queen

Basketball or football?

What a unique weekend. MotoGP™ and Formula One Grands Prix in the same country on the same day. Two major but very different World Championship motorsport events in Italy in these challenging times. Two wheels at Misano and four wheels for the very first time at the legendary MotoGP™ venue in Mugello.

I remember once asking Max Mosley, the President at the time of the FIA who controlled Formula One, why there was not more overtaking in Formula One in comparison to Grand Prix motorcycle racing. As always, he came up with a very clever reply.

Mosley likened Formula One to football and Grand Prix motorcycle racing to basketball. On two wheels plenty of overtaking similar to baskets in basketball adding up to the ultimate score and result. In Formula One he suggested that one decisive overtaking manoeuvre in the complete race could produce victory as a single goal can in football

If you think the weekend was unique, there was a time when they would run car races and a motorcycle Grands Prix on the same day at the same circuit. It was a recipe for disaster and controversy which came to a head in the 1974 West German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. Car racers wanted unprotected Armco barriers to stop them from crashing off the track. The motorcycle riders rightly wanted those barriers protected by straw bales. The organisers would not supply enough and so the Grand Prix riders, led by MV Agusta team-mates Phil Read and Giacomo Agostini, refused to race.

As so often happened in those dangerous and uncaring times, the organisers insisted the Grand Prix went ahead. They persuaded just seven local German riders to compete while the World Championship stars looked on or went home. There were just four finishers in the 159.845km race around the 22.835km Nürburgring circuit. Yamaha rider Edmund Czihak won with nearly two minutes to spare to secure his only ever World Championship points with a win.

What a day of racing at Misano. A British win in Moto3™, Valentino Rossi’s half-brother’s victory in Moto2™ and then Franco Morbidelli’s maiden MotoGP™ win. It was the first time since the Sachsenring in 2002 that Italian riders finished first and second in both the premier and intermediate class races on the same day.  Five separate MotoGP™ winners and four for the very first time. Dovizioso leading the Championship despite only finishing seventh and it all starts again on Friday morning

The two Grands Prix did not clash on television times and so I switched over to watch the Formula One race in Mugello. I was fascinated to see just how those magnificent and so fast cars would fare on such a great MotoGP™ circuit. I discovered immediately that when Formula One cars crash, they crash big with the safety car leading the way for the opening laps. When they finally got racing it was an impressive sight because they are so quick.

If the two Grands Prix had clashed at the same time on the television which would I have watched live? I think you know the answer.

I may love my football, but basketball came out well on top this weekend and always will do.

 

By |2020-09-17T14:17:53+00:00September 17th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Basketball or football?

That pure magic title tells you all you need to know

The title of the Grand Prix and the name of the circuit tells you all you ever want to know about Misano. The Gran Premio Lenovo di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli is pure magic, conjuring up images that embrace the very history of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Great battles, tragedy, innovation, national pride and humour. Where do you start?

Personally, I was dispatched by Motor Cycle News to Misano in March 1976 to report on my very first motorcycle race. There was no pre-season testing in those days. Either you bit the financial bullet and went to Daytona in Florida for a week of fun, games, drinking and some racing or you went to the new purpose-built circuit at Misano on the Adriatic coast of Italy.

There had always been pre-season races in this part of the world. The seafront Riccione road circuit had long been established but like many others, a tragedy brought about its demise and the building of the new circuit a couple of kilometres inland at Misano. MV Agusta factory rider Angelo Bergamonti had won both the 350cc and 500cc Grand Prix races at the final round of the 1970 season at Montjuïc Park in Barcelona but was killed at the start of the 1971 season when he crashed at a roundabout on the Riccione seafront.

Both multi World Champions and bitter rivals, Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read were competing at Misano on private Suzuki 500cc two-strokes and, somehow, I managed to have dinner with them both on successive evenings at the legendary Abners hotel. That is where the good news ended. Ago decided when it started to sleet on race morning he would not compete and without their star man, the organisers immediately cancelled the meeting. That was bad enough but then I upset Ago with my Motor Cycle News headline which included the words ‘Pathetic Ago’. Not the great start to a career upsetting the 15-times World Champion with over 100 Grand Prix wins to his name as he reminded me when we met in the paddock at the re-scheduled race meeting on the Modena aerodrome circuit two weeks later.

This Adriatic coast of Italy has always been a hotbed of motorcycle racing. Youngsters brought up racing minibikes on the kart circuits that dot the seaside resorts have produced more World Champions and racing heroes than any other place in the World. Marco Simoncelli’s name is embedded into the name of the circuit. The rider with big hair and a big voice. The 250cc World Champion from Cattolica, who lost his life chasing his first MotoGP™ win Malaysia in 2011, is part of an elite band. Andrea Dovizioso from Forli and, of course, the most famous of them all, a certain Valentino Rossi

The small town of Tavullia is situated just over the hill from Misano and has turned into a shrine for the number 46. When he was voted Mayor of the town, the population walked to the circuit where the new Lord Mayor held the Annual General meeting in the grandstand at the Tramonto corner during a Grand Prix weekend. The celebrations when Rossi won the MotoGP™ races in 2008, 2009 and 2014 lasted for days and even longer than when Casey Stoner brought Ducati a patriotic win in 2007 en route to his World title. Grand Prix racing returned to Misano after a 14-year absence that year on the circuit running the opposite direction to the original. Rossi is determined that the heritage will continue and his racing ranch near Tavullia is already feeding the production line with Italian World Champions.

Pier Francesco Chili was another local hero running a bar and restaurant on the Misano beach. He won his only 500cc Grand Prix at his home circuit in 1989. I remember more about the antics of World Champion Eddie Lawson than the ever-popular ‘Frankie’. The original race had been stopped because of rain on the fifth lap and the top riders refused to return to the track. Chili was contracted to race and duly won. Every lap he passed pit lane Lawson was sat on the wall with one finger in the air that was not indicting to the Italian who was in first place.

Every time I fly into Bologna and drive down the Autostrada to Misano there are two people I always think about. I will never forget the silence of utter despair that descended like a black cloud engulfing the paddock when the news broke of Wayne Rainey’s terrible injuries sustained in his crash at turn one in 1993.  Seventeen years later that black cloud fell again on the paddock when that delightful and so talented Japanese rider Shoya Tomizawa lost his life in the Moto2™ race.

Misano has seen it all. It is such a special place with so many memories.

 

By |2020-09-10T08:25:01+00:00September 10th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on That pure magic title tells you all you need to know

Close your eyes and take a deep breath

I didn’t think I would ever admit it after that delayed start but like everybody else I need a breather and a lie down in a darkened room  after the most incredible start to a season in the 71 year history of grand prix racing.

For the last four decades I have often written and spoken about ‘The Changing of the Guard’ after the first few races of a new season. New grand prix winners arrived; new manufactures stood on the top step of the podium while old champions started to fade but never has so much happened in such a short space of time. The new statistics after five breath taking encounters have just poured out in bucket loads of drama, excitement and incident.

I remember enthusing about Jarno Saarinen when he won those first two rounds of the 1973 World 500cc Championship before his tragic death. I wrote about those first grand prix wins for the likes of Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner, Kevin Schwantz, Max Biaggi and Kenny Roberts Junior at the first rounds of the season. All apart from the unlucky Biaggi they went on to become World 500 cc Champions, but this season has eclipsed anything we have witnessed previously.

Who would have dared to believe what lay head when the season tentatively got underway behind closed doors in Jerez last month.

Eleven different riders have finished on the podium with four separate race winners. Brad Binder was a Rookie winner in just his third MotoGP race at Brno. Three of the four race winners Fabio Quartararo, Binder and Miguel Oliveira won their first premier class grands prix. Binder and Oliveira brought South Africa and Portugal their first ever premier class victories. Apart from first Austrian winner Andrea Dovizioso the three other winners have started less than 25 MotoGP races and are under the age of 26 years old. Franco Morbidelli and Joan Mir took their first MotoGP podium finishes.

KTM became the newest Manufacturer to stand on the top step of the podium not once but twice while Honda since their return to grand prix racing way back in 1982 have not yet finished on the podium. The record books did not escape being ripped up in Qualifying either. There have been four different pole setters. They included Pol Espargaro who gave himself and KTM their first pole position. Yamaha and Ducati were the other two pole setters. Ten different riders have filled the five front rows with 30-year-old Johann Zarco the oldest.

In those cold dark days of March and April I began to fear that we might not witness a single MotoGP race this year. Instead through the sheer hard work, foresight and tolerance of everybody involved in this sport we have been treated to a truly memorable five grands prix. What lies ahead I have no idea, but I need that lie down before it kicks off once again in Misano.

By |2020-08-27T08:45:19+00:00August 27th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Close your eyes and take a deep breath

Portimao could be the decider

Not only does MotoGP™ make a return to Portugal but that final round in Portimao could well be the decider if those first four incredible races are an indication. After an eight-year absence, Portugal makes a welcome return in November to continue a racing heritage that started in Spain of all places 33 years ago.

Those first two Portuguese Grands Prix did not actually take place in Portugal. The very first Grand Prix was held on the outskirts of Madrid at the Jarama circuit in September 1987. It was a crucial race and the last one of the season in Europe with the final two rounds in Brazil and Argentina. Not only was it a race that would have a bearing on the outcome of the Championship, but it earnt me an expenses paid trip to the penultimate round at Goiania in Brazil

I will never forget those magic words from the man of few words back in the BBC Studios in London. Book your flight to Brazil was the simple message via my headphones from producer Derek Mitchell after Wayne Gardner finished fourth in the 37-lap race behind Eddie Lawson, Randy Mamola and Kevin Magee. Gardner had built up a fantastic rapport with the BBC radio listeners on a Sunday afternoon with stories of his Grand Prix adventures in the season. Damaging his wrist whilst arm wrestling on the ferry to Holland and being given a suppository instead of a pain killer by a circuit doctor with disastrous results during a race to name but a few. His fourth place in Jarama gave him a massive chance to clinch the World 500cc Championship at the penultimate round in Brazil and the BBC wanted to be there. It turned into the perfect decision with Gardner winning the title two weeks later – but that is another story.

The next season Portugal continued on the Grand Prix calendar but at a new venue and again not in Portugal. Jerez staged the race won again by Eddie Lawson. We then had a 12 year wait before the next Portuguese Grand Prix but, at last, it was in Portugal at the fantastic Estoril circuit just outside Lisbon.

I knew the track, the route from the airport and the flight times like the back of my hand because I had spent so much time there in the previous six years. It was the Rothmans Williams Renault Formula One test track. We launched the team there in 1994 with Ayrton Senna and talented motorcycle racer Damon Hill and I had watched David Coulthard win his first Grand Prix. I used to tell the F1 boys they need a motorcycle Grand Prix in Estoril to show the circuit’s true potential. In 2000 at last, Estoril was ready to stage a motorcycle Grand Prix and Garry McCoy did not let us down. The Australian typically just lit up the surface to set two wheels in motion with a memorable victory in that first race on Portuguese soil

For the next 12 years, Estoril was one of our highlights of the season. Who could forget the Pedrosa/Hayden crash in 2006 and Toni Elias’s win in the same race after Kenny Roberts celebrated victory a lap too early. The imperious Jorge Lorenzo winning three in a row while Valentino Rossi won four in a row earlier as he dominated the title chase on both Honda and Yamaha machinery. Throw in the Atlantic coast, the nightlife and restaurants of Cascais and Friday night trips to watch Benfica play football and it was just about perfect. Who could forget that final Grand Prix in 2012 won by Casey Stoner on the Honda? Portugal was on its knees financially and the organisers lowered the ticket prices resulting in a record crowd packing the 4.182km circuit for the last time.

Five years ago, I flew to the final round of the 2015 World Championship in Valencia via Lisbon. It was the year that Miguel Oliveira was really putting the frighteners on Danny Kent who had looked the odds-on Moto3™ World Champion after winning six Grands Prix before September. As Kent faltered in the Autumn, Oliveira piled on the pressure with three wins. The Portuguese rider won in Valencia but failed by just six points to prevent Kent from taking the title. The Lisbon flight on Monday morning not only included Oliveira but so many patriotic, passionate and hung-over Portuguese MotoGP™ fans. I bemoaned the loss of Estoril for these fans as their country struggled but now, they have been rewarded. Portimao looks a magnificent circuit to take over the mantle of Estoril. Oliveira’s place on a MotoGP™ podium cannot be far away and the icing on the cake, the World Championship could well be decided on the Algarve in November.

By |2020-08-19T16:12:39+00:00August 19th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Portimao could be the decider

Grand Prix apprenticeship – still learning

Brad Binder’s truly memorable ride into the history books and then his immaculate calm TV interview with Simon Crafar in the Brno pit lane afterwards made me smile. Memories of another great South African World Champion, the Brno road circuit and the apprenticeship as a Grand Prix reporter.

Forty years ago, I travelled to report on the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix on the old Brno road circuit. It was my first season as a Grand Prix reporter, and I was keen, very keen, too keen. There was massive interest in the 350-cc race which was the penultimate round of the Championship. It was a fight between the toughest Grand Prix rider I have ever met, South African Jon Ekerold and the talented German Toni Mang. Privateer Ekerold arrived at the 10.920 kms road circuit on a sweltering afternoon with a 14-point lead in the Championship. It was not easy for a South African to get a visa to race in Czechoslovakia

His two Bimoto Yamaha mechanics had been refused entry and he only managed to get a precious visa because he had inherited a Norwegian passport from his father. Ekerold looked so much the likely World Champion as he trailed leader Mang through the villages, corn fields and forest. Suddenly the Champion elect started to slow, which we discovered later was with a broken piston ring. He limped home in tenth place, with Mang’s victory ensuring the pair would go into the final round in Germany on equal points.

I was first there with pen and notebook in hands as Ekerold limped into the pits and took off his helmet. Others with a bit more experience and nouse than the novice waited for the dust to settle. I had dived in as Jon was still removing his helmet with a breathless enquiry about why he had slowed and how he felt about not winning the World title. His reply was unprintable, and he made it very clear what he thought about me.

A week later I drove to an iconic venue for the final round of the 350 cc World Championship. The Nürburgring road circuit nestling in the Eifel mountains was on its last legs. As I drove into the paddock Jon Ekerold was waiting for me at the gate. I was ready for another ear bashing but instead he apologised for his outburst, said he was out of order and I was only doing my job and shook my hand. He then went out to produce a ride of pure genius and guts that you had to be there to appreciate.

His victory over Mang brought him that World title and left me with memories I will never forget. His last lap between the trees and barriers that lined the 22.835 kms deteriorating surface was one of the greatest single laps I have ever witnessed. His last lap would have qualified him in second place on the 500cc grid and his race time would have placed him fourth in the 500cc race.

Onto Austria on Sunday and I loved both the old Salzburgring and in recent years to the similar picturesque location of the Red Bull Ring. The Salzburgring was special especially watching those 500cc grand prix motorcycles at such a high speed. It was the ultimate amphitheatre for riders to show not only skill but so much nerve and courage. A little Alpine stream used to trickle between the trees past the media centre and a family ran the communication service, charging extortionate prices. Upset Mother, Father and especially Daughter and there was no chance of copy being filed

In 1983 Kenny Roberts was fighting like a true champion to win back the World title he had last won three years earlier. It was a crucial sixth round of his fight with Freddie Spencer at the Salzburging. I had organised with Yamaha that if he won, the presenter back in London could interview him live for BBC Radio at the end of his victory lap on the finish line before he went to the podium. Kenny completed his part of the deal perfectly. A classic six second win over Eddie Lawson and he stopped in front of me, took off his helmet and put on the headphones ready to speak to the BBC.

Unfortunately, the people back in London had not grasped the situation. Instead of coming straight to Kenny they asked him if he would mind waiting a couple of minutes because they were doing a cricket round up around the county club grounds. Kenny may have just completed 131.440 kms at over 190 kph but he never lost that wicked sense of humour. He asked them if that was the same game of cricket in which the match can last five days and still end in a draw. Kenny waited, the rostrum ceremony waited and eventually the interview with the winner was completed.

Four decades later and I am still learning.

 

By |2020-08-13T10:20:12+00:00August 13th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Grand Prix apprenticeship – still learning

Never say never

Write the outcome of the 2020 MotoGP™ season off at your peril. August may have arrived, but these are still very early days with 12 rounds and 300 points up for grabs. What a fantastic start by the superb 21-year-old Frenchman Fabio Quartararo but I promise you he knows the big challenges have yet to come. History backs him up.

Back in 1979, the new 500cc World Champion Kenny Roberts lay in a hospital bed as his great rival Barry Sheene won the opening round of the Championship at a sweltering San Carlos in Venezuela. Kenny had broken his back when he crashed in pre-season testing for Yamaha in Japan. His chances of retaining the title he had won after a captivating battle with the then World Champion Sheene had surely disappeared before the first wheels had turned in anger. Six weeks later the tough little American was not only back in action but winning. He won the second round by over six seconds from Virginio Ferrari at the Salzburgring in Austria to set up a successful defence of his title although it went down to the very last round. Third place at Le Mans in France at the 12th and final round in the race won by Sheene completed the season that had started in a hospital be

Thirteen years later in 1992 his great protégé Wayne Rainey had written off his chances of retaining his 500cc crown as the riders arrived in Assen for the eighth round of the Championship. Rainey could not even be there. The America Yamaha rider had crashed in practice at the previous round in Germany and his injuries forced him to retire from the race at Hockenheim. Mick Doohan won his fifth race of the season to open up what seemed an impregnable 65-point advantage over Rainey with just six rounds remaining.

That Friday afternoon of qualifying at Assen I will never forget. It was total carnage. Doohan crashed and broke his right leg. I was Media Manager for the Rothmans Honda team and listened as Mick and the team decided an operation at the local hospital rather than flying to London or the States would be the quickest solution. Mick even suggested he might be back for the next round in Hungary in just 15 days’ time. He was joined in the hospital by Kevin Schwantz who had broken his forearm and dislocated his hip after a collision with the Cagiva of Eddie Lawson. Schwantz, riding the Suzuki was second in the Championship, 53 points behind Doohan.

Then it all went so terribly wrong. Mick did not return to the track for seven long painful weeks. Gangrene had set in and to save having his leg amputated both legs had to be sewn together to try and restore the blood supply. All Mick could do was lie there praying he would not lose his leg and watch Rainey drip feed that precious 65-point Championship lead at the next three Grands Prix.

Mick finally returned for the penultimate round at Interlagos in Brazil. He was a shadow of the rider who had so dominated proceedings before Assen. Gaunt and grey after seven weeks of hell. His legs were spindly remnants of what they used to be, and his right calf was still encased in a light cast, but nothing was going to stop him defending that precious 22-point lead he still held over Rainey. I have never seen anybody give so much with absolutely no reward. After 28 laps, 121.044 kms of excruciating pain the Australian finished with no points in 12th place in the race won by Rainey, but he was back and ready for the final showdown at Kyalami in South Africa just two weeks later. He was hanging onto the Championship lead by two precious points

Rainey clinched the title by four points after finishing third behind John Kocinski and Wayne Gardner. Doohan’s sixth place was a superhuman effort but not enough for the title he had looked an absolute dead cert to win. We all knew it was only a matter of time and two years later Mick won the first of his five successive World 500 titles.

Quartararo arrives at the magnificent Brno circuit for the third round on Sunday with a ten-point advantage over Maverick Viñales. There are three Grands Prix in just two weeks with 75 precious points at stake. Just two weeks before the season started Andrea Dovizioso had a broken collarbone re-plated. While others focused on his contract talks with Ducati the Italian got on with his job with third and sixth places in Jerez. Last year Dovi was second at Brno and won the year before. It’s straight on to the Red Bull Ring in Austria for two Grands Prix. Ducati have won there for the last four years with Dovi successful twice, including last year.

Remember this is MotoGP™ – never say never.

 

By |2020-08-06T12:04:59+00:00August 6th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Never say never

Time to mature like a fine French wine

They tell me that you must let fine French wine mature for a few years to enjoy drinking it at its very best. We have waited five years for 21-year-old Fabio Quartararo to mature and like the taste of wine, it has been worth the patience.

Back in 2014 at Le Mans the success-starved French media told me they had discovered the next Valentino Rossi. Their long wait and search for not only a French premier class Grand Prix winner but first ever French premier class World Champion had ended. They had found their man to fly the tricolour in the toughest sporting arena of them all. I understood just how they felt. It had been 33 years since Barry Sheene had brought Britain premier class Grand Prix success and at least it was only 15 years previously that Regis Laconi stood on the top step of the podium in Valencia

Fabio Quartararo had just turned 15 years old at Le Mans, and I was suitably mighty impressed. He won the FIM Junior World Championship race on route to his second successive World title. Not so impressive was my attempts to speak French to him in the resulting press conference. Typically, his English had improved a great deal more than my feeble French by the time he arrived in Qatar ten months later for his much-heralded Moto3™ World Championship debut. He was still 15 years old and the World was at his feet.

What a race under the floodlights to start your Grand Prix career. The teenager finished seventh but under eight tenths of a second behind race winner fellow Frenchman Alexis Masbou. Two weeks later he finished second behind World Champion elect Danny Kent in Austin. When he grabbed pole in the opening two European races at Jerez at Le Mans all the hype surrounding the next Rossi or Marquez seemed justified. The only question was when that first Grand Prix victory would come. It just never did in the Moto3™ class

All that promise and optimism started to drain away in a cloud of injury and uncompetitive machinery. There were still glimpses of brilliance but after two years the ever-growing Fabio joined the Moto2™ World Championship in 2017 riding for the Sito Pons team. I remember Sito, a double World Champion and one of the most experienced team bosses in the game telling me that the French teenager had a fantastic talent and was an amazing prospect.

Sadly, it did not work out for either of them and they parted company at the end of the season. It turned out to be the turning point in a career that had promised the earth but was going nowhere. Riding the Speed Up machine suddenly that old sparkle and confidence returned culminating in that long-awaited first Grand Prix win at Barcelona which included pole position and fastest lap. He followed up with a second in Assen and eventually finished tenth in the Championship.

Despite the change of direction in his career I certainly, and I think many others were surprised, when the new Petronas Yamaha SRT team signed Fabio to join former Moto2™ World Champion Franco Morbidelli for their MotoGP™ debut. They knew exactly what they were doing. What a debut in the premier class last year. Seven podium finishes, Rookie of the Year and fifth in the World Championship. The only thing that was missing was that first premier class Grand Prix win. We did not have to wait long for that magic moment when the 2020 season finally got underway in Jerez last week. Then he did it again a week in the stifling Jerez heat.

Like that fine French wine, the wait for it to mature was well worth it and there is still so much more to come. I will raise a glass with those French journalists who six years ago told me what to expect. It just took a little bit longer than we envisaged.

By |2020-07-30T09:01:27+00:00July 30th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Time to mature like a fine French wine

No Turkey or Auld Lang Syne for Fabio

No time for rest and little for reflection at Jerez. Just five days after that breathless, energy-sapping opening encounter of the season it’s back to work for aching bodies and high revving power units on the same piece of tarmac. It was a day of history making on Sunday, especially surrounding a mighty impressive 21-year-old Frenchman

For the first time in the 72-year history of Grand Prix racing, there will be back-to-back Grands Prix at the same circuit in the same season. There have only been back-to-back races at the same circuit on one other occasion and then the riders had time for Christmas dinner and New Year’s Eve celebrations before returning to the saddle for the second time.

The 500cc race at the legendary Montjüic Park circuit in Barcelona was the last round of the 1954 season. Dickie Dale won the 53-lap race for MV Augusta and was probably happy for the near seven months rest before returning for the opening round of the 1955 season at the 3.79km parkland circuit. His race time was an incredible one hour 51.55 minutes. Dale returned in May the following year where the race of similar distance was won by Reg Armstrong on the Gilera.

Since then there have been back-to-back Grands Prix in the same country but not at the same circuit. In 1988, Australian Kevin Magee secured his only Grand Prix victory at Jarama and seven days later Eddie Lawson was victorious at the Portuguese Grand Prix in Jerez. Valentino Rossi won the final race of the 2004 season in Valencia and then took the chequered flag at the opening round of the 2005 season in Jerez. Marco Melandri won the final round again at Valencia that year with Loris Capirossi victorious at the opening round of 2006 in Jerez. On two occasions there have been back-to-back Grands Prix in America. In 2012, Casey Stoner won in Laguna Seca and Dani Pedrosa at Indianapolis. A year later Marc Marquez won them both en route to that first MotoGP™ World title.

In 1966, the TT races were postponed because of a Seamans strike that prevented anybody from getting to the Isle of Man. The re-scheduled TT was held two weeks after the Ulster Grand Prix and Mike Hailwood won them both for Honda with Giacomo Agostini second on both occasions.

The only other time I have encountered back-to-back Grands Prix in the same country just a week apart was back on my Formula One adventures. In 1995, it was the Pacific Grand Prix at the isolated Aida Mimasaka circuit followed by the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka seven days later. I spent the gap between races making an emotional trip to Hiroshima and watching Sumo wrestling with Eddie Irvine and his team.

I don’t think Fabio Quartararo will have time for any such journeys as he strives to continue to re-write the history books at Jerez. On Sunday he was just the fourth French rider to win a premier class race, the first French premier class winner since 1999, the first satellite Yamaha rider to win a MotoGP™ race and the eighth youngest premier class winner. Next Sunday he returns to the scene of that first triumph with the prospect of becoming the first rider to win back-to-back Grands Prix at the same circuit and just the second youngest rider to win back-to-back premier class races.

For the second week in succession, it promises to be another breathless encounter with those history books ready and waiting.

By |2020-07-23T11:13:20+00:00July 23rd, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on No Turkey or Auld Lang Syne for Fabio