Nick’s Blog

The American Dream will return

Come on admit it, you did feel a tingle when the Star-Spangled Banner boomed out over the COTA circuit and the jets roared over the start and finish line before the start of the MotoGP™ race in Texas on Sunday. The stirring United States National Anthem that was such a part of Grand Prix motorcycle racing for the last 45 years has not been heard at a podium ceremony for eleven long years. There was a glimmer of hope at COTA that its return will not be so far away

The lack of American success is unbelievable. This is a country that has produced seven MotoGP™ and two 250cc World Champions. This is a country that in 2013 staged three Grand Prix in one season at Laguna Seca, Indianapolis, and COTA. This is the only country that has produced father and son World Champions in the premier class. This is a country that produced 173 Grands Prix wins. One hundred and fifty-four in the premier class between eleven riders and nineteen in the 250cc class between four riders.

The lack of American success is unbelievable. This is a country that has produced seven MotoGP™ and two 250cc World Champions. This is a country that in 2013 staged three Grand Prix in one season at Laguna Seca, Indianapolis, and COTA. This is the only country that has produced father and son World Champions in the premier class. This is a country that produced 173 Grands Prix wins. One hundred and fifty-four in the premier class between eleven riders and nineteen in the 250cc class between four riders.

At one point in the eighties, it was more like the Pilgrim Fathers but in reverse. All you had do was click your fingers and World Champions would arrive by the boat load across the Atlantic in Europe. Kenny Roberts started the migration in 1978 when he shook Grand Prix racing to its very core on and off the track. Three successive 500cc World title and an outspoken campaigner for riders’ safety and recognition made him the unmistakable President of the American Dream. Soon the likes of Freddie Spencer, the only rider to win both 250 and 500cc World titles in one season, four times 500cc World Champion Eddie Lawson for both Yamaha and Honda, three times World 500cc Champion Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz followed their President. At the start of the new decade Kenny Roberts Junior emulated his father by winning the 2000 500cc World title and six years later Nick Hayden’s success in the 2006 MotoGP™ World Championship was as popular throughout the World as it was back home in Kentucky, but that was that. Despite the considerable efforts of Ben Spies the World titles and then the Grand Prix wins dried up like summer in the Arizona desert.

Domestic Racing in America slumped. Those contrasting and superb Laguna and Indianapolis venues disappeared from the World Championship calendar. Out of the gloom came a new President of the American dream. Three times World 500cc World Champion Wayne Rainey who had been paralysed in a crash at Misano while on the verge of winning his fourth World title in 1993 decided enough was enough. He had seen his old boss Kenny Roberts desperately trying to promote the sport in the States in the nineties. In 2015 Wayne organised and then spearheaded the new MotoAmerica Championship. Motorcycle racing in America has been revitalised and refreshed. Slowly but surely American riders are returning across the Atlantic to compete in both the MotoGP™ and World Superbike Championships. Patience is something that Wayne has cruelly been forced to learn the hard way. There is still a long way to go but he is convinced all their hard work will pay off and the United States will return as a serious breeding ground for Grand Prix winners and World Champions.

Wayne should know better than most and as another famous American Bob Dylan always told us – “Times they are a-changin.”

 

By |2022-04-14T10:17:28+00:00April 14th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The American Dream will return

A true warrior who never gave up after 17 years and 155 days

Seventeen years 155 days after making his Grand Prix debut Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team) finally did it. There has never been a more popular winner in the 74-year history of Grand Prix racing. No wonder there was a raw emotional mixture of tears and cheers in the Termas de Rio Hondo pit lane on Sunday for a true MotoGP™ warrior who just never gave up

Little did Aleix realise just how long it would take to stand on the top step of the podium when he made his Grand Prix debut in the 125cc race at Valencia in 2004. It was the final race of the season, and he was just 15 years old. It took another 283 Grands Prix of pain and frustration before he experienced that winning feeling in his 200th MotoGP™ race. He had married and was the proud father of two children. He had watched and celebrated as his younger brother Pol (Repsol Honda Team) won the Moto2™ World Championship wondering if his day would ever come. It certainly has and he heads the cavalry charge on his Aprilia stead into Texas this weekend leading the MotoGP™ World Championship after three rounds.

I am sure leading the cheers and perhaps shedding a few tears was Jeremy McWilliams. Twenty-two long years ago the Ulsterman began the Aprilia adventure into the 500cc premier class. In 2000, three years after Doriano Romboni gave Aprilia their first 500cc podium he brought the Italian factory two third places at Mugello and Donington and a pole position at Phillip Island in Australia. Riding the Aprilia twin-cylinder two-stroke McWilliams took on the mighty four-cylinder Japanese giants that had dominated the two-stroke era. Aleix and Jeremy are true warriors built from the same mould. Never afraid to take on the established teams and superstar riders. Never afraid to express their feelings and frustrations. Fighting back after injury and setbacks and never giving up on the dream of success.

I am sure leading the cheers and perhaps shedding a few tears was Jeremy McWilliams. Twenty-two long years ago the Ulsterman began the Aprilia adventure into the 500cc premier class. In 2000, three years after Doriano Romboni gave Aprilia their first 500cc podium he brought the Italian factory two third places at Mugello and Donington and a pole position at Phillip Island in Australia. Riding the Aprilia twin-cylinder two-stroke McWilliams took on the mighty four-cylinder Japanese giants that had dominated the two-stroke era. Aleix and Jeremy are true warriors built from the same mould. Never afraid to take on the established teams and superstar riders. Never afraid to express their feelings and frustrations. Fighting back after injury and setbacks and never giving up on the dream of success.

The signs that this was a special weekend of history-making were flashing loud and clear after qualifying at Termas de Rio Hondo on Saturday. Espargaro brought Aprilia their first premier class pole since Phillip Island 22 years ago. Before his 200th MotoGP appearance, the next day he became the only rider in the modern MotoGP™ era to take three pole positions on different machinery. His first Aprilia pole came after similar achievements for Suzuki and Forward Yamaha.

He sat in the Argentine sunshine on Sunday before the 25-lap race in pole position as the only rider on the grid never to have won a Grand Prix. This was his big chance, and you could taste and feel the tension. After a couple of unsuccessful lunges up the inside of early leader Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing), he finally found his way to the front and history was about to be made. At the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last year, he brought Aprilia their first podium finish in the MotoGP™ era, now it was time for Espargaro and the Italian factory to go one better.

After those two podium finishes in 2000, McWilliams returned to the 250cc class a year later. His one and only Grand Prix win came that year in Assen. It may have taken Aleix Espargaro longer to win that first Grand Prix, but you have the feeling that this is the beginning of a new chapter for a true modern-day warrior. He deserves all the success that comes his way.

 

By |2022-04-06T20:24:17+00:00April 6th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on A true warrior who never gave up after 17 years and 155 days

46 embarks on a journey following the Surtees trail

This weekend the legendary number 46 will grace the tarmac once again. The most famous number in World Championship motorsport returns to the racetrack proudly emblazoned on the side of a car. The doctor returns to the racetrack on four wheels and the Imola circuit prepares for a patriotic weekend as the nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi makes his debut in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe less than five months after that emotional goodbye to MotoGP™ in Valencia. Rossi embarks on a well-trodden path from two wheels to four. It’s a tough journey with just a few very notable exceptions finding success in both sports that appear the same but in many ways are very different

You would imagine the switch should not be that difficult, but it is. John Surtees is the only man in the history of MotoGP™ and Formula One to win World titles on two and four wheels. The British rider won seven World titles in the 350 and 500cc classes between 1956 and 1960 which included 38 Grand Prix wins before switching to four wheels. In 1964 he won the Formula One World Championship for Ferrari and ironically brought Honda their first Formula One victory after dominating motorcycle racing for so long.

Since then, nobody has come anywhere near following in Surtees’s considerable footsteps. Nobody has even won Grand Prix in both sports although some have come close. Nine-time World Champion Mike Hailwood won 76 Grands Prix before switching. After winning the European Formula Two Championship he stepped up to Formula One and achieved two podium finishes driving for the John Surtees team before returning to two wheels and that emotional win in the 1978 TT races in the Isle of Man.

Frenchman Jean-Pierre Beltoise is the only competitor to do it the other way round. He won the legendary 1972 Monaco F1 race in the pouring rain. His early racing days had been on two wheels, and he finished sixth in the 1964 50cc World Championship. When I worked for Williams in F1 my switch to four wheels was made easy by spending hours talking bikes with the 1996 World Champion Damon Hill. He admitted after success on two wheels his one aim was to become the next Barry Sheene but realised, he was never good enough which was certainly not the case in an F1 car. Also, I was not so popular with Sir Frank Williams when I organised a test drive for Mick Doohan in Jacques Villeneuve’s World Championship F1 car. Mick was impressive but one slight ‘off’ into a Barcelona barrier amounted to a bill of around 75,000 euros.

The very first 125cc World Champion Nello Pagani drove in one F1 Grand Prix. Five-time World Champion Geoff Duke dabbled but never actually raced in F1. Nineteen-year-old Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto was the youngest ever World Champion at the time when he won the 1975 350cc title. He switched to four wheels with considerable success in touring cars. Two times motorcycle Grand Prix winner and 500cc podium finisher Stuart Graham, son of the first 500cc World Champion Les, won the British touring car Championship. Four-time World 500cc World Champion Eddie Lawson achieved some impressive results in both the Indy Lights and CART Championships in the States. Australian Premier class World Champions Wayne Gardner and Casey Stoner both switched to Touring and Supercar Champions at home and in Japan.

Both sports are dangerous and especially in the sixties and seventies before rider and driver safety became a priority. The likes of Kenny Roberts and Jackie Stewart led the respective campaigns. It was not a moment too soon. The 1961 double 350 and 500cc World Champion Gary Hocking retired from Grand Prix racing after the first round in 1962 when Tom Phillis was killed at the TT races. Following the tragic death of his close friend he went out and won the 500cc race before announcing his retirement. Hocking returned home to Rhodesia to go car racing and lost his life practicing for the Natal Grand Prix in South Africa. The 1967 125cc World Champion Bill Ivy impressed everybody with his speed when he switched to four wheels. The former Yamaha rider needed cash to finance his Formula Two efforts and returned to Grand Prix motorcycle racing on the 350cc Jawa machine. He was killed practicing for the 1969 East German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring road circuit.

While his old friends and foes make the long trip to Termas de Rio Hondo in Argentina on Sunday Valentino makes the short car journey from his Tavullia home to Imola to start a new adventure. Remember him on the top step of the podium wearing the Argentine football shirt seven years ago. Good luck Vale and I wonder if you have an Italian football shirt ready – just in case.

 

By |2022-03-31T12:42:51+00:00March 31st, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on 46 embarks on a journey following the Surtees trail

OXFORDSHIRE YOUNGSTERS TAKE FIRST STEPS ON THE MOTOGP LADDER

A group of Oxfordshire boys and girls, some as young as six years old, embark on their first steps towards the MotoGP World Championships next week. The dedicated group of young motorcycle racers compete in the first round of the British Mini Bike Championship at Lydd in Kent.

The well-established eight round British Championship is held on Kart tracks throughout Britain. The riders compete on mini motorcycles to get their first taste of competitive racing in a safe and controlled environment. The Championship is regarded as the first steps towards the ultimate goal of competing in the MotoGP World Championship.

The next step for the youngsters is to compete in the FIM MiniGP series which is organised by MotoGP Promoters Dorna with separate national Championships as far afield as India, Australia, and Japan.

So many of the MotoGP stars such as Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez began their racing careers competing on Mini Bikes on kart tracks before moving on to World title and grands prix wins. The Oxfordshire youngsters hope they are starting on the same path beginning at Lydd on the weekend beginning 2nd April.

 

BRADLEY SMITH SUPPORTS OXFORDSHIRE YOUNGSTERS ON THEIR FIRST STEPS TO MOTOGP

MotoGP star Bradley Smith knows better than anybody you must start young if you are going to achieve success on the biggest stage of them all. The Oxfordshire grand prix motorcycle rider who started his career as a schoolboy Motocross rider went on to finish sixth in the 2015 MotoGP World Championship and runner-up in the 2009 125 cc World Championship, winning three grands prix.

“Starting at a young age is crucial in a competitive but safe and organised environment if you are going to succeed when you are older. So many of the current MotoGP stars started in a Mini Bike series before progressing through the ranks. It teaches you so much about both racing and yourself and prepares you for everything that lies ahead. I wish them all the very best of luck and will follow their progress with great interest. Hopefully, we will be watching them in the MotoGP World Championship in around ten years’ time.”

 

AN AREA STEEPED IN GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING HISTORY

From Mike Hailwood to Bradley Smith, Oxfordshire and the surrounding area have produced some of the greatest riders to grace the 74-year history of grand prix Motorcycle racing.

MotoGP broadcaster, journalist and author Nick Harris has followed their fortunes for the last 60 years with real pride.

“My home county and surrounding areas has produced so many great riders that are household names with millions of people throughout the World. Mike Hailwood who lived on Boars Hill is still regarded by many people as the greatest rider of all time. He won nine World titles with 76 grands

Prix wins between 1959 – 1967. He then switched to car racing and received the George Medal for bravery after rescuing Clay Regazzoni from a blazing Formula One car. He returned to two wheels and won the 1978 TT on the Isle of Man when he was 38 years old. He was tragically killed together with his young daughter in a road traffic accident.

More recently Bradley Smith’s brilliant grand prix career has been well documented and there are plenty of others. Banbury based Rod Gould, who celebrated his 79th birthday last week, won the 1970 250 cc World Championship while David Madsen Mygdal originally from Cumnor, holds the record number of finishes at the TT races in the Isle of Man.

Long may the tradition continue with these talented youngsters taking their first steps on a long ladder that Hailwood, Smith and Gould climbed with such success.”

 

THE RIDERS

AEZIAH DIVINE

Twelve years old and currently living in Oxford. He has always shown a wild side for speeding on two wheels and athleticism. Growing up on the sunny island of Bermuda allowed him to lead an active outdoor lifestyle and play a variety of sports including gymnastics, running, football, swimming, sailing and motorcycle racing.

After a short spell on an electric motocross bike at the age of 4, he trained on a Yamaha PW50 and progressed to a 90cc pit bike, becoming the 2017 BMRA Minibike Junior Champion in his first year of competitive racing.

In late 2018 his family moved to England, where his Dad is from, and in 2020 he debuted in MiniGP racing in the UK through the FAB-Racing Minibike British Championship. This year, Aeziah is preparing for a competitive season in the MK50 class on FAB-Racing’s signature 2-stroke Metrakit motorcycles. He aims to achieve consistent podium finishes at each race round. In addition to competing in the MK50 class, Aeziah will start training on higher powered bikes in Europe to begin preparing for the British Talent Cup as a major milestone on Dorna’s “Road to MotoGP.”

 

HARLEY BAKER
Twelve years old – Started last season in the AC40 rookies
Best achievement 1st overall at Redlodge
Best podium finish 1st
Favourite track Redlodge

“This season i will be competing in the AC40 Pro class and MK50 class.
I hope to carry on leaning and improving my skills on both bikes and hope to see some more podium finishes.”

PRESTON BAKER
Seven years old – Fancied following in his brother’s footsteps so competed in 2 race weekends as an AC40 Rookie last season finishing all races. Best finish 16th

Looking forward to a whole season this year as an AC40 Rookie on a new improved and upgraded bike.  Looking forward to seeing a podium finish.

 

AUSTIN AND BYRON JOHNSON

Austin and Byron Johnson both began riding motorbikes at a very early age. Austin was 4 years old and Byron 2. Their first bike was a PW50 which they rode around the garden and in a local farmers field. This led to them trying out mini moto’s at M4 Karting and joining the M4 Mini Moto Academy. Both boys quickly showed a passion and talent for racing which led them into the Fab-Racing paddock. While riding at M4, in their mini moto winter championship, the boys were spotted by Andy Weedon of Team Evolution Engineering and asked to represent Team Evolution in the Fab-Racing Rookie Championship 2020, on a factory Teevo each, supplied by Andy and his team. 2020 was their first full year of racing in a championship which was unfortunately changed into a cup event. It was a race for each rider to gain 329 points which would see them graduate from the Rookies into the Pro’s. Byron was the first rider to reach 329 points with Austin hot on his tail as the second rider to gain enough points to move up to the Pro’s only halfway through the season.
In 2021 both boys continued their racing journey supported by Team Evolution Engineering, representing them in the Pro and Elite classes at Fab-Racing on Team Evolution Teevos. They rode with 14mm air cooled engines in the Pro’s and liquid cooled engines in the Elites. This was a year to learn to ride with faster engines, but it also showed some great results for the boys. Austin completed the Pro championship in third place and Byron the youngest rider at only 8 years old completed the Pro championship in 5th Overall.

As well as competing in Fab-Racing both boys also enjoy riding Motor cross and Super Moto bikes. Along the way, as well as being sponsored by Team Evolution Engineering, they have also picked up sponsorship from LS2 Helmets, Merkko Builders Merchants Abingdon, Oxfordshire Concrete Ltd and C&G Concrete Pumping Ltd. Team Johnson Racing, which consists of Dad – Paul, Mum – Rowena and little sister – Thea, as well as Austin and Byron are very proud of the progress the boys have made and their achievements so far.

This year the boys will continue to represent Team Evolution Engineering on their Teevos with Austin looking to pick up a first overall in the Elites and Byron a first overall in the Pro’s. As well as competing on their mini motos they will also be moving up to some bigger bikes. They will be riding in their first championship on their 50 cc Metrakit bikes and looking to place in the top six.

 

REX AUSTIN

Seven years old and started riding at the start of lockdown on his uncle Mike’s 1989 Honda QR at our yard in dry Sandford. Rex’s love for Moto GP leads us to joining the M4 riders academy near Chippenham. On his second training session Rex was awarded a medal for slow bike control which sparked the want to race. So, a few short months later we were at round one of the FAB racing championship in Lydd (Kent) with the ambition not to be a danger to the other riders by being so slow. Never did we think Rex would perform so brilliantly throughout the season that he would pick up podiums and a race win earning him third overall in the rookie championship. At the tender age of seven Rex is now moving up to the pro class to put himself against older, faster more experienced riders. We are off to Spain to do some pre-season training at the beginning of March to hopefully gain some good bike time and set us up for the coming season.

 

MATTHEW THOMAS

Nine years old and showed his love for motorbikes from a young age with Marc Marquez as his idol. At the age of six asked his dad can he become a racer. Following this he began training on tracks at the age of seven but first sat on a bike at the age of four.

His best finish was pole position and race win at red Lodge.

He finished second in his rookie season.

His goal for this season is to improve his riding ability with hope of challenging for podiums. He is also starting to practice on his geared bike with a goal of getting it on track.

 

DAISEY POLDEN

Eight years old and completed AC40 rookies last year coming in point scoring finishes – entering at a new level to the sport it was great to see some point on the board! This year Daisy is hoping to come in the top ten and build on confidence and technicalities to achieve this! Favourite track is Red Lodge and favourite racer is Alex Rins.

 

RONNIE AND BILL HARRIS

Both boys started at the Scott Redding Mini Moto Academy at Swindon Karting at the end of 2016.

Ronnie, then aged 9, entered FAB-Racing in the Mini Moto Rookie class in 2017 and finished 10th in the championship.  He also won “Rider of the Year” at the Scott Redding Academy.

2018 Ronnie competed in the mini moto Pro class and finished 6th in the championship.  Bill, then 8, entered the Rookie class and came 10th in the championship.

2019 saw Ronnie in the Mini Moto Elite class, where he started getting on the podium regularly and finished 4th in the championship.  He also had his first year on a Metrakit GP50.  He was the fasted newcomer in this class and finished 6th in the championship.  Bill came 10th overall in the Rookies for a second year.

2020 was a great year for Ronnie in the MK GP50 class.  He was rarely off the podium and came 2nd in the championship.  Bill came 7th in the Mini Moto Pro class.

2021 was Ronnie’s first year on the MK GP70 and he finished 4th in the championship.  Bill had his first year on a Metrakit and came 5th in the MK GP50 class.

Both boys will be back on the Metrakits for the 2022 season.  Ronnie will be in the MK GP70 class riding for the MLav Visiontrack Academy team.  Bill will be in the MK GP50 class.

Ronnie is now 14 and Bill is 12.  This will be Ronnie’s last year in FAB (on the Metrakit).  Hopefully 2023 will see him in the British Talent Cup.

 

 

FOR FURTHER DETAILS PLEASE CONTACT GARY AUSTIN

 

Phone number 07789698593

Email ga.austin@radley.org.Uk 

By |2022-03-25T20:50:52+00:00March 25th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on OXFORDSHIRE YOUNGSTERS TAKE FIRST STEPS ON THE MOTOGP LADDER

Singing in the rain

I must be honest and admit my first reaction, I thought those days were over when my alarm clock woke me with a start at 6am on Sunday morning. My immediate thought was do not forget your media pass, mobile phone and have I got time for breakfast before we leave for the circuit. Then I realised I was at home on a glorious Oxfordshire spring morning. All I had to do was let the dog out, switch on the kettle and settle down in front of the television screen to watch the Pertamina Grand Prix of Indonesia MotoGP™ race.

All was well at home, but it was a very different story at the Mandalika circuit. The thunder rolled around ominously loud, scary lightening momentary lit up the gloom as the rain hammered down turning the track into a series of lakes and streams. Wet races and delays – a commentator’s nightmare. Memories of some long, lonely afternoons talking about nothing as the rain hammered on the commentary box window at circuits as far afield as Motegi and Indianapolis afternoons flooded back.

Remember the days when riders like Australian Ant West would perform a rain dance in pit lane because they just loved racing on a streaming wet track. Further back, chaos often reigned when the rain fell. Races were stopped and started before flag to flag was introduced. In 1989 at Spa the 500cc race was stopped and started two times. In the end Eddie Lawson was declared the winner but only awarded half points because it was decided the second restart was not allowed under the rules. They are still arguing about the result of the 1978 British Grand Prix at Silverstone that was awarded to Kenny Roberts amidst chaos in the pouring rain.

No such problems when the rain stopped after a one hour 15-minute wait on Sunday. No arguments because everybody agreed it was so special watching such a spectacle in the wet and spray. Where do you start. Twenty laps of pure theatre in appalling condition where the rider’s skill and bravery shone through like those bolts of lightning that had lit up the dark sky earlier. What a ride by Miguel Olivera parting a passage though the waves for those behind him. Previously the Portuguese KTM rider had scored just nine points in his last ten races. On Sunday it was twenty-five points in single race. A performance worthy of a World Champion by Fabio Quartararo in second place with Johann Zarco cursing himself after the race for not pushing harder to claim that first MotoGP™ victory

How about the performance of Darryn Binder? Just his second MotoGP™ race after missing Moto2™ and jumping directly from Moto3™ amid a fair amount of cynicism. Tenth place was just reward for a brilliant ride that reminded me of the likes of Australians Garry McCoy and Jack Miller who also missed out the middle class before achieving considerable success in the premier class. McCoy won a couple of 125cc Grands Prix before switching to the 500cc class with great success winning three Grands Prix in 2000 on route to fifth place in the Championship.

Miller must have fancied his chances on Sunday. Who will forget his first MotoGP™ win in the Assen rain in 2016. That win came just two years after he had finished second in the 2014 Moto3™ World Championship winning six Grands Prix the same year. Binder’s only disappointment was that he did not manage to finish in front of his older brother Brad who eventually was eighth, but it was close.

As with all new venues of course there was logistical problems over the weekend, but they will be rectified. For those amazing Indonesian mad MotoGP™ fans singing in the rain there will be more opportunities to watch their heroes in action. They had waited 25 years for Grand Prix racing to return to their country and so the one hour 15-minute delay for the rain to abate was a small but wet inconvenience. For me I really do not mind getting up 6.00 am on a Sunday morning to witness such a spectacle especially with a cup of tea and in the dry.

 

By |2022-03-24T08:52:12+00:00March 24th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Singing in the rain

Very, very hot and the cold beer tastes great

The legendary journalist, the late John Brown, summed up perfectly his two visits to Sentul for the Indonesian Grands Prix a quarter of a century ago. Very, very hot and the cold beer tasted great was how JB described his visits to a country that is such a hotbed of MotoGP™ support. Grand Prix Motorcycle racing makes a welcome return this weekend 25 years after its last visit and Indonesia cannot wait. Then it was Doohan, Biaggi and a young fresh-faced Rossi they flocked to support and watch at the Sentul circuit. Two-strokes ruled in all classes and if you did not have a Honda in the 500cc class it was hardly worth turning up. It was a decade ruled by Doohan and Honda but already two young riders were making their mark, especially in the 1997 Grand Prix at the bumpy 3.965 kms Sentul circuit situated forty-five kms south of Jakarta

A year earlier Valentino Rossi had finished 11th at Sentul in just his second 125cc Grand Prix. He returned in 1997 already crowned the 125 cc World Champion to win his 11thGrand Prix of the season which is a record for the 125cc/Moto3™ class. Bigger things beckoned for the Italian, and he so nearly made it as the only rider to compete at Sentul and then the Portamina Mandalika circuit on Sunday. Jorge Martinez finished third in 1997 which was his last ever podium finish before retiring at the end of the season after 14 years of racing which brought the Spaniard four World titles. The previous year the youngest of the Aoki brothers Haruchika finished second behind Masaki Tukudome but went on to retain his 125cc World title.

Max Biaggi and Rossi were talking in those days. Rossi’s bitter rival in years to come won the 250cc race riding the Honda to open a six-point lead in the Championship. At the final round in Phillip Island Biaggi’s second place behind Ralf Waldmann was enough to clinch his fourth consecutive World title. A year earlier Tetsuya Harada won his only 250cc Grand Prix of the season giving Michelin tyres their last ever 250cc victory.

The big surprise of that sweltering weekend in 1997 was that Mick Doohan did not win the 30 lap 500cc race. The only way to beat the all-conquering Aussie those days was to shadow him until the last corner, if you had the nerve, and then make your move. It worked for Alex Criville and at Sentul for his teammate Tadayuki Okada who grabbed his first 500cc victory by 0.069s. The mighty Mick was not impressed with such tactics especially from his Honda teammates, but he should not have worried. He had already secured his fourth World title, won 12 Grands Prix that season and that second place gave him a record-breaking 340 points for the season, but Mick hated losing. He had won the Sentul race a year earlier with Alex Barros and Loris Capirossi completing the podium.

So, on Sunday a new circuit, a new audience, and a new breed of hungry riders on such a variety of four stroke machinery but one thing will never change. It will still be very very hot, and the cold beer will taste just as good.

 

By |2022-03-17T09:55:23+00:00March 17th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Very, very hot and the cold beer tastes great

No Luthi or Petrucci but memories of Bayle

At least they had three days before the new season got underway although they had to travel to Jerez. How the riders, teams and let us be honest many of the media, hated it when the next year’s testing started the day after on the Monday morning following that final round in Valencia. No time to party, celebrate or commiserate just turn up the next morning at the same circuit and start the new season. Some teams softened the blow for the riders by letting many an ill-prepared journalist ride a MotoGP™ bike for the first and only time before serious testing got underway.

This year the testing started at Jerez on Thursday although the provisional 2022 entry lists appeared on my computer on Tuesday morning. Of course, for the first time in 22 years, there was no number 46 on the MotoGP™ list. There were other absentees that did not attract the same attention but will leave enormous gaps when the new season gets underway beneath those Qatar floodlights next year.

No Danilo Petrucci in the MotoGP™ class and no Tom Luthi in Moto2™ meant that two such special riders had called it a day after distinguished but very different careers. The ever-cheerful larger than life Danilo and the former World Champion Tom who competed in a record-breaking 233 intermediate Grands Prix will be sorely missed.

After the tears in the Valencia paddock on Sunday evening, the two times MotoGP™ winner Petrucci said goodbye and prepared for the next challenge. The Italian will place everything on the very limit when he competes for KTM in the toughest test for man and machine in the World, the Dakar rally. It will be a unique experience, if that is the correct word, for a MotoGP™ winner but there has been a rider who made the reverse journey.

In 1992 Frenchman Jean Michel Bayle shocked the Motocross world when he announced he was switching to the tarmac. The rider regarded as one of the all-time greats, if not the greatest, decided not just any strip of tarmac for his road racing debut. The former 125 and 250cc World Champion and who had won the AMA Supercross, 250 and 500cc titles in America the previous year chose to make his debut in the 250cc French Grand Prix at Magny Cours in the same Rothmans Honda team of World Champion Luca Cadalora.

Bayle finished 24th in his debut race but returned the next season on Aprilia machinery. His best result was a fifth-place with one pole position at Argentina in 1995. He switched to the 500cc class with Yamaha in 1996 and then Modenas a year later. His best result was fourth at Imola in 1996 and he took two pole positions at Brno in 1996 and Imola two years later.

Tom Luthi seems to have been around forever and it was sixteen long years ago he brought Switzerland the 2005 125cc World Championship three years after his Grand Prix debut. He is fourth in the all-time list of Grands Prix starts. The race in Valencia was his 318th Grand Prix, a number only bettered by Rossi, Capirossi and Dovizioso. He won five 125cc Grands Prix and twelve intermediate class races resulting in two runner-up Moto2™ Championship positions in 2016/17.  Only Rossi, Nieto, Capirossi and Dovizioso have a longer period between his first and last podium finish which was an extraordinary 16 years 155 days.

I hope everybody including Danilo and Tom found time to celebrate and party at Valencia on Sunday evening with no next day test to worry about. May I assure you that you all fully deserve a bit of a party after producing yet another amazing season despite everything the modern-day world could throw at you?

By |2021-11-24T21:09:38+00:00November 24th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on No Luthi or Petrucci but memories of Bayle

Three of a kind

Apart from those incredible and very loud fireworks, the event I really enjoyed in Valencia was always the photocall on the grid for the new World Champions. I would look out of the media conference room window before the final conference of the season to see the new World Champions standing on the saddle of their Championship winning machines as the cameras flashed and clicked. This year was a unique occasion for Fabio Quartararo, Remy Gardner, and Pedro Acosta. For the first time in 15 years all three of them were crowned World Champions for the very first time. It is only the ninth time in the 73-year history Grand Prix racing this has happened.

The fact that Quartararo is the first French premier class World Champion, Remy Gardner is only the second father and son to win a World title and Acosta is the second youngster ever 125cc/Moto3™ World Champion is special enough in itself, but first-time winners make it even more unique

The last time this happened was in 2006. Nicky Hayden clinched the MotoGP™ title at the final round in Valencia after a season-long battle with Valentino Rossi. Jorge Lorenzo won the first of his World titles in the 250cc class while fellow Spaniard Alvaro Bautista was the 125cc World Champion. Six years earlier it happened again with Kenny Roberts Junior MotoGP™ Champion, Olivier Jacque 250cc and Roberto Locatelli 125cc Champions, respectively. It turned out to be the only World titles in any class for the three of them.

New Champions in the nineties were more common. In 1990 Wayne Rainey won the first of his three 500cc titles while John Kocinski, who went on to win the World Superbike title was crowned 250cc Champion and Loris Capirossi the youngest ever 125cc Champion. Three years later in 1993 Kevin Schwantz clinched his one and only 500cc title while Tetsuya Harada and Dirk Raudies followed suit in the 250 and 125cc classes. A year later Australian Mick Doohan won the first of his 500cc titles for Honda. Max Biaggi won the first of his 250cc crowns with Kasuto Sakata successful in the 125cc class.

In the 1980s, no season produced new World Champions in every class but 1978 was a significant year. Kenny Roberts arrived from the States and blew Europe apart winning the first of his three successive 500cc titles. South African Kork Ballington won both the 250 and 350cc World titles for Kawasaki. Eugenio Lazzarini was crowned 125cc World Champion while the rider who the Valencia circuit is named after, Ricardo Tormo won the first of his two 80 cc World titles.

Seventeen years earlier in 1961 Rhodesian Gary Hocking brought MV Augusta both the 350 and 500cc titles. Mike Hailwood won the first of his nine World Championships in the 250cc class with Honda’s first-ever Grand Prix winner Australian Tom Phillis crowned 125cc World Champion.

Of course, it happened in the first year of Grand Prix racing in 1949 when Les Graham, Freddie Frith, Bruno Ruffo and Nello Pagani were crowned the first-ever World Champions, but since then it has only happened eight times including Valencia this Sunday

Just to emphasise what a special season we have witnessed Quartararo is the first rider to win a first premier class title without having won a title in one of the smaller classes since Casey Stoner brought Ducati success in 2007.

When will this all happen again? Times are changing fast and long may it continue.

By |2021-11-17T17:10:53+00:00November 17th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Three of a kind

I jumped on the Vale rollercoaster and held on tight

I just jumped on the rollercoaster and hung on tight for the next 17 remarkable years and had absolutely no idea what lay ahead but the timing was perfect. I arrived back full time in the MotoGP™ paddock following six years of Formula One adventures in 2000. The same time and place that the 125cc and 250cc World Champion Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) made his premier class debut at Welkom in South Africa.

Eighty-nine Grand Prix wins and seven World titles later, Vale says goodbye this weekend after taking all of us on a journey that none of us will ever forget.

I had worked with and commentated on some truly great World Champions over the previous 20 years. I had arrived from a Formula One World Championship, after witnessing the sheer power and wave of publicity that great drivers such as Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher had generated throughout the world, but nothing had prepared me for the Valentino Rossi effect. I do not think anybody ever doubted his ability, apart from perhaps Casey Stoner at turn one at Jerez in 2010, but the rest of it was truly amazing.

MotoGP™ had experienced a tough time in the late nineties. Mick Doohan and Honda dominated. In Britain World Superbikes led by Carl Fogarty stole all the headlines and so just what happened?

Suddenly everybody knew who the Doctor, number 46 and Vale was. A young man who came from the Adriatic coast of Italy and raced motorcycles for a living had become a World star, a celebrity. A charismatic, cheeky, fun-loving World Champion who became a true legend; I just jumped aboard and loved every minute of it. In Britain just 18,500 fans watched Vale win his first-ever 500cc Grand Prix at Donington Park in 2000. A year later the crowd had doubled, three years later trebled and four years later quadrupled.

I commentated on every one of those eighty-nine wins and hosted the press conference afterwards. I tell a small lie. I was in the commentary box but had lost my voice for one of the greatest battles of them all in 2008. The epic encounter between Vale and Casey Stoner and all I could do was croak my approval. A victory only surpassed by the win at Welkom in 2004 on his first ride for Yamaha.

Vale was the only person I knew in international sport that could regularly use the f… word in press conferences and nobody told him to stop. There were plenty of those conferences to remember. I loved it when he won a Grand Prix because, after a long weekend, all I had to ask was how the race had gone and then just sit back as he explained every aspect and every lap. Of course, some did not go quite as smoothly. Most riders found attending the pre-event Press Conferences of Thursday afternoons a bit of a bore. Vale was no exception but sometimes more than livened up the proceedings. Two at Sepang in Malaysia when he just dived headlong into the reputations of Sete Gibernau, and Marc Marquez I will never forget. It was rarely boring.

Hosting a Yamaha function at Phillip Island in 2017 I was feeling a bit sorry for myself with just three Grand Prix remaining before I retired. Unbeknown to me, Vale had just recorded a wonderful message for my retirement video. He came up to me put his arm around my shoulder and declared. ‘Oh f… what am I going to do without you Nick because now I will be the oldest person in the MotoGP™ paddock!.’ After Valencia, this week I am sure it is a title he will not mind losing

No sport better than MotoGP™ understands the need for change and progress. On the track, the sport is in such a good place with that new breed of young riders and World Champions ensuring the future is bright. Of course, it will continue to flourish without Valentino Rossi but to be honest I do not think it will ever be quite the same without the Doctor.

Little did I realise when I arrived at Welkom back in 2000 on that March morning what lay ahead. It is two decades of my working life I will never ever forget.

 Ciao Vale and thank you.

By |2021-11-10T20:41:13+00:00November 10th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on I jumped on the Vale rollercoaster and held on tight

Who will Fabio follow? – Ago, Barry or Kenny JR?

So which World Champion is Fabio Quartararo going to emulate in the final two races of the season with that world crown firmly planted on his head? In decades past once they had won the ultimate prize the likes of Giacomo Agostini and Barry Sheene turned their back on the Championship. Others such as Kenny Roberts Junior set out to show the world just why they were a worthy Champion.

Competing in the World Championship in the sixties and seventies could prove an expensive business even if you were World Champion. Ago’s decision not to race at certain circuits once he’d won the 500cc World title was both down to safety and finance. Why risk your life at a dangerous road circuit, especially if you could ride at a non-championship race in another country on the same afternoon and earn more cash. Ago’s absence at those races produced some record-breaking results.

In 1969 he missed the penultimate round at Imola and the race was won by Alberto Pagani, the first time the son of a Grand Prix winner repeated the victory. A week later, at the Opatija road circuit in Yugoslavia with Ago again absent, Godfrey Nash brought Norton their last Grand Prix win. It was also the last single cylinder victory in the premier class.

Ago’s MV Agusta team-mate Angelo Bergamonti scored his one and only 500cc victory at the final round at Montjuic Park in the 1970 Spanish Grand Prix while his teammate rode in a non-Championship race in England. A year late at Jarama in Spain, Dave Simmons brought Kawasaki the first of their two premier class victories with Ago absent. In 1972, Ago again missed the final round at Montjuic Park and Chas Mortimer gave Yamaha their very first premier class win riding the 352cc two-stroke machine.

Barry Sheene missed the final three rounds at the Imatra, Brno and Nürburgring road circuits in 1976. Pat Hennen became the first American Grand Prix winner in Finland. John Newbold grabbed his one and only 500cc victory at Brno while Ago won for the last time on the four-stroke MV Agusta in Germany. It was the last of his 68 500cc victories.

Move the clock forward to 2000 and Motegi in Japan. Kenny Roberts junior brought the title to Suzuki with a sixth place at Rio in Brazil in a race won by Valentino Rossi, after a fantastic fight with local hero Alex Barros. It was the perfect ride by Kenny but was overshadowed by the Rossi/Barros scrap. Eight days later the new World Champion destroyed the opposition led by Rossi at Motegi to show the world just why he had followed in the footsteps of his illustrious father.

I had to smile last Sunday imagining the disbelief and then panic in press rooms, studios, and commentary boxes throughout the world when the unfortunate Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) crashed so close to the finish of the race in Misano leaving Quartararo as World Champion. We have all been there, script or copy written and ready to go at the final whistle or in this case, the chequered flag. Many times it has happened to me with a last-minute goal at a football match completely changing the whole story. On two wheels or three, I will never forget Brno in 1988. I sat with my feet on a spartan desk in the commentary box dreaming of a bottle of that pink Russian champagne you could buy at Brno for under five euros.

I was full of self-praise for what I thought had been a good afternoon work for the BBC. I had just interviewed new World 500cc Champion Eddie Lawson live on the radio and commentated on the race. I told the producer back in London best to wait for the final voice piece so I could add ten seconds on the sidecar race even though British World Champion Steve Webster was eighteen points behind Rolf Biland at this final round. Steve had little chance of the title that meant so much to British fans with no success in the solo classes.

Webster, with stand-in passenger Gavin Simmons, led the way with potential Champion Biland comfortable in fourth. Suddenly out of the blue Biland started to slow and then coasted over the start to a halt four laps from the end. Total pandemonium in the commentary box but I managed to commentate on the last two laps live and interview Webster. It had been close and certainly took longer than ten seconds, but it was well worth it when the National Anthem boomed out over the Brno countryside.

So, to all the media before the Algarve on Sunday, be patient. Do not start writing until those Moto3™ and Moto2™ races have finished. Fabio, I am certain will follow the example of Kenny Roberts to celebrate that MotoGP™ world title.

By |2021-11-03T19:36:48+00:00November 3rd, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Who will Fabio follow? – Ago, Barry or Kenny JR?