Nick’s Blog

Family values: Remy joins an exclusive club

Moto2™ Championship leader, Barcelona and Mugello winner Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) is becoming a member of a very exclusive club next season. The Australian joins a select band of fathers and sons who have both raced in the premier class of Grand Prix racing when he joins the Tech3 KTM Factory Racing team. However, he is only knocking on the front door of this special family club

The Red Bull KTM Ajo rider has all the correct qualifications to join but that is just the start. Can he emulate his father Wayne by winning a premier class Grand Prix leading to a World title? He would be only the third father and son to both win a premier class race. Surely, he could stand for presidency by becoming only the second father and son to win the elite class World title.

There are plenty of fathers and sons who have raced in the premier class. There are fathers and sons who have won Grand Prix races, but not both in the 500cc/MotoGP™ class. Famous names such as Graziano and Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT), Angel and Pablo Nieto, Les and Stuart Graham, Peter and Philipp Ottl, Stefan and Helmut Bradl and of course Wayne and Remy. Both winning in the premier class is a very different proposition and just two families have achieved such an accolade. Kenny Roberts Senior and Junior won 30 500cc Grands Prix between them. Italians Nello and Alberto Pagani won five 500cc Grands Prix with father Nello winning two in 1949 in the first year of the World Championship.

The 30 Grand Prix wins for the Roberts’ is the clue to the ultimate accolade. They are the only father and son to win the elite class World title in the 73-year history of the sport. Kenny Senior won the 500cc World title three times in 1978,79,80 on the Yamaha. Twenty years later Kenny Junior brought Suzuki the 2000 title.

There are plenty of fathers and sons who have both raced in the premier class. Some are obvious but others not so. World Superbike supremo Carl Fogarty and father George both raced in the 500cc class. Canadians Yvon and Miguel Du Hamel. Father Yvon started four 500cc Grand Prix races, but never made it to the finish. Barry Sheene’s brother-in-law Paul Smart and his Son Scott and TT heroes Tony and David Jefferies and Tony and Michael Rutter.

Others are better known including Ron and Leon Haslam, Walter and Cristiano Migilorati, George and Pierre Monneret and Australians Harry and Eric Hilton.

There is one record that is likely to remain for a long time or even forever. The German father and son Ernst and Reinhard Hiller not only raced together but also both scored points at the same Grand Prix.  When many of the stars retired in the 1973 German Grand Prix at the Hockenheim Ernst finished third and Reinhard sixth.

I am sure Wayne would be up for it and tell all who was prepared to listen he would not only race but also of course win. Realistically those days have long gone but at a certain age, we are allowed to dream.

By |2021-06-10T10:12:20+00:00June 10th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Family values: Remy joins an exclusive club

Vale at Mugello – Graziano, Hawaii and Helicopters

It may have only been a few television glimpses of number 46 in the Mugello sunshine on Sunday, but they were enough. Valentino Rossi in action at the magnificent Tuscan circuit the home of the Italian Grand Prix. A rider and venue carved into the very foundations of the last quarter of a century of Grand Prix racing.

Twenty-five years in which Rossi led the revolution at circuits throughout the World but it is Mugello that sums it all up. Massive passionate crowds packing the hillsides supporting a national hero and even an organised track invasion at the finish to celebrate in front of the podium.

Of course, it is about Rossi’s nine Grand Prix wins, including seven MotoGP™ victories in a row, 14 podium and seven pole positions at Mugello but it is so much more

There was quite a melee Italian style round a desk in the press room overlooking pit lane in Mugello. Holding court sitting on the desk was a very young-looking fresh-faced teenager with long hair and already the Italian media were noting down every word he spoke. It was June 1995 at the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, and I had absolutely no idea who he was.

I was told on enquiry he was Graziano Rossi’s son and honestly thought little more about it. Less than a year later Valentino had made his Grand Prix debut in Malaysia and less than six months later won the first of his 115 Grand Prix victories at Brno in the Czech Republic. The headlines soon changed, and the roles reversed – Three times Grand Prix winner Graziano Rossi was now Valentino Rossi’s dad.

Six years after that first meeting, I had organised a photoshoot on the London Eye big wheel overlooking the River Thames. Vale had won the opening three 500 Grand Prix of the 2001 season and was even big news in Britain. After a press conference in the pub next to the Eye I jumped into a taxi with Vale and his great mate Uccio on route to the BBC Studios at White City. They were like a couple of kids on their phones organising the end of School Prom but this was something special for Mugello. They had discovered there was a Rossi fan club in Hawaii, and they wanted to celebrate the fact.

It started off by planning to fly a couple of the fan club in for the race but typically the idea just exploded. By the race weekend in Mugello Rossi ‘s helmet and leathers were both in a Hawaiian flower design. The complete Honda pit crew wearing Hawaiian shirts, the NSR Honda’s fairing was resplendent in Hawaiian flower logo and to finish the theme a plastic swimming pool with a palm tree in the middle was positioned track side. The fans and media just could not get enough of it. This was a phenomenon of fun and self-promotion Grand Prix racing had never witnessed before. Others had tried but did not have the talent where it really mattered out on the track. This was just the start, and the Rossi juggernaut was on the road and building up to top speed

Seven years later in 2010 not only Mugello but the whole of Italy shed tears. Rossi crashed in practice on a cold rear tyre at the Biondetti chicane and broke his leg. As the bright yellow medical helicopter took off to transport him to hospital, he acknowledged those tears with a wave from the stretcher. The television pictures of a young lady waving back with tears streaming down her face just summed up what this passionate nation felt about their hero. He returned just five and a half weeks later to finish fourth at the Sachsenring.

I honestly do not know if Valentino Rossi made his last appearance at Mugello on Sunday. Whatever happens those images of the number 46 racing between the green hills of Tuscany over the last quarter of a century will never be forgotten especially by anybody who was lucky enough to be there.

By |2021-06-03T08:39:04+00:00June 3rd, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Mugello – More than six laps and no ten finger calculations

I had almost forgotten what a flag-to-flag race was all about until Le Mans last week. The spectacle of the riders racing into pit lane, not all arriving at the correct pits to change bikes, soon put that right and thoughts turned to Mugello in 2004. The MotoGP™ race that afternoon in the Tuscan hills was the very foundation of the flag-to-flag concept. It was an extraordinary afternoon resulting in the shortest ever premier class race in the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing. Just six laps of the 5.24 km circuit, a 31.47 km distance, brought Valentino Rossi the 25 World Championship points and a hero’s reception to set up his successful Yamaha World Championship bid.

Sitting in the commentary box, it was confusing but, rule wise, very clear. Once the race that had started in the dry was stopped after 17 laps when the rain began to fall the results of the second race would determine the complete results and points scorers. The fact that the second race was only six laps to make up the original 23 lap race distance did not matter. It was rumoured that some television stations went off air thinking the first race was the result. Things had to change, and they did the very next year

The flag-to-flag concept was borne. Riders could change bikes with different tyres if the race started in the dry and then turned wet or in the opposite direction from wet to dry. The first time the white flag was shown to indicate riders could change from slicks to wets came at Estoril in Portugal that year. It was just the second round of the 2005 Championship, but it dried out and no rider elected to come in.

Incredibly the weather stayed dry for over a year until the 2006 Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island, which at last brought about the first flag to flag race. British rider James Ellison was the first rider ever to change bikes, but the race is probably best remembered by winner Marco Melandri remarkable celebratory wave while sliding through the final corner at around 200 kph.

It was Phillip Island seven years later at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix I had another commentary box moment. The track had been resurfaced and Bridgestone soon realised during practice that their tyres would not last the race distance. Riders were instructed to follow a flag-to-flag process and call in to change bikes with new tyres on laps nine or ten. I was in control ticking off each lap and smiled when the riders started to call in after nine laps. I watched Marc Marquez race through and waited for him to appear in pit lane at the end of lap. I panicked and checked my ten fingers when he raced down the Gardner straight towards the Doohan corner on full throttle. Once again had I messed my maths? Anguish on the Repsol Honda pit wall suggested it was not me. Unbelievably in the age of computers, traction control, fly-by-wall throttles and seamless gearboxes, the old ten fingers method had been ignored. They miscalculated the number of laps and Marc was disqualified.

Never was the problem of working out who had won the race when it turned from dry to wet better illustrated than the totally chaotic British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1978. Some riders came in and changed wheels fitted with wet tyres while other stayed on slicks. It was a complete nightmare for the lap scorers using pen, paper and eyes. Kenny Roberts was declared the winner, but nobody is sure and British privateer Steve Manship, who was declared second, still claims victory.

Even when the rules were put in place to avoid such chaos there were still problems at the 1989 Belgium Grand Prix in Spa Francorchamps. The race was stopped twice, and then run a third time. After much discussion, the third race was deemed against the rules and only half World Championship points were awarded after the first two.

So, no ten-finger calculations or six-lap races at Mugello this weekend and hopefully no rain.

By |2021-05-26T16:20:19+00:00May 26th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Mugello – More than six laps and no ten finger calculations

Paddlers, side saddlers and run and jumpers

There is nowhere better in the World than Le Mans to witness that undiluted explosion of sound and fury at the start of a MotoGP™ race. It just bounces off those towering legendary grandstands that dwarf the start and finish straight. When empty the noise is further amplified from the concrete terraces. Sunday was no exception as Jack Miller headed the growling pack of 300 bhp monsters into the fast right-hander before the Dunlop chicane. It all used to sound so different. Up to 34 years ago all you could hear was the patter of feet on tarmac when the flag dropped even at Le Mans

Thirty-eight years into the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing you had to start the race by pushing your bike to fire it into action ready for the battle that lay ahead.  From 50 to 500cc and even sidecars, it was the only way to join the fight. So many races were lost as a rider pushed, pushed and pushed to start his bike as his rivals disappeared over the horizon and out of sight. It all changed in 1987 when clutch starts were finally ratified starting at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, the opening round of the World Championship.

It was a very special event not only for the clutch starts. The first Japanese Grand Prix for 20 years and on a personal note the first time I went to Japan and the first time I ever witnessed a fax machine in action. At the time I forgot those first three memories. A fax machine that saved hours of typing out full results late into a Sunday night and could contain six different classes and sidecar passengers. It was a miracle!

Randy Mamola won that first 500cc race with clutch starts but Randy knew all about and had perfected the art of running and pushing. The Californian had already won ten 500cc Grands Prix before the change. In the 500cc class you either had to be a side saddler or jump on starter. The paddlers were confined to the smaller class

In the 50 and later 80cc classes and especially when the two-strokes took over, riders would propel themselves off the line sat on the bike. They would paddle and paddle with both legs and hope the engine would fire into action when they prayed they had enough speed to drop the clutch. It was a gamble that worked most times although failure meant the rider would have to jump off and push.

The classic method of starting especially in the four-stroke era in the bigger classes was side saddle. Riders would look more like royalty on a leisurely horse ride round their estate sitting side saddle. There was nothing leisurely about what happened when they dropped the clutch and the engine roared. They would cock their leg over the back of the saddle onto the footrests as they disappeared

The riders loved the downhill starts and nowhere better than Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. From the start line it was downhill towards the legendary Eau Rouge corner at the bottom of the hill. Most people made good starts at Spa and none better than seven times World Champion Phil Read. My first trip to Spa was in 1974 and Read made the perfect start on the MV Agusta four-stroke with Giacomo Agostini leading the chasing pack on the two-stroke Yamaha. Spa may have been 14.100 kms long but just over four minutes later we first heard and then saw Read racing through the Ardennes forest to complete his first lap with not a single other rider in sight. Perfect start and race for Read who beat Ago by an incredible 72 seconds to win the race and eventually the World title.

It really was a case of the sound of silence until 1987 with just the patter of feet to signify a Grand Prix had actually started. Clutch starts certainly made life easier for riders. Like all changes it also had its disadvantages. Modern technology catches anybody who moves a centimetre before the lights change. Back in the pushing days a small step before the flag dropped would usually go unnoticed. Afterall, there was plenty of pushing ahead.

By |2021-05-20T08:23:28+00:00May 20th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

A long way from home

There is something special about Australian sportsmen and women. Perhaps performing so far from home makes them just that more determined to win and prepared to push to the limit and beyond. Grand Prix motorcycle racing is a prime example of the hardships they have overcome to win World Championships and Grands Prix for their country. It is also probably a reason they celebrate success a fair bit harder than most other nationalities. From that first Australian Grand Prix winner Ken Kavanagh in 1952 to Jack Miller’s win at Jerez last weekend you realise just what it means not only to the rider but the whole country.

Australian riders have always been prepared to follow their dreams and travel across the globe to race against the best in the world. They were not content to just read about or watch at the cinema Grand Prix racing in Europe. Instead, they made enormous sacrifices and, in some cases, the ultimate sacrifice, to find out for themselves just what it was all about.

Imagine making that 22,000km six-week sea journey from Australia to Europe to compete in the very first World Championship event at the 1949 TT races in the Isle of Man. That four-hour crossing from Liverpool to the Isle of Man across the bumpy Irish Sea must have seemed like a doddle for the three Australian riders, Eric McPherson, Harry Hinton and George Morrison, who flew the Australian flag 73 years ago not only at the TT but in that historic first season. Growing up I always thought how romantic it sounded. Far from home, travelling around Europe in a van to race motorcycle at legendary venues but it was a hand to mouth existence, especially for the non-European riders, but they continued to arrive

Hinton’s third place in the 1950 Dutch TT riding the Norton was their first podium finish. Two years later Ken Kavanagh became the first Australian winner with victory in the 350cc race at the Ulster Grand Prix. It took another four years for the first world title with Keith Campbell crowned the 1957 350cc World Champion riding the Italian Moto Guzzi machine. Tom Phillis made history four years later bringing Honda their first Grand Prix win in the 1961 125cc Spanish Grand Prix. He went on to bring Honda their first world title the same year but tragically lost his life at the 1962 TT races.

I remember watching Barry Smith winning the 1968 50cc TT race and a year later sitting spellbound witnessing Kel Carruthers jump the legendary Ballaugh Bridge on the mountain circuit riding the gloriously sounding four cylinder Benelli. Carruthers, who later became the mentor for the likes of Kenny Roberts to dominate European racing, went on to win the 250cc TT and the world title.

Twenty years later I was in the thick of the action when two Australian riders arrived to dominate the 500cc World Championships and change the whole direction of the sport back home. Wayne Gardner lived on fish and chips and slept in the back of his Austin 1800 car when he arrived in England in 1982. Five years later he became the first Australian 500cc World Champion, and the country went completely crazy. He was voted Australian Sportsman of the Year ahead of Wimbledon tennis champion Pat Cash. National television started to broadcast the races live and the magnificent Phillip Island circuit staged the first Australian Grand Prix.

Mick Doohan took over the handlebars in the nineties. I will never forget the Queenslander’s fight back after almost having his leg amputated following his Dutch TT crash in 1992. He returned to somehow compete in the final two Grands Prix of the year but could not prevent Wayne Rainey retaining his title by just four points. A fit Mick and Honda proved an unbeatable combination winning five consecutive 500cc titles between 1994 and 1999 before injury forced one of the sport’s true greats to retire

When I returned full time to the MotoGP™ paddock 21 years ago, I received so much help and encouragement from the aimable Jack Findlay, who was working for IRTA. In 1971, Jack became the first rider to win a 500cc Grand Prix on a two-stroke machine when he won the Ulster Grand Prix for Suzuki.

Garry McCoy and Chris Vermeulen certainly had contrasting styles but continued Australian MotoGP™ success until a young but so very fast Casey Stoner arrived in Europe. His parents sold up everything to bring their talented son to take on the world. They lived in a caravan in the cold, wet and windy north of England but their sacrifices were rewarded. Casey was something special. He brought Ducati their first premier class world title in 2007 and four years later regained the Championship on the factory Honda before retiring with his family to his farm back home.

Jack Miller’s Jerez victory was the 182nd time an Australian rider has stood on the top step of a Grand Prix podium. Three Australian legends have gone on to win the ultimate premier class prize, the 500cc or MotoGP™ World Championship. Jack’s Ducati win at Jerez has set him up to follow in their footsteps and, even more important, honour those pioneers who never made the long journey home.

By |2021-05-12T17:40:57+00:00May 12th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

A silent sunrise in Andalucia

As the orange ball of the sun rose majestically, lighting up the sky revealing the hills surrounding the Jerez de la Frontera-Angel Nieto circuit on Sunday, there was an eerie silence. It was 7.32 am on the morning of the Red Bull Grand Prix of Spain and never had the absence of those passionate and dedicated fans of this incredible sport been more poignant.

Who would ever forget arriving at the Jerez circuit in the darkness around 7 am to avoid the traffic problems the 100,000 plus crowd would always create? Slowly and gloriously the sky would start to lighten in the East accompanied by a cacophony of excitement, anticipation and partying in the darkness beyond.

From the media centre balcony, I would peer through the darkness across the paddock, which was already a hive of frenzied activity, to the far end of the circuit and the hillside surrounding the stadium section of this legendary venue overlooking the Angel Nieto and Peluqui right-hand corners.

As the sun slowly rose layer by layer of the hillside that the darkness had hidden was revealed. There were thousands of fans jammed or in some cases hanging onto the hillside and having the time of their lives. Music blared, dancing if you could find the space, banners fluttered, air horns trumpeted, and beer flowed warmed by the sunshine. All roads in Europe led south in the first week of May. This was Jerez, the start of the European MotoGP™ season and like all special days it had to be celebrated in true style. And it was.

If ever a single place typified what MotoGP™ was all about this is surely it. A barren hillside in Andalucia, a clear illustration of just why MotoGP™ is so way ahead of any other World Championship Motorsport series. Those fans on the Jerez hillside just summed up how we all feel about MotoGP™. The passion, excitement, pure joy and patriotism just erupts after a long winter and after watching the start of the season on screens a long way from home in Qatar, Argentina and Austin.

A hillside that was so capable of sucking a Spanish rider to victory and there has been plenty of them. A hillside that was not always the best behaved. Climbing over the barriers in 1996 to celebrate an Alex Criville victory over Mick Doohan when it was announced the battle was over but there was still a lap to go. A few plastic bottles did fly from their massed ranks when the World 500cc Champion Kenny Roberts retired in front of them.

The saddest aspect for those absent fans surely must be the performance being put on by the riders in the opening four rounds in all three classes. It is a remarkable show and both the riders, and the fans deserve each other. Hopefully, the long wait is almost over, and they will return before the end of the season. In the meantime, the riders just keep producing the goods. Last year I attended a football play off final at the legendary Wembley Stadium in London. A crowd of around 250 permitted in a stadium that seats 90,000 made for one of the most surreal sporting events I have ever visited. Hopefully, the end of such experiences is just a few laps away.

There may have been silence on the hillsides and grandstands surrounding Jerez on Sunday but if you had cocked an ear, you may have caught the sound of celebration on the wind thousands of kilometres away at Townville on the Queensland coast of Australia. What a win for Jack Miller in the MotoGP™ race. Spanish or not Jack and those fans would have celebrated together.

Be patient, those days will return. The wait will be worth it, the riders have made sure of that.

By |2021-05-06T08:55:40+00:00May 6th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on A silent sunrise in Andalucia

The kids are alright

A well-known football television pundit and international footballer famously once declared to millions of viewers that a certain top club would never win anything by playing ‘kids’ in their team. Within two years that club won the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup. I wonder what he would have made of MotoGP™ now where the kids are doing even better than alright.

The average age of the three Grand Prix winners in Portimao last week was the youngest ever in the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing. I cannot help wondering how the riders can possibly get any younger and can those MotoGP™ bikes possibly go any quicker? The average age of the three Grand Prix winners in Portugal was just 19 years 289 days. Yes under 20 years old!

Not surprisingly Moto3™ sensation Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo) kept that average age to record levels. The rookie secured his second win of the season aged just 16 years 328 days. Moto2™ winner Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was 20 years 177 days old when he took the chequered flag in Portimao to win his third Grand Prix and first in his rookie Moto2™ season.

Frenchman Fabio Quartararo was positively the ‘old man’ with his second MotoGP™ victory of the season. The Monster Energy Yamaha rider took the lead in the World Championship aged 21 years 363 days.

The previous record was set at the 2014 Americas Grand Prix in Austin. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) won Moto3™, Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) Moto2™ and not surprisingly Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) in MotoGP™. Their average age was 19 years 320 days.

So, what about the other end of the scale and the highest average age of the Grand Prix winners at one event. Sixty-eight years ago, in the 1953 Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuic Park in Barcelona, the average age of the three winners was 40 years 224 days which is more the double the average age in Portugal last week.

Italian Angelo Copeta grabbed his one and only 125 cc Grand Prix victory riding the MV Agusta when he was aged 34 years 163 days. Fellow Italian World Champion Enrico Lorenzetti won the 250-cc race riding the Moto Guzzi aged 42 years 273 days. The oldest of them all was Englishman Fergus Anderson who won the 500-cc race at the tender age of 44 years 237 days. Never was there a clearer indication of how the second world war robbed future Grand Prix winners of their adolescence. In 1953, the war had only ended eight years ago.

Can the average winner’s age possibly drop even further? The Worldwide competitions set up to bring youngsters into Grand Prix racing suggests it could. Could a 40-year-old rider ever win a MotoGP™ race? A little more unlikely, and so over to you Vale to shatter yet another record.

 

By |2021-04-28T21:08:52+00:00April 28th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The kids are alright

A True Warrior

It was more like a scene from the Muppets Show on Friday morning. Two old boys shouting at the television screen while expressing their opinions with very loud voices. My great friend Dr. Martin Raines and I were in the middle of a Zoom call when the first MotoGP™ practice session in Portimao was drawing to a close. A couple of minutes from the finish as the number 93 flashed to the top of the timing screen, the subject of the Zoom call went out of the window as we screamed our approval – how can he do it? Marc Marquez was at the front on his return to the MotoGP™ racetrack.

The agonising 265-day wait was finally over but how could he be leading after such a long time out of the saddle. This was a track the eight-time World Champion had never raced on before. The track for the first session was not in perfect condition and Marquez had already admitted he was going to suffer over the weekend with pain and lack of strength from the humerus he had broken so badly crashing at the opening round last year in Jerez.

Martin and I had been discussing all week just how careful he would have to be to protect the injury, to gain strength and heal. Even Marquez must know this, and any points scored in the tortuous 25 lap race on Sunday would be a starting point we agreed. What I totally forgot was that protect and careful are two words that Marquez could never use in a game of Scrabble because he simply does not understand their meaning.

I thought back to the last interview I did with him after he had won the 2017 MotoGP™ title at the final round in Valencia. It had been a difficult year for him and his Repsol Honda team and Marquez had decided to try and ride a little more conservatively, not take so many risks and ride for the points. Halfway through the season, his hairdresser told him his hair was starting to fall out. There was no baldness in the family, and he rushed to the doctor who confirmed the loss of hair. He suggested to Marc that the loss was caused by stress. Marc immediately worked out the solution. Stop trying to not be Marc Marquez and return to his old ways. Elbows and knees in constant contact with the tarmac may have suffered but he kept his hair and retained his title.

In the end, Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins pushed Marquez back to third in that first session but he was back. He confirmed that return with sixth place and a second row start in qualifying. Anybody who doubted his intent and sheer downright guts and determination could not have watched Marquez at his best in the opening two corners of the race. From that second row, he charged into the riders in front of him like a raging bull who had finally been released after being fenced in for over 12 months.  Marquez was up into third place, but would he last the pace? He had done no more than six continuous fast laps around the undulating, demanding circuit. The eight-time World Champion just gritted his teeth, reminded himself of sitting at home watching his rivals perform on the television and got on with the job he does better than anybody else in the world.

Somehow, he survived those last ten excruciating, painful laps to finish seventh, thirteen seconds behind race winner Fabio Quartararo. It was his first Grand Prix finish for 518 days and, back in the Repsol Honda garage, the tears flowed: surely a combination of pain and relief. Marquez showed he is a true warrior constructed from the same mould as the likes of Mick Doohan and Barry Sheene, who returned from horrendous injuries to win World titles.

The story continues at Jerez in two weeks’ time. Before then there is plenty of zooming and lawns to be cut for the two old boys before the shouting at the screen starts once again.

By |2021-04-22T07:03:58+00:00April 22nd, 2021|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on A True Warrior

Acosta chases history on Sunday, but not on a Bantam

It may be a long time ago, but I remember I only had one thing on my mind on my sixteenth birthday – how can I raise the princely sum of £15 to buy my first motorbike. My friend’s Dad was selling his 125cc Bantam and with some help from my parents, I was on the road.

On Sunday at Portimao in Portugal, a 16-year-old Spaniard will not be worrying about a BSA Bantam but concentrating on re-writing the 73-year-old Grand Prix history books and joining a very exclusive club. Pedro Acosta’s sensational victory in the second round of the Moto3™ World Championship in Qatar opened the doors for some record-breaking at round three on Sunday. That staggering first Grand Prix win when he decimated the field after having to start from pit lane came just a week after his second-place podium finish in Qatar on his Grand Prix debut. A win or even podium finish on Sunday will place the former Red Bull Rookies Champion in a very special place

If Acosta finishes in the top three in Portugal, he will be the youngest rider to open his career with three successive podiums. If the KTM rider wins the race in Portugal he will be the second youngest rider ever to take back-to-back wins, after Maverick Vinales.

In the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing, only four riders have finished on the podium in their first three Grand Prix starts:

In 1949, the first year of Grand Prix racing, Italian Arciso Artesian secured three successive podiums on his debut. The Gilera rider missed the opening round at the TT races in the Isle of Man, but then finished on the podium at Switzerland, Dutch TT and Belgium.

A year later British Norton rider Geoff Duke finished second in the 350cc TT, won the 500cc TT and then was third in the 350cc race in Belgium at Spa Francorchamps. Duke was a sporting hero in post-war Britain winning six World titles for Norton and Gilera

In 1991 the bubbly bespectacled Noboru Ueda was on the podium at the opening three 125cc Grands Prix. In an explosive start to his World Championship career the Japanese Honda rider won the opening round at Suzuka, finished third behind Loris Capirossi and Fausto Gresini at the Eastern Creek in Australia and won again at the opening European round in Jerez. Nobby went on to win 11 more Grands Prix but never a World title. He was second in 1994 and in 1997. In true Acosta style, although not from pit lane, Ueda won a race starting from the back of the grid. At the 1997 Japanese Grand Prix he had qualified on pole, but on the sighting lap noticed the wind direction has changed so he called into the pits to change the gearing. This resulted in him starting from the back of the grid. He won the race which was the second round of the Championship. A young Valentino Rossi won the opening round in Malaysia and then the third and fourth rounds in Jerez and Mugello.

In 1996 the late great Daijiro Kato finished third as a wild card entry in the 250cc Grand Prix at Suzuka in the third round of the Championship. He returned as a wild card entry to win the race for Honda a year later and then in 1998. Despite the gaps, these were Kato’s first three Grand Prix appearances. He went on to win 15 more Grands Prix and the 250cc World title in 2001 before his tragic death in 2003.

So already Acosta had joined an elite band of Grand Prix legends. My beloved Bantam only once touched 55 mph racing down Cumnor Hill. I don’t think the Spanish teenager would have been that impressed.

By |2021-04-15T07:15:26+00:00April 15th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Vive la France

It has been a long four and a half years wait but it cannot be long before that celebratory back flip and perhaps even an airport piano recital returns as Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) leads the French revolution alongside Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP).

A French rider has never won the premier class World title but already the two revolutionaries are re-writing the history books. Zarco, still chasing that first MotoGP™ win, leads the World Championship for the very first time after two superb second places in those breath-taking opening two rounds. Quartararo was back on the podium with a bang with a brilliantly judged win on Sunday. It was the very first time in the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing that French riders had finished first and second in a premier class race

Zarco is certainly no stereotyped MotoGP™ rider, if there is such a person. His last Grand Prix win came at the final round of the Moto2™ World Championship in Valencia in 2016. He had already retained the World title and celebrated in the hotel with a customary winning backflip off the bar. A couple of weeks earlier in the early hours of the morning, I rounded the corner of a deserted Melbourne airport on route to Malaysia to discover the Frenchman totally alone and completely absorbed in playing his very own concerto on a piano he discovered near the departure gate for Kuala Lumpur.

Last year Quartararo was a sensation, but the pressure got to him and he tailed off, not finishing on the podium after Barcelona. He was back to his very best on Sunday. A brilliantly judged win was a stark reminder to the rest of what a threat he will be in just his third MotoGP™ season.

Despite all the obvious problems, this was a sensational start to the new season. I am sure there were the usual feelings as 2021 got underway with the double header. Of course, there were plenty of people regretting the measurements they gave for their uniforms when the 2020 season ended had not taken account of Christmas and the new year. There would have been the usual sadness with the nonappearance of old friends’ faces in the paddock, in the media centre and out on track. All was forgotten the moment that first bike fired into action.

Let us start at the beginning and the grid for that opening race. Eight of the riders on the grid had not been born when Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) made his Grand Prix debut 25 years ago in Malaysia. While Rossi celebrated the start of his 26th season at the tender age of 42 years 40 days, at the other end of the age scale Iker Lecuona (Tech 3 KTM Factory Racing) started his second MotoGP™ season aged just 21 years 81 days. Pecco Bagnaia celebrated his promotion to the Lenovo Ducati factory team by grabbing his first pole position and then finishing on the podium behind two ‘veterans’ Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Zarco

Roll on seven days and rookie Jorge Martin grabbed pole position on the Pramac Ducati in just his second MotoGP™ race. It was the seventh different pole setter in the last seven races. It only seemed like yesterday I was joking with Jorge in the Qualifying press conferences after he had received yet another Tissot Moto3™ pole setting watch but could not win a race. That first win finally came at the final round of 2017 in Valencia. The next year he won seven and clinched the title. Three short years later the Spaniard is in MotoGP™ grabbing pole positions and finishing third in just his second race. As the race progressed, I seriously started to think he could win after leading for so long, but third place was just reward for an amazing weekend.

I am sure you do not need any more convincing just what a start it has been. On Sunday after 22 laps of the Losail International Circuit, just 8.928 seconds separated the first 15 riders across the line. No great surprise, the closest ever.

While I wait for the third round of this amazing Championship in Portugal a week on Sunday and for my second Covid vaccination jab, I raise a glass of my favourite Provence Rosé to the revolution.

 

By |2021-04-07T15:07:25+00:00April 7th, 2021|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Vive la France