Nick’s Blog


Yes, my very first visit to Brno did teach me about life behind the Iron Curtain, just how dangerous the old road circuit was, keeping your thoughts to yourself when queuing for hours between the machine gun posts to cross the border from Austria, that sidecar driver George O’Dell was the contact for the cheapest crystal glasses, Russian champagne tasted ok and how to drink tea without milk. Far more important than any of these great experiences though, it taught me you must pick the right moment to ask a difficult question.

South African Jon Ekerold was quite simply the hardest motorcycle racer I’ve ever met. He’d arrived at Brno with a massive chance of clinching the 1980 350 cc World Championship he so richly deserved after a season long battle with Toni Mang. It was the penultimate round and he led Mang by 14 points as they lined up for the 13-lap race round the 10.920 km road circuit. Typically, Jon had taken everything fate could throw at him. His two mechanics Gregg Irvine and Keith Petersen had been barred entry to the communist country because of their South African passports and Jon had only obtained the necessary visa using the Norwegian passport he’d inherited from his father.

He was the privateer of all privateers riding the Yamaha based Bimota twin and started on the front row as they prepared to race between the houses and through the cornfields. I was already planning the words of my World Championship winning story as Jon was happy to sit behind leader Mang with just a few forays to the front to keep the chasing pack at a safe distance. Six laps to go and I’d already written the headline ‘The Privateer of all Privateers’ when it started to go horribly wrong. Jon started to slow with a broken piston ring as Mang piled on the pace at the front. With a lap to go he was still the 1980 350 cc World Champion in third place but his pace was that of a Tour de France cyclist not of a Grand Prix motorcycle racer. The snarling pack picked him off one by one and he limped across the line in tenth place with a single World Championship point. Eckerold and Mang would arrive at the Nurburgring seven short days later equal on points.

Up stepped the new reporter in his first Grand Prix season. As a shattered Ekerold coasted to a halt in the paddock, there was an ominous silence as he took off his helmet. Everybody realised this was not the exact moment to speak and certainly ask questions, apart from a person proudly wearing his Motor Cycle Weekly t-shirt. To say he was not happy with my enquiry about what had gone wrong would be a vast understatement. I rightly got the works from a man that had dedicated his life to winning the World Championship. On a scorching hot afternoon in Czechoslovakia, that dream had disappeared in the heat haze.

Fast forward five days and as I walked into the Nurburgring paddock for the final showdown, Jon Ekerold was waiting for me at the gate. Nervously I walked up to him expecting another deserved outburst but before I could speak he put out his hand and apologised for his anger, which he told me was unjustified and unfair to somebody who was only trying to do his job.

What a man and I was able to write the Privateer of all Privateers story on Sunday afternoon when he beat Toni Mang in an epic encounter round the old road circuit to bring that 350 cc World title to South Africa.

Thanks Jon, it’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

By | August 3rd, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on PICKING THE RIGHT MOMENT

Pedrosa’s pure bad luck

Is there such a thing as pure bad luck? In Dani Pedrosa’s case I think there is. Surely the biggest question mark surrounding last week’s retirement announcement by Dani must be how a rider with such an amazing record never won the MotoGP™ World title that he so richly deserved.

Only 15 times World Champion Giacomo Agostini has matched Dani by winning a premier class race for 12 successive seasons and the Spanish Honda rider is the only rider in the 70 year history of the sport to have won a Grand Prix for 16 successive seasons. The records continue to tumble.

Only Agostini and Valentino Rossi have secured more Grand Prix podiums while only nine times World Champion Rossi has secured more premier class podiums. He is the fourth youngest premier class race winner behind Marc Marquez, Freddie Spencer and Norick Abe and won the same number of Grands Prix as five times World Champion Mick Doohan and premier class Grands Prix as four times World Champion Eddie Lawson. His 54 Grands Prix wins equal Doohan while he equals the Australian as the most successful Honda Grand Prix rider of all time.

Following his 125cc and two 250cc World titles we just waited for the MotoGP™ crown to follow, especially after that first win at the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix – it never came, but why? Two never forgotten images sum up the career to me of surely one of the most underestimated and unlucky riders in the 70 year history of Grand Prix racing.

His smile as he entered the press conference at Misano two years ago after he’d left the greats including Lorenzo, Rossi and Marquez trailing in his wake by nearly three seconds on the Adriatic coast. His separate overtaking manoeuvres on the three World Champions came right out of the Marquez and Rossi textbook and merited his smile. Once again Dani had shown the world and his critics he could on his day match and beat the very best in the world.

Roll back the clock almost 13 years as the helicopter took off from Phillip Island bound for the hospital in Melbourne. Five days earlier the fresh faced teenager had clinched the first of three world titles with a 125cc victory at Sepang in Malaysia. In the first practice session for the Australian Grand Prix from the commentary box it looked a pretty standard crash as he slid off at the bottom of Lukey Heights in the cool conditions but as we learned so many times there is hardly ever a standard crash for Dani. He broke both his ankles as he slid into the barrier and his season and World Championship celebrations came to a premature end. When he crashed he hurt himself and throughout that 12 year MotoGP™ career it was so often not his fault. When it was where other walked away to fight another day Dani was on the plane back to Barcelona to mend broken bones.

His brilliant teammate Marquez was not giving anybody else a chance but I so wanted Dani to win at the Sachsenring on Sunday. He still has time in the remaining four months of an amazing career before giving that much repaired body the rest it deserves.

By | July 19th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment


As World Championship motorcycle racing prepares to bake the cake to celebrate its 70th birthday next year nowhere reflects the history of Europe more than the Sachsenring circuit. Seven decades of conflict, divide and ultimately unification played out on and around the tarmac snaking through the forest above the town of Hohenstein – Ernsttal.

 The East German Grand that ran from behind the Iron Curtain between 1961 until 1972.The nearby MZ factory who took on the world from their humble premises to pioneer the two-stroke racing engine. The defection of their talisman Ernst Degner with the MZ secrets to Suzuki, the playing of the West German National anthem after the 1971 250 cc victory of Dieter Braun and finally the return as the German Grand Prix in 1998 tells so much. Throughout it was Motorcycle racing that provided a ray of light and hope for the millions of people caught in the web of post war conflict and divide. They have never forgotten.     

Folklore tells us every week for the last 69 years a fresh bunch of flowers is carefully laid on the simple stone memorial in the woods on the twisty undulating road near the entrance to the Sachsenring. Certainly there was a fresh bunch of locally picked flowers there last year as we drove through the forest on the old road circuit on route to the first day of practice for the German Grand Prix at the new Sachsenring.

Fifteen hundred kilometres away, across Europe and across both the North and Irish seas another memorial to the same person glints in some rare Isle of Man sunshine. On the famous mountain climb out of Ramsey looking back towards the Point of Ayre a kiln of stones is lovingly preserved to commemorate the life of a great motor cycle racer and six times TT winner.

On the eighth of August 1937 40 year old Scotsman Jimmy Guthrie was leading the German Grand Prix on the Sachsenring road circuit. Riding the Norton he was chasing his third successive victory in Germany where the rumble of war was looming fast. He’d already taken 19 grand prix victories and going into the last lap was leading comfortably. The 300,000 crowd packed around the 8.73 kms long road circuit that cut through the woods and around the hills surrounding the city of Hohenstein – Ernsttal, situated between Dresden and Leipzig prepared to celebrate.  He never arrived at the finish. Guthrie died in hospital after crashing into the woods on that fateful last lap.

 A year later World War two was declared and the Hohenstein-Ernstthal area around the Sachsenring was never going to be the same. When World War two ended they found themselves part of East Germany, a very different place to where they lived before war started. However, the people had never forgotten a Scottish gentleman who won two grands prix at their circuit before the hostilities split the world wide apart. In 1949 a memorial at the location he crashed was their own special tribute to him.

Colour, creed or nationality made no difference. He was their motorcycle racing hero.

By | July 12th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment


I don’t know if Assen will ever stage a Formula One car Grand Prix but if four wheels do ever grace the hallowed tarmac they will have one hell of a legacy to live up to. Never was that fact better illustrated than the classic Assen 26 lap encounter on Sunday – just ask the 100,00 fans who packed the Cathedral for a typical Sunday service.

While F1 struggled to keep the three leading cars on the same lap at the Austrian A1 ring just 16.4 seconds separated the first 16 riders in the 118.92 kms MotoGP Assen showdown. The closest ever first 15 finish in the 70 year history of the Premier class (more detail here :  )It was what Assen is all about. Constant overtaking, more than a few contacts at the front as eight riders fought for the lead. Four different Manufacturers filling the first four places. It was breath taking stuff around a track that still retains those corners that make it so special. No wonder it’s the only circuit remaining from that original 1949 World Championship calendar.

So a perfect day for the massive Dutch crowd in the glorious sunshine – well not quite. While the talented Max Verstappen brought out the orange flags at the A1 ring with his first Formula One win of the season there was no such celebrating at Assen. To be honest while Assen retains the rightful position as the biggest sporting event of the year in Holland it’s despite the total lack of success of Dutch riders on the World stage. The bare facts make it even more amazing how the Dutch fans have stuck with MotoGP because their last grand prix win came 28 barren years ago.

Hans Spaan won the 125 cc race at the 1990 Czech Republic Grand Prix in Brno and that was that. He almost became the first Dutch World Champion since Henk van Kessel took the 50cc World for Kreidler 16 years earlier. It was close and went all the way to the wire and the final round at Phillip Island in Australia where Loris Capirossi, who clinched the title and his Italian mates, ganged up on the lone Dutchman. Nine years later Jürgen van der Goobergh at the same Brno circuit was the last Dutchman to start from pole position when he put that super quick MUZ – Weber on top in the 500 cc class. We have to look back almost two years for the last Dutch rider to finish on the podium when Bo Bendsneyder riding the KTM finished third in the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang. 

Lewis Hamilton racing through Veenslang just sounds wrong, Max Verstappen through Stekkenwal perhaps has a better ring about it but Marquez, Rins, Vinales, Dovizioso, Rossi, Crutchlow, Lorenzo and Zarco though Ramshoek an absolute dead cert even for those success starved Dutch fans.


By | July 6th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on F1 AT ASSEN – SO MUCH TO LIVE UP TO


Assen is like my very first kiss – never forgotten. Perhaps not quite in the same way as that stolen kiss outside the front door with her father waiting on the other side for his daughter to return home, but still a memory to cherish.

I can thank Assen for my first ever grand prix, witnessing Barry Sheene win his first 500cc grand prix and then my first grand prix as a proper newspaper reporter and won by a Dutchman. No wonder the very mention of that strip of hallowed tarmac in the northern extremities of Holland moistens the old eyes and it’s not the dreaded hay fever.  

It all came back to me last year on a glorious Wednesday evening as we raced through the flat Dutch countryside towards Assen. The windmills, the canals, the cows, the bicycles and the June sunshine took me back 44 long years. Sitting in the back of the Tee Mill tours coach at 5am in the morning on the very same roads on route to my first grand prix – what an adventure at the 1973 Dutch TT.

In those distant dark days there was no British Grand Prix to witness the World Championship stars in action. The British round of the World Championship was still held every June at the TT races in the Isle of Man. We did get a glimpse of our heroes at the big International races on the mainland at events like the John Player International at Silverstone and the Race of the year at Mallory Park. Of course we made the annual pilgrimage to the Island but the trouble was many of the top World Championship riders had already decided the TT was too dangerous. One such rider was my ultimate hero Jarno Saarinen. We’d seen him ride at Silverstone and Mallory and after many council meetings at the local pub we made the momentous decision to give the TT a miss and go abroad, well Europe, to the Dutch TT. At least it was still a TT but we never imagined just how different it was to the Isle of Man.

Saarinen was spearheading Yamaha’s two-stroke assault on the World 500cc Championship and had already won in France and Austria. Then came the bombshell. The BBC Light Programme’s seven o clock news on Sunday May 20th announced that both Jarno Saarinen and Renzo Pasolini had been killed in a truly terrible accident at Monza in Italy. We were shattered but were even more determined to travel to Holland to pay our respects. We were in good company with around 25 packed coaches of fans meeting at Dover to cross the channel and drive to the legendary Assen.

It was a trip into a completely new world and learning about so much. We had a great courier on board our coach with Brands Hatch star Pat Mahoney keeping us amused all the way there and especially on the way back, via Amsterdam. At 6am in the morning we’d never seen so many people and bicycles at a race meeting. You could buy beer and chips covered in mayonnaise at that time in the morning and the sun never stopped shining. Six World Championship races, including sidecars around the most famous circuit in the World. The icing on the cake, Phil Read winning the 500cc race on the MV Agusta, four strokes still ruled the roost but not for much longer.

Then all back on the coach and a night in Amsterdam where we thought the barman liked us so much he didn’t charge us for each round of drinks. It was only when we were leaving the bill appeared. All part of the education that has stood me in good stead for the next 45 years.

By | June 28th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on THE FIRST TIME – NEVER FORGOTTEN

Thank goodness for the switch, it could have got boring

After witnessing Jorge Lorenzo hammer the opposition for the second Grand Prix in succession at Barcelona on Sunday, I will be honest to admit the thought did cross my mind – thank goodness Lorenzo is making the amazing switch to Repsol Honda next year because this could get boring. It’s not a thought that would have even entered my head after watching him stomp into the Ducati garage at Le Mans after finishing in sixth place just four weeks previously. What a difference a month can make in the frenzied tangled web of the MotoGP™ paddock.

Even in the world of MotoGP, it’s an amazing turn around but one fact to shine through the fog of intrigue is once five times World Champion Jorge Lorenzo gets the bit between the teeth, he is a very difficult man to beat. The Barcelona win may have not been from start to finish – which is the Mallorcan’s great forte – but he was only one lap short, taking the lead down into Turn 1 on the second lap and never to be headed again. That was the last the opposition saw of him as he romped to his 46th MotoGP win. In 24 of those victories, including his maiden Ducati win at Mugello two weeks previously, he has led every lap of the race, which is some record. Throw in his first Ducati pole after 25 attempts and the transformation is complete, although it probably took longer than both Ducati and Lorenzo could ever have imagined.

Just to thicken the plot between those two wins for Ducati, Lorenzo announced he was leaving the Italian factory at the end of his two-year contract to join Marc Marquez at Repsol Honda next season. The timing could not have been more bizarre but the thought of the two Spaniards on the Championship winning Honda next season must send a shiver down the spine of the opposition, but not of Team Boss Alberto Puig. His two riders may have won the MotoGP world title for the last six years but his no nonsense, say it as it is approach that turned promising youngsters into World Champions has prepared him for the pit lane conflicts that are bound to occur when two of the MotoGP™ greats chase the same title. Only one of them can win it but what a great problem to have. Surely Honda have pulled off the signing of the year, or even the decade? Although Casey Stoner’s arrival from Ducati in 2011 was not such a bad move.

Ducati must be confused although a lot better off financially. After Andrea Dovizioso’s brilliant victory at that first Grand Prix of the year in Qatar they, like many of us, thought Dovi could really challenge for the title this year. Whatever the situation with Lorenzo and his struggles to adjust to Ducati they had the potential World Champion on the other side of the garage, but three crashes in the last four races have wrecked his chances of bringing Ducati that first World title since Stoner way back in 2007.

One thing that is for certain MotoGP™ is never boring, on or off the track. Prepare for the next instalment.

By | June 21st, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|3 Comments


It was a truly glorious English Summer morning when I woke up on Sunday. A morning to treasure with birdsong the only sound to pierce the silence as the orange sun rose above the green trees. As we prepared for the weekly visit to the local Supermarket of course my thoughts and particularly my heart turned to without a doubt the maddest place on earth at the very same time. It may have been 1200 kms away but I could see and smell that yellow smoke pouring down the Mugello hillsides like a secret mist while those wooded Tuscan hills shook to their very core with 100,000 crazy people dancing, singing and partying to support their local hero in the only way they know how. I also thought back seven days earlier to the total contrast in the atmosphere at another place beginning with M where the four wheel counterpart to MotoGP were about to do battle. Both Mugello and Monaco had start to finish winners but in every way they could have come from different planets.

Of course those yellow clad Italian fans were disappointed that their Emperor Valentino Rossi did not follow up his amazing pole position at Mugello but third place behind the two Ducati’s made it a cause of more celebration, not that they needed much persuasion as they poured onto the hallowed tarmac after the 23 lap race. They also witnessed a little bit of history with Jorge Lorenzo’s long awaited first victory on the red 355 kph plus Ducati monster.

It was great to see Lorenzo back on the top step of the podium although it has not taken quite as long as you may have imagined. It was his 24th ride on the Ducati since his Yamaha switch and only Casey Stoner and Loris Capirossi have achieved that first win in a shorter space of time. Stoner won first time out and Capirossi on his sixth ride but behind Lorenzo come Troy Bayliss on 33, Andrea Iannone 61 and Andrea Dovizioso 71. Rossi rode the Ducati in battle 35 times but never won. 

The 6.370s victory margin was the biggest for Ducati since Stoner won in Australia eight years ago and Lorenzo is the only rider in the MotoGP era to win on both Ducati and Yamaha machinery. He also joined a very special elite band of riders whose grand prix wins in the elite class span over ten years. The others in the decade club are Giacomo Agostini, Alex Barros, Phil Read, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Loris Capirossi – some list!  (more detail of this list here: )

 So Mugello or Monaco – Absolutely no contest although both beat queuing to get out of the Supermarket car park.

By | June 7th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment


From the moment the late great John Brown returned to the Motor Cycle News office to eulogise about the new Mugello circuit to a young rookie reporter I wanted to visit the spiritual home of MotoGP. JB had just witnessed the classic 1976 battle between Barry Sheene and Phil Read in those Tuscan Hills that was decided by one tenth of a second and I made my first visit six years later – I was not disappointed although there was one slight inconvenience, if you will excuse the pun.   

However glamorous your job may seem from the outside it’s still the basics that matter. Flying all over the world commentating on World Championship Motorsport may have seemed the perfect way to earn a living, but scrape the surface and it’s those basics that kept a predominately male group of travelling souls ticking over.

Topics of conversations varied especially when you were on those long flyaway trips. Football and the opposite sex were high on the agenda on flights to the far flung corners of the old British Empire as long as I can remember. That probably does not come as the greatest surprise to those long suffering loved ones back home who maintained regular life ready for our return with bags of laundry and excuses of jet lag when a meal out was suggested – After all give us a break, we have been eating out every night for the last three weeks talking about football and the opposite sex!  

Occasionally conversations did vary to a more practical level touching on how bad would the traffic be into the circuit, what time was lunch and the most importantly the availability of the nearest loo to our commentary position. Four hours of live television, punctuated with the need to consume vast quantiles of bottled water, caused their own special problems especially to somebody in the grey hair age range. 

Even the most modern of circuits have caused some tricky moments. This weekend’s venue Mugello, the Ferrari F1 test track and magnificent home of the Italian MotoGP race, always had facilities to die for apart from a good old fashioned sit down loo. A hole in the ground is a hole in the ground despite being surrounded by gleaming while marble and bright lights. The search for a proper sit down job became the focus of our investigative powers. Two were eventually discovered. The first in the medical centre and the second behind the commentary boxes on the second floor of the paddock complex. The only problem was the one behind the commentary box had no lock because it was a disabled toilet. A nameless colleague from the BBC was caught in a compromising position by the cleaner while sampling its delights. He’d devised an intricate locking method of wrapping his belt round the door handle combined with a broom handle but it failed miserably in his hour of need. 

Imagine our celebrations when we arrived at our favourite grand prix a few years ago to discover our predicament and discomfort was over with the arrival of proper sit down loos. Still the marble and the bright lights, but to be enjoyed sitting down. We could get back to talking about the opposite sex and football once again.

By | May 30th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on ONE LITTLE INCONVENIENCE AT MAGNIFICENT MUGELLO


I was sightseeing in the magnificent City of Rome last week and every time I closed my eyes standing above the spine tingling arena of the Colosseum the same picture emerged. There was the Emperor Valentino Rossi sitting on his throne while two leather clad gladiators Marc Marquez and Casey Stoner fought below as the crowd roared their encouragement baying for their blood. After all these two gladiators had found both the bravery and skill to defy their beloved Emperor in battle. They were part of a very select band of warriors.

Back to the real world and the modern day Colosseum arena on Sunday afternoon and the HJC Helmets Grand Prix of France at a sweltering Le Mans.Marquez was a comfortable winner to secure his third win in succession on the Repsol Honda and open an impressive lead in the Championship as he chases his fifth MotoGP crown. The win equalled the 38 MotoGP victories for Stoner that brought the Australian those two World titles for both Ducati and Honda before his premature retirement.

They had arrived at different times but both still in the middle of the long Rossi revolution. While others fell by the wayside under the sheer weight of the Rossi factor both on and off the track, Marquez and Stoner stood their ground and were prepared to face the Emperor head on. Two very different characters off the track but once in the arena true gladiators who were, and in Marquez’s case are, afraid of nothing and love nothing more than a bit of hand to hand conflict. 

Their records are very similar. Marquez won those 38 grands prix in 95 races all riding the factory Honda. Stoner achieved a similar number in 115 races, 23 on the Ducati and 15 in his two years on the factory Honda. Stoner grabbed two more podiums than the current MotoGP World Champion with 69 appearances on the stage but it probably will not surprise you that there is a big difference in one department – the crashes. Stoner had his moments in that memorable seven year MotoGP career and crashed 61 times. Marquez is five races into his sixth year in MotoGP and has crashed 89 times. Crashing in his case is actually when you lose complete contact with the bike and not when you keep the bike upright with your knee, elbow or any other part of your body.  

I never got to the finish of the dream at the Colosseum  and so didn’t discover if Emperor Vale gave the thumbs up or thumbs down to decide if either Marc or Casey or probably both were thrown to the lions. Thirty eight MotoGP wins apiece I think those hungry lions would have been licking their lips at the prospect.

By | May 24th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on THUMBS UP OR THUMBS DOWN FROM EMPEROR VALE


Of course we all loved going to Paul Ricard in the sunshine and next to the so blue Mediterranean but sometimes we so called journalists can get things out of perspective. The French MotoGP Grand Prix at Le Mans is a prime example of our somewhat one eyed opinions based on what suits us while totally losing what the event and MotoGP is all about. 

To be fair there are plenty of reasons not to enjoy Le Mans if you are working there but the event is not about us, it’s about the fans and they just love the place. Over 100,000 are expected to pack the legendary Bugatti circuit on Sunday and most of them will have been partying all weekend. For many years the French Grand Prix was drifting. Average crowds, lack of entertainment at the circuit causing problems in the town and a general feeling of the racing out on the track was enough to keep everybody happy. It was not and so they did something about it.

This weekend it could not be a greater contrast – the place will be buzzing. Rock Concerts, public autograph sessions and rider appearances, stunt shows plus the fun fair with the obligatory dodgems and big wheel gives the place more the feel of a festival until the serious business of racing gets underway. A French rider starring in the premier class where a certain Johann Zarco has propelled the popularity of the sport in his home country. After all, the last French premier class winner was Regis Laconi 19 long years ago and Zarco has reignited a flame with the French sporting public.  

Sometimes you have to forget your own problems and look at the bigger picture. I can assure you we were all fed up with the random road closures around the circuit that make the journey in a nightmare. Nobody enjoyed having a big under the influence Frenchman jumping on the bonnet of your car and then exchanging pleasantries when you protested when you left the circuit after a long day. Then there was the weather but there is nothing anybody can do about that.

Although better known for the legendary 24 hour car race, Le Mans will stage its 31th Motorcycle Grand Prix on Sunday. That first 500cc race back in 1969 was won by Giacomo Agostini as he lapped the complete field. One thing we can guarantee in the 27 lap race on Sunday is that will not happen again. The weather – we can offer no such guarantees.

Le Mans may not be everybody’s cup of tea but those 100,000 fans on Sunday will not be drinking tea, I can assure you of that.

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