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Brave Dovi bucks trend to set record

While the world of sport enthuses about the performance of two teenage tennis players, Andrea Dovizioso bucks the trend. The 35-year-old Italian returned to the MotoGP™ fray at Misano on Sunday. He may be almost double the age of 18-year-old Emma Raducanu who won the US Open tennis grand slam last week, but Dovi has committed himself to a Championship that is embracing the surging wave of youth as much as any other sport. Dovi’s return to the saddle after almost a season on the sidelines also produced a record that may never be matched

For the first time in the 73-year history of World Championship motorcycle racing,14 premier class Grand Prix winners lined up on the grid for the 27-lap race at Misano on Sunday. With the return of Dovizioso and with Franco Morbidelli also returning to the Yamaha fold after injury, the record was broken.

Dovi has the remainder of the season replacing Morbidelli in the Petronas SRT Yamaha team to prepare for next season when Yamaha have promised a full factory M1 machine. On Sunday he lined up alongside Valentino Rossi in the Petronas team. Between the two with a combined age of 77 years, they have started in 756 Grand Prix with 598 of them coming in the premier class. A record you cannot ever see being eclipsed although we probably thought that about the number of Grand Prix winners on the starting grid

It’s a brave move by Dovi and he knows better than anybody just how tough it will be, but he has the experience to make it work. This will be the third full factory bike he has ridden in the MotoGP™ class. He brought the Repsol Honda team success in the 2009 British Grand Prix and after one season with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team switched to Ducati. He won the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix and the floodgates opened. The only problem was a certain Marc Marquez was at his peak and despite some masterful breath-taking duels against the Spanish Honda rider that World title never came his way despite 13 more Grands Prix wins. Three years in succession between 2017 – 2019 he finished runner-up in the Championship behind Marquez. His last Grand Prix win came in Austria last year.

When I hear of a rider finishing runner-up in the MotoGP™ Championship three times I always think of Randy Mamola. The exuberant Californian finished runner-up four times after winning 13 Grand Prix. There was no Marquez to spoil his fun in the eighties but the foursome of Kenny Roberts, Marco Lucchinelli Eddie Lawson and Wayne Gardner which was just as formidable. Two so different characters but brilliant on two wheels. Unlike Mamola at least Dovi has tasted World Championship success. He won the 125cc World title in 2004 and was runner-up in the 250cc Championship on two occasions in 2006 and 2007

What lies ahead for the 35-year-old was never better illustrated than on his return to the track over the weekend. He qualified on the back row of the grid alongside Grand Prix winners and fellow Italians Valentino Rossi and Danilo Petrucci. Who would have ever believed such a back row a couple of years ago? Dovi finished 21st in the race won by 24-year-old Pecco Bagnaia who was at Pramac Racing last year.

Stopping the charge of youth is a mighty big challenge even for somebody as level-headed and thoughtful as Dovizioso. He is under no illusions and if he was, he should have watched that New York tennis final last week. It’s going to be a fascinating battle and without a doubt 24 times Grand Prix winner Dovizioso’s biggest ever challenge.

Finally, can you name those 14 premier Grand Prix winners on the Misano grid?

By |2021-09-22T20:54:39+00:00September 22nd, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|0 Comments

Loyalty will be rewarded – patience pays off

Two brilliant wins this week, one on two wheels and the other on four, emphasised that loyalty will be rewarded. Pecco Bagnaia’s magnificent first premier class win at MotorLand Aragon on Sunday coming seven days after Max Verstappen’s Formula One win at Zandvoort sent Holland crazy, were a perfect illustration. The problem is those rewards can be just around the corner for some, but decades away for others

Bagnaia’s successful fight with Marc Marquez secured Italy their 250th premier class victory. Verstappen’s home win in among the Zandvoort sand dunes brought unbelievable celebrations from the patriotic success-starved home crowd. No wonder Holland celebrated because motorsport success, especially on the tarmac, is long overdue to a nation that shows amazing loyalty even without one of their own winning races. What other sport could produce such loyalty despite not witnessing a home rider winning a premier class MotoGP™ race for 40 years.

Name me another sport that could attract record crowds each year to the Assen circuit which has staged Grand Prix racing right from the start in 1949 and has rightly earned the title as the Cathedral of Grand Prix racing. It’s not only the Dutch that have shown such loyalty. Huge crowds flock to the Sachsenring each year despite the only German victory in the premier class coming 47 years ago. Two weeks ago, the restricted Silverstone attendance was sold out despite a British rider never winning a premier class race at his home Grand Prix since it arrived from the Isle of Man.

The Dutch certainly know how to party which I found out 41 years ago. It was one of my first assignments as a Grand Prix reporter to 1980 Dutch TT. Local hero Jack Middelburg won the 16 lap 500cc race from Graziano Rossi and Franco Uncini to spark off celebrations from the 100,000 plus crowd I’ve barely witnessed since. The place went completely crazy. Not the organised pyrotechnics of Zandvoort last week but just an outburst of orange and joy fuelled by some local brews that seemed to go on forever

I rather naively thought every Grand Prix would be like that, but Assen that afternoon, evening and night set a precedent that has barely been surpassed. A year later Middelburg won the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and that was that. A Dutchman never won another premier class race. Nine years later in 1990 Wilco Zeelenberg won the 250cc German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring and Hans Spaan won five 125cc Grands Prix and secured the last ever Grand Prix victory for a Dutch rider, but the crowds continued to flock to Assen every single year.

Despite great success in the smaller classes thanks to the efforts of the likes of Toni Mang, Dirk Raudies, Ralf Waldmann and Stefan Bradl, Germany has only tasted success in the premier class on one occasion and even then, it was controversial. Edmund Czihak won the 1974 500cc German Grand Prix race at the Nürburgring when all the top riders boycotted the race on safety grounds

Cal Crutchlow has brought some much-needed joy to British fans with three premier class wins, but they had to wait 35 years. Before Crutchlow the last British premier class winner was Barry Sheene in 1981 in a sport once dominated by British riders and machinery. They flocked to Silverstone a couple of weeks ago in the knowledge that no British rider had won the premier class race on home soil since it switched from the TT Mountain circuit in 1977.

It was no great surprise that sidecar racing was so popular in Holland, Germany and Great Britain. All three countries produced some brilliant World Champions on three wheels for fans baying for Grand Prix success. No wonder they hosted sidecar World Championship races long after sidecar racing ceased to be part of the official World Championship in 1996.

Sidecar racing will never return to the official World Championship calendar. Max Verstappen may reward those Dutch fans with the Formula One World Championship but what those Dutch, German and British fans really deserve for their loyalty and patience is the ultimate reward of MotoGP™ success. The long wait, however long, will be worth it. Just ask Fabio Quartararo and those French fans.

 

By |2021-09-15T19:50:06+00:00September 15th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Viñales and Ronaldo make headline transfer debuts

It promises to be some weekend for a couple of headlines making sportsmen starting somewhat unexpected new careers. While footballer Cristiano Ronaldo makes his much-publicised debut for Manchester United at the Old Trafford stadium, Maverick Viñales will have already embarked on his new career at MotorLand Aragon

Footballers moving clubs during the season is an accepted part and parcel of the game. Moving manufacturers during the MotoGP™ season is virtually unheard of, but the Spanish rider has done just that. He makes his Aprilia debut on Friday morning after leaving the Monster Energy Yamaha factory team. Ronaldo is a proven record-breaker, while Viñales is seeking a record that only one rider has ever achieved in the 73 years of World Championship racing in the premier class.

Only Mike Hailwood has won premier class Grands Prix in the same season riding for different manufactures. Others have come close but in 1961 the rider who went on to win nine World titles set a record that has never been matched. The British rider won the third round of the Championship in the Senior TT on the Isle of Man Mountain circuit riding a Norton. Before the season ended, he joined Gary Hocking, who went on the win the Championship, in the Italian MV Agusta team. Hailwood won the Nations Grand Prix at Monza in Italy.

A year earlier another British rider came close.  John Hartle finished second in the Senior TT in the Isle of Man riding an MV Agusta in what today we would call a wild card entry. He then raced the remainder of the season on a Norton, which included a win at the Ulster Grand Prix.

In 1964 Phil Read, who went on to win 125, 250 and 500cc World titles, had three podium finishes riding Matchless machinery, before swapping to Norton to win the Ulster Grand Prix on the Dundrod road circuit.

Six years later in 1970 Italian Angelo Bergamonti started the season riding an Aermacchi and then was drafted into the MV Agusta team to support Giacomo Agostini. Bergamonti scored a couple of podiums earlier in the year at Opatija and Assen on the Aermacchi before the switch. He then won the final race of the year for MV Agusta at Monjuich Park in Barcelona after finishing second behind his new team-mate at Monza two weeks earlier. Agostini, having won the title missed that final round to race in a British international event.

Viñales won the opening round of this year’s MotoGP™ World Championship under the Losail International floodlights in Qatar riding for the factory Yamaha team. Last weekend at the Monster Energy British Grand Prix at Silverstone his new teammate Aleix Espargaro brought the Aprilia team their first-ever podium finish in the MotoGP™ four-stroke era with a brilliant third place.

The stage is set for Viñales to emulate Hailwood before the end of the season. A couple of weeks ago his fellow transfer debutant Ronaldo smashed the international football goal scoring record.

It’s now your turn Maverick.

 

By |2021-09-08T20:51:49+00:00September 8th, 2021|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Viñales and Ronaldo make headline transfer debuts

Vale at Vale – gone forever

All that hassle was worth it in one precious moment when I understood exactly why I was there. The pilgrimage had begun at 6.30 on Sunday morning. Even before my alarm went off, I could hear the bikes racing down the nearby A420. It may have been 35 kms from Silverstone but the yellow army was already on the move.

Nothing had changed from our early racing days. Somebody was always late and 50 years later it was the same person. By the time we reached the legendary Green Man pub a couple of kilometres from the Silverstone entrance the traffic was stop and start in double lanes with motorbike after motorbike racing down the middle. Every car and every bike were part of the yellow army. Tee shirts, caps, flags and rucksacks with a simple message in a number – 46 ruled.

As we slowly but surely edged our way nearer and nearer to the entrance I remembered those Sandwiches my mum always lovingly prepared for lunch on race days. I’d always eaten them before we actually arrived.

The car park appeared a long way from the circuit, but we joined the yellow army now marching on foot towards their goal. Over the bridge and a long snaking queue greeted us. This was England and nobody moaned. Nobody jumped in and 40 minutes later our precious tickets were scanned, and we were in.

Now we had to find the grass bank in front of the grandstands at the entrance to Vale corner at the bottom end of the circuit to meet my old friend MotoGP™ statistician Martin Raines. There were plenty of human obstacles to slow our progress. Long queues blocked the roadways which had to be negotiated. People waited and were prepared to wait to buy their VR46 memorabilia for the last time, sample a burger and chips and even go to the loos.

After much searching and phone calls we finally located the good Doctor Raines sitting right next to a family with an enormous 46 flag and union jack at the top of the pole. Somebody more sensible than me had bought some fold-up chairs, definitely something we’d never considered 50 years ago. We settled down to watch an afternoon of MotoGP™.

Only in England would Moto3™ winner Romano Fenati receive polite applause more accustomed to a game of cricket, but he did, perhaps added with a few air horns but the big moment was approaching. Twenty-one years earlier I’d commentated on Valentino Rossi’s first win in the premier class of Grand Prix racing at the British Grand Prix at Donington and here he was making his final appearance on these shores where World Championship racing had started back in 1949. Even before he’d arrived down at Stowe corner on his sighting lap our grass bank at Vale had turned into a sea of yellow. Number 46 was getting the send off he deserved from the success-starved loyal British fans who had adopted him as one of their own a long time ago.

Those home fans are totally unique and so loyal. Every time Jake Dixon appeared in last place in the 20-lap race on a decent MotoGP™ debut they stood and cheered his considerable efforts. They gave equal encouragement and appreciation to race winner and Championship leader Fabio Quartararo but then they let go. Valentino Rossi arrived on his slowing down lap, his last ever lap in Britain and at Silverstone. The last time that number 46 would grace this hallowed tarmac.

At Club corner, he stopped the Petronas Yamaha SRT machine and bid a final farewell to the crowd. Then he was gone, gone forever.

I did have a tear in my eye but please don’t tell my mates.

By |2021-09-01T20:22:20+00:00September 1st, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Silverstone – The First Ten Years

The first Grand Prix to be held at Silverstone was in 1977, when the British round of the world championship was moved from its previously traditional home of the Isle of Man TT circuit.  The Grand Prix was held for ten successive years at the Northampton circuit, before moving to Donington:

1977 – This was the final race of the season and British hopes were high for a win in the 500cc class by a home rider, with reigning champion Barry Sheene qualifying on pole on his factory Suzuki.  However Sheene retired with mechanical problems on lap nine.  This left the door open for team-mate Steve Parrish to lead the race into the closing stages only to crash with a couple of laps to go.  Fellow Britain John Williams then moved into the lead before he also crashed out.  Finally the third factory Suzuki rider, American Pat Hennen, took the victory.  Kork Ballington had a double victory in the 350cc and 250cc classes on his private Yamaha machines and in the 125cc race, Pierluigi Conforti took his only ever GP victory.

1978 – The 500cc GP ended in chaos, after rain started to fall mid-way through the race.  With no specific rules to deal with such a situation, the riders had to enter the pits to change tyres.  Barry Sheene (Suzuki) was by far the quickest rider after the tyre change but suffered with a pit stop that took over 7 minutes.  By contrast the eventual winner Kenny Roberts (Yamaha) was in the pits for less than 3 minutes.  Splitting these two riders on the podium was Britain’s Steve Manship, who had gambled on starting the race with intermediate tyres.  Kork Ballington (Kawasaki) won the 350cc race from British riders Tom Herron and Mick Grant.  Toni Mang scored the first of his record 33 victories in the 250cc class, with Herron once again finishing second.  Angel Nieto won the 125cc race riding a Minarelli from British rider Clive Horton.

1979 – The two top riders of the day, Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts, exchanged the lead throughout the 500cc race.  Roberts eventually took the win by 0.03 seconds in one of the closest finishes of all-time.  In the 250cc race Morbidelli factory rider Graziano Rossi (Valentino’s father) fell on the final lap of the race when holding a two second lead.  Kork Ballington (Kawasaki) took advantage of Rossi’s misfortune to win the race and then did the double by winning the 350cc race.  Angel Nieto repeated his 125cc victory of the previous year.

1980 – After a great battle early in the 500cc race, Randy Mamola (Suzuki) pulled clear of fellow American Kenny Roberts to win the race with Marco Lucchinelli finishing third and Graziano Rossi finishing fourth.  Toni Mang (Kawasaki) won the 350cc race and Kork Ballington (Kawasaki) was once again victorious in the 250cc class.  In the 125cc class Loris Reggiani (Minarelli) took his first ever Grand Prix win.

1981 – The edge was taken of this race as early as the third lap when race leader and pole position man Graeme Crosby crashed and took out Barry Sheene and forced championship leader Marco Lucchinelli into the catch fencing.  Dutchman Jack Middelburg (Suzuki) went on to win the race from Randy Mamola and Kenny Roberts.  This was the last time that a premier-class GP race was won by a true privateer rider.  Toni Mang (Kawasaki) won both the 350cc and 250cc race.  The home crowd were given something to cheer with Keith Huewen finishing second in the 350cc race.  Angel Nieto (Minarelli) won in the 125cc class at Silverstone for the third time.

1982 –   Barry Sheene had a huge crash in practice that eliminated him from the 500cc race and Kenny Roberts’ race was short lived with a crash at the first corner.  With his two main challengers out of the race, Franco Uncini (Suzuki) cruised to a comfortable victory which effectively sealed the world title.  Jean-Francois Balde (Kawasaki) won a tremendous 350cc race and Martin Wimmer (Yamaha) won the 250cc race from pole having crashed out of the earlier 350cc race which he also started from pole.  Angel Nieto won the 125cc race once again – this time riding a Garelli.

1983 – The 500cc race was run in two parts, after the race had been stopped due to a big crash in which Norman Brown and Peter Huber lost their lives.  Kenny Roberts took overall victory from great rival Freddie Spencer with Randy Mamola making it an all USA podium.  There was an historic win in the 250cc race with Jacque Bolle giving Pernod their one and only GP victory.  Angel Nieto won the 125cc race at Silverstone for the fifth time.

1984 – Riding as a replacement for the injured Freddie Spencer, Randy Mamola won first time out on the V-four Honda from fellow American Eddie Lawson and British rider Ron Haslam.  Christian Sarron (Yamaha) won the 250cc race on the way to taking the world title and Angel Nieto won the 125cc race and in doing so clinched his 13th and last world title.

1985 – In horrendously wet conditions, Freddie Spencer (Honda) won the 500cc race after finishing fourth in the earlier 250cc race to clinch the world championship title.  British rider Alan Carter had led the 250cc race until mid distance before crashing and re-starting to finish seventh.  Toni Mang (Honda) took the 250cc race victory from Reinhold Roth and Manfred Herweh in an all German podium.  Austrian rider August Auinger (Monnet) won the 125cc race.

1986 – As in the previous year, the event was held in terrible wet weather.  Wayne Gardner (Honda) had a start to finish win in the main race after starting from pole position.  Winner of the 250cc race was Dominique Sarron (Honda) – brother of the winner of the race in 1984.  Alan Carter crashed out of the 250cc race once again; this time on the last lap while challenging for the lead.  August Auinger (Bartol) repeated his 125cc win of the previous year.  History was made in the 80cc race held in the dry weather on Saturday, when Ian McConnachie (Krauser) became the only British rider to win a Grand Prix race for solo motorcycles around the Silverstone circuit.

By |2021-08-26T19:03:44+00:00August 26th, 2021|Martin Raines Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Silverstone – The First Ten Years

Stick or twist in British casino

Brad Binder showed just what a good poker player he would be with that victory in Austria. The KTM rider stuck and stayed out in the rain while others twisted and came in to change tyres. The riders arrive at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix this week knowing such poker decisions have won and lost races both at Silverstone and Donington in the past – it probably has something to do with the weather

It started back in 1978 and just the second time Silverstone had replaced the Isle of Man as the British venue for the British round of the World Championship. The result 43 years ago is still hotly disputed. The 28 lap 500cc race, that played a massive part in the outcome of World Championship battle between local hero and World Champion Barry Sheene and the American ‘upstart’ Kenny Roberts began in the dry. The majority of the riders started on slicks but somebody with a bit of local knowledge knew better. British Champion Steve Manship looked at the dark clouds rolling over the flat Northamptonshire countryside and went for intermediates, the cross between slicks and wets on his Suzuki.

When the rain arrived, it arrived in true British style. Big wet heavy drops of liquid falling out of the leaden sky soaking the Silverstone tarmac in seconds. The wet patriotic British crowd had come to support Sheene but soon realised from underneath their umbrellas that Manship’s gamble could bring home success. At the end of lap 13 Roberts twisted and pulled into the pits realising if he had any chance of winning, he had to change tyres. No jumping from one Yamaha to other in those days but just getting down to the business of changing wheels. The Cal Carruthers led Robert’s team were experts. They had started the season with just one Yamaha and were experienced at the complicated and precise procedure. This was no modern Formula One wheel change, but they still managed it in two and half minutes. Others such as Sheene’s Suzuki team were less experienced and took up to seven minutes.

It was a total nightmare for the lap scorers. Peering through the fogged-up windows and driving rain with stopwatches in hand trying to note down the riders’ numbers as they raced through the spray to start a new lap. Nobody was absolutely sure the exact positions but with 15 laps remaining it appeared that Roberts was lapping ten seconds a lap quicker than leader Manship. Going into the last lap Manship was still leading but Roberts passed him halfway round the 4.170 kms circuit and was declared the winner. Second placed Manship and third placed Sheene were not so sure, but the result remained, and Roberts was on route to that first 500cc title.

Probably the best-remembered twist or stick decision at the British Grand Prix came 22 years later in the 2000 250cc race at Donington Park. The 27-lap race started in slightly damp conditions. The majority of the riders started on slick, or hand-cut slick tyres. Ralf Waldmann and Naoki Matsudo decided to take the gamble on starting on wets and it appeared very much wrong decision. Olivier Jacque led the way on the Tech 3 Yamaha but with nine laps remaining the rain arrived. At this stage Waldmann on the Aprilia was one minute 40 seconds behind the leader. He was cutting great swathes out of that time advantage lap by lap but with two to go he was still 24 seconds behind the Frenchman. Coming into the last lap they were still separated by the length of the start and finish straight but on the run to the finish line Waldmann raced past the future World Champion for a famous victory. The gamble had paid off, but it doesn’t always.

In 2009 again at Donington it misfired for the Ducati duo of World Champions Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner. They chose wet weather tyres at the start of the 30 lap MotoGP™ race. The track was damp, and rain was expected. It came but not in enough quantity to help them. They eventually finished 15th and 14th respectively in the race won by Andrea Dovizioso on his one and only victory for Repsol Honda.

The riders arrive at Silverstone knowing that those big decisions can and have played such a massive part in the outcome of the race. Hopefully there will be no stick of twist decisions to make, and the sun will shine all day on Sunday.

By |2021-08-26T10:05:03+00:00August 26th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Stick or twist in British casino

In safe, capable hands

I was asked in an interview last week if MotoGP™ can possibly survive without its talisman Valentino Rossi. I wish that conversation had been this week because any doubts the interviewer may have expressed were flattened after watching the amazing Bitci Grand Prix of Austria at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday. The future of this incredible sport is in such very safe, capable hands

Who would not miss the charisma and ability of number 46, who finally bows out at the end of the season. The fresh new breed of hungry warriors showed in the 28 laps of pure drama that we need not worry about the future. It really is the changing of the guard and if Sunday is a real indication, we are in for a treat.

Just where do you start? Brad Binder defying the rain, aquaplaning at around 200 km/h on slick tyres to bring KTM a victory in front of 80,000 patriotic fans. Pecco Bagnaia carving through the field on the last couple laps on the Lenovo Ducati shod with wet weather tyres so close to his first victory, and then Jorge Martin completing the podium just seven days after his maiden Grand Prix win

South African Binder and Spaniard Martin are absolute examples of why I’m so optimistic about the future. They simply just typify what the modern-day MotoGP™ rider is all about. Battle-hardened in Moto3™ and Moto2™. The first three on Sunday are all former World Champions. I remember Jorge always appearing with a smile at the Moto3™ Tissot Pole Position presentation. Plenty of poles but no wins but when he finally stood on the top step at the final round in 2017 the floodgates simply opened. He was crowned World Champion a year later after seven wins. Brad had won the title two years earlier.

Already these new MotoGP™ youngsters are emulating the true legends of the sport. Binder’s win on Sunday and Martin’s victory on the Pramac Ducati a week before placed them in a very select group of riders in the 72-year history of the premier class

It was Binder’s second premier class win. His first came last year on just his third premier class race at Brno in the Czech Republic. When you realise that legendary World Champions Kenny Roberts and Jorge Lorenzo also won for the first time in their third race you understand were the South African is going. Martin’s first premier class win came in just his sixth appearance. John Surtees, the only man to win Motorcycle and Formula One World titles took a similar amount of time.

Few have won first time out. Geoff Duke at the 1950 TT race in the Isle of Man, Max Biaggi at 1998 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka and Jarno Saarinen at Paul Ricard in 1973 to name but a few. Marc Marquez got there second time out in 2013 at Austin as did the very first 500cc World Champion Les Graham. He won the 1949 Swiss Grand Prix after leading the very first 500 cc World Championship race in the Isle of Man before his AJS broke down

Others who have gone onto dominate have found it tougher. Thirteen times World Champion Giacomo Agostini had to wait seven races until that first 500cc win for MV Agusta over the railway lines at Imatra in Finland in 1965. Valentino Rossi had to wait even longer but it was worth it. Despite a trip to the local hospital the night before, that first 500cc win came at the 2000 British Grand Prix at Donington Park in his ninth premier class race and 88 more wins followed. Multi World Champions Mike Hailwood and Wayne Rainey finally achieved that first win at their 12th attempt but it’s five times 500cc World Champion Mick Doohan who was the most patient. His first win came after 26 Grands Prix. The Australian Honda rider went on to win 53 more on route to those five world titles.

So, can we expect more of the same for the remainder of the season and then for many years to come? Who will be the next rider to join that legends list? Perhaps the rain did help on Sunday but with Silverstone next on the schedule it really was good to get the practice in early!

 

By |2021-08-18T19:19:52+00:00August 18th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on In safe, capable hands

Vale – modern day Marco Polo

No Italian has conquered the world in the same way as Valentino Rossi. The likes of Marco Polo explored and discovered many new territories but the ‘Doctor’ simply conquered the complete globe in just 26 amazing years of adventure and fun.

You simply could not escape him wherever you found yourself in the World. On your holiday away from the intense hustle and bustle of a MotoGP™ weekend Vale was never far away. It just didn’t matter that the country you were visiting had never staged a MotoGP™ race

A magnificent journey to towering cliffs and lighthouse at Cape Wrath in Scotland, the furthest point north on the mainland of the British Isles was no exception. As we waited for the tiny ferry to take us across the Loch before embarking on a 20 kms minibus journey to such a desolate magic location a tiny Motorhome arrived with Italian number plates. In the back window, a massive number 46 sticker to remind us of the ‘Doctor’ was keeping an eye on us.

The Grand Anse beach on the Caribbean Island of Grenada was a wonderful place to relax but Vale was never far away. The guitar playing Reggie singer had replaced his obligatory Bob Marley tee-shirt with that brilliant Rossi sun design as he sang away in the sunshine.

There has never been a MotoGP™ race in Greece but once again Vale presence was so evident. The taxi driver who picked us up at Thessaloniki airport proudly wore his number 46 cap all the way to the hotel. He still had it on when he picked us up for the return trip seven days later

The four-wheel Formula One Championship craved such worldwide acclaim. Vale was quite simply the most popular competitor in World Championship motorsport, the number one sportsman in Italy and was high up the Forbes list of sporting millionaires, despite some well-publicised problems with the Italian tax authority.

Ferrari gave him a test drive and offered him a lucrative contract to switch to four wheels. He refused because he said he was having too much fun in MotoGP™ to even contemplate a switch. I remember going to Silverstone for the launch of the prestigious £40 million pit complex in 2010. The true greats of motorsport had assembled for the opening ceremony. But forget the likes of Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and even John Surtees – it was a thirty-one-year-old motorcycle race from the small town of Tavullia they had all come to see and shake hands with.

Of course, Vale will always be remembered for putting Grand Prix motorcycle racing in a place it has never been in before. His fun-loving infectious and mischievous personality brought our sport to people and places we had never dreamed of before. Sometimes with all that going for him it’s easy to forget just what a brilliant rider he was where it finally mattered out on the racetrack. You can play every trick prank and joke off the track but only after you have won the ultimate war on the battlefield

Vale is right up there with the true greats in the 72-year history of Grand Prix racing. He runs with the likes of legends Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Angel Nieto and Phil Read. It’s unfair to pick out the best in the very different eras. Like all great Champions of course Vale had that ruthless edge that separates World Champions from Grand Prix winners. Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau and Marc Marquez have all been on the receiving end.

One thing is for certain, it’s the most exciting 26 years in the history of the sport. Over two decades that we could have never prophesied or certainly dreamed about. All I can say after Valentino Rossi’s retirement announcement is thank you for such an amazing time.

There will never be another Doctor.

 

By |2021-08-11T19:33:52+00:00August 11th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Don’t wait 11 years

Wild cards, rider replacements or comebacks, call them what you want as three-time World Champion Dani Pedrosa and three-time MotoGP™ race winner Cal Crutchlow contemplate their return to the battlefield in Austria on Sunday.

It’s a tough task and a brave decision for both MotoGP™ Grand Prix winners but there are some encouraging pointers. Former World Superbike Champion Troy Bayliss returned to MotoGP™ to replace the injured Sete Gibernau in the Ducati team at the final round at Valencia in 2006. The race may be best remembered as the day Nicky Hayden clinched the World title, but it was Bayliss who won the race to become the one and only rider replacement winner in the MotoGP™ eraThe year before at a soaking wet Shanghai in China Frenchman Olivier Jacque was drafted into the Kawasaki team to replace the injured Alex Hoffman. He finished a superb second behind World Champion Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) to bring Kawasaki their best MotoGP™ result.

Others have come back in different circumstances. Australian Garry McCoy was without a ride at the start of the 1999 season but was drafted into the Red Bull Yamaha team to replace Grand Prix winner Simon Crafer. He repaid their faith and took his big chance in spectacular style by winning three Grand Prix the next year and finishing fifth in the World Championships.

The likes of three-time World Champion Freddie Spencer and Gibernau struggled on comeback campaigns but there is one comeback in our sport that will never be equalled or even approached. Eleven years after retiring from Grand Prix racing Mike Hailwood returned to where it had all started, the legendary TT mountain circuit on the Isle of Man. Not only did the 38-year-old return to but he also won.

When Honda pulled out of World Championship racing at the end of the 1967 season, Hailwood retired from Grand Prix racing. A sport he’d graced with his very presence winning nine World titles in four categories, recording 76 wins in 196 races. He continued racing 350 and 500 Hondas in international non-Championship races the following year and rode for BSA at Daytona, but four wheels beckoned.

Hailwood won the European Formula Two Championship and finished on the Formula One podium on a couple of occasions. In 1973 he was awarded the George Medal for displaying outstanding bravery when pulling Clay Regazzoni out of a flaming car during the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami. He retired from racing and moved to New Zealand but was bored. Hailwood was never going to settle for the quiet life and when others might have been contemplating fishing and golf the lure of racing on two wheels brought him back to the Isle of Man. Hailwood was never a man to live life in half measures.

The Isle of Man may have lost its World Championship status a year earlier, but it was still the ultimate test for man and machine and his return ticked both boxes. Never has the birth of Grand Prix racing witnessed such scenes of wild celebration and emotion when Hailwood rode the Ducati 900 ss to victory in the six-lap TT Formula One race. He set a new lap record beating 500 cc Grand Prix winner John Williams while seven times World Champion Phil Read retired with engine problems. I was lucky a year later to witness Hailwood’s last TT win with victory on the two-stroke 500 cc Grand Prix Suzuki in the six-lap Senior race. Tragically the man regarded by many as the greatest motorcycle racer of all time was killed in a road traffic accident together with his daughter Michelle in 1981.

Good luck to Dani and Cal on Sunday, and will Andrea Dovizioso return next season? One thing for certain is none of them will wait 11 years.

 

By |2021-08-05T08:25:15+00:00August 5th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Don’t wait 11 years

Right place at the right time – Euros and MotoGP™

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. MotoGP™ and football are two sports so alike yet so different. The major football tournaments the World Cup and Euros are also held during a MotoGP™ summer season and this year is no exception with the Euros already in full cry. So many times, during these summer months, the MotoGP™ paddock has been divided by patriotic pride as events unfurled on the pitches at these major tournaments. On a couple of memorable occasions, we have watched first-hand the passion and pride generated by being in the right country at the right time.

Up till a few years ago the Dutch TT was always held on a Saturday and in 1988 they chose June 25th. It turned into the Saturday of all Saturdays.  It is probably the most important day in the sporting history of this proud nation, and we were there. The day Holland won the Euros and the day we soon discovered just how much the Dutch love to party.

After watching World Champion Wayne Gardner win the 500cc race in Assen from Eddie Lawson and Christian Sarron and Juan Garriga and Jorge Martinez bring Spain success in the 250 and 125cc races, we set off for Amsterdam. It was a night of no sleep and far too much consumption of beer watching a game of football in a sea of orange. Large screens through the city showed the Euros final and when Holland scored their second goal to beat the Soviet Union by two goals to nil the whole City exploded. I remember struggling to Schiphol airport the next morning to fly back to London. It was chaos because it appeared the whole population of 17 million of the Netherlands had descended on the airport to welcome the victorious team home. All KLM staff wore a Dutch tulip in their lapel and the party was continuing. Somehow, I caught the flight home and had a rare Sunday lunch in the summer.

Roll the clock on to seven years ago and the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in Rio De Janeiro. It was July 13th, the day of the 2014 German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring. Of course, Marc Marquez won the MotoGP™ race from Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. Dominique Aegerter was the popular Moto2™ winner with Jack Millar victorious in Moto3™. The trip to Leipzig airport after the races was so easy. The roads were deserted because once again a nation was watching a sporting event that meant so much to them. We watched the game on the television in the airport hotel lounge surrounded by excited German fans. I sat next to Diego, the Dorna photographer and it appeared the only Argentinian in Germany that evening. When Germany won a single goal in extra time, I commiserated with him but quietly.

I would love to be telling you about English success on the football field while working at MotoGP™ races, but I cannot lie. It has been a complete nightmare. Desperate nights in the IRTA Office conference room surrounded by empty beer cans and half eaten pizzas watching England losing yet another penalty shoot-out. Being told halfway through the qualifying press conference at Donington Park in 2006 that talisman Wayne Rooney had been sent off in a World Cup game. Waking up in the middle of the night in Barcelona to watch England lose a World Cup game to Italy much to the delight of Rossi and co the next morning.

Despite the England disappointments, we loved our football and tried, when possible, to watch games in the countries where we were working. Benfica in Portugal just up the road from Estoril and CR Vasco da Gama in Rio. We were determined to watch a game in Rio and asked the receptionist in our hotel how to get to the Estadio Sao Januario stadium. He was adamant we must not go because the stadium was situated in a dangerous favela, and we would not be safe. We were equally adamant we wanted to go. We reached a compromise, and he came with us. We had a great night receiving a fabulous welcome and returned with CR Vasco da Gamma shirts but safe and sound thanks to our fellow football-loving receptionist.

Football and MotoGP™ will always be linked. What other motorsport championship would be able to stage a pre-Grand Prix event at one at a truly legendary sporting venue. The MotoGP™ riders football team took on Moto2™ and Moto3™ riders on the hallowed turf of the Nou Camp Stadium before the 2013 Catalunya Grand Prix in Barcelona. Not just a visit with some photographs but an actual game on the hallowed turf.

For once I did not care who won.

By |2021-07-01T08:33:42+00:00July 1st, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Right place at the right time – Euros and MotoGP™