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MotoGP70: Birth of a dream

A 425.047km race around the most demanding circuit in the world was how it all began. Seventy long years ago on the morning of June 13th 1949 Grand Prix motorcycle racing began its incredible journey on an island in the middle of the choppy Irish Sea situated between the rugged coastlines of Ireland and England. One year earlier than its four-wheel counterparts, the first ever World Championship race was staged on the legendary mountain circuit in the Isle of Man. This was no 45-minute fight for every corner and inch of tarmac that is the blueprint for modern day MotoGP™ racing but a seven-lap marathon round the 60.721km TT Mountain circuit for 350cc machines.

Freddie Frith became the first ever Grand Prix winner riding the British built Velocette, with a lap record on his last lap of 135.50kph. All 75 finishers in the race were riding British built machinery but there was also a poignant reminder that riders chasing their dream could pay the ultimate price when Ben Drinkwater was killed when he crashed on the fourth lap.

Four days later bespectacled Harold Daniell won the first ever premier class 500cc race riding the Norton to success in another seven laps of the Mountain circuit. He averaged an incredible 139.887kph for the race, which took him over three hours to complete. A few years earlier Daniell was refused entry into the armed forces because of poor eye sight. Irishman Manliff Barrington won the first 250cc Grand Prix riding the Italian Moto Guzzi after another seven-lap marathon encounter. Three weeks later the 125cc class made its debut round the 7.280km circuit at Berne in Switzerland where Italian Nello Pagani brought Mondial an historic victory.

Seventy years on there are 19 Grands Prix visiting 15 countries in five continents with riders from 19 countries competing for the ultimate prize in the three classes Moto3™, Moto2™ and MotoGP™. In 1949 there were six Grands Prix all in Europe and, apart from Monza in Italy, all on circuits that were public roads for the rest of the year. The six circuits picked to stage these pioneering races were the Isle of Man, Berne in Switzerland, Assen in Holland, Spa -Francorchamps in Belgium, Clady in Northern Ireland and Monza in Italy. There were four solo classes 125, 250, 350 and 500cc and of course the magnificent sidecars. The 500cc class was staged at every round, but the 350cc at five, the 250cc at four and the 125s at just three.

Motorcycle racing pioneered the World Championships in 1949 and continues to lead the way 70 years later. Never afraid to incorporate changes and welcome new countries, it’s still way ahead of the others.

Happy Birthday Grand Prix motorcycle racing – long may it continue!

By | June 12th, 2019|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on MotoGP70: Birth of a dream

Football woes in the MotoGP™ paddock

Football and MotoGP™ just don’t mix if you are English. At least this weekend while the paddock in Mugello settles down to watch the Champions League final on Saturday night there will be an English winner but may I assure you that’s a pretty rare occurrence while I was on the road.

The meeting room in the IRTA truck or the Alpine Stars Hospitality unit have been the venue for many an English football fans misery over the last two decades. Empty pizza boxes and cans of beer scattered on the IRTA meeting room table interspersed with language I’m certainly not proud of as England crashed to another defeat in a major tournament once again. Jeremy Appleton at Alpine Stars inviting us to dinner after yet another bitter exit from a tournament although hopefully the language was a little more measured this time round.

Having somebody whisper in my ear during the Saturday afternoon qualifying press conference at Donington Park that Wayne Rooney had been sent off against Portugal in the quarter-final of the 2006 World Cup. Setting my alarm to go off at 2am on the morning of the MotoGP™ race in Barcelona five years ago to watch the end of England’s World Cup clash with Italy in Brazil. Turning on the television to see a dejected England goalkeeper Joe Hart walking off the pitch was enough to realise the score. At least I got some more sleep on race day. It was the Italians celebrating the next day led by Valentino Rossi who then finished second in the 25 lap race after a fantastic battle with Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo.

Driving up and down the Barcelona paddock on a Sunday evening in Matt Roberts’ car with large Union Jack fluttering out of the window before an England France European Championship game in 2004. The Union Jack was nowhere in sight when we drove out two hours later after France scored two goals in injury time to win by two goals to one.

I have had a few rare moments of relief with my local team Oxford United although it’s often been the same bumpy ride as England. Three years ago I had a text message telling me the ‘yellows’ had been promoted after beating local rivals Wycombe Wanderers. The trouble was it was in the middle of the Qualifying press conference and I was just of asking Jorge Lorenzo about his pole position in Le Mans and so it was celebrations all round.

Who will ever forget that incredible pre-event football match six years ago when the combined Moto2™ and 3 teams took on the mighty MotoGP™ team. Nothing that out of the ordinary apart from the venue – the home of Barcelona FC the Nou Camp. The riders plying their skills on one of the most hallowed pieces of turf on the planet. They even played the Barcelona anthem when the teams came up those famous steps onto the pitch although I did get told off by the groundsman for stepping onto the grass.

MotoGP™ and football are alike in so many ways and at least this weekend half the English fans in the Mugello paddock will be happy on Saturday night. That’s half more than usual but don’t mention that to any Liverpool or Spurs supporters.

By | May 30th, 2019|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Football woes in the MotoGP™ paddock

60 years and 300 Grands Prix wins later

Sixty long years ago Soichiro Honda arrived on the Isle of Man with his team to compete in the 125cc race at the TT races. Although they returned home with the Team Prize little did anybody who witnessed their World Championship debut around the Clypse course envisages the scenes in the Le Mans pit lane on Sunday.

As Marc Marquez celebrated his 47th premier class win with typical exuberance and Team Manager Alberto Puig equally typically calmly checked the state of tyres on the race-winning RC213V, Honda celebrated another giant milestone in their racing history – their 300th premier class victory.

Two–stroke 500’s, 800 and 990cc four-strokes have brought the Japanese factory unrivalled success again, the very best in the World although it has not always been easy. After so much success in the smaller classes, they entered the 500cc class in 1966 to take on the might of MV Agusta and a certain Giacomo Agostini with the weighty combination of World Champions Jim Redman and Mike Hailwood. Redman won the opening two rounds at Hockenheim and Assen but his challenge that had started so brightly ended when he was injured. The following year Hailwood and Agostini ended on equal points but the title went to the Italian

Honda then withdrew from Grand Prix motor cycle racing to concentrate their considerable technical innovation and finances into Formula One car racing. They returned briefly to challenge the two–strokes with the amazing but uncompetitive NR500 four-stroke with those oval pistons. They realised they had to build a competitive two-stroke 500 to challenge the might of Suzuki and Yamaha and their return to the fray in 1982 was spearheaded by a young American Freddie Spencer on the three-cylinder 500. What a choice it turned out to be with Spencer bringing Honda their first premier class title in 1983 and then re-writing the history books two years later with a 250/500cc double Championship – a feat that has never been repeated. Mick Doohan brought them five successive titles in the nineties and Valentino Rossi took over his mantle winning the last two-stroke 500cc Championships and then heralded the return of the four-stroke era in 2002 and 2003 with a Championship win before defecting to Yamaha. Casey Stoner and Rossi were the thorns in Honda’s side in the new 800 cc class but Stoner signed from Ducati to bring Honda their first 800 cc title in 2011. Then Marquez arrived and the rest is history with the Spaniard capturing five World titles and 47 Grands Prix wins. There are still more titles and Grands Prix victories to come.

Sixty years ago Soichiro Honda arrived in the Isle of Man with a four-rider team to compete in the 176 km 125cc race to fulfil a dream. Three of the Japanese riders had never competed in a race only on tarmac but they returned home with the Team Prize. Little did anybody in the Isle of Man on that June day realise this was just the start.

By | May 24th, 2019|Uncategorised|Comments Off on 60 years and 300 Grands Prix wins later

Corner naming – a few suggestions

In the last couple of Grands Prix there has been a couple of very worthy corner and section naming ceremonies to honour the careers of Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa. Hayden Hill in Austin and the Pedrosa Corner at Jerez are the perfect way to remember just what Nicky and Dani have achieved and their contribution to Grands Prix racing.

There are plenty of other sections and corners named after riders and my favourite is the Stoner corner at Phillip Island. No corner sums up the career of the double World Champion better. High on the cliffs above the windswept Bass Straight with the waves crashing into the rocks below as the Australian with smoke pouring off the rear tyre of the Honda and especially the Ducati round that so fast left-hander. Just close your eyes and you are back there.

There are many corners that I’m sure riders don’t want to remember and certainly would not to be named after them. I’m certain Dani was delighted with the Jerez naming but would not have selected the Parabolica Interior at Estoril where he brought down team-mate Hayden to almost wreck his World title chances in 2006. Andrea Iannone might not be that keen of a plaque being erected on the final corner at Misano after throwing a couple of punches at Pol Espargaro after both ended up in the gravel on the final lap of a 125cc race. I’m sure Alex Barros would rather forget turn one at the Sachsenring after the chance of the very last two-stroke win in the MotoGP™ class disappeared when he clattered into fellow two-stroke campaigner Olivier Jacque to bring them both down with the four-strokes nowhere in sight in 2002.

There was no chance of a naming ceremony for Alex Criville after he brought down local hero Mick Doohan at the last bend of the Australian Grand Prix at Eastern Creek with the chequered flag in sight in 1996. Perhaps Loris Capirossi would have approved of a plaque because it handed him his first premier class victory. Tetsuya Harada would certainly not have suggested a Capirossi naming ceremony in Argentina two years later with perhaps the most controversial and talked about last bend crash in Buenos Aires that finally decided the outcome of the 250cc World Championship after much discussion.

If you have the honour of a corner being named after you it’s important that it does not come back to bite you on the bottom as Jorge Lorenzo found out at Jerez in 2013. Just three days after having the infamous turn 13 that leads into the start and finish straight named after him to honour his world titles, he fell out with his now team-mate Marc Marquez after a ‘coming together’ at his very own corner in a fight for second place.

I wonder if the organisers of the next Grand Prix at Le Mans were preparing a naming ceremony in honour of 20-year-old Frenchman Fabio Quartararo after he became the youngest ever MotoGP™ pole setter at Jerez on Saturday. He looked well on course for a podium finish a day later before being sidelined with mechanical problems. The inscription on the plaque had been delayed but it’s certain to come.

By | May 10th, 2019|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Corner naming – a few suggestions

Brexit or no Brexit; we’re on our way to Europe

While the politicians continue to discuss, argue and make no decisions about Brexit, the MotoGP™ World Championship marches into Europe unabated at a legendary venue on Sunday that’s had its fair share of politics on and off the track over the last 32 years.

With spring slowly turning into summer, with longer days and warmer sunshine there is only one place to witness an international motorsport event at the beginning of May. For 32 years the pilgrimage to Southern Spain by hundreds of thousands of MotoGP™ fans has heralded the start of summer and the first round of the European season. The magnificent Jerez de la Frontera circuit has earned its place into the folklore of the sport and only the Cathedral in Assen of the current circuits has staged more Grands Prix in the 70-year history of the sport.

During those three decades, there have been some mighty battles and coming togethers around the 4.423km circuit. The infamous Turn 13 into the final straight almost on a yearly basis has provided us with pages of copy and air time. Doohan and Criville; Rossi and Gibernau; Marquez and Rossi and Lorenzo and Marquez to name but a few who have clashed, with the chequered flag in sight, round the corner now named after three times World Champion Jorge Lorenzo. Five times World Champion Mick Doohan’s career came to a sad end in 1999 when he crashed between Turn 3 and 4 during practice. Who will forget Casey Stoner’s answer to Valentino Rossi when the nine times World Champion apologised after bringing the Australian down at Turn 1.

Jerez epitomises the very soul of MotoGP™ that no other international motorsport has a hope of matching. On-track action and controversy are a guaranteed part of the deal but it’s everything around it that makes it so special. The sunshine helps but I remember that first year in 1987, the party good time atmosphere that engulfed the whole area and especially El Puerto Sant Maria and the centre of Jerez. I was young enough to enjoy it back then and I’m reliably informed nothing much has changed, and I remember as we drove to the circuit on Sunday morning a couple of years ago hundreds of fans were still enjoying the party in the centre of Jerez.

I went to a couple of Formula One Grands Prix at Jerez and it was such a different place. Little atmosphere and a crowd quarter the size of its MotoGP™ equivalent. The major problem in those early days was the total traffic chaos. Once we had to abandon our car and walk the last mile into the circuit to make the Sunday morning warm-up. The story goes that Ron Dennis, the esteemed boss of the McLaren Formula One team, had a meeting organised with Honda at lunchtime on the MotoGP™ race day. He set off at 8.00 am and never actually made it to the circuit. Thankfully that chaos is very much a thing of the past although the crowds have no way diminished.

Alex Rins’ win at the previous round in Texas is just going to add to that atmosphere and noise plus increase the size of the crowd by as many as 20,000 patriotic fans. Thank goodness those traffic problems are a distant memory. We are on our way to Jerez – summer must have arrived.

By | May 3rd, 2019|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Brexit or no Brexit; we’re on our way to Europe

Be patient Vale, you will do a Tiger

America was so close to being the afternoon of all comebacks on Sunday. It started with golfer Tiger Woods winning the Masters in Augusta and ended with Valentino Rossi failing by under half a second to win the Red Bull Americas Grand Prix in Texas.

Taken heart Valentino, Woods had waited 11 painful and controversial years before getting back to winning ways on the fairways. The gap is nothing like as big for the 40-year-old Yamaha rider. His last Grand Prix win in America may have come 11 years ago at Indianapolis, before the hurricane and ‘white horse’ arrived, but it was less than two years ago he won for the last time at the Assen cathedral.

Those fighting second places at the last two Grands Prix surely have paved the way for some more Grands Prix victories for The Doctor. With three different race winners in the opening rounds before they arrive in Europe at Jerez and with nobody dominating the Championship surely his big chance will come sooner than later. Indeed, if the Championship continues in the same vein with the points being spread around every time we could be talking about the comeback of all comebacks for Rossi. He seriously could challenge for the title especially with a couple of Grands Prix wins to add to his incredible tally of 89 premier class victories. He is just three points behind Andrea Dovizioso in second place and that long-awaited race win at Jerez would put him top of the table.

While perhaps a little disappointed that Vale didn’t win on Sunday it was equally great to see Alex Rins win his first MotoGP™ race to give Suzuki that first win for almost three years when Maverick Viñales won at Silverstone. After such a tough injury-hit first year in MotoGP, ™ Rins has just got better and better in the Premier class and Suzuki has provided him with a race winning stead. It was also good to see Jack Miller back on the podium and performances of Franco Morbidelli and Fabio Quartararo show the changing of the guard at the front is being prepared.

I commentated on every one of Vale’s 89 Premier class wins, well not quite every one. I sat in the commentary box while he fought Casey Stoner in the battle of the Corkscrew in at Laguna Seca in 2008. I could only watch and not utter a single word because my voice had completely disappeared. Gavin Emmett and John Hopkins did a fantastic job describing one of Rossi’s greatest ever victories.

Rossi arrives in Jerez in a couple of weeks’ time in the form of his forties. Be patient Vale because I’m sure you will not have to wait as long as Tiger to stand back on the top step again.

By | April 18th, 2019|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Be patient Vale, you will do a Tiger

In Conversation with Nick Harris

Thursday 30th May 18:00 – 20:00 at Milton Keynes – Midsummer Place

Meet Nick Harris here in Milton Keynes (at the larger of the two Waterstones stores) at 6 pm as we spend the evening in conversation discussing the book that the Motorcycling world has been waiting for, “Never Say Never’

As ‘The Voice’ of motorcycle racing for forty years, commentator Nick Harris became the biggest star NOT on two wheels in the paddock, and his book ‘Never Say Never’ is his mostly eye-witness, white-knuckle account of MotoGP’s scorching seventy-year history….
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Tickets are available online and in store, only £3 (and give you £3 off the cost of the book!)

Further details: 01908 395384

By | April 15th, 2019|Uncategorised|Comments Off on In Conversation with Nick Harris

Family values

Legendary journalist and television commentator Dennis Noyes told me to expect something different when Nicky Hayden and his dad Earl arrived from Owensboro, Kentucky into MotoGP™ in 2003   – Dennis is rarely wrong. The very nature of the sport makes the MotoGP™ paddock a tough uncompromising work place. Lives, reputations and careers are at stake in a frenzied atmosphere of competition and egos. It’s not a place you would associate with family values and manners but, in addition to that 2006 World Championship, that’s exactly what Nicky brought to our world.

Nicky embarked on the worldwide adventure with his Dad that led to that ultimate MotoGP™ world title with enormous talent that had already brought him so much success at home. They arrived on new continents and in new countries to compete against the very best, battle-hardened campaigners and came out on top. Wherever they went they made friends with their humour and humility in their totally new surroundings.

Who will ever forget that first Grand Prix win fittingly at home in Laguna Seca in 2005 when Nicky picked up Earl for that pillion ride on the celebration lap? Who will ever forget that sunny afternoon on the Mediterranean coast of Spain when Nicky clinched the 2006 world title fighting off the challenge of Valentino Rossi in Valencia? It was one of those I was there afternoons and rarely in the 70-year history has there been a more popular win among the occupants of the paddock.

I only saw Nicky lose his temper on two occasions. The much filmed and discussed collision with his team-mate Dani Pedrosa in Estoril that so nearly cost him that 2006 World title brought a rare burst of emotion and expletives. The second occasion was more frustration than temper. Valentino Rossi had a habit of talking to the person sat next to him in the press conferences while another rider was answering questions from the audience. Nicky stopped his answers on one occasion to tick off Valentino that it was bad manners and the nine times World Champion took notice.

There have been so many great World Champions who have made that trip across the Atlantic to upset the European domination on two wheels. The likes of Roberts, Spencer, Lawson and Rainey may have won more titles but few have left such a lasting impression as Nicky Hayden.

In Austin on Thursday, Nicky’s number will be retired from MotoGP. I’m sure I speak for many when I say it may have gone but we will never forget number 69 represented that humility and honesty still had a place in this crazy world.

By | April 12th, 2019|Uncategorised|1 Comment

Where did that come from?

I think it caught us all by surprise. While theories that the closest ever top 15 finish at the previous round in Qatar was a bit of a con because riders where protecting their tyres have been expounded in certain sections of the media, Marc Marquez simply blew away the opposition in Argentina on Sunday.

It was one of his biggest ever dry weather victories and the 9.8s gap between him and the fight for second did not even show just what a difference there was between the World Champion and the rest. Sure he took the gamble on the soft rear tyre on the Repsol Honda but his domination over the 25 laps meant he was quite simply in a class of his own.

Winning at the highest level is an art and skill that only a few are lucky to possess. Racing at any level is all about winning. That is the aim of every rider competing from the humble beginnings of club racing to MotoGP™ and World Champions have the ability to do it whatever the circumstances.

A World Champion and multiple Grand Prix winner once told me that winning races at the slowest possible speed was always his aim. Protect the tyres, protect the engine and protect yourself was always part of his winning strategy. Today more and more protection of the tyres has to be a vital part of race winning strategy. The fact that it can produce record breaking close finishes like Qatar and controversy that boiled over between Rossi and Marquez in Australia four years ago is surely a bonus for the fans. For the riders and the teams, it’s just about understanding and then implementing the conditions and the circumstances to their advantage. For both the media and the fans it just adds to the drama.

When I first got the Grand Prix bug a long time ago a certain Giacomo Agostini was winning races on the MV Agusta by vast distances that were often calculated in laps rather than minutes and certainly not seconds. Ago was the true master and took full advantage of the circumstances but being brutally honest after admiring his brilliance and the glorious sound of the MV Agusta, it did not make compelling viewing.

At the third round of this year’s Championship at Austin in a couple of weeks’ time Marquez arrives with an unbeaten record in Texas. He will take full advantage of the conditions and circumstances to ensure that record continues to enable him to arrive in Europe with an increased advantage at the top of the Championship. If it has to be an Agostini style victory or a fight to the line after a tactical battle grabbing 25 precious points will be his only aim. Selfishly I know which race I would prefer to watch but I’ll never be chasing a world title.

By | April 4th, 2019|Uncategorised|1 Comment

Tango back in time

You could be forgiven for assuming the first Grand Prix ever to be held outside Europe must have been staged in Japan or perhaps even America. Argentina would have been a fair way down your list but on October 15th 1961 the first world championship race to be staged outside Europe was held in Buenos Aires. The fledgling World Championship was only in its 13th year of existence but already starting to spread its wings far and wide.

Wind the clock on 58 years and the modern-day gladiators arrive at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit this weekend after a record-breaking opening round under the floodlights in Qatar. Just 15.093s separated the first 15 riders crossing the line, the closest ever in the 70-year history of Grand Prix racing. Things have changed since that first race in Buenos Aries.

The first big difference was that opening race, which was the final round of the 1961 Championship, was 52 laps long just a mere distance of 203 kilometres. Setting the precedent, it was pretty close at the front with Argentinian Jorge Kissling winning by just 2.8 seconds from countryman Juan Carlos Salatino. Not perhaps the 0.023s that separated Dovizioso and Marquez in Qatar but never the less pretty close after over 200 kilometres of racing. After those leading two riders it was a very different story with Frank Perris on the Norton ten laps down.

The Argentine Grand Prix ran for a couple more years with Mike Hailwood the first non-home winner in 1963 but after those three initial Grands Prix it did not return until 1982. With the Falklands Island war between Argentina and Great Britain less than a week away I was lucky to witness a fantastic race before rushing home on the Sunday night just before war was declared. It was the opening round of the World Championship and Honda returned to the fray with their three cylinder two-stroke. Leading their return was a young American by the name of Freddie Spencer.

It was still a long race of 32 laps and at the finish just 0.67 seconds separated the Yamaha’s of former World Champions Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene. Spencer put Honda right back in the fray with a third place with just 1.37 seconds covering the three podium finishes. It was then a frantic rush to the airport. Three days later all flights between Britain and Argentina came to an abrupt end.

I loved the new venue Termas de Rio Hondo. Of course, it was an absolute pain to get to, the steps to the media centre were pretty rickety and the mosquitoes did bite but the sheer passion for MotoGP made up for all this.

Fans from all over South America arrived in the town square at night. A motorcycle with three of four occupants was not unusual, pick-up trucks from all over the vast continent arrived with far more passengers, donkey carts proved more sedate transport and the music was loud and lasted till dawn. Then en masse the party would reallocate to the circuit as the sun came up over the lake.

Grand Prix racing had returned to where the worldwide adventure had started all those years ago.

By | March 28th, 2019|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Tango back in time