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.