Oh dear, just when I thought I was getting over it along came Jerez. Grand Prix and TT winner Mick Grant once told me he did not go near a racetrack for six years after he retired from racing. Last year I went to Silverstone which was my first visit to a MotoGP™ race in four years after I’d left the commentary box for the last time. I honestly thought I was, at last, starting to get over the MotoGP™ experience. I smiled when I thought of Mick’s six years in the wilderness. But I was wrong. Jerez on Sunday is to blame
Who could not love the place? Packed hillsides, bright sunshine, an atmosphere like a football match and then of course there is the racing. For 36 years fans throughout Europe have been flocking south to Andalusia at the start of May. It is an annual pilgrimage to an area, not just a circuit, that breathes the very soul of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. I could feel and smell it as I turned up the volume on the remote control on Sunday and I wanted to be there.
I remember that very first Grand Prix at Jerez in 1987. Flying to Gibraltar and landing in a gale. Driving through the Andalusian hills and past lakes to arrive at a city that was famous for its sherry. Wayne Gardner won that first 500cc race from Eddie Lawson with British riders Ron Haslam third and Niall Mackenzie fourth, respectively. Who will forget the celebrations in 1995 when Alberto Puig became the first Spanish rider to win a 500cc Grand Prix on home soil. A year later the chaos when the crowd invaded the track on the last lap thinking the race was over to celebrate an Alex Criville win. World Champion Mick Doohan somehow missed the invaders and won the race with Criville crashing on the last bend. Doohan’s practice crash in 1999 that brought the five-times World Champion’s career to an end. On a personal level Bradley Smith’s first 125cc Grand Prix win in 2009. Then of course there have been the confrontations.
Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) at the dreaded Turn 13, now re-named the Lorenzo corner after the five-time Jerez winner. Who can forget Casey Stoner questioning nine times Jerez winner Valentino Rossi’s talent after a collision at Turn one 11 years ago?
I worked at a couple of Formula One car Grand Prix at the circuit, but the crowds were small, and the atmosphere was flat. This is motorcycle racing country and everything that goes with it. Proper fish and chips at El Puerto Santa Maria, the street racing in Jerez, fans pouring out of the clubs as we were driving to the circuit in the morning. Even those massive traffic queues of the nineties now make me smile although not at the time. That wonderful first cold beer sitting outside the Don Pepe restaurant after a hard day in the office/paddock.
Sunday’s MotoGP™ winner Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) said it had been a beautiful day at Jerez on Sunday. He was absolutely right. It made me realise I still have a long way to go. Mick Grant was right.