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The pace of life

Nothing can stop the pace of life, not even pandemics, but MotoGP™ just does it so much quicker than anybody else. I could not believe it. I was still digesting the final Grand Prix of the season at that amazing Portimao circuit when less than 24 hours later the provisional entry list for the 2021 season popped into my inbox

Already we had the provisional calendar and after the unbelievable efforts and personal sacrifices put in by everybody to produce such a stunning 2020 show we were up and running for 2021. No time to catch your breath or reflect on the most amazing season in the 72-year history of the sport because 2021 has already taken over. I should have realised that things had changed when Bradley Smith told me on the morning of the first Grand Prix of 2016 in Qatar that he had signed for KTM. My first reaction was I thought you were riding for Tech 3 when I realised, he meant for 2017 and his debut for the Austrian factory was still 12 months away. Talk about forward planning! Long gone were the days it was only in the new year that plans and team line ups for the new season started to emerge after all the festivities.

The first and most important piece of information to keep family unity on a proper level was the schedule. Family holidays to fit in with school holidays and the Grand Prix schedule had to be planned immediately before those long flights began. Then it was the premier class entry list. Who is not on it, as much as who is? The days of big surprises in the age of the internet have long gone. Although I knew their names would not be in the hallowed list of 22 riders it was the omission of two names that made me sad. Two very different characters who I so enjoyed working with, Andrea Dovizioso and Tito Rabat.

A MotoGP™ grid without the calm, friendly and mighty talented Dovi will be a lesser place. Three times runner–up in the Championship spearheading the Ducati revival. A rider who had come through the system. A 125cc World Champion, runner–up in the 250cc Championship before joining MotoGP™ in 2008. Fifteen MotoGP™ wins was not just enough to bring him the Championship he so deserved. Three times in succession he was runner-up to Marc Marquez. Dovi could not have chosen a worse time for his title challenge. His compatriot Max Biaggi was also runner-up three times after 13 premier class wins. Like Dovi at least he had world titles to look back winning four successive 250cc crowns before arriving in 1998 on the premier class grid and winning his first Grand Prix

The unluckiest runner-up of them all must surely be Randy Mamola. Thirteen Grands Prix wins brought that runner-up spot no less than four times. The Californian was such a massive part of that vibrant 80’s 500cc Grand Prix decade and unlike Dovi and Max never had a world title to look back on that he certainly deserved. It still hurts.

I will never forget Tito Rabat’s brilliant impersonation of me in my farewell video from the riders at the end of the 2017 season. That toothy grin from a larger than life character as he spoke in an Oxfordshire accent with a strong Catalan flavour. Despite some big setbacks and certainly injuries he always bounced back with that grin and a joke. Tito was obsessed with the weather and would check for me what was coming up on what seemed at least ten separate weather apps. Before arriving in MotoGP™ in 2016 Tito had a brilliant career in Moto2™ winning 13 Grands Prix and the 2014 World title

I wonder how Dovi and Tito will find life without MotoGP™. It is not easy I can promise them. Grand Prix and TT winner Mick Grant told me he did not go near a racetrack for six years after his retirement but is now actively involved back in racing. Suzuki Grand Prix winner Chris Vermeulen gave me good advice over a pint in the legendary Isle of Wight pub on Phillip Island. “Remember nothing remains the same forever” he said.

Of course, Chris was right, but it just seems to happen a great deal quicker in the World of MotoGP™.

By |2020-12-02T16:26:49+00:00December 2nd, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on The pace of life

Thank you, Cal – you saved my life!

I made it clear. They would have to transport me out of the commentary box in a wooden box if I did not ever commentate on a British rider winning a MotoGP™ race before I retired. Thanks to Cal Crutchlow, my promise was never put to the test

I had always admired Cal since he arrived in MotoGP™ despite being a little nervous when having to interview him. He just wanted to be a MotoGP™ rider walking away from what would have been a very successful and lucrative World Superbike career. I think even Cal may have doubted he had made the right decision as he struggled in those early days. Typically, he stuck at it and won three MotoGP™ Grands Prix before announcing the finish of his full-time MotoGP™ career to join the factory Yamaha team as their test rider next year.

It was pouring with rain as we arrived at the Brno circuit on the Sunday morning of August 21st in 2016. I had more thoughts of keeping dry as we ran from the car park to the media centre rather than the prospect of a 35-year hoodoo finally being erased.  All those thirty-five years ago I had witnessed, reported and celebrated watching Barry Sheene win the 500cc Swedish Grand Prix in Anderstorp. A more contrasting venue in every single way to the magnificent Brno circuit could not be imagined. The circuit doubled up as the local aerodrome with the entrance in a trading estate, surrounded by dark, ominous-looking woods occupied by gangs of Hells Angles during the race weekend. Barry won the 30-lap race for Yamaha with two Dutchman Boet van Dulmen and Jack Middelburg completing the podium at the last race of the season. I remember taking the pictures of Barry and his great partner in crime Marco Lucchinelli with their heads in the same winner’s garland. Italian Lucchinelli’s ninth place was enough to bring him and Suzuki the World title.

That was that. Despite the gallant efforts from the likes of Niall Mackenzie, Jeremy McWilliams and Ron Haslam and even claiming that 1987 World Champion Australian Wayne Gardner was English because he lived in England, a British rider never stood again on the top step of a premier class podium. Barry Sheene had passed away 13 years earlier and I honestly started to believe it was never ever going to happen again, until along came Cal

That wet day in the Czech Republic started so well. Scotsman John McPhee won his first Moto3™ Grand Prix in the wet race. The rain had stopped an hour before the start of the 22 lap MotoGP™ race, but the track was still wet. Crutchlow was 15th at the end of the first lap but as the track started to dry, he began racing through the field. I still never envisaged what unfolded in front of me. It was around the 12th lap I had the first inkling that history was about to unfold when he moved into fourth place. I so wanted it to happen, but I was panicking because I had nothing, no facts or figures prepared and so always I just kept talking. Four laps later he was at the front pulling away from the likes Rossi and Marquez who knew something about not only winning Grands Prix, but world titles. Commentating on the last lap with your eyes closed may not be very professional but that’s exactly what I did, peeping through my fingers a couple of times, until Cal reached the hill leading up to that dreaded chicane that leads onto the start /finish straight. Please, please do not crash I prayed, and Cal did not. He was a lot calmer than me in the press conference that followed and then two months later when he won again at Phillip Island in Australia. Barry Sheene would have loved it.

So many thanks Cal. Good luck in the future – and lucky Yamaha.

 

By |2020-11-25T19:13:44+00:00November 25th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Thank you, Cal – you saved my life!

Criville waited seven years to unlock the door

Just 168 hours in seven breathless days separated Joan Mir’s first MotoGP™ victory from that World Championship conquest on Sunday. The rider that produced the key to unlock the door to Spanish domination of the premier class had to wait so much longer. A gap of over seven long years separated Alex Criville’s first 500cc Grand Prix win to the title.

I am sure it will not surprise you that I had problems pronouncing Alex Criville’s surname when he brought Spain their first-ever Grand Prix victory in the premier class. I had just about got it right 21 years ago when the very same Criville produced the key to unlock the door to Spanish MotoGP™ World Champions with their first-ever premier class title in 1999

A certain Valentino Rossi stood in their way for the following decade but then the floodgates opened for the likes of Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and, on Sunday, the mighty impressive Joan Mir.

We always admired the brilliance of Spanish riders in the smaller classes but even multiple World Champions Angel Nieto and Sito Pons struggled in the premier class and did not stay around for long. Then came the 1992 Dutch TT in Assen. Crashes had ruled out the likes of Rainey, Doohan, Schwantz and Lawson. Alex Criville was on hand to win a fantastic three-way battle over John Kocinski and Alex Barros.

Mick Doohan then took over with five straight 500cc World Championships and Alex had to wait another three years just for his next victory. Six more followed over the next three years but the first European Grand Prix of the season in 1999 had a familiar sense of déjà vu to this year. Five-time World Champion and Criville’s teammate Doohan crashed at turn four at Jerez and was ruled out for the remainder of the season. It was the end of Mick’s amazing career, although we did not know at the time. Mick’s crash came on the exit to the very same bend that brought Marc Marquez’s short season to a premature halt this year. Alex went onto win six Grands Prix that year including that Jerez race

Like Mir, he clinched the title at the penultimate round at Rio in Brazil. Both races caused television producers a real headache. The race in Rio turned into a breathtaking last lap battle between Norick Abe, Max Biaggi and Kenny Roberts. Criville’s sixth place would be enough to bring Spain that first title. What pictures do you show? They faced the same problem on Sunday as Franco Morbidelli and Jack Miller fought a ferocious last lap duel to the chequered flag. Mir’s seventh place going into the last lap at Valencia was enough to bring him the title. The television producers were spot on and we got a great view of both Morbidelli’s third win of the season and Mir’s World Championship victory.

Both Criville and Mir had won World titles before arriving in the premier class. Alex was the 1989 125cc World Champion but had to wait ten years before that 500cc crown. Joan only had to wait three years between his Moto3™ World title and being crowned MotoGP™ King.

So happy 21st birthday Spanish motorcycle racing and just one more similarity. I had as many problems pronouncing Joan Mir’s first name when he won that Moto3™ World title as I did Criville’s surname in Assen 28 years ago.

 

By |2020-11-18T20:14:43+00:00November 18th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Criville waited seven years to unlock the door

Keep an eye on those T-Shirts

The Suzuki Ecstar team will leave no stone unturned in the next seven days. In the garage they will lovingly be preparing the GSX – RR Suzuki that could bring them their first premier class world title for two decades. Behind the scenes, World Championship winning press conferences and television interviews have to be planned. Videos, photographs and written copy written for immediate release on Sunday afternoon will be prepared and checked while the obligatory World Champion T-Shirts have been designed, printed and dispatched.

For the first time in this incredible season, Joan Mir could and has a real chance of clinching the ultimate prize at the penultimate round in Valencia. Following that maiden premier class win in Valencia, he holds a precious 37-point lead in the Championship. The 23-year-old Spaniard does not need reminding of what he needs to do on the tarmac of the Ricardo Tormo circuit, but he will not need or want to know what happens if he wins the ultimate prize. He can worry about all that afterwards

The only problem for the team, and let us be honest it is a decent one, is that Mir’s team-mate Alex Rins could still win the title, although not on Sunday. Together with Fabio Quartararo, he is 37 points behind. With 50 points up for grabs in the final two races it could still be decided at the final round in Portugal. At least it gives the team time to prepare for both eventualities which was not the case for the Monster Yamaha team in that controversial finale at Valencia five years ago. Valentino Rossi arrived in the caldron of frenzied excitement and toxicity with a seven-point lead but having to start from the back of the grid after the shenanigans in Malaysia. The team, which was divided, had to prepare for both eventualities. Lorenzo won the title and wore the T-Shirt.

I was involved in two very different World Championship winning, planning and celebrations. In 1987 the BBC sent me to Goiania in Brazil for the penultimate round of the 500cc World Championship.  Wayne Gardner had built up a special rapport with their listeners and had a great chance of clinching the title. Part of the deal for my expenses paid trip was that they would get the first live interview with the new World Champion. On arrival at the circuit, I discovered the commentary position was opposite the podium and pit lane in the very public grandstand. There was only one man to help me and he did not let me down. The Chief of Police in Goiania assured me that all would be OK. When race winner and new World Champion Wayne Gardner wearing the World Champion T-Shirt over his leathers soaked in champagne arrived at my commentary position surrounded by six fully armed policemen in full uniform I believed him

It was a very different story five years later at Kyalami in South Africa. A truly battered Mick Doohan arrived hanging onto a precious two-point lead over Wayne Rainey at the final round of the 1992 500cc World title. Never have I witnessed somebody so determined to overcome pain and physical weakness to win his first World title and we owed it to Mick to be prepared. Rothmans Honda Press folders and photographs were prepared for the media at the circuit and thousands back in England to be dispatched throughout the world as soon as the race ended – hardly any social media in those days. The 1992 World Champion T-Shirts were prepared, and worldwide interviews planned.  It was a sad sight after the race watching the folders being burnt and the T-Shirts cut up when Mick failed by four points to clinch the title, he went onto win five times. Years after, a Greek journalist was spotted wearing a 1992 Mick Doohan World Champion T-Shirt. How that happened I have no idea.

I am sure Suzuki are prepared for every eventuality. It is a fantastic situation to be in but keep an eye on those T-Shirts.

By |2020-11-12T09:01:16+00:00November 12th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Keep an eye on those T-Shirts

Teammates – perhaps by name only

In team sports, the role of a teammate is easy to understand and follow but in MotoGP™ it can be a very different story. Many riders will tell you the first person they want to beat to that chequered flag is their very own teammate.

Crunch time for teammates approaches fast with just three rounds remaining of this extraordinary MotoGP™ season starting at Valencia on Sunday. Six riders have a chance of claiming that ultimate prize. In that group there are two sets of teammates. Will the other two contenders be looking for support from the other side of the garage?

I remember the first time I realised just how important a trusted teammate can be on two wheels. It probably comes as no great surprise that Phil Read, seven times World Champion and without a doubt the most underestimated rider in the history of Grand Prix racing, sparked the interest. There is absolutely no doubt Phil was not your ideal teammate as both Bill Ivy and Giacomo Agostini found out.

At the TT in 1968 I watched Read win the 125cc race despite Ivy setting the first 100mph lap riding the beautiful 125cc four cylinder two-stroke. Ivy admitted later he slowed to let teammate Read win because the plan at the beginning of the season was for Read to win his first 125cc title and Ivy his first 250. Everything appeared to be going to plan for the Yamaha team. Read won the penultimate round of the 125cc Championship in Brno to clinch the title. Ivy assumed he would return the compliment and finish second in the 250 but Read had different ideas. He won the race and out of the blue declared he was chasing the title because he wanted Yamaha to continue racing the next year and that he’d done all the work to develop the 250 bringing Yamaha their first world title.

In a toxic atmosphere at the final 250cc round in Monza Read stuck to his guns. He won the 22-lap race from Ivy in which the Yamaha pair lapped the rest of the field. The drama did not end there. Incredibly the teammates found themselves level on points at the head of the 250cc Championship. Read was crowned World Champion after the times from the races they had both completed were added together. Read continued to win more World titles for Yamaha and MV Agusta where his relationship with teammate Agostini was strained, to say the least. A disillusioned Ivy retired to go car racing. To fund his new career, he returned to two wheels riding the 350cc four-cylinder Jawa. He lost his life when the Jawa seized in practice for the 1969 East German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring.

Thirty-eight years later Repsol Honda teammates fell out big time but for a very different reason. You rarely saw Nicky Hayden get angry in public but what he screamed to teammate Dani Pedrosa in the Estoril gravel trap was not difficult to understand. It was the penultimate round of the 2006 MotoGP™ World Championship in Portugal and Hayden arrived with a 12-point advantage over his former teammate and World Champion Valentino Rossi. On the fifth lap of the race Pedrosa, the current 250cc World Champion, was fourth behind Hayden but the situation both in the race and the Championship changed in the blink of an eye. With 23 laps remaining Pedrosa took out the Championship leader at the tight left-hand bend at the end of the slightly kinked back straight. Running onto the kerb he locked the front wheel and skittled Hayden into the Portuguese gravel.

All was forgotten two weeks later when Hayden clinched the World title after finishing third behind the Ducatis of Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi. Rossi crashed defending an eight-point lead and a remorseful Pedrosa protected Hayden’s back throughout at a very safe distance in fourth place.

In the next three weeks those six Championship contenders are going to discover who is a true teammate or even just a true mate.

By |2020-11-04T20:58:03+00:00November 4th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Teammates – perhaps by name only

Stick or Twist for Mir

History points to Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) twisting in this amazing season of MotoGP™ poker. Take the risk the history books may scream out, but this is a truly unprecedented season. Sticking may be the strategy to claim the biggest prize of them all.

Never in the 72-year-old history of World Championship racing has a rider won the premier class without winning a Grand Prix the year of his success. Only twice in all solo classes has a title been clinched without a victory.

The 23-year-old Spanish Ecstar rider arrives in Valencia with a precious 14-point lead in the Championship with just three rounds remaining. Six podiums, including three second places but no wins have given him the advantage. Eight opponents have won races with two riders grabbing two or more wins, but nobody has matched the consistency of the former Moto3™ World Champion. Mir won 10 Grand Prix in 2017 to clinch the World title with two rounds remaining. It is going to be an awful lot closer this time

How ironic, it was the mentor of the all-conquering Marquez brothers who was the last rider to win a World Championship without actually winning a race in the year of his success. Emilio Alzamora was crowned the 1999 125cc World Champion without a Grand Prix win, but consistency and 10 podium finishes in the 16 round title chase paid off.

The final round at Buenos Aires in Argentina summed up the season perfectly. Alzamora rode a brilliant tactical 23 laps to finish second by just 0.219 seconds behind Marco Melandri. It was enough to win him the title by a single point from Melandri who tried every trick in the book to prevent it happening. I wonder where those Marquez brothers learnt such skills.

Four years earlier Alzamora had won the 125cc race in Argentina and a year later was victorious in Assen. The year after his World Championship victory he won in Jerez and Estoril to finish third in the Championship.

It was another Spanish rider ten years earlier who was the first rider to be crowned World Champion without winning a Grand Prix the year of his success. Once again it was second place in the final race of the season that clinched the title. Manuel Herreros finished second to Herri Torrontegui around the Brno Circuit in the very last 80cc race in the World Championship. Riding the Derbi he finished 12 points in front of Stefan Dorflinger who’s Krauser team-mate Peter Ottl had won the three previous rounds before final showdown. Herreros had won two Grand Prix before his World title. In 1986 he won the 80cc race at the West German GP and a year later was a Grand Prix winner in Misano

Others have come close with just one win in their Championship season and none more so than Frenchman Jean-Louis Tournadre. He was crowned the 1982 250cc World Champion again by a single point from Toni Mang. He finished fourth at the final round in the race won by Mang at Hockenheim. I remember the one and only Grand Prix win of his career. I was summoned to the motorhome of Barry Sheene in the Nogaro paddock before the start of the 1982 French GP. All the top riders were there including 250cc Championship contenders Mang and Carlos Lavado. The assembled riders asked me to draft a letter to the Nogaro organisers saying they would not ride because the Nogaro circuit was not safe enough for World Championship racing. They duly signed the letter and went home. Tournadre felt obliged to race at his home Grand Prix and won from another Frenchman Jean Francois Balde.

So, twist or stick for Mir in those last three races? That decision depends so much on the performance of his opponents. He may have no choice but to twist.

By |2020-10-29T09:15:56+00:00October 29th, 2020|Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Stick or Twist for Mir

We can only dream – Marquez Vs Rea

It was the day that two great World Champions performed on the same stage but unfortunately not in the same race.

Watching Alex Marquez’s superb performance on Sunday riding that that so distinctively branded Repsol Honda brought back memories of MotorLand Aragon eight years ago

Honestly, little did I prophesise that those two riders would go on to totally dominate their respective chosen paths after seeing them compete on that September afternoon in the Spanish sunshine.  It was the closest that MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez and World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea came to the head to the head of all confrontations in a World Championship showdown.

On Saturday Rea secured that record-breaking sixth successive World Superbike title at the final round in Estoril. The Northern Ireland Kawasaki rider is just one short of 100 victories in the Championship. Eight years ago, Jonathan was drafted into the Repsol Honda team to replace the injured World Champion Casey Stoner and partner Dani Pedrosa. It was a big ask but in just two MotoGP appearances he displayed so much ability to make his record-breaking World Superbike career perhaps not such a great surprise.

After finishing eighth in his first race on the Repsol Honda at Misano won by Jorge Lorenzo he came to Aragon. In the 23-lap race in his second, and as it turned out final MotoGP™ ride, Rea finished seventh one place in front of Valentino Rossi in the race won by his team-mate, Pedrosa. That was that. Casey returned to finish the season and then retire. A certain Marc Marquez replaced him, and the rest is history for both riders

Marquez sat at home on Sunday cheering on his younger brother to second place in Aragon, his second successive podium finish. Marc still recovering from those injuries sustained in the opening round in Jerez, competed in a crucial Moto2™ race at Aragon on the same afternoon before Rea made that final MotoGP™ appearance

It was a crucial 21 lap race as he closed in on the Moto2™ World Championship before replacing Stoner in MotoGP™ the next year. Marquez picked up 20 vital points after finishing second behind his great rival Pol Espargaro. Third place in the race went to Scott Redding who ironically finished second to Rea in this year’s World Superbike contest. Marquez clinched the title to add to his 125cc crown and moved on smash all the records that MotoGP™ could throw at him. Six World titles and 56 Grand Prix wins in a style we have never witnessed before.

I am sure there is still more to come from both Champions but sadly not in conflict with each other. How would it have turned out? Marquez with eight World titles and 82 Grand Prix wins versus Rea with six World titles and 99 race victories.

 Unfortunately, we will never find out who would have won the battle of the ‘sixers’ but we can always dream.

By |2020-10-21T20:01:48+00:00October 21st, 2020|Uncategorised|Comments Off on We can only dream – Marquez Vs Rea

No bet on Danilo or Alex

Even my great friend from Yorkshire did not think to place a bet on Danilo Petrucci’s magnificent win at Le Mans. My friend had a good track record at Le Mans and like most Yorkshiremen is known to be particularly careful with his money.

He is the most knowledgeable person I have ever met about his great love MotoGP, but Danilo plus Alex Marquez caught him and all of us by surprise on Sunday. I am pretty sure the odds would have been impressive on what happened in the cold and wet Le Mans rain

Petrucci’s second ever Grand Prix win in what had been such a wretched season for the former policeman. The first MotoGP™ podium finish for former Moto3™ and current Moto2™ World Champion Alex Marquez. Only four sets of brothers have secured premier class podium finishes in the history of the sport. Argentinian brothers Eduardo and Juan Salatino in the early sixties took podium finishes in their home Grand Prix. Eduardo was third in 1962 while Juan grabbed two second places in 1961 and 1962.

The most famous trio of Grand Prix siblings were the Japanese Aoki brothers. Both Nobuatsu, a former 250cc Grand Prix winner, and Takuma grabbed second places in the premier class. Younger brother Haruchika also rode in the premier class but is better known for his two 125 cc World titles. Older brother Aleix Espargaro took his only premier class podium with a second place in Aragon six years ago while younger brother Pol grabbed his first for KTM in Valencia 2018 and of course finished third in Le Mans. Despite those two World titles Alex Marquez has always lived in the shadow of his older brother Mark. Ninety-five premier class podiums for the older brother including 56 wins says it all but Alex is off the mark. Perhaps the biggest surprise of them all on Sunday – Honda secured their first premier class podium of the season. It is the longest period they had gone without a podium since they returned to World Championship racing in 1982.

Le Mans and the Bugatti circuit has always been capable of producing surprise results. My first visit was no exception. I learnt so much. It can be very cold and do not travel round the Peripherique, the Paris Ring Road, on a Good Friday. It took me over six hours to drive to the legendary venue in 1983 from Charles Le Gaulle Airport but it was well worth it. On a freezing cold afternoon in early April British rider Alan Carter won the 250cc race to become at the time the youngest ever Grand Prix winner. He had started from 31st position on the grid. A year later his team-mate in the Yamaha 250cc team was a certain Wayne Rainey who went on to win three 500cc world titles. Sadly, for Alan Le Mans was his only ever Grand Prix win.

Back to my friend from Yorkshire. We sat in the press room at Le Mans in 2007, he looked out of the window at the gathering clouds and declared that Australian Chris Vermeulen could win his first Grand Prix and bring Suzuki their first victory for six years. When somebody checked the odds of 36/1 on such a prediction, we persuaded him to open his first internet betting account and put his money where his mouth was. When Vermeulen romped home with a comfortable win in the difficult conditions we prepared ourselves for a big Sunday night out on his winnings before driving to Paris the next day. We just about managed one round of drinks from those winnings. He had placed the princely sum of £1 for a Vermeulen victory but do not forget he is from Yorkshire.

 

By |2020-10-14T15:57:35+00:00October 14th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on No bet on Danilo or Alex

The Roger Bannister moment in MotoGP™

It may not be a country built for World Championship motorcycle racing, but John McPhee is striving to change all that in the Moto3™ World Championship. The Scotsman won in Misano and is third in the Championship riding the Petronas Sprinta Racing Honda. John’s home in Oban on the West Coast is how most people picture Scotland. Majestic mountains, Caribbean blue sea when the sun shines, beautiful Islands, Atlantic winter storms and midges come to mind rather than Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

While Scotland has produced plenty of motorsport World Champions two wheels have not been so productive but those who have tasted success at the highest level are very special. Three, Bob McIntyre, Jimmy Guthrie and Jock Taylor have worn the kilt with pride

It was June 7, 1957 when McIntyre produced the magic Roger Bannister moment of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in the Isle of Man. Who will forget that moment in my home City of Oxford three years earlier when the athletic track announcer read out Bannister’s time for the one-mile race he had just won. Three minutes and the rest was drowned out by the cheers of the crowd. The very first man to run a mile in under four minutes and that announcement was soon relayed round the World.

Three years on and The Isle of Man was buzzing in anticipation at the start of the eight lap Senior TT race round the 60.721 kms TT Mountain circuit on the Island that had staged that very first World Championship race eight years earlier. Fourteen thousand extra fans arrived by ferry that very morning on the already packed Island to witness the Scotsman riding the four-cylinder Gilera in action. They knew history was about to be made. Nobody had lapped the most demanding and dangerous racetrack in the World at over 100 mph (160.934 kph). It was the Golden Jubilee of the TT races and McIntyre celebrated in true style.

At the end of the second lap the announcement boomed out round the circuit.’ Bob McIntyre leads the Senior TT after a second lap at an average of 101… The rest was drowned out by the cheers. The first rider to lap the Mountain circuit at over 100 mph in a time of 22m23.2s.

Typically, he completed three more 100 mph laps to win the race in three hours 2.57s. The modest Scotsman had already won the 350cc TT race that week and won the 350cc race for Gilera at Monza later in the year. He finished runner-up to team-mate Libero Liberati in the 500cc World Championship. McIntyre went on to win two more Grands Prix bringing Honda 250cc success in the 1961 Ulster and a year later at Spa Francorchamps. Tragically he was killed that same year in a crash at Oulton Park in England.

Twelve years before the World Championship started on August 8, 1937, 40-year-old Jimmy Guthrie was leading the German Grand Prix on the Sachsenring road circuit. The Norton rider was chasing his third successive victory in Germany, where the rumble of war was looming fast. He had already won 19 Grands Prix, but he crashed in the woods on that fateful last lap and died in hospital. Four years after the Second World War ended in 1949 the locals built a memorial to Guthrie where he had crashed. They had never forgotten that Scottish gentleman and a fresh bunch of flowers have been placed on the memorial every week for the last 71 years. Back in the Isle of Man a kiln of stones on the mountain climb out of Ramsey on the TT course is lovingly preserved in memorial of the 19 times Grand Prix and six times TT winner.

Scotland’s only Grand Prix World Championship came on three wheels. My dear friend Jock Taylor with Swedish passenger Benga Johannson captured the 1980 Sidecar World Championship at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. On a truly awful August day in 1982 Jock lost his life in the pouring rain racing over the railway lines at Imatra in Finland when he crashed striving to win back the title that meant so much to him and his country.

Other Scotsman have come close to Grand Prix wins. The nearest was Niall Mackenzie with seven third places and a pole position in the 500cc Championship. His partner in the Silverstone/Armstrong team Donnie McLeod was a top class 250 and 350cc rider while Steve Hislop was a superb Superbike and TT rider.

Can John McPhee go one better than any of them and win a World title on two wheels? It is a mighty big ask but they would certainly approve of his efforts on behalf of their proud and patriotic country.

 

By |2020-10-07T20:58:20+00:00October 7th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on The Roger Bannister moment in MotoGP™