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ITALY BROUGHT TO A HALT

Twenty years ago today Mugello, as only Mugello can, prepared itself for the battle of all battles. They packed those magnificent Tuscan hillsides dressed in yellow, red and fewer in black and white accompanied by a symphony of unsilenced engines and air horns. The smell and smoke of coloured flares filled the warm Sunday morning air as the leather clad gladiators arrived in the Colosseum.

They had been there for most of the night and when the Italian trio finally appeared in the morning sunshine Mugello went completely crazy. This was the Italian Grand Prix and a home rider had never won the premier class 500cc race at this legendary venue nestling between the hills 20 miles from Florence.

The likes of Agostini, Lucchinelli and Uncini may have captured the ultimate prize but never the premier class win in front of the Tifosi at Mugello. This year was surely going to be different.

It was the fight those passionate Italian fans had been savouring for a long time. Bitter rivals Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi meeting head to head for the first time in a grand prix race on home soil. Completing the trio Loris Capirossi who had already joined a legendary club by winning 125,250 and 500cc grands prix. Prodigal son Rossi’s first season in the 500cc class after winning both 125 and 250 cc World titles. Four times 250 cc World Champion the Roman Emperor Biaggi who had won first time out in the 500cc class two years earlier at Suzuka. Capirossi was probably the underdog with so much media hype focusing on Rossi and Biaggi, but Loris had already been round the block and back. Two 125 cc World titles and then that controversial 1998 World 250 cc title after he ‘collided’ with teammate and Championship rival Tetsuya Harada at the final bend in the final round in Argentina. Sandwiched between those titles Capirossi had won the 500cc race in the 1996 Australian Grand Prix when Alex Criville brought down team-mate Mick Doohan in the last corner at Eastern Creek.

The three Italians had not won at the opening five rounds of the 2000 World Championship, but this was a battle that was fought with far more than 25 world championship points at stake. This was the race everybody in Italy had been waiting for and the trio put on a show that brought the country to a halt.

The real fun and games started with seven of the 23 laps remaining with the three exchanging blows and the lead at the front. Something had to give and Rossi was the first when he lost the front end of the Honda under braking. Then there was two and going into the last lap Capirossi on the Pons Honda led the Yamaha of Biaggi who momentarily got to the front before being pushed back to second. He came back at Capirossi at the last right-hand bend but preparing for a final corner assault got too close. His front brake lever touched the rear seat of the Honda and down Biaggi went in a cloud of dust and gravel.

A triumphant Capirossi crossed the line with arms aloft to celebrate just his second 500cc victory. Rossi returned to Mugello to win seven times in a row. Biaggi never won a premier class race at Mugello. Capirossi went on to win seven more grands prix, none at Mugello but May 28th, 2000 was his day.

Not only did number 65 become the first Italian to win the 500-cc race at Mugello but the win brought Honda their 140th 500cc grand prix win. Ironically, it was one more than the Italian MV Agusta factory.

By |2020-05-28T08:23:10+00:00May 28th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|0 Comments

IT SEEMS LIKE YESTERDAY

It was 47 years ago today, but it seems like yesterday. The announcement on the BBC News that there had been a tragic accident at Monza in Italy and that two riders Jarno Saarinen and Renzo Pasolini had lost their lives. I just could not believe the news as I stared at the radio on that sunny Sunday afternoon.

Two of my heroes killed in a split second in an avoidable accident in the 250-cc race at the Nations Grand Prix in Monza just did not seem logical or possible but it was.

The Finn Jarno Saarinen who we had followed, admired and even idolised watching him enjoy the complexities of British short circuit racing when he like many other grand prix stars came to ride in the International meetings. The TT races in the Isle of Man were still the British round of the World Championships and it was at the likes of Mallory Park, Silverstone and Brands Hatch we realised we were watching somebody so special.

Much to the disgust of some of our friends we had even decided to forgo our annual trip to the TT races on the Isle of Man that year. Instead we decided it was time to go to grand prix to watch Saarinen in World Championship action at the 1973 Dutch TT in Assen. At least it was a TT but a very different one to the mountain circuit that we had so enjoyed for many years. It was the right time to go because Saarinen had taken the World Championship by storm, in a similar style to Rossi and Marquez in later years. The previous year he won the 250 cc World Championship for Yamaha. The Japanese factory launched a two-stroke attack on the four stroke – dominated 500cc World Championship in 1973. They knew Saarinen was the man capable of their first and the first 500 cc two-stroke title. Of course, he did not let them down. He won the opening two rounds in France and Austria and only a broken chain prevented the hat trick in Germany. In addition, Saarinen won the opening three rounds in the defence of his 250-cc title. No wonder he was nicknamed the ‘Flying Finn.’

Such was the impact of his death that Yamaha immediately withdrew from the 500cc Championship for the remainder of the season and Monza did not stage another motorcycle grand prix for many years.

Ironically, it was at the TT races we fell in love with Italian Renzo Pasolini. The bespectacled Elvis Costello look alike on board that glorious looking and sounding Benelli won our hearts in the 1968 350 cc TT race in the Isle of Man. We sat on the wall at Greeba Castle and could hear at least five miles away first Giacomo Agostini on the MV Agusta and then Pasolini on the Benelli racing through the gears towards us with that glorious sound bouncing between the Manx stone walls and houses. The master Agostini arrived first, fast, smooth and so immaculate. It took us a good minute to catch our breath before Pasolini arrived in a very different but equally quick manner. He was all over the place and almost mounted the grass verge in front of us before disappearing leaving just the haze of exhaust fumes and that wailing sound as he stormed on towards Ballacraine. We were totally hooked.

I don’t think it’s fair to try and work out or compare how sportsman from different eras would have fared against each other but perhaps Jarno Saarinen should be the exception. Would he have been the greatest grand prix motorcycle racer in the 71-year history of World Championship racing?

I think he would.

By |2020-05-20T10:04:40+00:00May 20th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment

NOT TOO MANY THURSDAY AFTERNOONS LIKE THAT ONE

We would have been enjoying the Shark Helmets French Grand Prix at Le Mans this weekend. On the Thursday afternoon the usual pre-event press conference would be underway. Eight years ago Championship leader Casey Stoner more than brightened up the proceedings at one such conference

Let us be honest those essential pre-event press conferences on a Thursday afternoon were usually bland and boring most of the time. The riders would explain how they liked the circuit and everybody in the team was working so hard preparing for the race. There were some notable exceptions especially when Valentino Rossi was involved. The Gibernau and later Marquez condemnations in Sepang and the announcement that he was sacking Crew Chief Jerry Burgess in Valencia stand out. However, that Thursday afternoon in Le Mans eight years ago when Casey Stoner informed us he was retiring at the peak of his career came right of the blue. It caught everybody and especially Rossi by surprise.

Just 15 minutes before the conference was due to start in that tiny, dusty and dark press conference room at the back of the towering start and finish straight grandstand in Le Mans I was asked to get there early. On arrival in an even smaller room more like a Village Hall and full of stacked chairs behind the stage of the Conference room I met Casey and Repsol Honda Media Manager Rhys Edwards. They told me Casey would like to make an announcement before the start of the press conference. Dorna Communications Manager Ignacio Sagnier agreed, and I thought along with everybody else that Casey was going to announce a renewal of his Honda contract. A bit of real news to brighten up the Thursday proceedings.

The media duly assembled and jammed into the room. The riders sat down in their allocated places and I announced that Casey would like to make a statement. The World Champion did not bat an eyelid and calmly revealed that he’d enough of MotoGP in no uncertain terms and announced he was retiring at the end of the season. There was total silence for around ten seconds. The other riders and Valentino in particular were visibly shocked.

After all this was Casey Stoner. One of the great Australians who had brought Ducati their first premier class title and Honda their first 800 cc crown. Casey who had won 35 premier class grands prix including the last two in Jerez and Estoril. This was Casey who typically told Rossi that his ambition had outweighed his talent when the Italian went down pit lane to apologise after crashing the Ducati, that was once the Australian’s property, into him at turn one in Jerez the previous year. Casey who had made the legendary Phillip Island circuit his very own by winning the Australian Grand Prix for the previous five years. This was Casey who had won over the sceptical Rossi loving British fans with a stunning display of wet weather mastery at a cold wet Silverstone a year earlier.

With the stunned ten second silence coming to end people all around started to rise to their feet clapping. Soon everybody was standing and clapping a very special rider and World Champion.

There were not too many Thursday afternoons like that one before or after that.

 

By |2020-05-13T15:05:41+00:00May 13th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment

SPEACHLESS AT VALE’S GREATEST TRIUMPH

Nick Harris has witnessed all of Valentino Rossi’s 89 MotoGP wins but has commentated on only 88. It is hard to believe but it was 19 long years ago today that Valentino Rossi made it three wins in a row with victory on the 500 cc Honda at the 2001 Spanish Grand Prix at a packed crazy Jerez. It was the fifth of his 89 MotoGP wins and a real indication, not that we needed one, to what lay ahead.

 

I witnessed every one of those 89 victories but it would be a lie to state that I commentated on all of them because I was speechless at probably the greatest of them all.

What a time and place to lose your voice but it happened in the Californian sunshine at Laguna Seca in 2008. I started to croak during qualifying and the press conference on Saturday. By Sunday morning after BBC World Service had to curtail my pre-race chat back to London when that usually so loud voice finally gave up the ghost, I knew I had no chance. I sat at the back of the commentary box on the finish line at Laguna croaking with excitement as the brilliant Gavin Emmett and John Hopkins described that head to head confrontations of all confrontations between Rossi and Casey Stoner. That move at the legendary Corkscrew is still regarded by many but not Ducati, as one of Rossi’s greatest. This was a true World Champion at his very best and showing the World why regaining the title meant so much to him, Yamaha and Italy.

I remember that first win at the British Grand Prix at Donington Park in 2000. It was crucial to MotoGP in Britain with World Superbikes led by Carl Fogarty ruling the roost. Just 18,500 spectators turned up that whole weekend but Rossi’s win and Jeremy McWilliam’s third place lit the fire. There was three times the number one year later to cheer their new hero Rossi to victory.

Seventeen amazing years later in 2017 I was on the microphone at Assen when ‘the Doctor’ fought off the considerable challenge of Daniel Petrucci chasing his first grand prix win. It was his 89 th win in the Premier class and he came mighty close to making it 90 a year later in Malaysia when he crashed while leading with the chequered flag beckoning.

After my speechless performance at Laguna perhaps I am biased but my favourite victory in those 89 came at Welkom in South Africa in 2004. You could not have written the script. Rossi’s debut for Yamaha after leaving Honda going head to head with his bitter rival Max Biaggi who had left Yamaha to join Honda. Nobody, including myself gave Rossi much of a chance. Yamaha were in a big mess and had not won a race the previous year. Rossi changed all that in 28 laps of pure drama around the Phakisa Freeway circuit. Sliding the Yamaha and braking so late somehow he won the duel after an amazing last lap in which Biaggi set the fastest lap of the race.  At the finish Vale parked the M1 Yamaha against the guardrail kissed the number 46 as the tears flowed inside his helmet.

I was so lucky to commentate on the performance of somebody so special as I was for the other 88 wins minus one.

 

By |2020-05-06T08:53:45+00:00May 6th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on SPEACHLESS AT VALE’S GREATEST TRIUMPH

BEST KEPT SECRET

The good Dr Raines tells us that thirty-one years ago, today Eddie Lawson won his first grand prix for the Rothman Honda team at the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez. After winning three World 500 cc titles for Yamaha Eddie’s move to Honda for the 1989 season was a massive news story.

Behind the scenes Nick Harris was pulling the media strings before the announcement of Eddie’s defection to Yamaha’s great rivals Honda.

 

The phone rang very early one morning in December 1988. Either bad news or from Australia was my first thought as I picked up the phone to receive a right old ear bashing from  a furious Wayne Gardner at home in Wollongong. Did I know that Rothmans Honda had signed his bitter rival three times World Champion Eddie Lawson from Yamaha to be his new team-mate, he demanded. I did not know but I soon found out.

A couple of weeks later just before Christmas I was on the plane to Los Angeles with photographer Malcolm Bryan for a secret visit to Eddie in Uplands just outside LA. As Media Manager for the team I wanted to prepare everything for the announcement of the shock big signing in the new year. It was with more than a little trepidation we met Eddie the next morning in the lounge of the hotel decorated with Christmas trees and fairy lights. Nobody ever doubted Eddie as a truly great grand prix rider, but he could be ‘difficult’ with the media. I was worried that the extensive media campaign demanded by Rothmans would not be Eddie’s cup of tea, but I was wrong.

We had a wonderful and productive couple of days with the World Champion. Nothing was a problem for him as we photographed him running alongside a giant freight train in the desert, driving doughnuts on some vast salt flats and posing in front of his new house. We went out to dinner with his friends who honestly did not know he was a World Champion and a massive name in Europe because typically he had not told them. We flew home with everything we needed and more.

It was an amazing season with that first victory for the team at the fourth round in Jerez the start of the championship winning run. It was a scorching hot day with a typical vast noisy crowd packing every vantage spot around the legendary circuit. Kevin Schwantz looked a likely winner until he crashed, and Eddie took over to really kick–start his World Championship campaign in earnest. Wayne Rainey was second and led the Championship by ten points with Niall Mackenzie third.

Eddie followed up with wins in Belgium, France and Sweden before we set off for the party town of all-party towns, Goiania in Brazil for the final round of the 1989 Championship. Second place was enough for Eddie to join the greats by winning the 500cc World Championships on two different makes of machine. We partied and then Eddie returned to Yamaha with the job done.

He then joined Cagiva and brought them their first 500cc grand prix victory in Hungary before retiring at the end of 1992. Along with Phil Read one of the most underrated truly special riders in the 71-year history of the sport. Four World titles,31 grand prix victories say it all, not that Eddie would have ever told his mates back home.

By |2020-04-29T13:38:12+00:00April 29th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on BEST KEPT SECRET

Past and present: global impact on MotoGP™

Never since Grand Prix racing started in 1949 has the sport and more importantly the world faced anything so serious as the present pandemic. Being a sport that encompasses the globe MotoGP™ has and always will be experiencing world events well beyond just the confines of our sport.

In 1982 the opening Grand Prix of the season was held in Buenos Aires the capital of Argentina. Little did I realise what lay ahead as I first travelled by motorcycle on a six-day adventure from the bustling capital city to the border of Chile high in the magnificent Andes before returning for the Grand Prix. A stunning race between Kenny Roberts, Barry Sheene and Freddie Spencer made the perfect ending to a wonderful trip. Yes, we had stumbled on a massive demonstration by ‘los desaparecidos’ mothers whose sons had been abducted and slaughtered by the military junta. Also, there were military aircraft at the airport when I delivered some colour films from practice to be flown back to England, but we so enjoyed the party-loving and friendly city. It was only when we arrived back in England early on the Monday morning, we realised we had got out just in time. A day later all flights between Argentina and Great Britain were cancelled and war was declared between the two countries just two days later over the Falkland Islands dispute.

A year later the opening round of the Championship once again visited a country that was never far the front-page headlines. South Africa was strangled by the apartheid regime and I remember arriving at the airport in Johannesburg questioning my conscious if we should have been there. I left five days later absolutely certain Grand Prix racing had made the right decision. A united front by the Grand Prix community to ignore the segregation laws imposed on the black population. Sometimes it was not easy, and it would have been easy to turn a blind eye, but nobody did, and it meant so much to so many people. I hope the reaction of an international sporting community to apartheid was a shock to those in power.

In 2002 we flew into Melbourne airport surprised by the thousands of people waiting for the flights to arrive. Naively we thought they’d come to welcome the MotoGP™ riders on route to Phillip Island for the Australian Grand Prix, but they were there for a totally different reason. Just a few days earlier 88 Australians had tragically lost their lives in the Bali bombings and these were relatives of the survivors who were flying back home to their loved ones. I also remember after quietly leaving the airport and travelling down to Phillip Island Randy Mamola rushing to the local medical centre in Cowes offering to give blood.

Nine years later it was the MotoGP™ paddock that flew into Japan for the Grand Prix in Motegi. It was the first major sporting event to be staged in Japan since the earthquake and resulting tsunami had caused a postponement six months earlier. Despite real worries, which later proved unfounded, about a radiation leak at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station the Grand Prix went ahead. Full grids and some great racing brought both joy and relief to a Japanese nation who’d suffered so much uncertainty over the last six months.

When this coronavirus pandemic crisis finally ends, MotoGP™ will return to the racetracks of the world.

By |2020-04-23T13:29:12+00:00April 23rd, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment

Concorde announced Freddie’s Easter arrival

For British motorcycle racing fans, the Easter holiday weekend meant just one thing – the Transatlantic Trophy. Great Britain versus the USA at three so typically British racetracks. Brands Hatch on Good Friday, Mallory Park on Easter Sunday and finishing at Oulton Park on Easter Monday. Massive crowds packed the three circuits to witness the transatlantic showdown with World Champions Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts captaining their respect teams.

Good Friday in 1980 summed it up perfectly. The long wait in the traffic on the A20 unless you were lucky enough to be riding a bike, before reaching the grassy Brands Hatch car parks. Over 50,000 patriotic fans packed the 4.2 km circuit south of London to cheer on Barry Sheene and his team to take on ‘The Yanks’ captained by 500cc World Champion Kenny Roberts. Even the sun was shining.

As the teams prepared for the first round of the battle amid the screech, smoke and smell of two-stroke rocket ships all eyes turned towards the sky. The majestic shape of the supersonic Concorde aircraft leaving a white vapour trail in the blue sky as it roared overhead on route to New York from London Heathrow. Symbolically that white vapour trail announced the arrival on the World stage of an 18-year-old American. Frederick Burdette Spencer had arrived from Shreveport, Louisiana and everybody was about to take notice.

The fans cheered and waved their flags as the riders on the back of an open top lorry completed a lap of honour before the hostilities got underway. Only a few checked their programmes to check the identity of a shy teenager with a huge number eight emblazoned on the back of his blue and white leathers. They were glad they did.

Back in the paddock Erv Kanemoto was warming up the striking silver 750cc Yamaha on which Freddie was going to race for the very first-time outside America. The warning signs were there for the British team and fans with Freddie fastest in practice despite some electrical problems. Nobody was prepared for what happened.

It took Freddie just three laps of the undulating Brands circuit to force the crowd to re-check those well-thumbed programmes on just who was leading the race. Freddie just disappeared into the green Kent countryside leaving the likes of Sheene, Roberts and Graeme Crosby to fight for second.

An hour and a half later the crowd were ready, and Freddie did not let them down in the second race. He led from the start as the pack screamed into the infamous downhill Paddock Hill bend. Roberts and Randy Mamola chased hard, but this was the Silver Yamaha’s day and Freddie was a comfortable start to finish winner.

Just 48 hours into his first trip outside America Freddie had arrived. Three World titles, 27 Grand Prix wins and the only rider to complete the 250/500cc World Championship double in the same season shows we should have taken a little bit more notice of Concorde’s white vapour trails pointing all the way back to the United States on that sunny Good Friday afternoon 40 years ago.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00April 16th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Press Release|Comments Off on Concorde announced Freddie’s Easter arrival

Not only the greatest, but a true legend

My local radio station rang me last Thursday asking me to talk about my sporting legend who would have been celebrating his 80th birthday on that very same day. Oxford boy Stanley Michael Bailey Hailwood (Mike) – I could have talked about him all day long.

Nine times World Champion, 76 Grand Prix wins and 112 podium finishes in just 197 Grand Prix appearances, 14 TT wins on the Isle of Man and two podium finishes in the Formula One car World Championship speak for themselves. But there is so much more to Mike Hailwood who lived just over the hill from where I grew up just outside Oxford.

In 1961 he was the youngest ever winner of a premier-class World Championship race with victory at the TT on the Norton. That same year he became the youngster ever World Champion bringing Honda the 250cc title, the first ever for a Japanese factory. Six years later he won three Grand Prix races in one day at Assen. His wins in the 250, 350 and 500cc races came after 436 kms of racing flat out round the legendary venue. When he switched to four wheels, he won the European Formula Two Championship. In 1973 he was awarded the George Medal, Britain’s second highest bravery award, when he pulled Clay Regazzoni out of a burning Formula One Car with his own overalls on fire during the 1973 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami. In 1978 eleven years after his last motorcycle Grand Prix appearance he returned to two wheels to race at the most demanding and dangerous motorsport venue in the World and won. Hailwood was 38 years old when he returned to the 60.721 kms mountain circuit to send the Isle of Man crazy with the most highly acclaimed victory ever in the illustrious history of the TT races.

Tragically three years later Hailwood and his nine-year-old daughter Michelle lost their lives in a road traffic accident. Hailwood had set up a motorcycle retail business with former 250cc World Champion Rodney Gould and was driving to pick up fish and chips for supper with his daughter Michelle and son David. An articulated lorry illegally drove through a gap separating the duel carriageways and collided with Hailwood’s car.

I remember slouching to school one morning down Park End Street making up the usual excuses why I’d not done any homework when my future miraculously appeared right in front of my very eyes. In the window of Kings of Oxford motorcycle shop Mike Hailwood’s TT winning 250cc four-cylinder Honda reached out to me gleaming in the morning sunlight. Forget Maths, Physics and French homework, I knew where were my future lay.

In 1965 I travelled to the magical Isle of Man to watch my first ever World Championship race. Hailwood versus new boy Giacomo Agostini – surely it could not get any better, but it did. Both crashed at the same place but in separate incidents. Hailwood remounted the MV Agusta to win. I was totally hooked.

Fourteen long years later I was back in the Island working for Motor Cycle News. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I witnessed Hailwood’s last TT win on the 500cc two-stroke RG500 Suzuki in the 1979 Senior race.

Meeting your sporting hero is never easy and often unadvisable. You can end up so disappointed, but I was not. In 1968 I was working as a clerk in a Solicitors office. I was hopeless and very bored. The amiable boss of the firm rang me one afternoon asking me to come to his office. I thought it would be the usual please get your hair cut and trim your beard before meeting clients. He came to the door of his office and told me there was somebody I should meet. It was Mike Hailwood and for once in my life I was totally speechless as he shook my hand.

Mike Hailwood: my sporting hero and a total legend.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00April 9th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Not only the greatest, but a true legend

Happy 100th anniversary Suzuki

It’s an amazing racing heritage that has played such vital part in that 100-year Suzuki success story. As the Japanese factory celebrated its one 100th anniversary last week just reflect what an impact and influence, they have had in their 60 years of Grand Prix racing. Like all the major Japanese factories their success on the racetrack has enabled them to lead the world in innovative motorcycle manufacturing.

Suzuki followed Honda by understanding that success in the ultimate challenge, Grand Prix racing. They travelled to the legendary TT races in the Isle of Man. Just one year after Honda they competed for the first time in the 1960 three lap 125cc race. Two years later they took their first ever Grand Prix victory when Ernst Degner won the 50cc TT race round the infamous 60.721 kms mountain circuit. Since that day on the Isle of Man Suzuki have won 157 more Grands Prix. Including that first victory, they have won 30 in the 50cc class, 35 in the 125 and 93 in the 500cc/MotoGP™ classes. Degner followed his 1962 TT win with further victories in Holland, Belgium and West Germany bringing Suzuki their first World title the same year.

Suzuki led the revolution in bringing their two-stroke expertise into the premier 500cc class that had been dominated by the British and Italian four-strokes. In 1971 New Zealander Jack Findley re-wrote the history books at the Ulster Grand Prix. Not only did he bring Suzuki success for the first time in the premier class but also the very first two-stroke victory against the all-conquering four-strokes. The floodgates opened with a long haired loud British legend Barry Sheene spearheading the Suzuki onslaught riding the magnificent RG 500 four-cylinder rocket ship. Sheene brought Suzuki the 500cc World titles in 1976 and 77. He was followed by Italian’s Marco Lucchinelli and Franco Uncini in the early eighties.

Then Honda and Yamaha dominated before a hard riding rear tyre smoking Texan won back the title in 1993. Nobody embodies the Suzuki spirit of racing these incredible frighteningly fast and unpredictable two-strokes than the 1993 World Champion Kevin Schwantz. Once again Honda fought back but as the two-stroke stroke era was coming to a close the son of a rider who’d so often been the thorn in the side of Suzuki brought them their last World title. Kenny Roberts Junior closed the chapter on the all-conquering RG 500 story with a successful conclusion. The American clinched 2000 World 500cc title before Valentino Rossi and then the four-strokes took over.

Australian Chris Vermeulen brought Suzuki their first four stroke win at Le Mans in 2007 but these were tough times. After a brief respite Suzuki returned to the fray and were rewarded four years ago when Maverick Vinales brought them their first win for nine years. Last year in Austin Alex Rins put Suzuki back on the top step of the podium fighting off nobody less than a certain Valentino Rossi. The Spanish rider repeated their success at Silverstone with a famous win over World Champion Marc Marquez to add to the list of Suzuki Grand Prix winners.

Heading the honours board are New Zealander Hugh Anderson and Schwantz with 25 wins apiece. Schwantz took all his wins in the 500cc class but Anderson, on route to two 50cc and 125 cc World titles, won eight 50cc and 17 125cc Grands Prix. Sheene won 21 Grands Prix for Suzuki. Three in the 125cc class and 18 and two World titles on the 500

Suzuki embark on their new decade in great shape on the racetrack that has played such a major part of their history. Rins and Joan Mir look certain to continue that winning tradition embodied by Anderson, Degner, Sheene and Schwantz over the last 60 glorious years.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00April 2nd, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Happy 100th anniversary Suzuki

Top 10 motorcycling books

Here are a selection of the best motorcycling books that you can enjoy while we #StayAtHome. Which books would you have on your list?

Nick’s picks:

WAYNE RAINEY HIS OWN STORY – MIKE SCOTT
I will never forget that cloud of numbed silence that engulfed the Misano paddock on September 5, 1993. Nobody could or wanted to believe the news about Wayne. His life before the accident and even more after is vividly illustrated in a way that only Michael Scott can portray. A stunning read about darkness, courage and love.

THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES – CHE GUEVARA
It was only when I read the book that I realised I had ridden a large part this legend’s route through Argentina. In 1982 Peter Clifford and myself embarked on an incredible motorcycle journey from Buenos Aires to Chile before the Argentinian Grand Prix. Guevara’s steed was a 1939 500cc Norton nicknamed Poderosa 11. We rode a lot more modern Hondas. He went onto lead the revolution while our main worry was getting out of Argentina before the Falkland Islands War started.

THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE RACING – MIKE HAILWOOD AND MURRAY WALKER
This was my bible when I was growing up thinking that I was going to be a motorcycle racer. Those dreams ended in a muddy ditch beside Tumbledown Hill just outside my home village. I’d followed Hailwood’s advice about riding fast in the wet and discovered that I neither had the skill of courage to follow in his footsteps. Not many or if any others did.

STEALING SPEED – MAT OXLEY
This could have been a John L’Carre novel, but it was a true story brilliantly conveyed by my old friend Mat Oxley. In 1961 Ernst Degner defected to the West after the Swedish Grand Prix. Not only did the rider and his family defect but he brought with him all the two-stroke secrets from the East German MZ factory which he gave to Suzuki ultimately leading to World Championship success for both the rider and factory. Even John Le Carre would have struggled to make this story up.

THE WORLD’S FASTEST INDIAN – ROGER DONALDSON
What an inspiration this book about New Zealander Burt Munroe is to everybody and especially to people of my age. Burt Munroe followed his dream of setting a world speed record on his home built Indian Motorcycle. He defied all the odds to build the bike, travel to America and then ride to a new world record. Both the film starring Anthony Hopkins and the book graphically illustrate that you must never give up on your dream.

Martin’s picks:

STORY SO FAR – BARRY SHEENE
Like Valentino Rossi now, Barry Sheene was a rider whose fame went far beyond the world of motorcycling as well as a rider who came out on top of the 500cc world championship in both 1976 and 1977. This book was published after his World title win in 1976 and covers his rise to fame as well as his World Championship endeavours. The book is special to me as it covers the time when I first started to attend race events – the first of which was at Oulton Park in Easter 1972 when the young Sheene racing in white leathers stormed to victory in the 250cc and 500cc races. From that event onwards I was hooked!

TECHNIQUES OF MOTORCYCLE RACING – KENNY ROBERTS
This the modern version of the Murray Walker book that Nick has in his list. Written by Roberts in conjunction with Peter Clifford, who adds the engineering expertise, this book explains the physics of racing technique. When he arrived in Europe Roberts changed the approach to racing and this book explains how he did it, with a more analytical approach to understanding why and how a motorcycle responds as it does.

THE AGE OF SUPERHEROES – MAT OXLEY
If a photo can tell a thousand words then this is the book that confirms it – but in addition to those wonderful photos Mat, in his usual brilliant way, tells the story behind the photos. If you want to read about those heroes who rode the 500cc monsters without any electronic aids – then this is the book for you.

THE PRIVATEER – JON EKEROLD
In my 48 years of watching motorcycle racing, there may have been harder racers than Jon Ekerold – but I am not sure who they would be. In the 70s and 80s racing was very different from it is now: it was possible to go GP racing with a couple privately owned machines and a transit van. The existence was very much hand-to-mouth and the prize and start money from one race paid for the fuel to get to the next one. Jon Ekerold was one of many such racers, but one of the few to win a World title. This book tells the real story of Grand Prix racing in that era.

JARNO SAARINEN – KLAAS TJASSENS
For me the racing book that I wish had never been written. Jarno Saarinen is my all-time hero of racing. I cannot read this book without feeling great emotion these many years later: great sadness, along with anger that the riders of those days were treated so poorly with regard to safety. In the early 70s Saarinen was the man who was taking the Grand Prix scheme by storm, by challenging the dominance of the great Giacomo Agostini and his fabulous MV. Saarinen won the 250cc World title in 1972 and then was signed by Yamaha to lead their attack on the 500cc title in 1973. After dominating the early season events he arrived at Monza leading both the 250cc & 500cc championship standings, before events at Monza on the fateful day in May 1973 when he lost his life alongside Italian legend Renzo Pasolini.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00March 26th, 2020|Martin Raines Blog, News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Top 10 motorcycling books