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Criville started that Spanish record-breaking dream

We don’t know if it’s Fabio Quartararo or Pecco Bagnaia who will be crowned MotoGP™ World Champion in the next few weeks, but one thing for certain a record-breaking run will be coming to an end. Joan Mir set the record last season when he became the ninth successive Spanish winner in the premier class. It’s a record in the 73 years history of World Championship racing that has never been matched by another country. Even the greats including Giacomo Agostini, Mike Hailwood, Kenny Roberts and Mick Doohan couldn’t produce a similar consecutive winning run for their countries, although they have come close

It started in 2012 when Jorge Lorenzo won the second of his World titles. Marc Marquez arrived with a bang to win for the next two years with Lorenzo then winning the third and last of his titles in 2015, amid all the Rossi/Marquez controversy. Marquez returned to the top for the next four years with Mir making it nine in a row last year. It’s an amazing record considering how late Spanish riders found success in the premier class.

I’m sure you will not be surprised I had trouble pronouncing Alex Criville’s name correctly when he was the first Spanish winner in the 500cc class at the 1992 Dutch TT in Assen. Spanish riders who had tasted so much success in the smaller classes had found it tough when they moved up to the 500s. Criville’s win was a surprise, but he had opened the gates for both himself and the likes of Alberto Puig (another of Nick Harris nightmare pronunciations) and Carlos Checa

In the previous 33 years, celebrated World Champions had tried to step up but with little success. The late great Angel Nieto won 13 World titles and 90 Grands Prix in the 50, 80 and 125cc classes. He was such a legend, it’s rumoured the King of Spain persuaded Honda to lend Nieto one of World 500cc Champion Marco Lucchinelli’s NS 500cc machines for the 1982 Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama. It was not a successful outing and Nieto returned to dominate the smaller classes.

Sito Pons won two 250cc World titles in 1988/89 before returning to the 500cc class after finishing 13th in 1985. He was tenth in the 1990 500cc Championship which included a couple of fifth places.

Spain had to wait another seven years after Criville’s historic Assen victory to capture the 500cc World title. It was fitting that it was Criville who was crowned the 1999 Champion at Rio in Brazil. It could have come earlier but a certain Honda teammate to Criville called Mick Doohan had dominated the proceedings for five successive seasons before being forced to retire through injury.

Not surprisingly it is Italy and Agostini who are closest to that Spanish record. Ago won seven successive 500cc titles between 1966 – 1972. The USA, thanks to the efforts of Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz, won six between 1988 – 1993 while Doohan brought Australia five successive titles between 1994 – 1998. Britain’s Mike Hailwood won four successive titles between 1962 – 1965.

World Championship racing has changed so dramatically over the last three decades. All four Spanish premier class World Champions have come through the system and won World titles in the smaller classes before moving up to MotoGP™.  They will not make it 10 in a row this season. However, with the return to winning ways by Marc Marquez, the impressive debut of Jorge Martin, the resurgence of Mir and teammate Alex Rins and the arrival of Raul Fernandez from Moto2™, they will be right up there challenging for the ultimate prize in 2022 once again.

The Alex Criville win seems a long time ago; at least I can now pronounce his name correctly.

By |2021-10-20T19:19:48+00:00October 20th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|0 Comments

The waiting game – Rolls Royce or family time

Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) is discovering the wait is the worst part. So close to that MotoGP™ World title but then an agonising three-week gap, 21 days and counting, between Grands Prix. By the time the Frenchman reaches Misano at the end of the month, he will have run through his strategy a million times.

The second Grand Prix at Misano presents the Yamaha rider with his first chance to take the ultimate prize although with two more races before the end of the season, he may have to be even more patient. So, what does he do during those 21 days of waiting?

I’m sure he wants to ride motocross and dirt track to keep fit but do you risk injury. Of course he will be keeping fit, while also trying to relax at the same time. He is not the first potential World Champion to play the waiting game before the final showdown. They have faced the inactivity in very different ways.

Barry Sheene and Freddie Spencer were two very different characters until they jumped on a 500 cc two-stroke flying machine. Their approach to a final vital round epitomised just that and produced opposite outcomes.

The longest wait I remember was 28 days in 1983. Freddie won the penultimate round at Anderstorp in a controversial clash with his Championship rival Kenny Roberts. Two bends from the finish of the 30-lap race around the 4.031 km circuit, which doubled up as the local aerodrome, Freddie pushed his NS500 Honda up the inside of Kenny’s Yamaha. Both ended up on the grass but on the inside, Freddie reacted quicker and celebrated victory one bend later. Kenny was furious. The three-time World Champion being pushed wide by the young upstart chasing his first World title and opening a five-point lead in the Championship.

Both flew home to the States to contemplate what happened in Sweden, both as you would imagine had very different opinions. They relaxed with family and friends, played golf and went water skiing both in the knowledge that Freddie could finish second behind Kenny to take the title at the final showdown at Imola in Italy. Yamaha drafted in Venezuelan 250cc World Champion Carlos Lavado to help Kenny, but Freddie rode the perfect 25 laps to take the title.  Kenny won the race and tried every trick in his considerable repertoire to unsettle the Champion elect but to no avail. There was total chaos at the end, and I remember being jammed against the door of the medical centre waiting for the first interview with the new Champion as he took longer to produce a urine sample than he did to ride the last five laps earlier.

As you would imagine Barry Sheene’s approach to the Roberts threat was totally different. World Champion Barry knew it was probably going to come down to the final round in 1978 at the 22.835 km Nürburgring and typical he was determined to be ready long before that last race. Neither Kenny nor Barry had ridden 500cc machines at the legendary but ageing venue before. Kenny learnt his way around on a Yamaha Road bike and Barry in a brand new super luxurious and very expensive Rolls Royce Silver Shadow car.

Somehow Barry and his partner in crime Steve Parris persuaded Rolls Royce to lend them a Silver Shadow between the Dutch and Belgian Grands Prix. They decided the best way to test the car and learn the circuit was to have two days of driving around the most demanding Grand Prix circuit in history in a car that was totally unsuitable for such an excursion. They had a fantastic time, but the car was very second hand when handed back to Rolls Royce. Kenny won the first of his three World titles. The American finished third in the race won by Virginio Ferrari with Barry fourth. All that Rolls Royce time did not pay off and the car was certainly not sold as having one careful and considerate owner.

So make your choice Fabio – Rolls Royce or relax!

By |2021-10-14T10:19:39+00:00October 14th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The waiting game – Rolls Royce or family time

The Texas Tornado

Of course, Marc Marquez is Captain America after yet another stunning ride at Austin on Sunday to secure his 84th Grand Prix victory, but a trip to Texas always reminds me of one person who never won one. Passionate, patriotic, funny, fast and friendly earned Colin Edwards the title of the Texas Tornado. Colin was such a giant character in the MotoGP™ paddock even though he never won Grand Prix. He will rather be remembered as the double World Superbike Champion than the rider who competed in most premier class races without a win but take heart, he’s in good company.

One hundred and ninety-six MotoGP™ appearances which included five second places and seven thirds, but then there was Assen in 2006. Never has the crowd and the MotoGP™ community, with a few obvious exceptions, willed a rider to his first Grand Prix win with such passion. It was an all-American affair between Colin, riding the Camel YZR-M1 Yamaha and World Champion elect Nicky Hayden aboard the Repsol Honda. It all came down to the final famous Gert Timmer Chicane on the very last of the breath-taking 26 lap battle.

Edwards could see and smell the chequered flag as he led into the right-hander first part of the chicane. Hayden attempted to pass him, and Edwards lost control, ran onto the astroturf, crashed and was remounting as Hayden took the chequered flag that looked so likely to be his. It was just Hayden’s second Grand Prix win and those five extra points for the victory was the difference between him and Valentino Rossi at the top of the Championship standings at the end of the season. Second place in Assen would have put Hayden on equal points with Rossi who would have been crowned World Champion thanks to more Grands Prix wins. Colin Edwards knew his big chance had gone but had no idea at the time that his demise would bring the World title back to the States.

Looking back, I often can’t believe that there were certain other riders who never won Grand Prix. New Zealander Graeme Crosby won the Daytona 200 and TT in the Isle of Man but never a 500cc Grand Prix. In his 29 Grands Prix, a paltry number compared to Edwards he was second four times and third six times. Croz was on the podium at over a third of his Grands Prix riding both Suzuki and Yamaha machinery in the early eighties.

I know the old memory can play tricks but surely Ron Haslam won a Grand Prix in those 108 appearances, but once again the answer is no. ‘Rocket Ron’ finished third eight times and second once in the mid-eighties. The same for Niall Mackenzie with those seven third places.

One name that often goes unnoticed but not in the record books is Frenchman Raymond Roche. He went on to find success in the World Superbike Championship but before finished second five times and third four times. Roche finished third in the 1984 500cc World Championship behind Americans Eddie Lawson and Randy Mamola.

All these riders have had that Edwards Assen moment that they will never forget. One of today’s MotoGP gladiators Aleix Espargaro competed in his 263rd Grand Prix on Sunday in Austin. One hundred and ninety-three of those have come in the MotoGP™ class. This season at Silverstone he secured the Aprilia team their first-ever four-stroke MotoGP™ podium finish. He had finished on the podium twice before. He was second in the 2014 MotoGP™ race in Aragon riding the Forward Yamaha. Three years earlier Aleix finished third in the Barcelona Moto2™ race on the Pons Kalex.

Often after that initial Grand Prix win, they come along with much more regularity which has been proved by Pecco Bagnaia this year. There is absolutely no doubt the likes of Edwards, Crosby, Haslam, Mackenzie and Roche deserved at least one Grand Prix win to show for their considerable efforts. I don’t think anybody in the paddock would have begrudged them a place on the top step of the podium at least once. I think that goes for the modern-day MotoGP™ community as Aleix Espargaro strives for that first elusive victory.

 

By |2021-10-06T15:49:20+00:00October 6th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The Texas Tornado

Keeping that American Dream alive

I’ll never forget a couple of Eddie Lawson’s friends back home in Uplands California asking me over a beer what exactly Eddie did for a living. They knew it was something to do with racing motorcycles but nothing more. At the time Eddie was already three times World 500cc Champion and I was there to prepare the launch of his multimillion-pound switch to Honda in 1989. He was a sporting icon in Europe. Being so anonymous at home suited Eddie but it clearly illustrated just how tough it was to convince an American public what World Championship motorcycle racing was all about and at the time just what success, fame and fortune their countrymen had achieved on foreign shores. The return of Grand Prix racing to the States obviously helped, but it’s always been an uphill struggle.

Back in the sixties, Daytona hosted a couple of Grand Prix but the United States Grand Prix finally established itself at Laguna Seca in California and how we loved it. Who would not enjoy staying on the Monterrey peninsula jutting out into the Pacific Ocean? Sometimes the fog would roll in to engulf the circuit in the hills some 15 kms inland but usually the sun never stopped shining and then there was the Corkscrew. The likes of Kenny Roberts had been telling us about the Corkscrew for many years in his own bombastic style. When we arrived there for the first time in 1988, I rushed up to the Corkscrew for the first practice session and I had to admit to Kenny, which was never easy, he was right. Surely one of the most iconic strips of tarmac in the history of Grand Prix racing which gained legendary status thanks to a certain battle between Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner in 2008. I can still visualise them side by side on the brakes before plunging down the step and then off the edge of the World into the Corkscrew. Rossi was forced onto the outside and then onto the dirt and dust of the inside as they switched left to right coming out of the bottom, but he was still leading, with Stoner having to run wide to avoid a massive coming together.

Incredibly in that same year, suddenly, there were two Grands Prix in America when the most iconic motorsport battleground of them all – The Indianapolis International Speedway – staged its first motorcycle Grand Prix. In 1909 it was seven motorcycle races that opened the new circuit and although 99 years later the 4.216 kms Grand Prix track in the centre incorporating part of the famous oval was not that exciting, for me, just being there at ‘the Brickyard’ was enough. The biggest sports stadium in the World with a capacity of over 250,000 featuring the famous line of original bricks forming the start and finish line. I could smell the petrol and tyres and imagine the roar of the crowd above the announcer’s excited voice at the Indy 500 the first time I stepped into the vast empty arena.

I have made many gaffes during my commentary career but Indianapolis in 2008 was one my friends never let me forget. A hurricane was approaching fast, and the MotoGP™ race stopped after 20 laps and never re-started. That resulted in an enormous amount of talking about nothing by yours truly as the television audience was diminishing rapidly. Advertising hoardings were being tossed around in the threatening winds. It was an advertising banner being blown up pit lane that prompted me to announce there was a White Horse trotting up pit lane and rightly I’ve never been allowed to forget it.

It was not a white horse but the circuit dog that reminds me of the first time we went to the superb Circuit of the Americas at Austin in Texas in 2013. The first practice session had to be delayed because the circuit dog had escaped on the track but at least I got the correct animal this time. Would you believe there were three Grands Prix in America that year with Laguna Seca and Indianapolis on the calendar? Not only was the circuit the absolute test for riders and especially that massive climb to the first corner, but the town had the reputation as the finest live music venue in the World. Enough said, Austin was and still is a great place.

Austin is now the only circuit hosting Grand Prix motorcycle racing in America. It’s crucial the Circuit of the Americas continues staging MotoGP™ to keep that incredible heritage and American Dream alive.

By |2021-09-29T19:56:03+00:00September 29th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Keeping that American Dream alive

Brave Dovi bucks trend to set record

While the world of sport enthuses about the performance of two teenage tennis players, Andrea Dovizioso bucks the trend. The 35-year-old Italian returned to the MotoGP™ fray at Misano on Sunday. He may be almost double the age of 18-year-old Emma Raducanu who won the US Open tennis grand slam last week, but Dovi has committed himself to a Championship that is embracing the surging wave of youth as much as any other sport. Dovi’s return to the saddle after almost a season on the sidelines also produced a record that may never be matched

For the first time in the 73-year history of World Championship motorcycle racing,14 premier class Grand Prix winners lined up on the grid for the 27-lap race at Misano on Sunday. With the return of Dovizioso and with Franco Morbidelli also returning to the Yamaha fold after injury, the record was broken.

Dovi has the remainder of the season replacing Morbidelli in the Petronas SRT Yamaha team to prepare for next season when Yamaha have promised a full factory M1 machine. On Sunday he lined up alongside Valentino Rossi in the Petronas team. Between the two with a combined age of 77 years, they have started in 756 Grand Prix with 598 of them coming in the premier class. A record you cannot ever see being eclipsed although we probably thought that about the number of Grand Prix winners on the starting grid

It’s a brave move by Dovi and he knows better than anybody just how tough it will be, but he has the experience to make it work. This will be the third full factory bike he has ridden in the MotoGP™ class. He brought the Repsol Honda team success in the 2009 British Grand Prix and after one season with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team switched to Ducati. He won the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix and the floodgates opened. The only problem was a certain Marc Marquez was at his peak and despite some masterful breath-taking duels against the Spanish Honda rider that World title never came his way despite 13 more Grands Prix wins. Three years in succession between 2017 – 2019 he finished runner-up in the Championship behind Marquez. His last Grand Prix win came in Austria last year.

When I hear of a rider finishing runner-up in the MotoGP™ Championship three times I always think of Randy Mamola. The exuberant Californian finished runner-up four times after winning 13 Grand Prix. There was no Marquez to spoil his fun in the eighties but the foursome of Kenny Roberts, Marco Lucchinelli Eddie Lawson and Wayne Gardner which was just as formidable. Two so different characters but brilliant on two wheels. Unlike Mamola at least Dovi has tasted World Championship success. He won the 125cc World title in 2004 and was runner-up in the 250cc Championship on two occasions in 2006 and 2007

What lies ahead for the 35-year-old was never better illustrated than on his return to the track over the weekend. He qualified on the back row of the grid alongside Grand Prix winners and fellow Italians Valentino Rossi and Danilo Petrucci. Who would have ever believed such a back row a couple of years ago? Dovi finished 21st in the race won by 24-year-old Pecco Bagnaia who was at Pramac Racing last year.

Stopping the charge of youth is a mighty big challenge even for somebody as level-headed and thoughtful as Dovizioso. He is under no illusions and if he was, he should have watched that New York tennis final last week. It’s going to be a fascinating battle and without a doubt 24 times Grand Prix winner Dovizioso’s biggest ever challenge.

Finally, can you name those 14 premier Grand Prix winners on the Misano grid?

By |2021-09-22T20:54:39+00:00September 22nd, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Brave Dovi bucks trend to set record

Loyalty will be rewarded – patience pays off

Two brilliant wins this week, one on two wheels and the other on four, emphasised that loyalty will be rewarded. Pecco Bagnaia’s magnificent first premier class win at MotorLand Aragon on Sunday coming seven days after Max Verstappen’s Formula One win at Zandvoort sent Holland crazy, were a perfect illustration. The problem is those rewards can be just around the corner for some, but decades away for others

Bagnaia’s successful fight with Marc Marquez secured Italy their 250th premier class victory. Verstappen’s home win in among the Zandvoort sand dunes brought unbelievable celebrations from the patriotic success-starved home crowd. No wonder Holland celebrated because motorsport success, especially on the tarmac, is long overdue to a nation that shows amazing loyalty even without one of their own winning races. What other sport could produce such loyalty despite not witnessing a home rider winning a premier class MotoGP™ race for 40 years.

Name me another sport that could attract record crowds each year to the Assen circuit which has staged Grand Prix racing right from the start in 1949 and has rightly earned the title as the Cathedral of Grand Prix racing. It’s not only the Dutch that have shown such loyalty. Huge crowds flock to the Sachsenring each year despite the only German victory in the premier class coming 47 years ago. Two weeks ago, the restricted Silverstone attendance was sold out despite a British rider never winning a premier class race at his home Grand Prix since it arrived from the Isle of Man.

The Dutch certainly know how to party which I found out 41 years ago. It was one of my first assignments as a Grand Prix reporter to 1980 Dutch TT. Local hero Jack Middelburg won the 16 lap 500cc race from Graziano Rossi and Franco Uncini to spark off celebrations from the 100,000 plus crowd I’ve barely witnessed since. The place went completely crazy. Not the organised pyrotechnics of Zandvoort last week but just an outburst of orange and joy fuelled by some local brews that seemed to go on forever

I rather naively thought every Grand Prix would be like that, but Assen that afternoon, evening and night set a precedent that has barely been surpassed. A year later Middelburg won the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and that was that. A Dutchman never won another premier class race. Nine years later in 1990 Wilco Zeelenberg won the 250cc German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring and Hans Spaan won five 125cc Grands Prix and secured the last ever Grand Prix victory for a Dutch rider, but the crowds continued to flock to Assen every single year.

Despite great success in the smaller classes thanks to the efforts of the likes of Toni Mang, Dirk Raudies, Ralf Waldmann and Stefan Bradl, Germany has only tasted success in the premier class on one occasion and even then, it was controversial. Edmund Czihak won the 1974 500cc German Grand Prix race at the Nürburgring when all the top riders boycotted the race on safety grounds

Cal Crutchlow has brought some much-needed joy to British fans with three premier class wins, but they had to wait 35 years. Before Crutchlow the last British premier class winner was Barry Sheene in 1981 in a sport once dominated by British riders and machinery. They flocked to Silverstone a couple of weeks ago in the knowledge that no British rider had won the premier class race on home soil since it switched from the TT Mountain circuit in 1977.

It was no great surprise that sidecar racing was so popular in Holland, Germany and Great Britain. All three countries produced some brilliant World Champions on three wheels for fans baying for Grand Prix success. No wonder they hosted sidecar World Championship races long after sidecar racing ceased to be part of the official World Championship in 1996.

Sidecar racing will never return to the official World Championship calendar. Max Verstappen may reward those Dutch fans with the Formula One World Championship but what those Dutch, German and British fans really deserve for their loyalty and patience is the ultimate reward of MotoGP™ success. The long wait, however long, will be worth it. Just ask Fabio Quartararo and those French fans.

 

By |2021-09-15T19:50:06+00:00September 15th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Viñales and Ronaldo make headline transfer debuts

It promises to be some weekend for a couple of headlines making sportsmen starting somewhat unexpected new careers. While footballer Cristiano Ronaldo makes his much-publicised debut for Manchester United at the Old Trafford stadium, Maverick Viñales will have already embarked on his new career at MotorLand Aragon

Footballers moving clubs during the season is an accepted part and parcel of the game. Moving manufacturers during the MotoGP™ season is virtually unheard of, but the Spanish rider has done just that. He makes his Aprilia debut on Friday morning after leaving the Monster Energy Yamaha factory team. Ronaldo is a proven record-breaker, while Viñales is seeking a record that only one rider has ever achieved in the 73 years of World Championship racing in the premier class.

Only Mike Hailwood has won premier class Grands Prix in the same season riding for different manufactures. Others have come close but in 1961 the rider who went on to win nine World titles set a record that has never been matched. The British rider won the third round of the Championship in the Senior TT on the Isle of Man Mountain circuit riding a Norton. Before the season ended, he joined Gary Hocking, who went on the win the Championship, in the Italian MV Agusta team. Hailwood won the Nations Grand Prix at Monza in Italy.

A year earlier another British rider came close.  John Hartle finished second in the Senior TT in the Isle of Man riding an MV Agusta in what today we would call a wild card entry. He then raced the remainder of the season on a Norton, which included a win at the Ulster Grand Prix.

In 1964 Phil Read, who went on to win 125, 250 and 500cc World titles, had three podium finishes riding Matchless machinery, before swapping to Norton to win the Ulster Grand Prix on the Dundrod road circuit.

Six years later in 1970 Italian Angelo Bergamonti started the season riding an Aermacchi and then was drafted into the MV Agusta team to support Giacomo Agostini. Bergamonti scored a couple of podiums earlier in the year at Opatija and Assen on the Aermacchi before the switch. He then won the final race of the year for MV Agusta at Monjuich Park in Barcelona after finishing second behind his new team-mate at Monza two weeks earlier. Agostini, having won the title missed that final round to race in a British international event.

Viñales won the opening round of this year’s MotoGP™ World Championship under the Losail International floodlights in Qatar riding for the factory Yamaha team. Last weekend at the Monster Energy British Grand Prix at Silverstone his new teammate Aleix Espargaro brought the Aprilia team their first-ever podium finish in the MotoGP™ four-stroke era with a brilliant third place.

The stage is set for Viñales to emulate Hailwood before the end of the season. A couple of weeks ago his fellow transfer debutant Ronaldo smashed the international football goal scoring record.

It’s now your turn Maverick.

 

By |2021-09-08T20:51:49+00:00September 8th, 2021|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Viñales and Ronaldo make headline transfer debuts

Vale at Vale – gone forever

All that hassle was worth it in one precious moment when I understood exactly why I was there. The pilgrimage had begun at 6.30 on Sunday morning. Even before my alarm went off, I could hear the bikes racing down the nearby A420. It may have been 35 kms from Silverstone but the yellow army was already on the move.

Nothing had changed from our early racing days. Somebody was always late and 50 years later it was the same person. By the time we reached the legendary Green Man pub a couple of kilometres from the Silverstone entrance the traffic was stop and start in double lanes with motorbike after motorbike racing down the middle. Every car and every bike were part of the yellow army. Tee shirts, caps, flags and rucksacks with a simple message in a number – 46 ruled.

As we slowly but surely edged our way nearer and nearer to the entrance I remembered those Sandwiches my mum always lovingly prepared for lunch on race days. I’d always eaten them before we actually arrived.

The car park appeared a long way from the circuit, but we joined the yellow army now marching on foot towards their goal. Over the bridge and a long snaking queue greeted us. This was England and nobody moaned. Nobody jumped in and 40 minutes later our precious tickets were scanned, and we were in.

Now we had to find the grass bank in front of the grandstands at the entrance to Vale corner at the bottom end of the circuit to meet my old friend MotoGP™ statistician Martin Raines. There were plenty of human obstacles to slow our progress. Long queues blocked the roadways which had to be negotiated. People waited and were prepared to wait to buy their VR46 memorabilia for the last time, sample a burger and chips and even go to the loos.

After much searching and phone calls we finally located the good Doctor Raines sitting right next to a family with an enormous 46 flag and union jack at the top of the pole. Somebody more sensible than me had bought some fold-up chairs, definitely something we’d never considered 50 years ago. We settled down to watch an afternoon of MotoGP™.

Only in England would Moto3™ winner Romano Fenati receive polite applause more accustomed to a game of cricket, but he did, perhaps added with a few air horns but the big moment was approaching. Twenty-one years earlier I’d commentated on Valentino Rossi’s first win in the premier class of Grand Prix racing at the British Grand Prix at Donington and here he was making his final appearance on these shores where World Championship racing had started back in 1949. Even before he’d arrived down at Stowe corner on his sighting lap our grass bank at Vale had turned into a sea of yellow. Number 46 was getting the send off he deserved from the success-starved loyal British fans who had adopted him as one of their own a long time ago.

Those home fans are totally unique and so loyal. Every time Jake Dixon appeared in last place in the 20-lap race on a decent MotoGP™ debut they stood and cheered his considerable efforts. They gave equal encouragement and appreciation to race winner and Championship leader Fabio Quartararo but then they let go. Valentino Rossi arrived on his slowing down lap, his last ever lap in Britain and at Silverstone. The last time that number 46 would grace this hallowed tarmac.

At Club corner, he stopped the Petronas Yamaha SRT machine and bid a final farewell to the crowd. Then he was gone, gone forever.

I did have a tear in my eye but please don’t tell my mates.

By |2021-09-01T20:22:20+00:00September 1st, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Silverstone – The First Ten Years

The first Grand Prix to be held at Silverstone was in 1977, when the British round of the world championship was moved from its previously traditional home of the Isle of Man TT circuit.  The Grand Prix was held for ten successive years at the Northampton circuit, before moving to Donington:

1977 – This was the final race of the season and British hopes were high for a win in the 500cc class by a home rider, with reigning champion Barry Sheene qualifying on pole on his factory Suzuki.  However Sheene retired with mechanical problems on lap nine.  This left the door open for team-mate Steve Parrish to lead the race into the closing stages only to crash with a couple of laps to go.  Fellow Britain John Williams then moved into the lead before he also crashed out.  Finally the third factory Suzuki rider, American Pat Hennen, took the victory.  Kork Ballington had a double victory in the 350cc and 250cc classes on his private Yamaha machines and in the 125cc race, Pierluigi Conforti took his only ever GP victory.

1978 – The 500cc GP ended in chaos, after rain started to fall mid-way through the race.  With no specific rules to deal with such a situation, the riders had to enter the pits to change tyres.  Barry Sheene (Suzuki) was by far the quickest rider after the tyre change but suffered with a pit stop that took over 7 minutes.  By contrast the eventual winner Kenny Roberts (Yamaha) was in the pits for less than 3 minutes.  Splitting these two riders on the podium was Britain’s Steve Manship, who had gambled on starting the race with intermediate tyres.  Kork Ballington (Kawasaki) won the 350cc race from British riders Tom Herron and Mick Grant.  Toni Mang scored the first of his record 33 victories in the 250cc class, with Herron once again finishing second.  Angel Nieto won the 125cc race riding a Minarelli from British rider Clive Horton.

1979 – The two top riders of the day, Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts, exchanged the lead throughout the 500cc race.  Roberts eventually took the win by 0.03 seconds in one of the closest finishes of all-time.  In the 250cc race Morbidelli factory rider Graziano Rossi (Valentino’s father) fell on the final lap of the race when holding a two second lead.  Kork Ballington (Kawasaki) took advantage of Rossi’s misfortune to win the race and then did the double by winning the 350cc race.  Angel Nieto repeated his 125cc victory of the previous year.

1980 – After a great battle early in the 500cc race, Randy Mamola (Suzuki) pulled clear of fellow American Kenny Roberts to win the race with Marco Lucchinelli finishing third and Graziano Rossi finishing fourth.  Toni Mang (Kawasaki) won the 350cc race and Kork Ballington (Kawasaki) was once again victorious in the 250cc class.  In the 125cc class Loris Reggiani (Minarelli) took his first ever Grand Prix win.

1981 – The edge was taken of this race as early as the third lap when race leader and pole position man Graeme Crosby crashed and took out Barry Sheene and forced championship leader Marco Lucchinelli into the catch fencing.  Dutchman Jack Middelburg (Suzuki) went on to win the race from Randy Mamola and Kenny Roberts.  This was the last time that a premier-class GP race was won by a true privateer rider.  Toni Mang (Kawasaki) won both the 350cc and 250cc race.  The home crowd were given something to cheer with Keith Huewen finishing second in the 350cc race.  Angel Nieto (Minarelli) won in the 125cc class at Silverstone for the third time.

1982 –   Barry Sheene had a huge crash in practice that eliminated him from the 500cc race and Kenny Roberts’ race was short lived with a crash at the first corner.  With his two main challengers out of the race, Franco Uncini (Suzuki) cruised to a comfortable victory which effectively sealed the world title.  Jean-Francois Balde (Kawasaki) won a tremendous 350cc race and Martin Wimmer (Yamaha) won the 250cc race from pole having crashed out of the earlier 350cc race which he also started from pole.  Angel Nieto won the 125cc race once again – this time riding a Garelli.

1983 – The 500cc race was run in two parts, after the race had been stopped due to a big crash in which Norman Brown and Peter Huber lost their lives.  Kenny Roberts took overall victory from great rival Freddie Spencer with Randy Mamola making it an all USA podium.  There was an historic win in the 250cc race with Jacque Bolle giving Pernod their one and only GP victory.  Angel Nieto won the 125cc race at Silverstone for the fifth time.

1984 – Riding as a replacement for the injured Freddie Spencer, Randy Mamola won first time out on the V-four Honda from fellow American Eddie Lawson and British rider Ron Haslam.  Christian Sarron (Yamaha) won the 250cc race on the way to taking the world title and Angel Nieto won the 125cc race and in doing so clinched his 13th and last world title.

1985 – In horrendously wet conditions, Freddie Spencer (Honda) won the 500cc race after finishing fourth in the earlier 250cc race to clinch the world championship title.  British rider Alan Carter had led the 250cc race until mid distance before crashing and re-starting to finish seventh.  Toni Mang (Honda) took the 250cc race victory from Reinhold Roth and Manfred Herweh in an all German podium.  Austrian rider August Auinger (Monnet) won the 125cc race.

1986 – As in the previous year, the event was held in terrible wet weather.  Wayne Gardner (Honda) had a start to finish win in the main race after starting from pole position.  Winner of the 250cc race was Dominique Sarron (Honda) – brother of the winner of the race in 1984.  Alan Carter crashed out of the 250cc race once again; this time on the last lap while challenging for the lead.  August Auinger (Bartol) repeated his 125cc win of the previous year.  History was made in the 80cc race held in the dry weather on Saturday, when Ian McConnachie (Krauser) became the only British rider to win a Grand Prix race for solo motorcycles around the Silverstone circuit.

By |2021-08-26T19:03:44+00:00August 26th, 2021|Martin Raines Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Silverstone – The First Ten Years

Stick or twist in British casino

Brad Binder showed just what a good poker player he would be with that victory in Austria. The KTM rider stuck and stayed out in the rain while others twisted and came in to change tyres. The riders arrive at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix this week knowing such poker decisions have won and lost races both at Silverstone and Donington in the past – it probably has something to do with the weather

It started back in 1978 and just the second time Silverstone had replaced the Isle of Man as the British venue for the British round of the World Championship. The result 43 years ago is still hotly disputed. The 28 lap 500cc race, that played a massive part in the outcome of World Championship battle between local hero and World Champion Barry Sheene and the American ‘upstart’ Kenny Roberts began in the dry. The majority of the riders started on slicks but somebody with a bit of local knowledge knew better. British Champion Steve Manship looked at the dark clouds rolling over the flat Northamptonshire countryside and went for intermediates, the cross between slicks and wets on his Suzuki.

When the rain arrived, it arrived in true British style. Big wet heavy drops of liquid falling out of the leaden sky soaking the Silverstone tarmac in seconds. The wet patriotic British crowd had come to support Sheene but soon realised from underneath their umbrellas that Manship’s gamble could bring home success. At the end of lap 13 Roberts twisted and pulled into the pits realising if he had any chance of winning, he had to change tyres. No jumping from one Yamaha to other in those days but just getting down to the business of changing wheels. The Cal Carruthers led Robert’s team were experts. They had started the season with just one Yamaha and were experienced at the complicated and precise procedure. This was no modern Formula One wheel change, but they still managed it in two and half minutes. Others such as Sheene’s Suzuki team were less experienced and took up to seven minutes.

It was a total nightmare for the lap scorers. Peering through the fogged-up windows and driving rain with stopwatches in hand trying to note down the riders’ numbers as they raced through the spray to start a new lap. Nobody was absolutely sure the exact positions but with 15 laps remaining it appeared that Roberts was lapping ten seconds a lap quicker than leader Manship. Going into the last lap Manship was still leading but Roberts passed him halfway round the 4.170 kms circuit and was declared the winner. Second placed Manship and third placed Sheene were not so sure, but the result remained, and Roberts was on route to that first 500cc title.

Probably the best-remembered twist or stick decision at the British Grand Prix came 22 years later in the 2000 250cc race at Donington Park. The 27-lap race started in slightly damp conditions. The majority of the riders started on slick, or hand-cut slick tyres. Ralf Waldmann and Naoki Matsudo decided to take the gamble on starting on wets and it appeared very much wrong decision. Olivier Jacque led the way on the Tech 3 Yamaha but with nine laps remaining the rain arrived. At this stage Waldmann on the Aprilia was one minute 40 seconds behind the leader. He was cutting great swathes out of that time advantage lap by lap but with two to go he was still 24 seconds behind the Frenchman. Coming into the last lap they were still separated by the length of the start and finish straight but on the run to the finish line Waldmann raced past the future World Champion for a famous victory. The gamble had paid off, but it doesn’t always.

In 2009 again at Donington it misfired for the Ducati duo of World Champions Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner. They chose wet weather tyres at the start of the 30 lap MotoGP™ race. The track was damp, and rain was expected. It came but not in enough quantity to help them. They eventually finished 15th and 14th respectively in the race won by Andrea Dovizioso on his one and only victory for Repsol Honda.

The riders arrive at Silverstone knowing that those big decisions can and have played such a massive part in the outcome of the race. Hopefully there will be no stick of twist decisions to make, and the sun will shine all day on Sunday.

By |2021-08-26T10:05:03+00:00August 26th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Stick or twist in British casino