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Local hero – crazier than crazy

Le Mans is always a crazy place but this weekend it is going to be even crazier. Returning home to race for the first time after conquering the World is the stuff of legends. On Sunday MotoGP World Champion Fabio Quartararo sets foot on the hallowed tarmac at the home of French Motorsport to race on home soil for first time since becoming the only Frenchman to win the premier class World Championship. It will be such a special moment for the French Yamaha rider and those fervent French fans who are never afraid to express their emotions and drink plenty of beer. If possible, the support and celebrations could reach another level if this year’s Championship leader wins the race. It has been done by other returning heroes. For some it took just a few weeks. For others it took years, while for some it never happened.

Three weeks after bringing Ducati their first premier class title in 2007 at the home of Honda, Motegi in Japan, Casey Stoner returned home to a hero’s welcome at Phillip Island. I think the adulation he received from the whole sports’ mad country even surprised cool Casey, but he produced the goods on a race track he loved. Not only did he comfortably win the race from team-mate Loris Capirossi and Valentino Rossi but went on to win at Phillip Island for the next five years before retiring

They love their sporting heroes in Australia, and one brought the country to a complete halt. In 1987 Wayne Gardner became the first Australian to win the premier class World title. Australia went Grand Prix mad. Every race was shown live on terrestrial television the Phillip Island circuit, more famous for its penguins, was totally renovated to stage the very first Australian Grand Prix in 1989. Gardner, who been voted Australian Sportsman of the Year in 1987 ahead of Wimbledon tennis champion Pat Cash, had lost his title to Eddie Lawson in 1988. He arrived at the second round of the 1989 Championship in poor shape after almost losing a vital part of his anatomy in a fearsome slide and collision with the fuel tank while finishing fourth at Suzuka in Japan. Australia held its breath and Gardner did not let them down. Just 0.47s separated winner Gardner, Wayne Rainey and Christian Sarron after 30 laps of pure theatre that had the whole nation on hold. First over the barriers opposite pit lane onto the track to celebrate was my sister-in-law, a senior nursing sister at a Perth hospital. She was followed by thousands of others as Australia went crazy. Getting off the Island by the bridge or ferry was impossible that night. The 100 kms trip to Melbourne the next morning took hours with the roads adorned with flags and banners. Front page headlines in every newspaper and television and radio news programmes.

Five times World Champion Mick Doohan returned home for the first race of the 1995 season at Eastern Creek on the outskirts of Sydney after winning his first title the previous year. He celebrated with a comfortable victory over fellow Australian Darryl Beattie.

Jorge Lorenzo only had to wait four weeks after clinching his first MotoGP title at Sepang in 2010. At the final round he celebrated his title with victory over Stoner and Rossi in Valencia. Marc Marquez won at Jerez in 2014 and Valentino Rossi at Mugello in 2002 on their first home appearances as premier class World Champions. Wayne Rainey returned to win at Laguna Seca in 1990 after winning his first World title the previous year.

Not every Local Hero story had a happy ending. Barry Sheene was a national icon in Britain after winning the 1976/77 500cc World titles and fighting back from serious injuries with a cigarette in his mouth, a girl on his arm and a word for everybody. In 1977 the British round of the World Championship switched from the TT circuit in the Isle of Man that had staged the first ever World Championship race in 1949, to Silverstone on the mainland for the first time. Sheene had already retained his World title at Imatra. He was desperate to become the first ever winner of the British Grand and the nation was behind him. Sheene was side-lined with mechanical problems but was on the pit wall hanging out that famous ‘Gas it W…..’ to his great friend Steve Parrish who was leading with a few laps remaining. Spots of rain began to fall. Parrish crashed, followed by second placed John Williams and American Pat Hennen grabbed his second Grand Prix win. A British rider still has never won the Premier class race at his home Grand Prix.

Fabio, prepare yourself for the weekend of all weekends!

 

By |2022-05-12T08:18:56+00:00May 12th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|0 Comments

Jerez made me realise I still have a long way to go

Oh dear, just when I thought I was getting over it along came Jerez. Grand Prix and TT winner Mick Grant once told me he did not go near a racetrack for six years after he retired from racing.  Last year I went to Silverstone which was my first visit to a MotoGP™ race in four years after I’d left the commentary box for the last time. I honestly thought I was, at last, starting to get over the MotoGP™ experience. I smiled when I thought of Mick’s six years in the wilderness. But I was wrong. Jerez on Sunday is to blame

Who could not love the place? Packed hillsides, bright sunshine, an atmosphere like a football match and then of course there is the racing. For 36 years fans throughout Europe have been flocking south to Andalusia at the start of May. It is an annual pilgrimage to an area, not just a circuit, that breathes the very soul of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. I could feel and smell it as I turned up the volume on the remote control on Sunday and I wanted to be there.

I remember that very first Grand Prix at Jerez in 1987. Flying to Gibraltar and landing in a gale. Driving through the Andalusian hills and past lakes to arrive at a city that was famous for its sherry. Wayne Gardner won that first 500cc race from Eddie Lawson with British riders Ron Haslam third and Niall Mackenzie fourth, respectively. Who will forget the celebrations in 1995 when Alberto Puig became the first Spanish rider to win a 500cc Grand Prix on home soil. A year later the chaos when the crowd invaded the track on the last lap thinking the race was over to celebrate an Alex Criville win. World Champion Mick Doohan somehow missed the invaders and won the race with Criville crashing on the last bend. Doohan’s practice crash in 1999 that brought the five-times World Champion’s career to an end. On a personal level Bradley Smith’s first 125cc Grand Prix win in 2009. Then of course there have been the confrontations.

Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) at the dreaded Turn 13, now re-named the Lorenzo corner after the five-time Jerez winner. Who can forget Casey Stoner questioning nine times Jerez winner Valentino Rossi’s talent after a collision at Turn one 11 years ago?

I worked at a couple of Formula One car Grand Prix at the circuit, but the crowds were small, and the atmosphere was flat. This is motorcycle racing country and everything that goes with it. Proper fish and chips at El Puerto Santa Maria, the street racing in Jerez, fans pouring out of the clubs as we were driving to the circuit in the morning. Even those massive traffic queues of the nineties now make me smile although not at the time. That wonderful first cold beer sitting outside the Don Pepe restaurant after a hard day in the office/paddock.

Sunday’s MotoGP™ winner Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) said it had been a beautiful day at Jerez on Sunday. He was absolutely right. It made me realise I still have a long way to go. Mick Grant was right.

 

By |2022-05-04T19:09:01+00:00May 4th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Jerez made me realise I still have a long way to go

Class act – it had to be Jerez

The venue had to be Jerez to induct one of the true stars of the last decade into the MotoGP™ Hall of Fame on Saturday. When we talk about the aliens the names of Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, and Casey Stoner flow but Jorge Lorenzo was right up there with the very best. On his day Jorge was unbeatable. That smooth, round the outside style a throwback to the days of Hailwood and Agostini. Jorge was something very special and he made it look so easy

It was a style that brought him 68 Grands Prix victories and five world titles. Forty-seven of those came in the MotoGP™ class on his way to three premier class world titles. Three of those came towards the end his career on the Ducati. He won the 250cc World Championship in 2006/07 winning 17 Grands Prix for Aprilia before joining Rossi at Yamaha. He started his first three MotoGP™ races from pole and won in just his third race at Estoril in Portugal.

It was never going to be easy on and off the track being team-mate to ‘God’ Rossi. The first three poles and then the race victory did nothing to cement a relationship. Rossi soon realised that Lorenzo was not only a young teammate but a real threat to his superiority and riding the same Yamaha machinery. The usual fun and games started, including a wall down the middle of the Yamaha garage to separate the two teams. Jorge stood firm and was determined not to be Rossi’s fall guy. He won his first premier class title in 2010. Jorge repeated the victory two years later and won again in 2015 when the eyes of the world were focused on the Marquez/Rossi feud.

So why is Jerez such a special place for Jorge? Not quite a love hate relationship with a lot more love than hate. He arrived at Jerez from Mallorca at the beginning of May 2002 ready to make his Grand Prix debut in the 125cc Spanish Grand Prix but had to wait. He celebrated his 15th birthday on the Saturday by riding in the third practice session after missing the two Friday sessions because he was too young.

His domination of the 2006 and 2007 World 250cc Championships on the Aprilia was never better emphasised than with his two Jerez wins in those years. Jorge won his first MotoGP™ race at Jerez in 2010 on route to his first premier class World title. He won again two years later and then in 2015, the year of his final world title.

It did not always go to plan for him at Jerez and especially with the eyes of the world focused on his victory celebrations after his first MotoGP™ win at the circuit. He had witnessed so many times first-hand the legendary victory celebrations of teammate Rossi and decided he should and could match them. After victory at Estoril in 2009 he dressed as an astronaut and completed a slow-motion moonwalk through the gravel track to plant a Lorenzo Land flag. A year later it all went terribly wrong at Jerez at the second Grand Prix of the season.

After winning a fantastic battle with Dani Pedrosa and Rossi he decided to celebrate by jumping into the trackside lake. Jorge soon realised that wearing a helmet, leathers and boots was not conducive to a bit of breaststroke and had to be unceremoniously hauled out by the marshals – embarrassed, wet but still victorious on the rostrum. Three years later the infamous turn 13, the final corner at Jerez, was named in a special ceremony the Jorge Lorenzo curve. A couple of days later he came out second best at his very own corner after a mighty coming together with Marquez in a fight for second place.

A couple of weeks ago TT legend John McGuinness said that two-time Grand Prix winner this season Enea Bastianini reminded him of Jorge Lorenzo. Some endorsement and praise indeed because Jorge was such a class act.

 

By |2022-04-28T09:10:12+00:00April 28th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Class act – it had to be Jerez

World Championship means what it says on the tin

When you call it a World Championship you must mean it. MotoGP™ arrives in Europe this weekend after a journey of approximately 43,000 km dropping off in four countries on three separate continents and that is just the opening four rounds of 21. Exhilarating and exhausting all rolled into one.

The logistical freight problems first encountered, and then brilliantly overcome by the MotoGP™ community in Argentina, is part of crisscrossing the globe week after week. Twenty-one races in 17 separate countries on six continents in just eight frantic months is bound to cause problems and not only for the teams and riders

Ironically 40 years ago I made my first journey outside Europe to report on a Grand Prix. There had not been a 500cc race outside Europe for three years when we ventured to the 1982 opening round in Buenos Aires for the Argentine Grand Prix. It was the same circuit that had hosted the first-ever Grand Prix outside Europe in 1961, 12 years after the birth of the World Championship. I had been to Daytona in Florida a couple of times for the pre-season races, but this was so different. Somehow Peter Clifford and I persuaded our editor that we should go a week earlier to ride across Argentina to the border of Chile high in the Andes in a Che Guevara style motorcycle trip. We returned after an amazing journey to witness a classic Grand Prix. Kenny Roberts fighting off the Yamaha of Barry Sheene by 0.67s with Freddie Spencer, spearheading the Honda return to Grand Prix racing, in third place. We had no idea there were problems between Argentina and Great Britain. We arrived back in London on the Monday after the race. Two days later war was declared between the two countries over the Falkland Island dispute.

I had been due to go to Venezuela two years earlier, but the Grand Prix was cancelled. Barry Sheene had won at the San Carlos circuit at the three premier class races between 1977-79. Most people and certainly journalists had been forced to stay 100 kilometres from the circuit. Typically, Barry got friendly with the local fire brigade and slept in the fire station in the local town

The year after the Argentine adventure we went to South Africa for the first time and the Kyalami circuit on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It was an amazing trip where the MotoGP™ community ignored the apartheid regime. I had severe doubts about making the journey but honestly felt by going we had helped in our small way to fight against prejudice. Freddie Spencer won that first 500cc race but two years later crashed when his rear wheel collapsed. He arrived to the airport to fly back to London in a wheelchair. Flying films out of South Africa at the time was not easy because the authorities want to develop films to see what pictures were going to be distributed. Freddie took the films and sat on them in his wheelchair, and we sailed through customs and on the plane.

In 1987, Grand Prix racing returned to Japan after a 20-year absence. It was my first trip to a country whose machinery had dominated the World Championship for so long. It was a wonderful experience flying to Suzuka. In those days you could not fly to Japan in one go and we landed at Anchorage in Alaska to refuel where we were told they had the biggest duty-free shop in the world and there was a massive stuffed bear outside the entrance. The racing and hospitality were fantastic but something else was my highlight. We met ‘Mr Fax’ in the media centre who persuaded us if we put a sheet of paper in his machine it would arrive at the other end in London. It worked and those long hours on a Sunday night typing out the race results that could be from six classes at some Grands Prix had disappeared at that moment. We loved ‘Mr Fax.’

By |2022-04-20T17:34:22+00:00April 20th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on World Championship means what it says on the tin

The American Dream will return

Come on admit it, you did feel a tingle when the Star-Spangled Banner boomed out over the COTA circuit and the jets roared over the start and finish line before the start of the MotoGP™ race in Texas on Sunday. The stirring United States National Anthem that was such a part of Grand Prix motorcycle racing for the last 45 years has not been heard at a podium ceremony for eleven long years. There was a glimmer of hope at COTA that its return will not be so far away

The lack of American success is unbelievable. This is a country that has produced seven MotoGP™ and two 250cc World Champions. This is a country that in 2013 staged three Grand Prix in one season at Laguna Seca, Indianapolis, and COTA. This is the only country that has produced father and son World Champions in the premier class. This is a country that produced 173 Grands Prix wins. One hundred and fifty-four in the premier class between eleven riders and nineteen in the 250cc class between four riders.

The lack of American success is unbelievable. This is a country that has produced seven MotoGP™ and two 250cc World Champions. This is a country that in 2013 staged three Grand Prix in one season at Laguna Seca, Indianapolis, and COTA. This is the only country that has produced father and son World Champions in the premier class. This is a country that produced 173 Grands Prix wins. One hundred and fifty-four in the premier class between eleven riders and nineteen in the 250cc class between four riders.

At one point in the eighties, it was more like the Pilgrim Fathers but in reverse. All you had do was click your fingers and World Champions would arrive by the boat load across the Atlantic in Europe. Kenny Roberts started the migration in 1978 when he shook Grand Prix racing to its very core on and off the track. Three successive 500cc World title and an outspoken campaigner for riders’ safety and recognition made him the unmistakable President of the American Dream. Soon the likes of Freddie Spencer, the only rider to win both 250 and 500cc World titles in one season, four times 500cc World Champion Eddie Lawson for both Yamaha and Honda, three times World 500cc Champion Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz followed their President. At the start of the new decade Kenny Roberts Junior emulated his father by winning the 2000 500cc World title and six years later Nick Hayden’s success in the 2006 MotoGP™ World Championship was as popular throughout the World as it was back home in Kentucky, but that was that. Despite the considerable efforts of Ben Spies the World titles and then the Grand Prix wins dried up like summer in the Arizona desert.

Domestic Racing in America slumped. Those contrasting and superb Laguna and Indianapolis venues disappeared from the World Championship calendar. Out of the gloom came a new President of the American dream. Three times World 500cc World Champion Wayne Rainey who had been paralysed in a crash at Misano while on the verge of winning his fourth World title in 1993 decided enough was enough. He had seen his old boss Kenny Roberts desperately trying to promote the sport in the States in the nineties. In 2015 Wayne organised and then spearheaded the new MotoAmerica Championship. Motorcycle racing in America has been revitalised and refreshed. Slowly but surely American riders are returning across the Atlantic to compete in both the MotoGP™ and World Superbike Championships. Patience is something that Wayne has cruelly been forced to learn the hard way. There is still a long way to go but he is convinced all their hard work will pay off and the United States will return as a serious breeding ground for Grand Prix winners and World Champions.

Wayne should know better than most and as another famous American Bob Dylan always told us – “Times they are a-changin.”

 

By |2022-04-14T10:17:28+00:00April 14th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The American Dream will return

A true warrior who never gave up after 17 years and 155 days

Seventeen years 155 days after making his Grand Prix debut Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team) finally did it. There has never been a more popular winner in the 74-year history of Grand Prix racing. No wonder there was a raw emotional mixture of tears and cheers in the Termas de Rio Hondo pit lane on Sunday for a true MotoGP™ warrior who just never gave up

Little did Aleix realise just how long it would take to stand on the top step of the podium when he made his Grand Prix debut in the 125cc race at Valencia in 2004. It was the final race of the season, and he was just 15 years old. It took another 283 Grands Prix of pain and frustration before he experienced that winning feeling in his 200th MotoGP™ race. He had married and was the proud father of two children. He had watched and celebrated as his younger brother Pol (Repsol Honda Team) won the Moto2™ World Championship wondering if his day would ever come. It certainly has and he heads the cavalry charge on his Aprilia stead into Texas this weekend leading the MotoGP™ World Championship after three rounds.

I am sure leading the cheers and perhaps shedding a few tears was Jeremy McWilliams. Twenty-two long years ago the Ulsterman began the Aprilia adventure into the 500cc premier class. In 2000, three years after Doriano Romboni gave Aprilia their first 500cc podium he brought the Italian factory two third places at Mugello and Donington and a pole position at Phillip Island in Australia. Riding the Aprilia twin-cylinder two-stroke McWilliams took on the mighty four-cylinder Japanese giants that had dominated the two-stroke era. Aleix and Jeremy are true warriors built from the same mould. Never afraid to take on the established teams and superstar riders. Never afraid to express their feelings and frustrations. Fighting back after injury and setbacks and never giving up on the dream of success.

I am sure leading the cheers and perhaps shedding a few tears was Jeremy McWilliams. Twenty-two long years ago the Ulsterman began the Aprilia adventure into the 500cc premier class. In 2000, three years after Doriano Romboni gave Aprilia their first 500cc podium he brought the Italian factory two third places at Mugello and Donington and a pole position at Phillip Island in Australia. Riding the Aprilia twin-cylinder two-stroke McWilliams took on the mighty four-cylinder Japanese giants that had dominated the two-stroke era. Aleix and Jeremy are true warriors built from the same mould. Never afraid to take on the established teams and superstar riders. Never afraid to express their feelings and frustrations. Fighting back after injury and setbacks and never giving up on the dream of success.

The signs that this was a special weekend of history-making were flashing loud and clear after qualifying at Termas de Rio Hondo on Saturday. Espargaro brought Aprilia their first premier class pole since Phillip Island 22 years ago. Before his 200th MotoGP appearance, the next day he became the only rider in the modern MotoGP™ era to take three pole positions on different machinery. His first Aprilia pole came after similar achievements for Suzuki and Forward Yamaha.

He sat in the Argentine sunshine on Sunday before the 25-lap race in pole position as the only rider on the grid never to have won a Grand Prix. This was his big chance, and you could taste and feel the tension. After a couple of unsuccessful lunges up the inside of early leader Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing), he finally found his way to the front and history was about to be made. At the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last year, he brought Aprilia their first podium finish in the MotoGP™ era, now it was time for Espargaro and the Italian factory to go one better.

After those two podium finishes in 2000, McWilliams returned to the 250cc class a year later. His one and only Grand Prix win came that year in Assen. It may have taken Aleix Espargaro longer to win that first Grand Prix, but you have the feeling that this is the beginning of a new chapter for a true modern-day warrior. He deserves all the success that comes his way.

 

By |2022-04-06T20:24:17+00:00April 6th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on A true warrior who never gave up after 17 years and 155 days

46 embarks on a journey following the Surtees trail

This weekend the legendary number 46 will grace the tarmac once again. The most famous number in World Championship motorsport returns to the racetrack proudly emblazoned on the side of a car. The doctor returns to the racetrack on four wheels and the Imola circuit prepares for a patriotic weekend as the nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi makes his debut in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe less than five months after that emotional goodbye to MotoGP™ in Valencia. Rossi embarks on a well-trodden path from two wheels to four. It’s a tough journey with just a few very notable exceptions finding success in both sports that appear the same but in many ways are very different

You would imagine the switch should not be that difficult, but it is. John Surtees is the only man in the history of MotoGP™ and Formula One to win World titles on two and four wheels. The British rider won seven World titles in the 350 and 500cc classes between 1956 and 1960 which included 38 Grand Prix wins before switching to four wheels. In 1964 he won the Formula One World Championship for Ferrari and ironically brought Honda their first Formula One victory after dominating motorcycle racing for so long.

Since then, nobody has come anywhere near following in Surtees’s considerable footsteps. Nobody has even won Grand Prix in both sports although some have come close. Nine-time World Champion Mike Hailwood won 76 Grands Prix before switching. After winning the European Formula Two Championship he stepped up to Formula One and achieved two podium finishes driving for the John Surtees team before returning to two wheels and that emotional win in the 1978 TT races in the Isle of Man.

Frenchman Jean-Pierre Beltoise is the only competitor to do it the other way round. He won the legendary 1972 Monaco F1 race in the pouring rain. His early racing days had been on two wheels, and he finished sixth in the 1964 50cc World Championship. When I worked for Williams in F1 my switch to four wheels was made easy by spending hours talking bikes with the 1996 World Champion Damon Hill. He admitted after success on two wheels his one aim was to become the next Barry Sheene but realised, he was never good enough which was certainly not the case in an F1 car. Also, I was not so popular with Sir Frank Williams when I organised a test drive for Mick Doohan in Jacques Villeneuve’s World Championship F1 car. Mick was impressive but one slight ‘off’ into a Barcelona barrier amounted to a bill of around 75,000 euros.

The very first 125cc World Champion Nello Pagani drove in one F1 Grand Prix. Five-time World Champion Geoff Duke dabbled but never actually raced in F1. Nineteen-year-old Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto was the youngest ever World Champion at the time when he won the 1975 350cc title. He switched to four wheels with considerable success in touring cars. Two times motorcycle Grand Prix winner and 500cc podium finisher Stuart Graham, son of the first 500cc World Champion Les, won the British touring car Championship. Four-time World 500cc World Champion Eddie Lawson achieved some impressive results in both the Indy Lights and CART Championships in the States. Australian Premier class World Champions Wayne Gardner and Casey Stoner both switched to Touring and Supercar Champions at home and in Japan.

Both sports are dangerous and especially in the sixties and seventies before rider and driver safety became a priority. The likes of Kenny Roberts and Jackie Stewart led the respective campaigns. It was not a moment too soon. The 1961 double 350 and 500cc World Champion Gary Hocking retired from Grand Prix racing after the first round in 1962 when Tom Phillis was killed at the TT races. Following the tragic death of his close friend he went out and won the 500cc race before announcing his retirement. Hocking returned home to Rhodesia to go car racing and lost his life practicing for the Natal Grand Prix in South Africa. The 1967 125cc World Champion Bill Ivy impressed everybody with his speed when he switched to four wheels. The former Yamaha rider needed cash to finance his Formula Two efforts and returned to Grand Prix motorcycle racing on the 350cc Jawa machine. He was killed practicing for the 1969 East German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring road circuit.

While his old friends and foes make the long trip to Termas de Rio Hondo in Argentina on Sunday Valentino makes the short car journey from his Tavullia home to Imola to start a new adventure. Remember him on the top step of the podium wearing the Argentine football shirt seven years ago. Good luck Vale and I wonder if you have an Italian football shirt ready – just in case.

 

By |2022-03-31T12:42:51+00:00March 31st, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on 46 embarks on a journey following the Surtees trail

OXFORDSHIRE YOUNGSTERS TAKE FIRST STEPS ON THE MOTOGP LADDER

A group of Oxfordshire boys and girls, some as young as six years old, embark on their first steps towards the MotoGP World Championships next week. The dedicated group of young motorcycle racers compete in the first round of the British Mini Bike Championship at Lydd in Kent.

The well-established eight round British Championship is held on Kart tracks throughout Britain. The riders compete on mini motorcycles to get their first taste of competitive racing in a safe and controlled environment. The Championship is regarded as the first steps towards the ultimate goal of competing in the MotoGP World Championship.

The next step for the youngsters is to compete in the FIM MiniGP series which is organised by MotoGP Promoters Dorna with separate national Championships as far afield as India, Australia, and Japan.

So many of the MotoGP stars such as Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez began their racing careers competing on Mini Bikes on kart tracks before moving on to World title and grands prix wins. The Oxfordshire youngsters hope they are starting on the same path beginning at Lydd on the weekend beginning 2nd April.

 

BRADLEY SMITH SUPPORTS OXFORDSHIRE YOUNGSTERS ON THEIR FIRST STEPS TO MOTOGP

MotoGP star Bradley Smith knows better than anybody you must start young if you are going to achieve success on the biggest stage of them all. The Oxfordshire grand prix motorcycle rider who started his career as a schoolboy Motocross rider went on to finish sixth in the 2015 MotoGP World Championship and runner-up in the 2009 125 cc World Championship, winning three grands prix.

“Starting at a young age is crucial in a competitive but safe and organised environment if you are going to succeed when you are older. So many of the current MotoGP stars started in a Mini Bike series before progressing through the ranks. It teaches you so much about both racing and yourself and prepares you for everything that lies ahead. I wish them all the very best of luck and will follow their progress with great interest. Hopefully, we will be watching them in the MotoGP World Championship in around ten years’ time.”

 

AN AREA STEEPED IN GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE RACING HISTORY

From Mike Hailwood to Bradley Smith, Oxfordshire and the surrounding area have produced some of the greatest riders to grace the 74-year history of grand prix Motorcycle racing.

MotoGP broadcaster, journalist and author Nick Harris has followed their fortunes for the last 60 years with real pride.

“My home county and surrounding areas has produced so many great riders that are household names with millions of people throughout the World. Mike Hailwood who lived on Boars Hill is still regarded by many people as the greatest rider of all time. He won nine World titles with 76 grands

Prix wins between 1959 – 1967. He then switched to car racing and received the George Medal for bravery after rescuing Clay Regazzoni from a blazing Formula One car. He returned to two wheels and won the 1978 TT on the Isle of Man when he was 38 years old. He was tragically killed together with his young daughter in a road traffic accident.

More recently Bradley Smith’s brilliant grand prix career has been well documented and there are plenty of others. Banbury based Rod Gould, who celebrated his 79th birthday last week, won the 1970 250 cc World Championship while David Madsen Mygdal originally from Cumnor, holds the record number of finishes at the TT races in the Isle of Man.

Long may the tradition continue with these talented youngsters taking their first steps on a long ladder that Hailwood, Smith and Gould climbed with such success.”

 

THE RIDERS

AEZIAH DIVINE

Twelve years old and currently living in Oxford. He has always shown a wild side for speeding on two wheels and athleticism. Growing up on the sunny island of Bermuda allowed him to lead an active outdoor lifestyle and play a variety of sports including gymnastics, running, football, swimming, sailing and motorcycle racing.

After a short spell on an electric motocross bike at the age of 4, he trained on a Yamaha PW50 and progressed to a 90cc pit bike, becoming the 2017 BMRA Minibike Junior Champion in his first year of competitive racing.

In late 2018 his family moved to England, where his Dad is from, and in 2020 he debuted in MiniGP racing in the UK through the FAB-Racing Minibike British Championship. This year, Aeziah is preparing for a competitive season in the MK50 class on FAB-Racing’s signature 2-stroke Metrakit motorcycles. He aims to achieve consistent podium finishes at each race round. In addition to competing in the MK50 class, Aeziah will start training on higher powered bikes in Europe to begin preparing for the British Talent Cup as a major milestone on Dorna’s “Road to MotoGP.”

 

HARLEY BAKER
Twelve years old – Started last season in the AC40 rookies
Best achievement 1st overall at Redlodge
Best podium finish 1st
Favourite track Redlodge

“This season i will be competing in the AC40 Pro class and MK50 class.
I hope to carry on leaning and improving my skills on both bikes and hope to see some more podium finishes.”

PRESTON BAKER
Seven years old – Fancied following in his brother’s footsteps so competed in 2 race weekends as an AC40 Rookie last season finishing all races. Best finish 16th

Looking forward to a whole season this year as an AC40 Rookie on a new improved and upgraded bike.  Looking forward to seeing a podium finish.

 

AUSTIN AND BYRON JOHNSON

Austin and Byron Johnson both began riding motorbikes at a very early age. Austin was 4 years old and Byron 2. Their first bike was a PW50 which they rode around the garden and in a local farmers field. This led to them trying out mini moto’s at M4 Karting and joining the M4 Mini Moto Academy. Both boys quickly showed a passion and talent for racing which led them into the Fab-Racing paddock. While riding at M4, in their mini moto winter championship, the boys were spotted by Andy Weedon of Team Evolution Engineering and asked to represent Team Evolution in the Fab-Racing Rookie Championship 2020, on a factory Teevo each, supplied by Andy and his team. 2020 was their first full year of racing in a championship which was unfortunately changed into a cup event. It was a race for each rider to gain 329 points which would see them graduate from the Rookies into the Pro’s. Byron was the first rider to reach 329 points with Austin hot on his tail as the second rider to gain enough points to move up to the Pro’s only halfway through the season.
In 2021 both boys continued their racing journey supported by Team Evolution Engineering, representing them in the Pro and Elite classes at Fab-Racing on Team Evolution Teevos. They rode with 14mm air cooled engines in the Pro’s and liquid cooled engines in the Elites. This was a year to learn to ride with faster engines, but it also showed some great results for the boys. Austin completed the Pro championship in third place and Byron the youngest rider at only 8 years old completed the Pro championship in 5th Overall.

As well as competing in Fab-Racing both boys also enjoy riding Motor cross and Super Moto bikes. Along the way, as well as being sponsored by Team Evolution Engineering, they have also picked up sponsorship from LS2 Helmets, Merkko Builders Merchants Abingdon, Oxfordshire Concrete Ltd and C&G Concrete Pumping Ltd. Team Johnson Racing, which consists of Dad – Paul, Mum – Rowena and little sister – Thea, as well as Austin and Byron are very proud of the progress the boys have made and their achievements so far.

This year the boys will continue to represent Team Evolution Engineering on their Teevos with Austin looking to pick up a first overall in the Elites and Byron a first overall in the Pro’s. As well as competing on their mini motos they will also be moving up to some bigger bikes. They will be riding in their first championship on their 50 cc Metrakit bikes and looking to place in the top six.

 

REX AUSTIN

Seven years old and started riding at the start of lockdown on his uncle Mike’s 1989 Honda QR at our yard in dry Sandford. Rex’s love for Moto GP leads us to joining the M4 riders academy near Chippenham. On his second training session Rex was awarded a medal for slow bike control which sparked the want to race. So, a few short months later we were at round one of the FAB racing championship in Lydd (Kent) with the ambition not to be a danger to the other riders by being so slow. Never did we think Rex would perform so brilliantly throughout the season that he would pick up podiums and a race win earning him third overall in the rookie championship. At the tender age of seven Rex is now moving up to the pro class to put himself against older, faster more experienced riders. We are off to Spain to do some pre-season training at the beginning of March to hopefully gain some good bike time and set us up for the coming season.

 

MATTHEW THOMAS

Nine years old and showed his love for motorbikes from a young age with Marc Marquez as his idol. At the age of six asked his dad can he become a racer. Following this he began training on tracks at the age of seven but first sat on a bike at the age of four.

His best finish was pole position and race win at red Lodge.

He finished second in his rookie season.

His goal for this season is to improve his riding ability with hope of challenging for podiums. He is also starting to practice on his geared bike with a goal of getting it on track.

 

DAISEY POLDEN

Eight years old and completed AC40 rookies last year coming in point scoring finishes – entering at a new level to the sport it was great to see some point on the board! This year Daisy is hoping to come in the top ten and build on confidence and technicalities to achieve this! Favourite track is Red Lodge and favourite racer is Alex Rins.

 

RONNIE AND BILL HARRIS

Both boys started at the Scott Redding Mini Moto Academy at Swindon Karting at the end of 2016.

Ronnie, then aged 9, entered FAB-Racing in the Mini Moto Rookie class in 2017 and finished 10th in the championship.  He also won “Rider of the Year” at the Scott Redding Academy.

2018 Ronnie competed in the mini moto Pro class and finished 6th in the championship.  Bill, then 8, entered the Rookie class and came 10th in the championship.

2019 saw Ronnie in the Mini Moto Elite class, where he started getting on the podium regularly and finished 4th in the championship.  He also had his first year on a Metrakit GP50.  He was the fasted newcomer in this class and finished 6th in the championship.  Bill came 10th overall in the Rookies for a second year.

2020 was a great year for Ronnie in the MK GP50 class.  He was rarely off the podium and came 2nd in the championship.  Bill came 7th in the Mini Moto Pro class.

2021 was Ronnie’s first year on the MK GP70 and he finished 4th in the championship.  Bill had his first year on a Metrakit and came 5th in the MK GP50 class.

Both boys will be back on the Metrakits for the 2022 season.  Ronnie will be in the MK GP70 class riding for the MLav Visiontrack Academy team.  Bill will be in the MK GP50 class.

Ronnie is now 14 and Bill is 12.  This will be Ronnie’s last year in FAB (on the Metrakit).  Hopefully 2023 will see him in the British Talent Cup.

 

 

FOR FURTHER DETAILS PLEASE CONTACT GARY AUSTIN

 

Phone number 07789698593

Email ga.austin@radley.org.Uk 

By |2022-03-25T20:50:52+00:00March 25th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on OXFORDSHIRE YOUNGSTERS TAKE FIRST STEPS ON THE MOTOGP LADDER

Singing in the rain

I must be honest and admit my first reaction, I thought those days were over when my alarm clock woke me with a start at 6am on Sunday morning. My immediate thought was do not forget your media pass, mobile phone and have I got time for breakfast before we leave for the circuit. Then I realised I was at home on a glorious Oxfordshire spring morning. All I had to do was let the dog out, switch on the kettle and settle down in front of the television screen to watch the Pertamina Grand Prix of Indonesia MotoGP™ race.

All was well at home, but it was a very different story at the Mandalika circuit. The thunder rolled around ominously loud, scary lightening momentary lit up the gloom as the rain hammered down turning the track into a series of lakes and streams. Wet races and delays – a commentator’s nightmare. Memories of some long, lonely afternoons talking about nothing as the rain hammered on the commentary box window at circuits as far afield as Motegi and Indianapolis afternoons flooded back.

Remember the days when riders like Australian Ant West would perform a rain dance in pit lane because they just loved racing on a streaming wet track. Further back, chaos often reigned when the rain fell. Races were stopped and started before flag to flag was introduced. In 1989 at Spa the 500cc race was stopped and started two times. In the end Eddie Lawson was declared the winner but only awarded half points because it was decided the second restart was not allowed under the rules. They are still arguing about the result of the 1978 British Grand Prix at Silverstone that was awarded to Kenny Roberts amidst chaos in the pouring rain.

No such problems when the rain stopped after a one hour 15-minute wait on Sunday. No arguments because everybody agreed it was so special watching such a spectacle in the wet and spray. Where do you start. Twenty laps of pure theatre in appalling condition where the rider’s skill and bravery shone through like those bolts of lightning that had lit up the dark sky earlier. What a ride by Miguel Olivera parting a passage though the waves for those behind him. Previously the Portuguese KTM rider had scored just nine points in his last ten races. On Sunday it was twenty-five points in single race. A performance worthy of a World Champion by Fabio Quartararo in second place with Johann Zarco cursing himself after the race for not pushing harder to claim that first MotoGP™ victory

How about the performance of Darryn Binder? Just his second MotoGP™ race after missing Moto2™ and jumping directly from Moto3™ amid a fair amount of cynicism. Tenth place was just reward for a brilliant ride that reminded me of the likes of Australians Garry McCoy and Jack Miller who also missed out the middle class before achieving considerable success in the premier class. McCoy won a couple of 125cc Grands Prix before switching to the 500cc class with great success winning three Grands Prix in 2000 on route to fifth place in the Championship.

Miller must have fancied his chances on Sunday. Who will forget his first MotoGP™ win in the Assen rain in 2016. That win came just two years after he had finished second in the 2014 Moto3™ World Championship winning six Grands Prix the same year. Binder’s only disappointment was that he did not manage to finish in front of his older brother Brad who eventually was eighth, but it was close.

As with all new venues of course there was logistical problems over the weekend, but they will be rectified. For those amazing Indonesian mad MotoGP™ fans singing in the rain there will be more opportunities to watch their heroes in action. They had waited 25 years for Grand Prix racing to return to their country and so the one hour 15-minute delay for the rain to abate was a small but wet inconvenience. For me I really do not mind getting up 6.00 am on a Sunday morning to witness such a spectacle especially with a cup of tea and in the dry.

 

By |2022-03-24T08:52:12+00:00March 24th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Singing in the rain

Very, very hot and the cold beer tastes great

The legendary journalist, the late John Brown, summed up perfectly his two visits to Sentul for the Indonesian Grands Prix a quarter of a century ago. Very, very hot and the cold beer tasted great was how JB described his visits to a country that is such a hotbed of MotoGP™ support. Grand Prix Motorcycle racing makes a welcome return this weekend 25 years after its last visit and Indonesia cannot wait. Then it was Doohan, Biaggi and a young fresh-faced Rossi they flocked to support and watch at the Sentul circuit. Two-strokes ruled in all classes and if you did not have a Honda in the 500cc class it was hardly worth turning up. It was a decade ruled by Doohan and Honda but already two young riders were making their mark, especially in the 1997 Grand Prix at the bumpy 3.965 kms Sentul circuit situated forty-five kms south of Jakarta

A year earlier Valentino Rossi had finished 11th at Sentul in just his second 125cc Grand Prix. He returned in 1997 already crowned the 125 cc World Champion to win his 11thGrand Prix of the season which is a record for the 125cc/Moto3™ class. Bigger things beckoned for the Italian, and he so nearly made it as the only rider to compete at Sentul and then the Portamina Mandalika circuit on Sunday. Jorge Martinez finished third in 1997 which was his last ever podium finish before retiring at the end of the season after 14 years of racing which brought the Spaniard four World titles. The previous year the youngest of the Aoki brothers Haruchika finished second behind Masaki Tukudome but went on to retain his 125cc World title.

Max Biaggi and Rossi were talking in those days. Rossi’s bitter rival in years to come won the 250cc race riding the Honda to open a six-point lead in the Championship. At the final round in Phillip Island Biaggi’s second place behind Ralf Waldmann was enough to clinch his fourth consecutive World title. A year earlier Tetsuya Harada won his only 250cc Grand Prix of the season giving Michelin tyres their last ever 250cc victory.

The big surprise of that sweltering weekend in 1997 was that Mick Doohan did not win the 30 lap 500cc race. The only way to beat the all-conquering Aussie those days was to shadow him until the last corner, if you had the nerve, and then make your move. It worked for Alex Criville and at Sentul for his teammate Tadayuki Okada who grabbed his first 500cc victory by 0.069s. The mighty Mick was not impressed with such tactics especially from his Honda teammates, but he should not have worried. He had already secured his fourth World title, won 12 Grands Prix that season and that second place gave him a record-breaking 340 points for the season, but Mick hated losing. He had won the Sentul race a year earlier with Alex Barros and Loris Capirossi completing the podium.

So, on Sunday a new circuit, a new audience, and a new breed of hungry riders on such a variety of four stroke machinery but one thing will never change. It will still be very very hot, and the cold beer will taste just as good.

 

By |2022-03-17T09:55:23+00:00March 17th, 2022|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Very, very hot and the cold beer tastes great