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Acosta chases history on Sunday, but not on a Bantam

It may be a long time ago, but I remember I only had one thing on my mind on my sixteenth birthday – how can I raise the princely sum of £15 to buy my first motorbike. My friend’s Dad was selling his 125cc Bantam and with some help from my parents, I was on the road.

On Sunday at Portimao in Portugal, a 16-year-old Spaniard will not be worrying about a BSA Bantam but concentrating on re-writing the 73-year-old Grand Prix history books and joining a very exclusive club. Pedro Acosta’s sensational victory in the second round of the Moto3™ World Championship in Qatar opened the doors for some record-breaking at round three on Sunday. That staggering first Grand Prix win when he decimated the field after having to start from pit lane came just a week after his second-place podium finish in Qatar on his Grand Prix debut. A win or even podium finish on Sunday will place the former Red Bull Rookies Champion in a very special place

If Acosta finishes in the top three in Portugal, he will be the youngest rider to open his career with three successive podiums. If the KTM rider wins the race in Portugal he will be the second youngest rider ever to take back-to-back wins, after Maverick Vinales.

In the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing, only four riders have finished on the podium in their first three Grand Prix starts:

In 1949, the first year of Grand Prix racing, Italian Arciso Artesian secured three successive podiums on his debut. The Gilera rider missed the opening round at the TT races in the Isle of Man, but then finished on the podium at Switzerland, Dutch TT and Belgium.

A year later British Norton rider Geoff Duke finished second in the 350cc TT, won the 500cc TT and then was third in the 350cc race in Belgium at Spa Francorchamps. Duke was a sporting hero in post-war Britain winning six World titles for Norton and Gilera

In 1991 the bubbly bespectacled Noboru Ueda was on the podium at the opening three 125cc Grands Prix. In an explosive start to his World Championship career the Japanese Honda rider won the opening round at Suzuka, finished third behind Loris Capirossi and Fausto Gresini at the Eastern Creek in Australia and won again at the opening European round in Jerez. Nobby went on to win 11 more Grands Prix but never a World title. He was second in 1994 and in 1997. In true Acosta style, although not from pit lane, Ueda won a race starting from the back of the grid. At the 1997 Japanese Grand Prix he had qualified on pole, but on the sighting lap noticed the wind direction has changed so he called into the pits to change the gearing. This resulted in him starting from the back of the grid. He won the race which was the second round of the Championship. A young Valentino Rossi won the opening round in Malaysia and then the third and fourth rounds in Jerez and Mugello.

In 1996 the late great Daijiro Kato finished third as a wild card entry in the 250cc Grand Prix at Suzuka in the third round of the Championship. He returned as a wild card entry to win the race for Honda a year later and then in 1998. Despite the gaps, these were Kato’s first three Grand Prix appearances. He went on to win 15 more Grands Prix and the 250cc World title in 2001 before his tragic death in 2003.

So already Acosta had joined an elite band of Grand Prix legends. My beloved Bantam only once touched 55 mph racing down Cumnor Hill. I don’t think the Spanish teenager would have been that impressed.

By |2021-04-15T07:15:26+00:00April 15th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|0 Comments

Vive la France

It has been a long four and a half years wait but it cannot be long before that celebratory back flip and perhaps even an airport piano recital returns as Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) leads the French revolution alongside Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP).

A French rider has never won the premier class World title but already the two revolutionaries are re-writing the history books. Zarco, still chasing that first MotoGP™ win, leads the World Championship for the very first time after two superb second places in those breath-taking opening two rounds. Quartararo was back on the podium with a bang with a brilliantly judged win on Sunday. It was the very first time in the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing that French riders had finished first and second in a premier class race

Zarco is certainly no stereotyped MotoGP™ rider, if there is such a person. His last Grand Prix win came at the final round of the Moto2™ World Championship in Valencia in 2016. He had already retained the World title and celebrated in the hotel with a customary winning backflip off the bar. A couple of weeks earlier in the early hours of the morning, I rounded the corner of a deserted Melbourne airport on route to Malaysia to discover the Frenchman totally alone and completely absorbed in playing his very own concerto on a piano he discovered near the departure gate for Kuala Lumpur.

Last year Quartararo was a sensation, but the pressure got to him and he tailed off, not finishing on the podium after Barcelona. He was back to his very best on Sunday. A brilliantly judged win was a stark reminder to the rest of what a threat he will be in just his third MotoGP™ season.

Despite all the obvious problems, this was a sensational start to the new season. I am sure there were the usual feelings as 2021 got underway with the double header. Of course, there were plenty of people regretting the measurements they gave for their uniforms when the 2020 season ended had not taken account of Christmas and the new year. There would have been the usual sadness with the nonappearance of old friends’ faces in the paddock, in the media centre and out on track. All was forgotten the moment that first bike fired into action.

Let us start at the beginning and the grid for that opening race. Eight of the riders on the grid had not been born when Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) made his Grand Prix debut 25 years ago in Malaysia. While Rossi celebrated the start of his 26th season at the tender age of 42 years 40 days, at the other end of the age scale Iker Lecuona (Tech 3 KTM Factory Racing) started his second MotoGP™ season aged just 21 years 81 days. Pecco Bagnaia celebrated his promotion to the Lenovo Ducati factory team by grabbing his first pole position and then finishing on the podium behind two ‘veterans’ Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Zarco

Roll on seven days and rookie Jorge Martin grabbed pole position on the Pramac Ducati in just his second MotoGP™ race. It was the seventh different pole setter in the last seven races. It only seemed like yesterday I was joking with Jorge in the Qualifying press conferences after he had received yet another Tissot Moto3™ pole setting watch but could not win a race. That first win finally came at the final round of 2017 in Valencia. The next year he won seven and clinched the title. Three short years later the Spaniard is in MotoGP™ grabbing pole positions and finishing third in just his second race. As the race progressed, I seriously started to think he could win after leading for so long, but third place was just reward for an amazing weekend.

I am sure you do not need any more convincing just what a start it has been. On Sunday after 22 laps of the Losail International Circuit, just 8.928 seconds separated the first 15 riders across the line. No great surprise, the closest ever.

While I wait for the third round of this amazing Championship in Portugal a week on Sunday and for my second Covid vaccination jab, I raise a glass of my favourite Provence Rosé to the revolution.

 

By |2021-04-07T15:07:25+00:00April 7th, 2021|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Vive la France

What a lockdown – play it again Sam

The daffodils are in full bloom, the motor mowers are buzzing like a 50-cc Grand Prix from a different era. Spring has at last arrived, MotoGP™ is back and the icing on the cake, British riders are winning Grands Prix. Nothing better to dispel those lockdown blues. This is without doubt my favourite weekend of the year. I am prepared to forfeit that hour of sleep to lap up the delights of daylight at 7pm on Sunday night. It felt pretty good already and then Sam Lowes came along and made so much better

Do not let us pretend, it is mighty tough being a British rider, journalist and especially fan in MotoGP™. One World title in the last 44 years thanks to Danny Kent six years ago. Despite the sterling efforts of Scott Redding, Lowes and Jeremy McWilliams, no British World rider has been crowned 250cc/Moto2™ World Champion for a staggering 50 years. Phil Read won the 1971 250cc World Championship riding the twin-cylinder Yamaha and that was that. We have sat back and admired and applauded competing against, writing and commentating on and watching the likes of Roberts, Doohan, Rossi, Stoner and Marquez in action but there has always been that nagging regret at the back of the brain – why are none of these brilliant riders from our shores?

That is why we really do appreciate and savour what happened in that opening Moto2™ race of the season. No British rider has ever won in the 17 years of Grands Prix racing at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar. In the daylight or under the floodlights ‘God Save The Queen’ had never boomed out over the desert sand until this Sunday.

The last British rider to win the opening Grand Prix of the season in any class was Barry Sheene. He won the opening round the 500cc World Championship at the San Carlos circuit in Venezuela in 1979 but eventually finished third in the Championship behind Kenny Roberts and Virginio Ferrari

The story goes on. Incredibly you have to go back another 11 years to find the last British rider to win the opening round of the 250cc/Moto2 World Championship. Bill Ivy, riding the works Yamaha, beat Ginger Molloy on the Bultaco by over three minutes to win the 250cc race at the 1968 West German Grand Prix round the legendary Nürburgring 7.747 kms road circuit. After an acrimonious season of conflict with Yamaha teammate Phil Read, Ivy eventually finished second in the Championship behind Read.

The perfect weekend, and even England and Oxford United won on the football pitch. Play it again Sam, do it again to make Easter even more special than usual. No great surprise, the last British rider to win the opening two Grands Prix of the season was Barry Sheene. In 1976 he won the opening three rounds of the 500cc World Championship in Le Mans, Salzburgring and Mugello. Take note Sam, he went on to win the World title.

Spring has finally arrived and even the sun may shine to celebrate Easter Sunday and another British Grand Prix victory – what lockdown!

 

By |2021-04-01T10:17:01+00:00April 1st, 2021|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on What a lockdown – play it again Sam

Murray Walker, Lennon and Jagger

My teenage mates in the sixties thought I was sad. We would cycle down to the Russell Acott record store on Oxford High Street. After a sly fag behind the Mitre hotel, they would be listening to new 33-inch vinal albums such as Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from the Beatles or Aftermath from the Rolling Stones. I would be at the other end of the shop seeking out the Stanley Schofield long-player recordings from the TT races in the Isle of Man.

They would enthuse over the voices of John Lennon and Mick Jagger while I would be just as excited listening to the voice of Murray Walker. While Lennon and Jagger would tell us about Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds or Mothers Little Helper, I was equally spellbound listening to Murray’s dulcet tones. No drums or guitars in the background just the wail of Mike Hailwood’s Honda six as he raced between the walls and houses on Bray Hill at the start of the TT mountain circuit.

Murray’s voice was my link to a world I could only dream about. The World of Grand Prix motorcycle racing and the TT races. Whether it be from those iconic broadcasts on BBC radio’s Light Programme from the Isle of Man or those well-worn Stanley Scofield records. Murray was the joint commentator with his father Graham who was a TT and Ulster Grand Prix winner. The voice that became legendary throughout the world boomed out from our imposing radio in the dining room, filling the house with the exploits of Duke, Surtees and Hailwood.

Once we managed to ‘borrow’ the speakers from my friend’s parents record player and hide them in the hedge next to the bus stop. People waiting to catch the number 67 to work in Oxford were confused. Murray in full cry and volume describing the start of a TT race on the Glencrutchery road was not what they were expecting at 8.30 in the morning.

My favourite record was that memorable 1967 TT battle between Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini. I can still close my eyes and hear Murray describing Hailwood racing into the pits on the 500 cc Honda four and screaming for a hammer to bash the loose throttle back on the handlebars. Hailwood re-joined the race and won.

When I crossed the road for six years to work in Formula One, Murray was a legend. He was the voice of Formula One known throughout the world. He helped me so much in my new adventure. There was nothing we enjoyed more over a coffee in the F1 paddock than discussing and reminiscing about Grand Prix motorcycle racing and his beloved TT.

His Formula One commentaries are stuff of legends. His sheer enthusiasm and passion for the sport he loved so much came in a loud cacophony of sound, joy and sometimes wonderful gaffs.

God bless you Murray – you were voice for all of us to try and follow. None of us have ever got close.

By |2021-03-21T16:37:34+00:00March 21st, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Murray Walker, Lennon and Jagger

Lighting the candles on Yamahas birthday cake

Yamaha presented the perfect birthday cake to celebrate an amazing 60 years of Grand Prix racing: Cal Crutchlow’s iconic red and white livered YZR – M1 Yamaha which positively glowed in the Qatar pit lane sunshine before testing got underway last week.

Sunday, May 21st, 1961 heralded the arrival of another Japanese factory to shake the very core of European domination. Just two years after Honda appeared in the Isle of Man, five Yamaha riders prepared for battle around the Clermont-Ferrand circuit to compete in the third round of the World Championship at the French Grand Prix. Yamaha stepped into the World Championship arena for the first time with Fumio Ito and Taneharu Nogushi spearheading their efforts on the RD48 twin cylinder 250 two-stroke and RA41 single cylinder 125 cc two-stroke. It was tough unless you could get your hands on a four-stroke Honda or two-stroke MZ, but they were up for the fight

Three weeks later Ito grabbed Yamaha’s first-ever World Championship point with a sixth place in the Isle of Man 250 cc TT. Two years later round the same TT circuit, Ito brought Yamaha their first podium finish in second place, with the first win coming two rounds later with Ito victorious in the 250 cc Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps. Grand Prix racing was expensive for the factory but Phil Read convinced Yamaha to compete in all rounds of the 1964 250 cc Championship. His considerable efforts, their engineering skills and financial foresight resulted in Yamaha’s first World title and the first two-stroke machine to capture the 250-cc crown. Honda were desperate to hang onto the title. At the penultimate round in Monza, they produced a truly amazing six-cylinder 250 cc four-stroke machine but Read and Yamaha took the title from their great rivals with victory. The two-strokes ruled.

Where do you start with memories of these 60 years which have brought Yamaha 511 Grand Prix wins? When I saw Crutchlow’s YZR M1 shining in the Qatar pit lane, two immediately sprung to mind

Witnessing in 1968, while sampling a pint of the local ale at Union Mills, Bill Ivy scream past on the four-cylinder Yamaha rocket ship in a blur of red and white on route to setting the first 100 mph 125 cc TT lap.

Commentating on one of the greatest races I have ever witnessed at Welkom in South Africa in 2004. The Valentino Rossi/Max Biaggi head-to-head, wheel to wheel confrontation that simply fizzed and then exploded. Rossi’s first ride for the underperforming Yamaha team against his bitter rival Biaggi who left Yamaha to join Honda. After 28 laps they were separated by 0.210s. Both had gone well beyond their limits and more. Rossi cried with emotion as he kissed and thanked his M1 Yamaha at the finish

It was not only on track memories I recall having to thank Yamaha for, but a couple of vital decisions they made on choosing their riders.

Giving the honour of spearheading their first considerable factory-backed assault on the four-stroke dominated ultimate prize, the 500 cc World Championship to the brilliant Jarno Saarinen. Pulling out of that 1973 Championship when Saarinen was killed at the fourth round in the 250-cc race at Monza.

Returning to the 500-cc fray and giving Giacomo Agostini the opportunity to display what a truly great rider he was. Ago won his 15th World title in 1975 bringing Yamaha and a two-stroke machine their first-ever 500 cc World crown

This is not the first time that Yamaha have reverted to an iconic livery to celebrate a birthday. Sixteen years ago, Yamaha re-produced the Kenny Roberts yellow and black livery that had brought the legendary American three 500 cc World titles. Rossi and Colin Edwards competed in the American Grand Prix in Laguna Seca to celebrate Yamahas 50th year as a motorcycle manufacturer. Rossi completed the celebration by retaining the World title.

Thank you, Yamaha, for the last 60 years. Now It is over to you Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli and Rossi to complete the celebrations by bringing back that MotoGP™ title to light those candles on the birthday cake.

 

By |2021-03-17T15:26:51+00:00March 17th, 2021|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Lighting the candles on Yamahas birthday cake

The sound of music

It had been a long agonising winter of wait so what a moment to savour. The desert was alive with the sound of music. Those lockdown blues were blown away in an instant on Friday. No bird song or tumbling water but a raucous ear-shattering symphony of music. The unique unmistakable sound of 1000cc four-stroke engines in anger suffocating the windy dusty desert air. MotoGP™ was back.

Last month a journalist friend cheered me up and whetted my appetite for the 2021 season. The sound of a single Supersport bike negotiating those two glorious fast right-handers at the back of the Jerez pits in the WSBK test rattled through my phone – I lowered my face mask; the new season was getting closer

Pre-season testing is so brilliantly organised even in these pandemic dominated days. While MotoGP™ got underway in Qatar both Moto2™ and Moto3™ had already started in Portugal. It is a far cry from my early days as a journalist. No organised pre-season testing. Just a couple of race meetings if you were lucky before that first Grand Prix but it had its compensations. A chilly trip to the Adriatic coast of Italy or a flight across the Atlantic to Daytona in the Spring were the usual choices. No disrespect to Misano but there was only one winner.

Florida sunshine, the college students celebrating their Spring break, the amazing beach, the parade and carnival of exotic motorcycles along the Boulevard every night, Supercross, ice-cold beer and even the occasional rocket being launched from nearby Cape Canaveral. What more could you ask for, but I must not forget there was also the racing round the most famous banking in the world.

That amazing 300kph banking was not a place for the faint-hearted. It was where I was fortunate to watch two very special and different riders in action. Straight away I knew I was witnessing something very special, and both went on to win the ultimate prize, the 500cc World title.

In 1981 I met and then watched Freddie Spencer riding for the American Honda Superbike team. Immediately it was obvious why Honda were preparing the young so talented American to spearhead their return to Grand Prix racing the following year. The previous year Freddie had made his first trip to Europe to dominate the prestigious Transatlantic Race series in England. He made his Grand Prix debut at Zolder in Belgium riding a private Yamaha and in 1982 began a Grand Prix career that brought him and Honda two 500 and one 250 cc World title. Freddie is still the only rider to win both 250 and 500 cc titles in the same season.

That same year in Daytona I also met a raw but so fast young Australian who was determined to come to Europe. Riding the naked Moriwaki Kawasaki with those straight handlebars. Wayne Gardner was quick, determined and brave. The three qualities that brought him to Europe a year later were so evident when he re-captured Honda that 500 cc World title in 1987. The first Australian to win the premier title which he followed up by winning the first two Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island.

It is ironic that those trips to Daytona were organised by Mike Trimby who is the CEO and founder of IRTA. Today it is The International Road Racing Teams Association who organise all the pre-season testing with such precision and professionalism.

May I assure Mike that anybody who went on those early ‘Trimby Tours’ to Daytona will never forget them. When we arrived there, we honestly thought we had landed in paradise!

 

By |2021-03-10T16:47:24+00:00March 10th, 2021|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on The sound of music

What’s in a number?

What a fantastic decision to have to make. Only a few mere mortals have been in the position to make a choice the vast majority of us can only dream about. Only World Champions are given the choice – take with pride the number one plate or stick to that original racing number that has brought you success, luck and the ultimate accolade of a World title.

MotoGP™ World Champion Joan Mir joined the minority when he announced a couple of weeks ago that he was sticking with number 36 that had spearheaded his two World titles. The Spanish Ecstar Suzuki rider admitted it had been a difficult choice, but he would not desert his beloved 36. No number one plate but his tried and trusted friend as he defends the ultimate two wheeled crown

Some critics frowned but Mir has joined a very select group of World Champions. Riders who have become synonymous with their racing number. Two from very different eras whose racing numbers became a massive part of their legacy. Barry Sheene and Valentino Rossi or number 7 and number 46 to millions of global fans. Two brilliant riders, national heroes and rebels who were never afraid to speak their own minds and make their own decisions.

It may be 44 years ago that Sheene won the second of his 500 cc World titles for Suzuki but in Britain he is never forgotten. The two World titles, his bravery and determination to return after two life threatening accidents and his celebrity lifestyle and marriage to model Stephanie are all part of that legacy. Alongside all of them was his continental number 7 racing plate. It summed Barry up perfectly. A number 7 with a line through it. Old School Organisers in Britain tried to ban it saying he must stick to a traditional British number 7 with no line through it. To a rider who had drilled a hole in the front of his helmet so he could smoke a cigarette on the start line this was never going to happen. The late Barry Sheene and last British premier class Champion is still known as number 7 to a legion of loyal fans throughout the World.

One of Sheene’s great friends and rivals was a certain Italian by the name of Graziano Rossi. When the son of the three times Grand Prix winner started racing, he adopted the same number 46 racing number as his father. The rest is history. Nine World titles and 115 grand prix wins later Valentino Rossi is still using his dad’s number.

Wherever you go in the World you will see number 46. It can be a tee-shirt in Australia, a sticker in the rear window of a tuk-tuk in India, a car number plate in Rome or a cap in Finland, everybody knows who it represents. Number 46 is as big a part of the Rossi legacy as nickname the doctor or GOAT compliments.

These two legends are not alone in breaking with tradition and refusing the number one plate. Marc Marquez has won those eight World titles and 82 grands prix with his 93-number plate. MotoGP™ World Champion Jorge Lorenzo tried the number one plate after his first premier class title but switched back to his favourite 99 to win two more.

Will we be remembering race number 36 in years to come in the same way as numbers 7,46.93 and 99? Joan Mir certainly hopes so.

 

By |2021-03-03T17:00:53+00:00March 3rd, 2021|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on What’s in a number?

The pace of life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Cal – you saved my life!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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