Nick and Martin
Nick Harris Media Communications
We are not sending out Christmas cards this year and instead are donating to the Oxfordshire Charity for the Homeless
Nick and Martin
Nick Harris Media Communications
We are not sending out Christmas cards this year and instead are donating to the Oxfordshire Charity for the Homeless
It’s amazing how much easier it is to commentate on a MotoGP™ race from your couch at home with a cup of tea in your hand. Why is it you see everything that is going on? Every pass, every mistake and every fastest lap just comfortably appears in front of you with such great clarity while in the confines of the commentary box with all the relevant facts and figures pinned on the wall around me, I could still miss things. I certainly now understand why viewers can get so annoyed and shout at the screen – Perhaps it’s that cup of tea that makes the difference.
For the first time in 39 years I watched this year’s MotoGP World Championship from the outside and it was amazing experience for somebody who has been so involved for so long. It certainly made me realise what a truly unbelievable Championship it is. It’s absolutely made for the television viewer and very rarely have they switched over to watch its four wheel counterpart while any of the three Championship races have been on screen.
Watching at first was so difficult but I got used to it and to the relief of the people around me stopped commentating from the couch by the time we got to Assen. I thought Dovizioso was going to win the title and just loved those battles with Marquez. I marvelled at Marquez’s ability to hang on and even pop his shoulder back into place when he didn’t. I so enjoyed watching that pure style of Lorenzo at last getting to grips with the Ducati and raised a glass to Rossi. Signing a new two deal with his 40thbirthday on the horizon, setting up a team that won the Moto2™ World Championship for Peko Bagnaia, cheering his step – brother on to his first grand prix win is the story of a true legend. I just wish he’d won in Malaysia. I celebrated that Moto3™ title with Jorge Martin after handing over so many Tissot Pole position watches to him over the years and woke up the neighbours celebrating Cal Crutchlow’s win in Argentina. I was sad to see the departure of Scott Redding and not just for those amazing haircuts. He’s done so much to increase the popularity of the sport in Britain since that 2008 win at Donington Park. Also the departure of the likeable Alvaro Bautista after an amazing career in all three classes.
Of course I missed so many things apart from the racing. Breakfast at Ducati, watching the football over a beer and discussing the prospects of the Cornish Pirates Rugby team at Alpine stars. The commentary box humour, checking how Oxford United have fared on my phone in the middle of the Qualifying press conference and of course the friendship and camaraderie that so long in the paddock brings.
Most of all I’ve missed that amazing feeling at 14.00 on a Sunday afternoon when the lights switched from red. That’s a unique moment that is such a privilege to have experienced and can never be repeated.
Dani Pedrosa draws his career to a close this weekend in Valencia after a long and successful career, prompting discussion about what does a rider need to achieve to be given the designation of a legend. Well let’s look at what he has achieved:
Although Pedrosa never achieved that dream MotoGP title, that is perhaps due to circumstances outside his control: his small physical stature, a fragile body and being around at a time when the premier-class is more competitive than ever with such other great riders as Rossi, Stoner, Lorenzo and Marquez.
Stand up and take a bow Dani – a true motorcycle grand prix racing legend!
No World Championships to be decided this time round and so it’s party time in Valencia before the 2019 season gets underway on Tuesday. Enjoy Sunday night because by Tuesday morning those 19 Grands Prix this year are a thing of the past as the first test of the new season get underway. MotoGP™ can certainly never be accused of standing still but thank goodness the test does not start on the Monday as it used to. Plenty of sore heads out on the track, in pit lane and in the media centre on those best to be forgotten Monday mornings which would also include test rides on the MotoGP™ machines for selected members of the media causing more headaches for the teams and not caused by the night before.
This is the 20th Grand Prix to be staged at Valencia with that first race at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in 1999. The circuit has staged the final Grand Prix for the last 17 years making it the venue that has staged the final event on most occasions. The MotoGP™ title has been decided on four occasions in Valencia. Who will forget 2006 when Nicky Hayden clinched the title finishing third after Valentino Rossi had crashed out. The decency and sportsmanship of Nicky’s Dad Earl knocking on the door of Rossi’s motorhome to offer his condolences before returning to celebrate his son’s title. It was a total contrast in 2015. Never in the 69-year history of the sport has there been such a poisonous acrimonious build up to a race, let alone before one that would decide the title. Never has a race sparked so much global interest in the Marquez/Rossi war that resulted in the title going to Jorge Lorenzo. There was certainly no knocking on motorhome doors that time round. Marquez clinched his first MotoGP™ title at Valencia in 2013 and his fourth last year.
Beware this year’s World Champions Marc Marquez, Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin. There has never been a year when the three Championship winners have all won their respective races since the final round has been staged in Valencia.
Dani Pedrosa bows out of Grand Prix racing on Sunday at a circuit he has won more races than any other rider. Four MotoGP™ wins are joined by two 250s and one in the 125cc class. A final goodbye from Dani with a victory would certainly spark a big party. Not perhaps everybody in the fountain, hotel furniture in the swimming pool, Brazilian police being called with the hotel waterfall being diverted into the lobby and guns being fired into the ceiling of the Zoom Zoom club in Goiania in the hellraising non-social media days of the eighties and nineties but never the less one hell of a party to rightly celebrate a fantastic career.
It was so so close to the absolute perfect day in Malaysia for a rider who has experienced so many in that amazing career. Four laps from the finish of the MotoGP™ race at the Shell Malaysia Grand Prix on Sunday Valentino Rossi was on course to experience a day that most sportsman at any level can only dream about.
His step brother Luca Marini had just won his first Grand Prix after victory in the Moto2™ race. Marini’s team-mate Francesco (Pecco) Bagnaia clinched the Moto2™ World title after finishing third in the same race and both riding for Rossi’s Sky Racing Team VR46 team. Could it get any better – yes was the answer because Vale himself was leading the MotoGP™ race as they flashed across the line at Sepang with four laps remaining. Just over 22km remaining on the red-hot tarmac before the 39 year old Italian would be celebrating his first win of the season to end a perfect day even by his incredible standards.
Nine World titles and 115 Grands Prix wins in 22 years of Grand Prix racing have taught Vale never to count his chickens, never presume in any circumstances in a sport that has a habit of wrecking the party just as you are putting up the decorations and the guests are about to arrive. Less than ten seconds after racing past his pit board telling him Marc Marquez was closing he went down at turn one in front of a sea of yellow flags in the Rossi grandstand.
The perfect day may have been ruined but this should take nothing away from the Sepang experience that is the perfect illustration on why the man from Tavulla has had a bigger impact and influence both on and off the track than any other rider in the 69-year history of the sport. Who else at 39 years old could lead a MotoGP™ race for so long in such sweltering conditions around one of the most demanding race tracks in the 19 race calendar? Who else would form his own team after being dismayed at the lack of young Italian talent on the world scene and then build a dirt track and ranch to train with the youngsters who have gone on to become World Champions? Who else could protect and deal with the publicity the arrival of his step brother in the World Championship generated and then help him become a Grand Prix winner.
Who else would have already announced his plans to carry on racing for at least two more years as he approaches that dreaded 40th birthday? Who else would just relish the fact that his protégés are now lining up to take him on in the ultimate MotoGP™ test with the latest World Champion Bagnaia joining Jack Miller next season in the Alma Pramac Ducati team?
There is nobody else because there is only one person and his name is Valentino Rossi.
These words from the Bob Dylan song came to mind as I watched the MotoGP podium presentation in Malaysia, with all three riders having graduated from the Moto2 class; the fourth time in 2018 that this had occurred (having only once happened prior to this year, at Misano in 2015). Is the balance of power finally changing in MotoGP from the dominance of the ex-250cc riders to riders coming through from Moto2?
Looking at the numbers of podium finishers in MotoGP by Moto2 riders for each year since 2011:
2011 – 0
2012 – 0
2013 – 17 (Marquez – 16, Bradl – 1)
2014 – 15 (Marquez – 14, Smith – 1)
2015 – 14 (Marquez – 9, Iannone – 3, Redding – 1, Smith – 1)
2016 – 21 (Marquez – 12, Iannone – 4, Vinales – 4, Redding – 1)
2017 – 23 (Marquez – 12, Vinales – 7, Zarco – 3, Folger – 1)
2018 (with one race remaining) – 30 (Marquez – 14, Vinales – 5, Iannone – 4, Rins – 4, Zarco – 3)
These number show that since 2015 there has been a steady increase in both the number of MotoGP podium finishes by Moto2 graduates and the number of riders achieving these. Irrespective of what happens in Valencia, the number of podiums by ex-Moto2 riders will be more than 50% of those available in 2018 and five of the ten riders who have finished on the podium this year also come from this group.
So does this confirm that “The Times Are A-Changin”? Well with the retirement of Dani Pedrosa, and Alvaro Bautista going to WSBK, the honour of the 250cc GP graduates now depend on just five riders next year in MotoGP: Andrea Dovizioso, Karel Abraham, Aleix Espargaro, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. Predicting what will happen next year in MotoGP is not something I will try, I would rather taking something from these word of wisdom from the Bob Dylan song:
“Come writers and critics, Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide, The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon, For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’.
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.”
The sold-out signs are being printed for Sepang this Sunday as MotoGP™ mad Malaysia prepares for the penultimate round of the Championship. What a turn around. Remember those early days at Sepang. You could count the number of spectators in some of those vast grandstands with the amazing roofs. We would sit in the stand that towered above the back straight eating our hamburgers purchased from a deserted stall in the mall watching a practice session and we would be the only people there.
I first went to Sepang which is situated close to Kuala Lumpur International airport in 1999 to work at the Formula Car race and returned a year later for MotoGP™. The contrast was enormous with Kuala Lumpur buzzing about the arrival of Formula One at this state of the art glitzy shiny circuit and paying little interest in the bikes; so what happened to produce such a total transformation in two decades. Formula One has gone through dwindling crowds and interest and MotoGP™ has exploded.
The very nature of the two sports has helped with the pure excitement of close racing and overtaking on two wheels bringing the crowds flocking. You only have to stop at any set of traffic lights in Kuala Lumpur to realise just what a vast market Malaysia and the rest of the Far East is to the major motorcycle manufacturers. Ticket prices and facilities to suit the customers by the forward-thinking SIC Ceo Dato Razlan Razali has embraced all these facts while four times Sepang has witnessed the crowning of a new MotoGP™ World Champion, being the penultimate round definitely has its advantages. Finally, the adulation of Valentino Rossi that has lifted many a circuit into the black and a decent bank balance has never been more obvious.
The Doctor has won six times in Sepang on both Honda and Yamaha machinery and in the 500cc and MotoGP™ classes. Three times he’s clinched the MotoGP™ World Championship in 2003, 2005 and 2009 with his then team-mate Jorge Lorenzo winning the title at Sepang a year later although typically Rossi won the race and stole the limelight.
You could not imagine the total contrast in the facilities between Sepang and when we arrived for that very first Malaysian Grand Prix 27 years ago at Shah Alam. Full marks to the old circuit which ironically was situated near the old International airport before they both switched to pastures new but just as close. Shah Alam laid the very foundations for today’s success story staging seven Malaysian Grands Prix before Johor took over for a single year. Sepang hosted its first motorcycle Grand Prix in 1999 with Kenny Roberts victorious on the 500cc Suzuki.
The Sepang circuit will be jammed to the very rafters of those amazing grandstands on Sunday. It’s more like being at a massive football match with adrenalin fuelled noise, excitement and colour; that’s before the racing even gets underway. The only problem is that you have to leave the hotel an awful lot earlier than you ever did all those years ago.
A very small price to pay to enjoy a Grand Prix that is the perfect illustration of the MotoGP™ revolution that has transformed the sport over the last two decades.
When Marc Marquez intimated at the weekend he has every intention of carrying on racing for at least ten years or more I reached for the MotoGP™ bible, the red book of statistics. The new Champion has a long way to go but should Giacomo Agostini and Valentino Rossi start to get worried? We can’t predict what is going to happen to any of us in the next decade but if you follow the bible’s statistics the 25-year-old Spaniard could become a real threat to a couple of record breakers we never expected to be eclipsed.
When Marquez clinched his seventh World title with another masterclass at Motegi on Sunday those records continued tumbling. It was the third time he’d clinched the MotoGP™ title for his Repsol Honda team at Motegi; the home of Honda. The other two were in 2014 and two years ago.
Only Agostini and Rossi have won more premier class titles. It was Marquez’s fifth on Sunday to equal Mick Doohan’s record from the nineties. He’s closing in on Ago with eight and Vale on seven. It’s the next two statistics that show just what he has achieved and what he could go on to completely rewrite those history books we always thought were cast in stone.
Marquez is the youngest-ever rider to win five premier class World Championship titles, at the age of 25 years 246 days, taking the record from Rossi who was 26 years 221 days when he won his fifth successive premier-class title in 2005.
He is also the youngest rider of all-time to reach the milestone of seven World Championship titles across all classes, taking the record from Mike Hailwood who was 26 years 140 days old when he won his seventh title – the 1966 350cc world championship.
This is his seventh World title across all classes, five MotoGP™ and one apiece in Moto2™ and 125; the only Spanish rider with more world titles than Marquez is Angel Nieto who won thirteen World Championship titles, seven 125cc, six 50cc. He equalled the record of Doohan by winning the premier class title five times for Honda.
Will anybody ever eclipse Ago’s seemingly untouchable record of 122 Grand Prix wins with even Vale admitting it’s going to be tough because he’s still seven behind. Marquez is still way back on 69 but with 43 wins in just six years in the premier class another ten in the saddle could reap its rewards’.
A long way to go and Ago and Vale achieved those records riding two separate makes of machinery with both two–stroke and four stroke power. Agostini on MV Agusta and Yamaha and Rossi on Honda and Yamaha. Would Marquez also have to change machinery at some point to push the two legends? Of course, it’s far too early for Ago and Vale to start looking over their shoulders but after witnessing the first 25 years of Marquez’s life, never say never.