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No Turkey or Auld Lang Syne for Fabio

No time for rest and little for reflection at Jerez. Just five days after that breathless, energy-sapping opening encounter of the season it’s back to work for aching bodies and high revving power units on the same piece of tarmac. It was a day of history making on Sunday, especially surrounding a mighty impressive 21-year-old Frenchman

For the first time in the 72-year history of Grand Prix racing, there will be back-to-back Grands Prix at the same circuit in the same season. There have only been back-to-back races at the same circuit on one other occasion and then the riders had time for Christmas dinner and New Year’s Eve celebrations before returning to the saddle for the second time.

The 500cc race at the legendary Montjüic Park circuit in Barcelona was the last round of the 1954 season. Dickie Dale won the 53-lap race for MV Augusta and was probably happy for the near seven months rest before returning for the opening round of the 1955 season at the 3.79km parkland circuit. His race time was an incredible one hour 51.55 minutes. Dale returned in May the following year where the race of similar distance was won by Reg Armstrong on the Gilera.

Since then there have been back-to-back Grands Prix in the same country but not at the same circuit. In 1988, Australian Kevin Magee secured his only Grand Prix victory at Jarama and seven days later Eddie Lawson was victorious at the Portuguese Grand Prix in Jerez. Valentino Rossi won the final race of the 2004 season in Valencia and then took the chequered flag at the opening round of the 2005 season in Jerez. Marco Melandri won the final round again at Valencia that year with Loris Capirossi victorious at the opening round of 2006 in Jerez. On two occasions there have been back-to-back Grands Prix in America. In 2012, Casey Stoner won in Laguna Seca and Dani Pedrosa at Indianapolis. A year later Marc Marquez won them both en route to that first MotoGP™ World title.

In 1966, the TT races were postponed because of a Seamans strike that prevented anybody from getting to the Isle of Man. The re-scheduled TT was held two weeks after the Ulster Grand Prix and Mike Hailwood won them both for Honda with Giacomo Agostini second on both occasions.

The only other time I have encountered back-to-back Grands Prix in the same country just a week apart was back on my Formula One adventures. In 1995, it was the Pacific Grand Prix at the isolated Aida Mimasaka circuit followed by the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka seven days later. I spent the gap between races making an emotional trip to Hiroshima and watching Sumo wrestling with Eddie Irvine and his team.

I don’t think Fabio Quartararo will have time for any such journeys as he strives to continue to re-write the history books at Jerez. On Sunday he was just the fourth French rider to win a premier class race, the first French premier class winner since 1999, the first satellite Yamaha rider to win a MotoGP™ race and the eighth youngest premier class winner. Next Sunday he returns to the scene of that first triumph with the prospect of becoming the first rider to win back-to-back Grands Prix at the same circuit and just the second youngest rider to win back-to-back premier class races.

For the second week in succession, it promises to be another breathless encounter with those history books ready and waiting.

By |2020-07-23T11:13:20+00:00July 23rd, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on No Turkey or Auld Lang Syne for Fabio

No brainer – MotoGP™ is back

It really is a no brainer – queue outside the Supermarket in the rain with face mask at the ready on Sunday morning. Listen to your own voice yet again commentating on another great old grand prix or watch live MotoGP™. At last the weekend returns to some sort of summer normality.

Like other sports that have returned from lockdown MotoGP™ will be different in everything but actually what happens where it really matters on the track. There will be no crowd, little ceremony and celebration but this should do little or nothing to spoil the show. Some television commentators will work from their home bases which is really no different to how they have always watched and commentated from the television screen

Football seemed flat at first without genuine crowd noise or even with the ‘canned’ crowd reaction, which reminded me of that added laugher we got in eighties television comedy shows. After a couple weeks we got used to it and MotoGP™ has still got the most important audio attachment of them all. Nobody back in the studio pushing the recorded audio button at the appropriate or in some cases wrong moment, just open the microphone and let that glorious-sounding symphony of sound and passion fill the room. Those high revving four-stroke engines, the gear changes up and down, the scrapping knees and elbows on the tarmac and even the grinding of a footrest and fairing when a mistake is not forgiven will return at Jerez.

Of course, it will be surreal as the sun rises early on Sunday morning over the usually jam-packed party-loving hillside overlooking Angel Nieto and Peluqui corners and to discover an empty desert of sand, grass and total silence. The air horns, the flags and sheer explosion of passion and excitement when the gladiators arrive in the arena to do battle will be sorely missed but when those lights change at the start it will be like we’ve never been away for six lonely months.

Television commentators back home will find very little difference apart from missing some of those certain superb paddock breakfasts before starting work. With the wonderful exception of Phillip Island, you are totally reliant of what you see on the screens. All the information you require comes from the live picture and timing screens although it was not always like that. Back in 1996 BBC Radio asked me to go to the studio at the imposing Broadcasting House in Central London to commentate live on the 500cc Czech Republic Grand in Brno. It was the day of the London Marathon and they needed some commentary to fill the gaps as the runners took on 45.195 kms of pure hell. Just one screen with live pictures from the magnificent Brno circuit. All was going well with Mick Doohan leading and his Repsol Honda team-mate Alex Criville hanging onto his back wheel like the proverbial limpet. I knew and certainly Mick knew that Alex would wait until that chicane at the top of hill leading onto the finishing straight on the very last lap to make his move. He did just that. They crossed the line side by side and I had no idea or timing screen to tell me who had won. I took the punt on Alex and his celebrations and Mick’s disgust confirmed I was right, but it was a total guess.

No such problems from Jerez on Sunday. The infamous turn 13 now named after Jorge Lorenzo has probably produced more controversial last bend, last lap finishes than any other slab of tarmac in the World. Hopefully, it will be those timing screens once again that help us discover the winners on Sunday.

Bring it on we have missed you so much and no finer place in the World than Jerez to herald the return.

 

By |2020-07-16T15:43:33+00:00July 16th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on No brainer – MotoGP™ is back

Superbike Island

20 years ago, Jeremy McWilliams called Britain Superbike Island – and he was not far wrong. The sparsely populated spectator bank overlooking Craner Curves and Old Hairpin corners at Donington Park said it all. Two decades before Coronavirus arrived this was not a case of social distancing, but more there was just not many people – 18,500 to be precise – interested in watching the British Grand Prix.

The Barry Sheene type adulation from the seventies had long transferred to a certain Carl Fogarty in the World Superbike Championship. Sell-out crowds packed Brands Hatch to support their hero on route to four World titles while MotoGP™ struggled to attract a crowd a quarter of the size to Donington, but that 2000 Cinzano British Grand Prix was the turning point

Twenty years ago, on Thursday this week a knight in shining armour rode to the rescue at Donington and we have never looked back. Dressed in yellow and white leathers, sporting an ear ring, wearing a flamboyant helmet and riding number 46, a four-cylinder 500cc two-stroke steed – a 21-year-old Italian sponsored by a brewing giant turned the sport on its head with his very first victory in the premier class.

88 premier class wins, four more at Donington and seven World titles followed, and Valentino Rossi was the new hero for British fans. Ironically, his father Graziano was a great friend of Barry Sheene and it was his son that took over Sheene’s iconic status.

On a typically damp British summer afternoon Rossi, riding the NSR Honda, fought off the considerable challenge of World Champion elect Kenny Roberts and McWilliams in the 30-lap race. He celebrated in style on the podium although British fans had already had a taste of his antics. Three years earlier he dressed up as the infamous local outlaw Robin Hood, hat and all after winning the 125cc race on route to the World title. Rossi won one more Grand Prix in 2000 at Rio. Then the floodgates opened wide in 2001.

The fans in Britain typified the change as Rossi rampaged across the globe on and off the track. On the track he won five successive premier class titles, mastering the switch to four-strokes and bringing Yamaha their first premier class title for 12 years. Off the track he put the sport where it had never been before. Social media just could not get enough, his face was on both front and back pages of newspapers throughout the world and the young Italian was soon a sporting icon.

Rossi may have been the new hero, but Jeremy McWilliams also played his part including the Superbike Island remark. He finished third in that 2000 British Grand Prix riding the Aprilia twin less than a second behind Rossi. A year later he won the 250cc race in Assen to become the first British solo class winner for 15 years. Typically, both Rossi and McWilliams are still racing today.

There may not have been so many people at Donington 20 years ago, but those loyal fans who made the effort were rewarded by witnessing history in the making. They are still telling their children and grandchildren they were there.

 

By |2020-07-08T19:30:25+00:00July 8th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Superbike Island

AND THAT WAS THAT

March 7th seemed like a normal Saturday on the road with Oxford United. Meet in the car Park at Ardley United for yet another journey up north, with a little bit of West this time. The usual friendly banter about my age from my colleague was perhaps a little bit more relevant with the news that morning 70-year olds may be banned from future games with a certain virus on route from China. I gave as good as I got. 

My usual pre-match meal of a McDonalds crispy hot chicken wrap tasted the same as ever. Nathan Cooper never fails to find the coffee and Jerome Sale was as usual rightfully concerned I was going to kick out one of the wires as I sat next to him in the crammed commentary position at the Montgomery Waters Meadow Stadium, the home of Shrewsbury Town.

An important game for United chasing their fifth successive win to push hard for at least a League One play off place at the end of the season. Whatever the result there would be no need to panic because there would still be nine games to go. Three points would be great but plenty of time left but great to keep the momentum going if possible was the consensus. That was certainly the feeling when United went two nil down. Shrewsbury then had a man sent off; Marcus Browne pulled one back for United right on the stroke of half time. Dan Agyei equalised early in the second half, but it looked like United would have to settle for a point until the 88th minute. I am telling listeners ‘What a free kick, what a header, what a goal and what a celebration. Marcus Browne with the free kick, Josh Ruffels with the header and goal and United fans behind the goal celebrating the late winner. A great moment that lifted United up into third place in the League One table but do not forget still nine games to go.

We packed up at 6pm in great spirits. I remember because it was the first time since October the previous year that it was still light as we made our way across the big car park. I planned the programme notes for the home game next Saturday against Milton Keynes because it was my turn to compile the BBC Radio Oxford page.

And that was that. One hundred and eighteen days, two and a half hours since the final whistle in Shropshire, United “kick a ball in anger” for the very first time on Friday evening. Not just any old league fixture but one of the most important games of the millennium for Oxford United and their fans – the first leg of the League One play-off semi-finals down on the South coast against Portsmouth.

Nobody knew what lay ahead as we drove home to Oxford on that March evening. Without that Josh Ruffels header United would not have reached the play offs. If I had known that at the time, I would have screamed so much louder into the microphone and we would have stopped for a pint or two on the way home. Still plenty of time for both in the next couple of weeks.

By |2020-07-01T09:57:11+00:00July 1st, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on AND THAT WAS THAT

NOISE OR NO NOISE – THAT IS THE QUESTION?

Delighted they may be but sports fans in England are now faced with a major dilemma. It probably will not make that much difference when MotoGP at last returns to our screens on July 19, but football fans in particular have a big choice to make. Background animated canned crowd noise or comments from players and Managers that remind me of many a cold wet Sunday morning league game at Cutteslowe Park in Oxford?

Like most I have tried both. At first no crowd noise and telling myself how interesting it was to hear the players shouts, claims and in some cases screams. Managers without face masks barking instructions from the side lines. All very grown up and educational to us football followers. After the first game I switched to the canned crowd noise channel. It was like one of those embarrassing comedy shows where the laughter and applause is popped on as an afterthought to make it feel live. I think the sound comes from the football video games and of course it has not got a hope in hell of replicating the Kop or the Holt in full cry. Is there a person sitting in a little studio, probably near Heathrow airport, with his hand ready to press the home or away supporters, foul, penalty or the ultimate home or away goal button? Sounds like a tough job especially with no laughter button that may be well received by Arsenal fans after witnessing their side’s attempts to defend.

I have gone down the canned noise route for now, but my big test is about to come when the mighty Oxford United travel to Portsmouth a week on Friday for the first leg of League One play-offs. There may not be a choice and at least United do not face Fleetwood who play Wycombe in the other play off. When they score at their Highbury home Fleetwood play the Captain Pugwash theme song. United have heard it far too many times and at least we should be spared at Wembley for the final if they both get through.

MotoGP will be much more like the real thing. No canned engine noise needed but just the real thing to get the adrenalin flowing once again. Will the riders miss the crowd noise probably nothing like as much as the media and other spectators? Just turn up at Mugello or as the riders will in three weeks’ time at Jerez as the sun rises over the surrounding hills on the Sunday morning of the grand prix for a wonderful reminder what this extraordinary sport is all about. Ten of thousands of fans have been partying on the hill sides all night and in the morning the flares, flags and air horns greet the gladiators as they arrive in the arena filled with noise and smoke. We will all miss that but when the lights change, nothing will change out on the track, crowd or no crowd.

No noisy celebrations, track invasions or Captain Pugwash but some racing to savour at last.

By |2020-06-25T08:57:43+00:00June 25th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on NOISE OR NO NOISE – THAT IS THE QUESTION?

JUST LIKE WAITING FOR A BUS

Sound familiar – You know that feeling waiting for a bus to arrive. Nothing for hours and suddenly they all come along at once which just about sums up the new MotoGP schedule. Nothing for months and then 13 races, all three classes in the space of 18 hectic weeks. Of course, there is no other solution in these extraordinary times and just having MotoGP back is such a boost although it may produce a very different Championship.

I have nothing but praise on how a championship in any shape or form has been organised and just cannot believe how the protocol announced is going to be instigated. I am just going to sit safely back at home and enjoy the sight and sound once again.

There is no doubt the riders will be prepared and raring to go but will such a tight schedule affect their desire to push to the very limit and beyond. Not only are there 13 races in 18 weeks but on three occasions there are three races in succession and two in succession in the other two. Recovery from an injury even for a couple of weeks could easily wreck any chances of championship success. You just cannot afford to be injured.

Thoughts turn to the Dutch TT next week. Where else would you think of being in the last week of June. Two contrasting episodes of riders crashing and just how their injuries in a normal schedule for the season affected their Championship chances. In 1992 Mick Doohan arrived in North Holland with a massive 53-point lead in the Championship after winning the opening four races. In the final qualifying session of pure carnage, the Australian Honda rider was one of the many top riders to crash, breaking his right leg in two places. A botched operation in the local hospital not only cost Mick the Championship but nearly his leg. He was only able to return for the final two races of the season with his precious lead slashed to 22 points. Brave was not a strong enough description as he fought through the pain barrier to protect the prospect of his first World title. He failed by just four points but happily for him his day, five days, was still to come.

Twenty-one years later Jorge Lorenzo crashed in the second wet practice session at Assen. It was obvious to us in the commentary box he had broken his collarbone as his left shoulder dropped while he limped through the gravel trap. We surmised when he would return and suggested perhaps in a couple of weeks’ time at the next round at the Sachsenring in Germany. One day later the World Champion flew back into Assen from a Barcelona hospital  with ten screws holding a titanium plate binding the snapped bones together. A day later Lorenzo finished fifth after 26 laps of the legendary venue, but the story has a precautionary ending to all riders competing in those 13 grands prix coming up. Obviously, he made it to the Sachsenring but crashed while looking so comfortable and re-broke the collarbone and missed the race.

Will those Championship contenders take note when they start the action on July 19? Will they be thinking about the packed schedule and staying clear of injury Probably not!

By |2020-06-18T09:19:58+00:00June 18th, 2020|Uncategorised|1 Comment

HAPPY BIRTHDAY WITHOUT THE CAKE

It is somewhat ironic that just a week after the British Grand Prix cancellation announcement that 71 years ago tomorrow (Saturday)World Championship racing celebrates its 71st birthday on these very shores. On June 13th 1949 the 350 cc TT race in the Isle of Man heralded the start of grand prix racing on two wheels not only in this country but also across the globe. 

There has been a British round of the World Championship ever since until last week’s news. Torrential rain may have caused cancellation of the actual races at Silverstone two years ago, but they had been scheduled to run until the storm arrived on the Sunday morning.

It was a clear dry morning in the Isle of Man which has not always been the case before or since, as the riders lined up to start the seven lap 350 cc race round the infamous mountain circuit. This was no modern day 20 lap dash round a purpose-built circuit but a 264.11-mile (425.047 kms) battle with the 37.73-mile (60.721 kms) mountain roads. After over three hours in the saddle Freddie Frith riding the Velocette crossed the finishing line to become the first ever winner of a World Championship Motorcycle race. Later in the week the bespectacled Harold Daniell won the premier class 500cc race riding the Norton while Irishman Manliff Barrington brought Moto Guzzi success in the 250cc race which was also held over the obligatory seven laps. Former Lancaster bomber pilot Les Graham won the very first six round 1949 500 cc World Championship, but tragically lost his life in the Isle of Man 67 years ago today (Friday). He was 37 years old when he won the title making him the oldest ever winner of the premier class World Championship. TT winner Frith was crowned 350 cc Champion, Italian Bruno Ruffo claimed the 250cc title and another Italian Nello Pagani, who was runner up in the 500cc Championship, was crowned the very first 125 cc Champion.

The British round of the World Championship remained at the TT until 1977. When many of the top riders including 15 times World Champion Giacomo Agostini refused to race in the Isle of Man because they thought it was too dangerous the Silverstone purpose built circuit, that 27 years earlier hosted the first ever Formula One car World Championship race, took over. Bad weather and crowd problems at Silverstone resulted in the British Grand Prix switching to Donington Park where it remained until 2010 when it returned to Silverstone.

It had to be a strange new MotoGP calendar that was revealed this week but at least there will be some racing this year. Two thoughts came to mind scanning the new schedule. We may be disappointed in Britain, but what about those passionate fans in Holland where the legendary Assen circuit does not host a World Championship race for the very first time in 71 years. For British fans, the chance for a British rider to win the Premier Class race (MotoGP) for the first time since it came to mainland from the Isle of Man back in 1977 will have to wait for yet another year.

I am sure that wait will be worth it and then we can bake that birthday cake and blow out those candles.

By |2020-06-11T16:13:55+00:00June 11th, 2020|Uncategorised|Comments Off on HAPPY BIRTHDAY WITHOUT THE CAKE

NO IDEA ADVENT OF DYNASTY HAD ARRIVED

Come on admit it we had no idea what the next ten years was going to bring. Personally, I just enjoyed commentating on the cracking 2010 125 cc Italian Grand Prix at Mugello with the first four riders covered by less than two tenths of one second after 20 laps around the legendary venue.

When  17 year old  Marc Marquez had fought off the challenge of Nico Terol, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith to win his first grand prix I didn’t prophesy that this was the start of a dynasty that would completely take over the World for the next ten years.

For me it was another young Spanish rider winning his first grand prix. Of course, like many of them before and since Marc was talented and perhaps a future World Champion. Eighty-one more grand prix victories and not one World title but eight, might be a clue I should have taken a little bit more notice.

My memories up till that fateful day where of a young rider with a fearless riding style and attitude that often resulted in some spectacular crashes and plenty of finger wagging from other riders. I remember remarking that perhaps he should be at school rather than standing on the Donington Park podium when he finished third at the British Grand Prix two years earlier after finishing third behind Scott Redding and Mike Di Meglio. It was the first of his 134 podium finishes, although that first grand prix win was still two years away. When it came the floodgates opened in a deluge that grand prix motorcycle racing had never experienced.

Riding the Derbi he won the 125 cc World title the same year and switched to Moto2. In 2012 riding the Suter he added the World title to his collection winning nine races, before joining the elite a year later. Would the teenager win grand prix that year and could he finish in the top three against the likes of Rossi and Co where the questions posed. The answers came back thick and fast. He won just second time out at Austin to become the youngest ever winner of a premier-class grand prix. He went on to become the youngest ever premier-class World Champion in 2013 riding the Repsol Honda. The record books were ripped apart by the teenager from Cervera with the ant emblem on his helmet. Five more premier class World titles thanks to 50 more grand prix victories. Ten successive grands prix wins in 2014 to match his peers Giacomo Agostini and Mick Doohan. That same year he won 13 grands prix. Last year he won 12 races on route to that sixth premier class title amassing a record number of 420 points. Over the last six decades the Sachsenring in Germany has learnt a thing or two about world class riders – Marquez has won there for the last ten years in a row.

Dominating the proceedings, the way he has over the last ten years is obviously down to sheer raw talent. Marquez has that talent in bucket loads, but great World Champions have so much more. He has overcome a number of career threatening injuries. In 2011 he could not complete the Moto2 season with an eye injury that threatened to end his career. Crashes especially while training have broken many bones and it was not a rare sight to see him pop a dislocated shoulder back into place and go on and win the next race. His aggressive style has upset the authorities and he has been penalised by having to start from the back row of the grid, of course going on to win the race. 

His biggest off-track triumph was taking on the king of the mind games Valentino Rossi in 2015 and not succumbing the pressure that has destroyed many others.

To say it has been an amazing decade since that day in Mugello is a vast understatement. Where will it all end?. Then there is his younger brother Alex. He has already won the Moto3 and Moto2 World titles and joins Marc as team-mate at Repsol Honda this season. The Marquez dynasty is set to continue for at least another decade.

Must be something in the water of Cervera.

By |2020-06-04T14:24:59+00:00June 4th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on NO IDEA ADVENT OF DYNASTY HAD ARRIVED

ITALY BROUGHT TO A HALT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By |2020-05-28T08:23:10+00:00May 28th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on ITALY BROUGHT TO A HALT

IT SEEMS LIKE YESTERDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think he would.

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