Latest News & Insights

Blog writer’s dream at the Sachsenring

One lap into the Liqui Moly German Grand Prix on Sunday and it was the blog writer’s dream. I was spoilt for choice at the Sachsenring. Sometimes but not very often if at all this season, I have got the old grey cells working overtime to research an interesting subject but no such problems as they started the second lap of the 30-lap race around the shortest circuit on the calendar.

Marc Marquez leading the way chasing his 11th successive win at the Sachsenring and his eighth in the premier class. The Repsol Honda rider qualified in fifth place, the best since his return to Grand Prix racing, and made a great start from the second row diving up the inside at the infamous turn one before taking the lead at the last corner of the first lap. In second place Spaniard Aleix Espargaro chasing his first-ever podium finish on the Aprilia Racing Team Gresini after starting from the front row of the grid. It was the first time the Italian factory better known for 125 and 250 cc two-stroke success had begun a four-stroke race from the front row.

They had never finished on the podium in the four-stroke MotoGP™ era and it was way back in the 500cc class Jeremy McWilliams was bringing them success on the 500cc twin-cylinder machine. Who will ever forget that pole position at Phillip Island in Australia 21 years ago and those two third places at Mugello and Donington by the Ulsterman in 2000?

A year earlier former 250cc World Champion Tetsuya Harada stepped up to the premier class and finished third at Le Mans and Donington. Two years earlier Doriano Romboni brought the Italian factory their first premier class podium with a third-place at Assen behind Mick Doohan and Carlos Checa Four-stroke success did not follow but Aleix was on the charge from the front row.

In third place was pole sitter Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) chasing his first-ever MotoGP™ victory. The Frenchman riding the Pramac Ducati had already finished on the podium four times this season and was second in the Championship behind countryman Fabio Quartararo. Five years ago, Zarco won the Moto2™ race at the Sachsenring on route to retaining his World title and this was his big chance to do it again.

It was the perfect scenario but of course, it could not last. When those spots of rain started to fall it became obvious that the battle at the front between Marquez and the magnificent Miquel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) on the RC16 was going to be the focus. What a return to winning ways for Marquez after a brilliant controlling ride at the front against the Portuguese rider who already looks like a Championship contender. Those two Grand Prix in Austria at the beginning of August should provide some homecoming for KTM.

It was Marquez’s first win since the final round of the 2019 season in Valencia. It was his eleventh successive win at the Sachsenring and his eighth in the premier class. He goes one better than Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) who won seven consecutive premier class races at Mugello but as often happens a certain Giacomo Agostini is still the man to beat. The 13 times World Champion and 122 times Grand Prix winner. won nine successive 500cc races on the MV Agusta at the Imatra street circuit in Finland between 1965 – 1973 and even returned in 1975 to win on the two-stroke Yamaha. He also won eight successive premier class races at the wonderful Spa Francorchamps Belgium circuit all on the four-stroke MV Agusta.

This time it was Marquez but on Sunday in Assen it could so easily be the turn of Aleix or Johann. One thing for certain there will be no problem for the blog writer finding a suitable subject.

By |2021-06-24T08:29:35+00:00June 24th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Blog writer’s dream at the Sachsenring

The birth of a dream

On a welcome dry clear morning, 100 riders dressed in black leather jackets and trousers sporting pudding basin style helmets lowered their goggles and prepared to make history. It was 72 years ago last Sunday (June 13, 1949) and the location a giant granite rock situated between the rugged coastlines of England and Northern Ireland.

The very first race in the World Motorcycle Racing Championship was about to start. The rumble and then roar of 350cc British single-cylinder motorcycle pierced the thin Manx air as the riders lined up on the Glencrutchery road in the Isle of Man. Seven laps of the most demanding test of man and machine in the World, the infamous 60.721 kms TT mountain circuit. The distance, a ‘mere’ 425 kms around an Island that had been staging motorcycle racing on its roads since 1909. When the British Government imposed a 32 kph speed limit on all roads the forward-thinking Manx Government realised that closing their roads for racing could have far-reaching consequences. They were right and the TT races on the Mountain circuit continue to this day. There could have been no better or worthy venue to stage that first World Championship race, a year ahead of the Formula One Championship that started at Silverstone in 1950.

It was just four years since the finish of the second World War when the FIM launched the World Championship. The six round Championship was held only on European circuits and consisted of four solo classes 125, 250, 350 and 500cc plus sidecars. The other tracks selected were Berne in Switzerland, Assen in Holland, Spa Francorchamps in Belgium, Clady in Ulster Northern Ireland and Monza in Italy.

The new World Championship grid looked very similar to those of the late thirties both in personnel and machinery. The biggest change mechanically was the banning of Supercharged engines and German-built machines.

In so many ways that very first 350cc TT race summed up what lay ahead for the next 72 years. Pure excitement and skill, drama, disappointment and tragedy all in one race. Former bomber pilot Les Graham – who had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in 1944 – led the way by 19 seconds at the end of the first lap, but a broken clutch brought his race to a premature halt less than a lap later. The AJS of Bill Doran took over until his gearbox broke on the last lap climbing the mountain section of the track. Freddie Frith riding the Velocette had no idea of Doran’s demise and set the fastest lap of the race on the last lap on route to a historic victory. Ulsterman Ernie Lyons made it a Velocette one-two with another Ulsterman Artie Bell third on the Norton. Graham’s bad luck continued in the 500cc race four days later when he broke down three kilometres from the finish when the magneto shaft shattered on his AJS. Typically, he pushed the stricken machine those final three kilometres to finish in tenth place. He was rewarded at the end of the season by being crowned the first 500cc World Champion.

Tragically TT regular Ben Drinkwater died in a crash at the eleventh milestone on the fourth lap of that opening 350cc race.

The World Championship was up and running but there was one big change from today. The seventy-five machines that finished that marathon 350cc seven lap race on that historic day were all British built – times have changed!

By |2021-06-17T08:34:27+00:00June 17th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Family values: Remy joins an exclusive club

Moto2™ Championship leader, Barcelona and Mugello winner Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) is becoming a member of a very exclusive club next season. The Australian joins a select band of fathers and sons who have both raced in the premier class of Grand Prix racing when he joins the Tech3 KTM Factory Racing team. However, he is only knocking on the front door of this special family club

The Red Bull KTM Ajo rider has all the correct qualifications to join but that is just the start. Can he emulate his father Wayne by winning a premier class Grand Prix leading to a World title? He would be only the third father and son to both win a premier class race. Surely, he could stand for presidency by becoming only the second father and son to win the elite class World title.

There are plenty of fathers and sons who have raced in the premier class. There are fathers and sons who have won Grand Prix races, but not both in the 500cc/MotoGP™ class. Famous names such as Graziano and Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT), Angel and Pablo Nieto, Les and Stuart Graham, Peter and Philipp Ottl, Stefan and Helmut Bradl and of course Wayne and Remy. Both winning in the premier class is a very different proposition and just two families have achieved such an accolade. Kenny Roberts Senior and Junior won 30 500cc Grands Prix between them. Italians Nello and Alberto Pagani won five 500cc Grands Prix with father Nello winning two in 1949 in the first year of the World Championship.

The 30 Grand Prix wins for the Roberts’ is the clue to the ultimate accolade. They are the only father and son to win the elite class World title in the 73-year history of the sport. Kenny Senior won the 500cc World title three times in 1978,79,80 on the Yamaha. Twenty years later Kenny Junior brought Suzuki the 2000 title.

There are plenty of fathers and sons who have both raced in the premier class. Some are obvious but others not so. World Superbike supremo Carl Fogarty and father George both raced in the 500cc class. Canadians Yvon and Miguel Du Hamel. Father Yvon started four 500cc Grand Prix races, but never made it to the finish. Barry Sheene’s brother-in-law Paul Smart and his Son Scott and TT heroes Tony and David Jefferies and Tony and Michael Rutter.

Others are better known including Ron and Leon Haslam, Walter and Cristiano Migilorati, George and Pierre Monneret and Australians Harry and Eric Hilton.

There is one record that is likely to remain for a long time or even forever. The German father and son Ernst and Reinhard Hiller not only raced together but also both scored points at the same Grand Prix.  When many of the stars retired in the 1973 German Grand Prix at the Hockenheim Ernst finished third and Reinhard sixth.

I am sure Wayne would be up for it and tell all who was prepared to listen he would not only race but also of course win. Realistically those days have long gone but at a certain age, we are allowed to dream.

By |2021-06-10T10:12:20+00:00June 10th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Family values: Remy joins an exclusive club

Where have all the Aliens gone….

“Those guys are riding as if from a different planet…” this was the comments made about a select group off riders in MotoGP, who every week seemed to be in a class of their own. This quickly moved-on to these riders being dubbed the “Aliens”. Initially this group of riders consisted of Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo; when Stoner retired at the end of 2012 he was replaced by Marc Marquez, who quickly established himself as one of the group. The following table shows how this group of riders dominated the MotoGP podiums, starting in 2006 when Rossi was joined by Pedrosa and Stoner.

Year

Percentage of MotoGP podiums taken by the “Aliens”

2006

37.2

2007

55.5

2008

81.5

2009

86.3

2010

81.5

2011

70.6

2012

79.6

2013

90.7

2014

88.9

2015

77.8

2016

64.8

2017

55.5

2018

42.6

2019

35.1

2020

2.4

In 2006 Valentino Rossi was was already a five time premier-class world champion and he was joined that year in MotoGP by both Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner. Pedrosa made an immediate impact and eight podium finishes in his rookie season, including two victories. Stoner’s impact was less immediate, finding it tough going on Michelin tyres and a satellite bike, managing a single podium finish in Turkey. In 2007 these two riders really got into their stride with Stoner winning the title from Pedrosa, with Rossi coming in third. The opening race of that year in Qatar was a sign of things to come, and the first podium consisting of three Aliens: Stoner from Rossi and Pedrosa in 3rd. That year these three rider took more than 50% of the podiums on offer.

The real domination of MotoGP by an elite group of riders became evident in 2008, when they were joined by Jorge Lorenzo. These four Aliens took more than 80% of all the podium places that year, with nine of the 18 races resulting in all Alien podiums.

This domination continued through the next seven year, with the addition of Marquez to the ranks to replace Stoner in 2013. As shown in the above table, there was a dip in 2011 and 2012 when Rossi went to Ducati and finished on the podium just three times over the two years. The 2013 and 2014 seasons were particularly dominated by the group of four riders. In 2013 they took 49 of the 54 podium places available (the others going to – Cal Crutchlow x 4, Stefan Bradl x 1, perhaps Crutchlow at that stage was the best of the Earthlings?). In 2014 just 6 podium finishes went to riders other than the Aliens (Andrea Dovizioso – 2, Alvaro Bautista – 1, Aleix Espargaro – 1, Crutchlow – 1, Bradley Smith – 1).

The domination of the elite group was starting to crack in 2016, when a record nine different rider stood on the top step of the podium and a new wave of riders challenged the established order. As shown above, this trend has continued and last year the Aliens could muster only one podium in total, due to the retirement of Pedrosa and Lorenzo, the injury to Marquez and the ageing of the founding member of the group, Rossi.

Of course it may be speculated that the DNA of these five riders have spread throughout the MotoGP field (not literally of course!), raising the level of all. And there is evidence to support this; Pedrosa having no podium finishes in 2018, Lorenzo none in 2019, Rossi now thirteen races with just one top ten finish. So rather than the Aliens losing their superpowers, is it that others have raised their game; maybe the invasion has been successful and they are all Aliens now?

By |2021-06-07T19:49:25+00:00June 7th, 2021|Martin Raines Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Where have all the Aliens gone….

Vale at Mugello – Graziano, Hawaii and Helicopters

It may have only been a few television glimpses of number 46 in the Mugello sunshine on Sunday, but they were enough. Valentino Rossi in action at the magnificent Tuscan circuit the home of the Italian Grand Prix. A rider and venue carved into the very foundations of the last quarter of a century of Grand Prix racing.

Twenty-five years in which Rossi led the revolution at circuits throughout the World but it is Mugello that sums it all up. Massive passionate crowds packing the hillsides supporting a national hero and even an organised track invasion at the finish to celebrate in front of the podium.

Of course, it is about Rossi’s nine Grand Prix wins, including seven MotoGP™ victories in a row, 14 podium and seven pole positions at Mugello but it is so much more

There was quite a melee Italian style round a desk in the press room overlooking pit lane in Mugello. Holding court sitting on the desk was a very young-looking fresh-faced teenager with long hair and already the Italian media were noting down every word he spoke. It was June 1995 at the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, and I had absolutely no idea who he was.

I was told on enquiry he was Graziano Rossi’s son and honestly thought little more about it. Less than a year later Valentino had made his Grand Prix debut in Malaysia and less than six months later won the first of his 115 Grand Prix victories at Brno in the Czech Republic. The headlines soon changed, and the roles reversed – Three times Grand Prix winner Graziano Rossi was now Valentino Rossi’s dad.

Six years after that first meeting, I had organised a photoshoot on the London Eye big wheel overlooking the River Thames. Vale had won the opening three 500 Grand Prix of the 2001 season and was even big news in Britain. After a press conference in the pub next to the Eye I jumped into a taxi with Vale and his great mate Uccio on route to the BBC Studios at White City. They were like a couple of kids on their phones organising the end of School Prom but this was something special for Mugello. They had discovered there was a Rossi fan club in Hawaii, and they wanted to celebrate the fact.

It started off by planning to fly a couple of the fan club in for the race but typically the idea just exploded. By the race weekend in Mugello Rossi ‘s helmet and leathers were both in a Hawaiian flower design. The complete Honda pit crew wearing Hawaiian shirts, the NSR Honda’s fairing was resplendent in Hawaiian flower logo and to finish the theme a plastic swimming pool with a palm tree in the middle was positioned track side. The fans and media just could not get enough of it. This was a phenomenon of fun and self-promotion Grand Prix racing had never witnessed before. Others had tried but did not have the talent where it really mattered out on the track. This was just the start, and the Rossi juggernaut was on the road and building up to top speed

Seven years later in 2010 not only Mugello but the whole of Italy shed tears. Rossi crashed in practice on a cold rear tyre at the Biondetti chicane and broke his leg. As the bright yellow medical helicopter took off to transport him to hospital, he acknowledged those tears with a wave from the stretcher. The television pictures of a young lady waving back with tears streaming down her face just summed up what this passionate nation felt about their hero. He returned just five and a half weeks later to finish fourth at the Sachsenring.

I honestly do not know if Valentino Rossi made his last appearance at Mugello on Sunday. Whatever happens those images of the number 46 racing between the green hills of Tuscany over the last quarter of a century will never be forgotten especially by anybody who was lucky enough to be there.

By |2021-06-03T08:39:04+00:00June 3rd, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Mugello – More than six laps and no ten finger calculations

I had almost forgotten what a flag-to-flag race was all about until Le Mans last week. The spectacle of the riders racing into pit lane, not all arriving at the correct pits to change bikes, soon put that right and thoughts turned to Mugello in 2004. The MotoGP™ race that afternoon in the Tuscan hills was the very foundation of the flag-to-flag concept. It was an extraordinary afternoon resulting in the shortest ever premier class race in the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing. Just six laps of the 5.24 km circuit, a 31.47 km distance, brought Valentino Rossi the 25 World Championship points and a hero’s reception to set up his successful Yamaha World Championship bid.

Sitting in the commentary box, it was confusing but, rule wise, very clear. Once the race that had started in the dry was stopped after 17 laps when the rain began to fall the results of the second race would determine the complete results and points scorers. The fact that the second race was only six laps to make up the original 23 lap race distance did not matter. It was rumoured that some television stations went off air thinking the first race was the result. Things had to change, and they did the very next year

The flag-to-flag concept was borne. Riders could change bikes with different tyres if the race started in the dry and then turned wet or in the opposite direction from wet to dry. The first time the white flag was shown to indicate riders could change from slicks to wets came at Estoril in Portugal that year. It was just the second round of the 2005 Championship, but it dried out and no rider elected to come in.

Incredibly the weather stayed dry for over a year until the 2006 Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island, which at last brought about the first flag to flag race. British rider James Ellison was the first rider ever to change bikes, but the race is probably best remembered by winner Marco Melandri remarkable celebratory wave while sliding through the final corner at around 200 kph.

It was Phillip Island seven years later at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix I had another commentary box moment. The track had been resurfaced and Bridgestone soon realised during practice that their tyres would not last the race distance. Riders were instructed to follow a flag-to-flag process and call in to change bikes with new tyres on laps nine or ten. I was in control ticking off each lap and smiled when the riders started to call in after nine laps. I watched Marc Marquez race through and waited for him to appear in pit lane at the end of lap. I panicked and checked my ten fingers when he raced down the Gardner straight towards the Doohan corner on full throttle. Once again had I messed my maths? Anguish on the Repsol Honda pit wall suggested it was not me. Unbelievably in the age of computers, traction control, fly-by-wall throttles and seamless gearboxes, the old ten fingers method had been ignored. They miscalculated the number of laps and Marc was disqualified.

Never was the problem of working out who had won the race when it turned from dry to wet better illustrated than the totally chaotic British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1978. Some riders came in and changed wheels fitted with wet tyres while other stayed on slicks. It was a complete nightmare for the lap scorers using pen, paper and eyes. Kenny Roberts was declared the winner, but nobody is sure and British privateer Steve Manship, who was declared second, still claims victory.

Even when the rules were put in place to avoid such chaos there were still problems at the 1989 Belgium Grand Prix in Spa Francorchamps. The race was stopped twice, and then run a third time. After much discussion, the third race was deemed against the rules and only half World Championship points were awarded after the first two.

So, no ten-finger calculations or six-lap races at Mugello this weekend and hopefully no rain.

By |2021-05-26T16:20:19+00:00May 26th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Mugello – More than six laps and no ten finger calculations

Paddlers, side saddlers and run and jumpers

There is nowhere better in the World than Le Mans to witness that undiluted explosion of sound and fury at the start of a MotoGP™ race. It just bounces off those towering legendary grandstands that dwarf the start and finish straight. When empty the noise is further amplified from the concrete terraces. Sunday was no exception as Jack Miller headed the growling pack of 300 bhp monsters into the fast right-hander before the Dunlop chicane. It all used to sound so different. Up to 34 years ago all you could hear was the patter of feet on tarmac when the flag dropped even at Le Mans

Thirty-eight years into the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing you had to start the race by pushing your bike to fire it into action ready for the battle that lay ahead.  From 50 to 500cc and even sidecars, it was the only way to join the fight. So many races were lost as a rider pushed, pushed and pushed to start his bike as his rivals disappeared over the horizon and out of sight. It all changed in 1987 when clutch starts were finally ratified starting at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, the opening round of the World Championship.

It was a very special event not only for the clutch starts. The first Japanese Grand Prix for 20 years and on a personal note the first time I went to Japan and the first time I ever witnessed a fax machine in action. At the time I forgot those first three memories. A fax machine that saved hours of typing out full results late into a Sunday night and could contain six different classes and sidecar passengers. It was a miracle!

Randy Mamola won that first 500cc race with clutch starts but Randy knew all about and had perfected the art of running and pushing. The Californian had already won ten 500cc Grands Prix before the change. In the 500cc class you either had to be a side saddler or jump on starter. The paddlers were confined to the smaller class

In the 50 and later 80cc classes and especially when the two-strokes took over, riders would propel themselves off the line sat on the bike. They would paddle and paddle with both legs and hope the engine would fire into action when they prayed they had enough speed to drop the clutch. It was a gamble that worked most times although failure meant the rider would have to jump off and push.

The classic method of starting especially in the four-stroke era in the bigger classes was side saddle. Riders would look more like royalty on a leisurely horse ride round their estate sitting side saddle. There was nothing leisurely about what happened when they dropped the clutch and the engine roared. They would cock their leg over the back of the saddle onto the footrests as they disappeared

The riders loved the downhill starts and nowhere better than Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. From the start line it was downhill towards the legendary Eau Rouge corner at the bottom of the hill. Most people made good starts at Spa and none better than seven times World Champion Phil Read. My first trip to Spa was in 1974 and Read made the perfect start on the MV Agusta four-stroke with Giacomo Agostini leading the chasing pack on the two-stroke Yamaha. Spa may have been 14.100 kms long but just over four minutes later we first heard and then saw Read racing through the Ardennes forest to complete his first lap with not a single other rider in sight. Perfect start and race for Read who beat Ago by an incredible 72 seconds to win the race and eventually the World title.

It really was a case of the sound of silence until 1987 with just the patter of feet to signify a Grand Prix had actually started. Clutch starts certainly made life easier for riders. Like all changes it also had its disadvantages. Modern technology catches anybody who moves a centimetre before the lights change. Back in the pushing days a small step before the flag dropped would usually go unnoticed. Afterall, there was plenty of pushing ahead.

By |2021-05-20T08:23:28+00:00May 20th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

A long way from home

There is something special about Australian sportsmen and women. Perhaps performing so far from home makes them just that more determined to win and prepared to push to the limit and beyond. Grand Prix motorcycle racing is a prime example of the hardships they have overcome to win World Championships and Grands Prix for their country. It is also probably a reason they celebrate success a fair bit harder than most other nationalities. From that first Australian Grand Prix winner Ken Kavanagh in 1952 to Jack Miller’s win at Jerez last weekend you realise just what it means not only to the rider but the whole country.

Australian riders have always been prepared to follow their dreams and travel across the globe to race against the best in the world. They were not content to just read about or watch at the cinema Grand Prix racing in Europe. Instead, they made enormous sacrifices and, in some cases, the ultimate sacrifice, to find out for themselves just what it was all about.

Imagine making that 22,000km six-week sea journey from Australia to Europe to compete in the very first World Championship event at the 1949 TT races in the Isle of Man. That four-hour crossing from Liverpool to the Isle of Man across the bumpy Irish Sea must have seemed like a doddle for the three Australian riders, Eric McPherson, Harry Hinton and George Morrison, who flew the Australian flag 73 years ago not only at the TT but in that historic first season. Growing up I always thought how romantic it sounded. Far from home, travelling around Europe in a van to race motorcycle at legendary venues but it was a hand to mouth existence, especially for the non-European riders, but they continued to arrive

Hinton’s third place in the 1950 Dutch TT riding the Norton was their first podium finish. Two years later Ken Kavanagh became the first Australian winner with victory in the 350cc race at the Ulster Grand Prix. It took another four years for the first world title with Keith Campbell crowned the 1957 350cc World Champion riding the Italian Moto Guzzi machine. Tom Phillis made history four years later bringing Honda their first Grand Prix win in the 1961 125cc Spanish Grand Prix. He went on to bring Honda their first world title the same year but tragically lost his life at the 1962 TT races.

I remember watching Barry Smith winning the 1968 50cc TT race and a year later sitting spellbound witnessing Kel Carruthers jump the legendary Ballaugh Bridge on the mountain circuit riding the gloriously sounding four cylinder Benelli. Carruthers, who later became the mentor for the likes of Kenny Roberts to dominate European racing, went on to win the 250cc TT and the world title.

Twenty years later I was in the thick of the action when two Australian riders arrived to dominate the 500cc World Championships and change the whole direction of the sport back home. Wayne Gardner lived on fish and chips and slept in the back of his Austin 1800 car when he arrived in England in 1982. Five years later he became the first Australian 500cc World Champion, and the country went completely crazy. He was voted Australian Sportsman of the Year ahead of Wimbledon tennis champion Pat Cash. National television started to broadcast the races live and the magnificent Phillip Island circuit staged the first Australian Grand Prix.

Mick Doohan took over the handlebars in the nineties. I will never forget the Queenslander’s fight back after almost having his leg amputated following his Dutch TT crash in 1992. He returned to somehow compete in the final two Grands Prix of the year but could not prevent Wayne Rainey retaining his title by just four points. A fit Mick and Honda proved an unbeatable combination winning five consecutive 500cc titles between 1994 and 1999 before injury forced one of the sport’s true greats to retire

When I returned full time to the MotoGP™ paddock 21 years ago, I received so much help and encouragement from the aimable Jack Findlay, who was working for IRTA. In 1971, Jack became the first rider to win a 500cc Grand Prix on a two-stroke machine when he won the Ulster Grand Prix for Suzuki.

Garry McCoy and Chris Vermeulen certainly had contrasting styles but continued Australian MotoGP™ success until a young but so very fast Casey Stoner arrived in Europe. His parents sold up everything to bring their talented son to take on the world. They lived in a caravan in the cold, wet and windy north of England but their sacrifices were rewarded. Casey was something special. He brought Ducati their first premier class world title in 2007 and four years later regained the Championship on the factory Honda before retiring with his family to his farm back home.

Jack Miller’s Jerez victory was the 182nd time an Australian rider has stood on the top step of a Grand Prix podium. Three Australian legends have gone on to win the ultimate premier class prize, the 500cc or MotoGP™ World Championship. Jack’s Ducati win at Jerez has set him up to follow in their footsteps and, even more important, honour those pioneers who never made the long journey home.

By |2021-05-12T17:40:57+00:00May 12th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

A silent sunrise in Andalucia

As the orange ball of the sun rose majestically, lighting up the sky revealing the hills surrounding the Jerez de la Frontera-Angel Nieto circuit on Sunday, there was an eerie silence. It was 7.32 am on the morning of the Red Bull Grand Prix of Spain and never had the absence of those passionate and dedicated fans of this incredible sport been more poignant.

Who would ever forget arriving at the Jerez circuit in the darkness around 7 am to avoid the traffic problems the 100,000 plus crowd would always create? Slowly and gloriously the sky would start to lighten in the East accompanied by a cacophony of excitement, anticipation and partying in the darkness beyond.

From the media centre balcony, I would peer through the darkness across the paddock, which was already a hive of frenzied activity, to the far end of the circuit and the hillside surrounding the stadium section of this legendary venue overlooking the Angel Nieto and Peluqui right-hand corners.

As the sun slowly rose layer by layer of the hillside that the darkness had hidden was revealed. There were thousands of fans jammed or in some cases hanging onto the hillside and having the time of their lives. Music blared, dancing if you could find the space, banners fluttered, air horns trumpeted, and beer flowed warmed by the sunshine. All roads in Europe led south in the first week of May. This was Jerez, the start of the European MotoGP™ season and like all special days it had to be celebrated in true style. And it was.

If ever a single place typified what MotoGP™ was all about this is surely it. A barren hillside in Andalucia, a clear illustration of just why MotoGP™ is so way ahead of any other World Championship Motorsport series. Those fans on the Jerez hillside just summed up how we all feel about MotoGP™. The passion, excitement, pure joy and patriotism just erupts after a long winter and after watching the start of the season on screens a long way from home in Qatar, Argentina and Austin.

A hillside that was so capable of sucking a Spanish rider to victory and there has been plenty of them. A hillside that was not always the best behaved. Climbing over the barriers in 1996 to celebrate an Alex Criville victory over Mick Doohan when it was announced the battle was over but there was still a lap to go. A few plastic bottles did fly from their massed ranks when the World 500cc Champion Kenny Roberts retired in front of them.

The saddest aspect for those absent fans surely must be the performance being put on by the riders in the opening four rounds in all three classes. It is a remarkable show and both the riders, and the fans deserve each other. Hopefully, the long wait is almost over, and they will return before the end of the season. In the meantime, the riders just keep producing the goods. Last year I attended a football play off final at the legendary Wembley Stadium in London. A crowd of around 250 permitted in a stadium that seats 90,000 made for one of the most surreal sporting events I have ever visited. Hopefully, the end of such experiences is just a few laps away.

There may have been silence on the hillsides and grandstands surrounding Jerez on Sunday but if you had cocked an ear, you may have caught the sound of celebration on the wind thousands of kilometres away at Townville on the Queensland coast of Australia. What a win for Jack Miller in the MotoGP™ race. Spanish or not Jack and those fans would have celebrated together.

Be patient, those days will return. The wait will be worth it, the riders have made sure of that.

By |2021-05-06T08:55:40+00:00May 6th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on A silent sunrise in Andalucia

The kids are alright

A well-known football television pundit and international footballer famously once declared to millions of viewers that a certain top club would never win anything by playing ‘kids’ in their team. Within two years that club won the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup. I wonder what he would have made of MotoGP™ now where the kids are doing even better than alright.

The average age of the three Grand Prix winners in Portimao last week was the youngest ever in the 73-year history of Grand Prix racing. I cannot help wondering how the riders can possibly get any younger and can those MotoGP™ bikes possibly go any quicker? The average age of the three Grand Prix winners in Portugal was just 19 years 289 days. Yes under 20 years old!

Not surprisingly Moto3™ sensation Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo) kept that average age to record levels. The rookie secured his second win of the season aged just 16 years 328 days. Moto2™ winner Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was 20 years 177 days old when he took the chequered flag in Portimao to win his third Grand Prix and first in his rookie Moto2™ season.

Frenchman Fabio Quartararo was positively the ‘old man’ with his second MotoGP™ victory of the season. The Monster Energy Yamaha rider took the lead in the World Championship aged 21 years 363 days.

The previous record was set at the 2014 Americas Grand Prix in Austin. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) won Moto3™, Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) Moto2™ and not surprisingly Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) in MotoGP™. Their average age was 19 years 320 days.

So, what about the other end of the scale and the highest average age of the Grand Prix winners at one event. Sixty-eight years ago, in the 1953 Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuic Park in Barcelona, the average age of the three winners was 40 years 224 days which is more the double the average age in Portugal last week.

Italian Angelo Copeta grabbed his one and only 125 cc Grand Prix victory riding the MV Agusta when he was aged 34 years 163 days. Fellow Italian World Champion Enrico Lorenzetti won the 250-cc race riding the Moto Guzzi aged 42 years 273 days. The oldest of them all was Englishman Fergus Anderson who won the 500-cc race at the tender age of 44 years 237 days. Never was there a clearer indication of how the second world war robbed future Grand Prix winners of their adolescence. In 1953, the war had only ended eight years ago.

Can the average winner’s age possibly drop even further? The Worldwide competitions set up to bring youngsters into Grand Prix racing suggests it could. Could a 40-year-old rider ever win a MotoGP™ race? A little more unlikely, and so over to you Vale to shatter yet another record.

 

By |2021-04-28T21:08:52+00:00April 28th, 2021|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The kids are alright