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Be prepared – it could decide the Championship

The warning signs flashed brightly at the last two Grands Prix. The weather could play a massive part in the outcome of the MotoGP™ World Championship. The heat and humidity in India and the torrential rain in Japan could be the foretaste of what lies ahead for Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing). That three point advantage could be submerged by heavy rain, melted in searing heat or simply blown away in those final six rounds.

A World Championship truly means Championship of the World. Success is achieved by both riders and teams who are prepared to travel tens of thousands of kilometres around the globe. They learn to cope with jet lag, the setup and contrasting circuits. They must adapt to different cultures and languages, and as was so clearly illustrated in India and Japan, the weather.

In India, Martin virtually collapsed in pit lane with heat exhaustion after a heroic ride into second. In Japan, despite bringing in flag-to-flag regulations the race had to be stopped on the flooded track. It could not be restarted as the rain continued to fall. Despite reducing the number of laps in India and the flag-to-flag in Japan, the weather, as it usually does, came out on top. With the next four Grands Prix in Indonesia, Australia, Thailand, and Malaysia, contrasting weather is guaranteed.  Even in those final two rounds, there could be problems. It has rained at night in Qatar, and Valencia can be a bit chilly at the end of November.

It’s certain that flag-to-flag races will play their part in the intrigue, especially in those next four Grands Prix. Ever since James Ellison pulled into the Phillip Island Pit Lane to change bikes in 2006, becoming the first flag-to-flag participant, they have added to the overall plot. I always think of the likes of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Chris Vermeulen and Dani Pedrosa changing from slicks to wet with perfect timing. Dani changing at the end of the warm-up lap in Valencia 2012. He crossed the line in 20th place at the end of the first lap and went on to win by 37 seconds. The ones I tend to forget are the wets to slicks changes. Marc at Brno in 2017 made the switch earlier than anybody else and found himself down in 19th place on the drying track. It was brave but perfect timing. The World Champion held a 12-second winning advantage over teammate Pedrosa at the finish.

So, plenty of exciting tyre changes but what about those who stayed out there on what they started? Brad Binder’s heroic victory through the Austrian rain on the slick shod KTM at the Red Bull Ring in 2021 is surely the highlight. Bradley Smith’s second place at Misano in 2015 with fellow Brit Scott Redding third despite a crash on the Honda. It takes guts and skill, and both beat or equalled their best-ever MotoGP™ result in the race won by Marquez who had switched tyres.

The days of looking up at the clouds above or hanging out a piece of seaweed to check the weather have long gone. Modern-day technology, especially radar, can give an indication of what is about to arrive. The teams and riders will be ready for what the elements choose to throw at them in those next four Grands Prix.

They will be prepared. They know it could be the difference between winning or losing that world title.

By |2023-10-04T15:30:12+00:00October 4th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Be prepared – it could decide the Championship

Dani brings back memories of Japanese wildcards!

I blame the incredible performance of Dani Pedrosa in Misano and Jerez for bringing back memories of Japanese wildcards. I loved going to Japan but often dreaded commentating. Pronunciation of names was one aspect of the job I never found easy and that is putting it mildly! Going into that crucial Grand Prix at Motegi on Sunday Cal Crutchlow as the wildcard for Yamaha would not have caused a problem but it was not always the case. Not only were their Japanese wildcards to get my head round but they often won the races. Some of these riders went on to become World Champions and Championship contenders. Others just disappeared, while one career ended in tragedy.

On my very first visit to Japan in 1987 at Suzuka I got a clear indication of what lay ahead. Masaru Kobayashi won the 250cc race at the Japanese Grand Prix for Honda and then almost disappeared from sight. He finished third at Suzuka a year later. They were the only World Championship points he ever scored. Fifteen years later Osamu Miyazaki won the 250cc race at Suzuka as a wildcard entry riding a Yamaha. Second place went to the Honda of Daisaku Sakai scoring his only ever World Championship points

Other Japanese wildcard entries went onto greater things. Daijiro Kato won the 250cc race at Suzuka in 1997 and 1998 before embarking on a Championship winning career. He won the 2001 250cc World Championship for the Gresini Honda team before tragically losing his life when he crashed in the 2003 MotoGP™ race at Suzuka. The lovable Nobby Ueda won the 1991 125cc race at Suzuka on his Grand Prix debut. He raced for the next 11 years and finished second in the 125cc World Championship on two occasions.

Takumi Ito finished third in the first ever Premier class Japanese Grand Prix riding the V4 Suzuki in 1987. Eight years later Takumi Aoki was third on his Premier class debut. In 2002, the first-ever, history-making four-stroke MotoGP™ race was won by Valentino Rossi, Akira Ryo brought Suzuki second place on a historic afternoon.

The only wildcard or rider replacement winner in the modern MotoGP™ era came in 2006, but it almost went unnoticed. While the world focused on the Nicky Hayden/Valentino Rossi fight for the Championship at a dramatic final round in Valencia, history was made. The World Superbike Champion Australian Troy Bayliss returned to MotoGP™ replacing the injured Sete Gibernau at Ducati. He won the race from Loris Capirossi giving Ducati their first Grand Prix one two. Can history be repeated in Malaysia next month?

World Superbike Champion Alvaro Bautista returns to MotoGP™ to ride for the Ducati Lenovo team as a wildcard. Bautista has won both 125 and 250cc Grands Prix at the Sepang circuit and will be up for the fight.

Great to see Cal Crutchlow and a British rider back in Grand Prix action at Motegi on Sunday. He finished second there in 2018 riding the LCR Honda. It’s been a tough year for Yamaha, but a little bit of rain could make a big difference – ask Olivier Jacque. In 2005, a year before Bayliss’s historic win, out of the blue he came close to beating Valentino Rossi in China. Replacing the injured Alex Hoffman in the Kawasaki team, the former 250cc World Champion eventually finished second 1.7 s behind World Champion Rossi in the rain.

It can rain at Motegi and I would have no problem pronouncing the winner’s name.

 

By |2023-09-27T21:37:38+00:00September 27th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Dani brings back memories of Japanese wildcards!

A giant step for MotoGP™ into a new world!

This weekend is so much more than racing at a new venue. MotoGP™ takes a giant step forward when it travels to India for the very first time. A journey into an explosive new world and culture, to a country with the fastest-growing major economy. A journey to a country with the largest population of any other in the world. A population of almost one and a half billion people which is one-sixth of the population of the whole world. It’s hardly surprising that Indian riders buy more motorcycles than any other country in the world. The Indian public are sports mad. Cricket is their great love, and it was estimated a television audience of nearly one billion viewers worldwide watched a World Cup encounter with rivals Pakistan

International Motorsport is popular from a distance. The Indian Formula One Grand Prix was staged at the same Buddh International Circuit, which hosts MotoGP™, between 2011 – 2013. The legendary F1 designer Hermann Tilke designed the circuit. There were Indian drivers in the World Championship plus a Silverstone-based Indian team. International motorcycle racing makes its debut over the weekend. The World Superbike Championship was scheduled to hold Indian rounds in 2012 and 2013 but logistical problems caused their cancellation. There has always been a hard core of national races and championships at circuits such as Sholavaram from the mid-1960s and the Sriperumbudur race circuit which was built in the early 1990s.

However, it was the Mahindra Engineering Company that brought MotoGP™ to the Indian public for the first time. They raced in the 125cc and Moto3™ classes between 2011 and 2017 with plenty of success. MotoGP™ World Champion and Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) won two races in 2016 for the Mahindra Moto3™ team. In addition to his wins at Assen and Sepang, he also started the British Grand Prix from pole position the same year. Danny Webb started the last ever 125cc Grand Prix from pole in Valencia in 2011. Miguel Oliveira (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) started from pole on the Mahindra at Assen in 2013. Others who rode for the Mahindra factory included 2021 Moto2™ World Champion Remy Gardner and 2016 Moto3™ World Champion Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing). Mahindra have continued racing internationally on four wheels competing in the FIA Formula E World Championship.

It was never going to be easy for Indian riders to take the massive step up into international racing. The only Indian rider to compete in the modern Grand Prix era was Sarath Kumar. He finished twenty-fourth in the 125cc race at the 2011 Portuguese Grand Prix but failed to qualify in Qatar and Spain. This weekend is sure to whet the appetite for more to make the journey with the support of the Indian public.

Of course, there will be logistical problems at a new venue over the weekend, especially with the next Grand Prix in Japan so close, but this is an opportunity that MotoGP™ simply must not miss. The chance to showcase and expand the sport into one of the biggest economic markets in the world.  It promises to be one of the most important weekends in the 74-year history of Grand Prix racing both on and off the track.

 

By |2023-09-20T20:39:48+00:00September 20th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on A giant step for MotoGP™ into a new world!

The Godfather of MotoGP™

Mike would have hated all the fuss. The true Godfather of the MotoGP™ family who shied away from any personal praise or acknowledgement. The former racer who changed the very future of Grand Prix motorcycle racing because he cared so much. Mike and his wife Irene adopted the MotoGP™ family to save lives and provide riders and teams with well-being and respect from Circuits, Promotors, and those in authority. I hope Mike looked down on the amazing show at Misano over the weekend with a smile on his face. All those principles he set out to achieve when he first stepped foot into the Grand Prix paddock 41 years ago had been achieved.

When Mike arrived in 1982 Grand Prix racing was in a mess. The racing was fantastic and the riders brilliant, but the remainder was in chaos. Some people peering through rose-tinted spectacles will tell you different but just wipe the surface to clear those lenses. The riders asked Mike to represent them in their fight for safety, proper and liveable facilities, deserved prize and travel money and perhaps most important at the time, respect which was blatantly lacking in so many areas

In 1986 he founded the International Road Racing Teams Association. With Mike at the helm, they fought tooth and nail for the rider’s welfare and rights. The tide started to turn. Teams and riders had a voice at the table and in 1992 the foundations fought for, and achieved by Mike, played such a massive part in the transformation of the sport. Mike and IRTA were the cement that bound together the FIM, MSMA and Dorna Sports to form the alliance that changed the face of Grand Prix racing, to where it is today. Mike was a man of passion, principles, and belief. Once his mind was made up you needed one hell of an argument to change it. Of course, not everybody agreed to the changes, but he always had the rider’s and teams’ well-being at heart. He never let them down.

It’s difficult to imagine a MotoGP™ paddock without Mike. Up those metal steps to the IRTA office. Turn left and there was Irene and the likes of Tony and Rick from his loyal staff. Cup of tea if you want one but you must make it yourself because we are so busy, the usual greeting from the boys. Irene would always find you a couple of passes if you were desperate. Turn right into Mike’s office. English news and sports always on the screen behind his desk. There was always plenty to discuss and recollect before MotoGP™ ever got mentioned. Mike loved The Who, the great sixties rock band, and so concert venues were checked. The exploits of his football team Bristol City were mulled over. So many times, in the boardroom next door, we’d sat amidst the debris of empty pizza boxes and beer bottles after watching another England football defeat in World Cup and European Championship games.

We would laugh remembering the exploits of Steve Parrish and others in those unforgettable trips to the Macau Grand Prix, which Mike organised followed by a week in Thailand with Mike and Irene. We first met at Daytona Beach in Florida in the seventies. Mike organised the trips for the 200 miler for hundreds of British fans. It was a fabulous week of fun, sun, and plenty more plus, of course, motorcycle racing. Later, Mike was a journalist’s dream. He never gave away a secret, but he would give just that hint you may be on the right track when encouragement was needed.

When Mike passed away on Friday, we all lost a true friend. For me, and I think many others, the MotoGP™ paddock without him will be a very sad place.

 

By |2023-09-13T17:56:02+00:00September 13th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

MotoGP™ magic carpet ride to Misano

The drive from Bologna airport to the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, is a magic carpet ride through the very heartland of MotoGP™. Every road sign and every town and village on the 120kms frantic drive down the E45 autostrada has a tale to tell. The history of grand prix racing on two and even four wheels just flashes in front of you like a giant cinema screen. Riders’ birthplaces, circuits and team headquarters appear at almost every junction, turning a page of the history book.

Starting in Bologna the home of the all-conquering iconic Ducati factory that is dominating the proceedings this year. Immediately you see signs for Modena. Perhaps best known as the home of Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti but also the home of 125 and 250cc World Champion Luca Cadalora. The World Champion received a congratulatory telegram from Formula One legend Enzo Ferrari after every one of his 34 Grand Prix wins. They also raced on the old Modena aerodrome and I remember watching those bitter rivals Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read battling it out there on a pair of Suzukis in 1976.

Keep driving south and you pick up the signs for the small town of Castel San Pietro the birthplace of Loris Capirossi. The three times World Champion with 29 grand prix wins in all three classes including the first ever MotoGP™ win for Ducati at Barcelona 2003. Just over the hill from his homeland is the legendary Autodromo Imola circuit that was a regular Grand Prix venue and still stages World Superbike Championship and Formula One car Grand Prix.

Next on the historic route is the town of Forli, the home of Andrea Dovizioso. Three times runner up in the Marc Marquez dominated MotoGP™ years riding for Ducati and 125cc World Champion. From Forli you can drive high into hills on the scenic but scary back roads inland to the Mugello circuit. Carry on down the E45 past the towering hills of San Marino. Sixteen times we witnessed the Principality’s flag being raised and the national anthem played following World Champion Manuel Poggiali and Alex de Angelis’s Grand Prix wins.

Then it gets serious as you reach the coast at Rimini, Riccione and Misano. It appears nearly everybody you meet on the beach or promenade have raced motorcycle or have a connection with racing. This is Valentino Rossi country where he grew up with the likes of Marco Simoncelli, Pier Francesco Chili, Loris Reggiani and so many others. His Tavullia ranch now producing the new breed from the Adriatic coast including World Champion Pecco Bagnaia, Marco Bezzecchi and Luca Marini

Long before Vale brought them nine World titles this Adriatic holiday coast has been steeped in motorcycle racing tradition. Before the Misano circuit was built in 1972 they closed the seafront at Rimini and Riccione and raced motorcycles. In 1971 rising Italian star Angelo Bergamonti had already won the 350 and 500cc Spanish Grands Prix for MV Agusta. He was killed at Riccione when he crashed in the rain at a roundabout on the seafront chasing team-mate Agostini. Like so many others the Misano permanent track was built to replace an old road circuit. It staged its first Grand Prix in 1980 but in 1993 tragedy struck again. World Champion Wayne Rainey was paralysed in a crash while leading the 500cc race. Grand Prix racing only returned 14 years later with the track running the opposite way and it has been there ever since.

The circuit was renamed in honour of World Champion Marco Simoncelli who lost his life in Malaysia 12 years ago. His Gresini team headquarters is just down the road from the track. There is so much to remember at Misano. Aprilia, who celebrated their MotoGP™ double in Barcelona this week won their first Grand Prix there in 1987 with Loris Reggiani victorious in the 250-cc race.

Who needs a history book. Just get on the E45 and drive but be warned it’s busy.

By |2023-09-06T18:36:58+00:00September 6th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on MotoGP™ magic carpet ride to Misano

THE BIRTHPLACE OF GRAND PRIX RACING

For some it’s just a giant granite rock stuck in the middle of the stormy Irish Sea. For many others world-wide it means so much more. A shrine to motorcycle racing for over 100 years. A shrine to grand prix motorcycle racing where it all began 74 years and over 1000 grands prix ago.

It’s wild. It can be windy and wet. It’s certainly dangerous but this is a beautiful place. A mystical magic Island where you can see the mountains of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland from its highest peak on a clear day. A summit high above the legendary TT mountain circuit on the Isle of Man.

Between the Austrian and Barcelona Grands Prix I paid my annual visit to the Shrine to watch the Manx Grand Prix. It was as it always is. An insight into those pioneering days of World Championship Grand Prix racing around the most famous racetrack in the World. A 60.721 kms road circuit snaking its path through towns, villages, fields, forests and up and down mountains. A ribbon of tarmac diving between stone walls, lamp posts, phone boxes while jumping over bridges and streams.  

The TT races go back a long way in history. In 1907 the British government would not close public roads for racing. The Manx government seized the opportunity and closed their roads. The Tourist Trophy races were born, and the rest is history.

Even before you start a lap of the track at the grandstand high above the curving Douglas Bay, you must visit the Fairy Bridge. For over those 100 years the riders have made the trip to ask the fairies in the stream below for a safe race. They have not aways obliged. The famous scoreboard opposite the grandstand that was operated by the local Boy Scouts and had a clock and light indication where each rider was situated on the course, has gone, a scoreboard that had endorsed Freddie Frith as the winner of the very first World Championship race on June 13th, 1949. The scoreboard that told the crowds in 1957 that Scotsman Bob McIntyre had set the first 100 mph (160.9 kph) lap of the mountain circuit riding the 500 cc four-cylinder Gilera.

From the grandstand the riders plunge down Bray Hill between the houses at over 200 kph. They hit the bottom before racing on to Quarter Bridge over the Ago leap. A bump where 15 times World Champion Giacomo Agostini would wheelie those beautiful red 350 and 500 cc MV Augusta fire engines. In my youth I agreed to one lap of the Mountain circuit as a sidecar passenger to double TT winner Trevor Ireson. The first time I opened my eyes was at Quarter Bridge.

The tarmac then just flows through towns, villages and open roads with mystical romantic names. Union Mills where you can watch the racing in front of the church while receiving wonderful home-made cakes sandwiches and cups of team from the vicar and local ladies. The Highlander, Greeba Castle, Ballacraine and Glen Helen. Onto Sarahs cottage where both Ago and Mike Hailwood crashed on my first visit to the Island in 1965. On through some fast bends such as Rhencullen where the riders travel over four times faster than the 40-mph speed limit signs for normal road uses. Over the Ballaugh Bridge jump on towards Ramsey and the climb up the mountain past the Guthrie memorial. A kiln of stones to celebrate the life of TT winner Jimmy Guthrie who was killed at the Sachsenring in the 1937 German Grand Prix. 

Just before the highest part of the course the riders race through the bleak Hailwood Heights, a tribute to the nine times World Champion before plunging back down towards Douglas through bends such as Kates Cottage and Creg-Ny-Baa. The final corner at Governors Bridge passing the front gates of the Governor of the Isle of Man residence. 

Every corner can tell a story. Every blade of grass, centimetre of tarmac, stone wall and lamp post has witnessed heroic battles, bitter disappointment and tragedy. Close your eyes and you can touch the very soul of grand prix racing.

It’s a shrine to riders past and present. You have to visit the Isle of Man at least once to understand.

By |2023-08-30T16:13:16+00:00August 30th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Veijer rewards those loyal Dutch fans

I must be honest and tell you I was cheering on Dutch teenager Collin Veijer to win that fantastic Moto3™ race at the Red Bull Ring. If anybody deserved a bit of success and glory, it is those loyal Dutch fans. They have not had so much to celebrate in the 74 years of Grand Prix racing. Three 50cc World titles, sidecar World Championships and a handful of Grand Prix wins is scant reward. They are the only country to stage a Grand Prix in 1949, the first year of the World Championship and to continue every season since at the same circuit, apart from Covid years

The legendary Assen circuit, the Cathedral, the diamond in the MotoGP™ calendar that regularly attracts race day crowds of over 100,000. While their countrymen have celebrated the phenomenal Formula One success of Max Verstappen, they have remained loyal to two wheels despite having so little to raise a glass to, of that wonderful beer. Being an Englishman with a similar problem I have great sympathy. Hopefully 18-year-old Veijer is lighting up that long dark tunnel.

On Saturday Veijer became the first Dutchman for 33 years to take pole position in the 125/Moto3™ class. In the amazing Moto3™ race the next morning, he came so close to becoming the first Dutch Grand Prix winner for 33 years. In the end he had to settle for fourth with just 0.13 s separating winner Deniz Oncu, Daniel Holgado, Ayumu Sasaki and Veijer.

Hans Spaan was the last Dutch pole setter in the class at Phillip Island in 1990. He twice finished runner-up in the 125cc World Championship. Bo Bendsneyder’s podium at Austin this year brought hope in the Moto2™ class. Wilco Zeelenberg was the last 250cc pole setter in 1991. A year earlier, he won his only Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, while three months later Spaan was the last Dutch rider to win a Grand Prix at Brno in Czechoslovakia with his ninth 125cc victory

There have been just three Dutch riders winning premier class Grands Prix in those 74 years. Wil Hartog won five and I remember his last at Imatra in 1980. The red helmet and white leathers flashing through the forest with the lake glistening in the background on the border between Finland and Russia. Jack Middelburg deserved more than two. I will never forget his first at Assen in 1980 with the 150,000 crowd going crazy. It was my first Grand Prix as a ‘proper’ newspaper reporter. I thought after that experience every Grand Prix would be the same.

That second win came at Silverstone a year later when he fought off World Champion Kenny Roberts by 0.30s. Cigarette smoking and unassuming Boet van Dulmen’s only win came in 1979 at Imatra. The last Dutch rider to start from pole before this Sunday was in the premier class – Jurgen Van den Goorbergh put the super-fast Rolf Biland built 500cc MUZ on pole at Brno in 1999.

On two wheels Dutch World Championship glory came in the smaller classes in the early days. Jan de Vries won the 50cc World title in 1971 and 1973. Henk van Kessel was 50cc World Champion in 1974. On three wheels Assen born Egbert Streuer won three World titles in the eighties.

For the last four decades, especially in the premier class, The Dutch, German and English fans have cowered in the shadows with just a few shafts of light to grasp. First it was the Americans, then the Australians before the Italian and Spanish armadas swamped the opposition. It’s time for a change. The weight of expectation will weigh heavy on Veijer’s shoulders. No wonder I was cheering for a Dutch victory on Sunday.

By |2023-08-22T16:38:31+00:00August 22nd, 2023|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Veijer rewards those loyal Dutch fans

Aleix an inspiration to others at perfect venue

Remember what we were always told by parents, teachers and coaches when growing up. If you don’t succeed try, try again. The history of the Red Bull Ring and Aleix Espargaro’s crazy celebrations with family and the Aprilia team in the Silverstone pit lane last week just endorsed that advice. It also gave real inspiration to other MotoGP™ riders and perhaps Johan Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) in particular, to never give up the chase of that first premier class victory. Aleix’s brilliant win at Silverstone was not only his second premier class victory but also just his second Grand Prix in any class. That first win came in Argentina after a long, long wait. It was 12 years 216 days after making his MotoGP™ debut that Espargaro finally did it on the Aprilia in Argentina last season. That second win in the superb Silverstone race came one year and 125 days later. Twenty-six Grands Prix after the Argentinian victory on his 200th MotoGP™ appearance. I don’t think he will have to wait that long for his third.

Double Moto2™ World Champion Zarco may be fighting for his MotoGP™ future, as he chases that elusive first premier class win which would surely ease the pressure. The Frenchman is a mere novice compared to Espargaro. He has made 113 MotoGP™ starts since his debut in Qatar six years and 147 days ago. Zarco has come so close with an amazing 11 second place finishes in that period.

With fewer Grands Prix in the past, others had to wait even longer than Aleix before seeing that chequered flag. Australian Jack Findlay burnt plenty of rubber racing and travelling around Europe. He made his 500cc Grand Prix debut in the 1958 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. Thirteen years, 25 weeks later he secured that first win in the 1971 Ulster Grand Prix riding the Suzuki around the demanding Dundrod road circuit.

For some very talented riders that first victory just never came. Who will ever forget Colin Edwards crashing out of the very last bend in 2006 at Assen while in sight and sound of that elusive first Grand Prix win. His fall handed the race to American countryman Nick Hayden who went on to win the world title. For Colin, his big chance disappeared in the Dutch gravel, and it never returned. His loyalty to team-mate Valentino Rossi and Yamaha brought them world titles. His 12 podium finishes in 196 MotoGP™ appearances deserved so much more. It was not to be.

For others, it was such a very different story counting hours and minutes, rather than years and days, to that first premier class win. Italian Max Biaggi, Finn Jarno Saarinen and British Norton rider Geoff Duke were all members of that first-time club. Biaggi, the four time 250cc World Champion, became the first European rider to win a 500cc Grand Prix in Japan and the first rider to win in 25 years on his Premier class debut at Suzuka in 1998. It was Saarinen who was that previous winner, with victory on the new two-stroke Yamaha at Paul Ricard in France. In 1950 Duke won the Senior TT on the Isle of Man on his 500cc debut. Only Duke went on to achieve World Championship success with four 500cc world titles. Biaggi won 12 more Grands Prix and finished second three times in the World Championship. Saarinen won the opening two rounds but was killed in a multi-bike 250cc crash in Monza.

The riders arrive in Austria this weekend to compete at a circuit that has provided three riders their first MotoGP™ wins in the last seven years. Andrea Iannone, Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) and Miguel Olivera (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) all stood on the top step of the podium for the first time at the Red Bull Ring in both Austrian and Styrian Grands Prix. So, the venue and the time is right for it to happen again on Sunday before time runs out for some.

By |2023-08-17T08:59:16+00:00August 17th, 2023|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Aleix an inspiration to others at perfect venue

Rins has pushed over the first domino

Even before the summer break ended at Silverstone this weekend the first domino in the row had tumbled. The move of Alex Rins to Monster Energy Yamaha from LCR Honda next season is just the start. Plenty more dominoes will fall in the next few weeks. It’s that time of the year. We have not even reached the halfway stage of this season and already next year is on our minds. It’s part and part of the process that just gets earlier and earlier every season. Some moves come completely out of the blue. Others are much more predictable.

Without a doubt the biggest defection and secret in every sense of the word came in 1961 when Ernst Degner left the East German MZ factory to join Suzuki. At the other end of the scale, Valentino Rossi’s announcement he was leaving Honda to join Yamaha in 2004 hardly came as a great surprise. Both moves played a massive part in the outcome of the World Championships for many years to follow

Degner’s story is more akin to a John le Carre cold war thriller than a Grand Prix paddock story. Riding the two-stroke East German MZ he led the 125cc World Championship from the four-stroke Honda of Tom Phillis going into the penultimate round of the Championship at Kristianstad in Sweden. Suzuki wanted Degner’s engineering and riding prowess to spearhead their attack on both 50 and 125cc World Championships in the coming seasons.

Degner was keen to shake of the shackles of living in communist-controlled East Germany and so his defection from his homeland was hatched in enormous and necessary secrecy. It was never going to be easy. Degner was accompanied and watched by a dreaded Stasi policeman at every Grand Prix to ensure he would return to his homeland after every race.

While he was en route to Sweden a friend smuggled Degner’s wife and children in the boot of an American car through the checkpoint in the Berlin Wall to safety in West Berlin. After the race once Degner knew his family were safe, he tricked the Stasi policeman and jumped on the ferry to Denmark taking with him all the MZ two-stroke secrets plus some engine parts to Suzuki. The Degner family was free and he rewarded Suzuki with their first 50cc World title the following season.

There is nothing the Grand Prix paddock likes more than a good old rumour especially over a beer at the end of a day. Those rumours flowed like that beer, in 2003. The rumour was that Valentino Rossi was leaving Honda and joining the underperforming Yamaha team. I honestly didn’t believe it at first. The BBC were not happy with me because I did not push Honda hard enough on the subject in an interview in Rio, but as the year progressed it was obvious it was going to happen.

Both Honda and Yamaha kept stum, but by the time I hosted the press conference at that final round in Valencia to make the official announcement it was old, but still sensational news. I will never forget Rossi’s first ride on the Yamaha at that opening round of the 2004 at Welkom in South Africa. Twenty-eight laps of pure theatre as those bitter rivals Rossi and Max Biaggi duelled in the sun. At the chequered flag Rossi held a two-tenths of a second advantage over the man he’d replaced at Yamaha. The rest is history and Rossi went on to win Yamaha the World title that season and three more times. I should have believed those rumours from the start!

So the silly season has already arrived with still 11 races remaining. The Silverstone paddock was buzzing with rumours especially concerning the three M’s. Marquez, Morbidelli and Martin. Rins has pushed over the first domino and be prepared for plenty more to follow in the next few weeks. We love it.

 

By |2023-08-11T15:34:53+00:00August 11th, 2023|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Rins has pushed over the first domino

Silverstone led the revolution

August 14, 1977, was not only a historic day for British Motorsport but for the future of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. It was the day that the very first two-wheeled Grand Prix was held on the British mainland. It was a day that heralded the start of a revolution that other circuits and counties followed. It was a day that those legendary road circuits that had been the very backbone of the pioneering days of the World Championship started to be replaced by purpose-built safer circuits as speeds and lap times increased rapidly.

The former second world war aerodrome hosted that first mainland Grand Prix 28 years after the very first World Championship event was held on the 60.721km TT mountain circuit on the Isle of Man in 1949. Silverstone had staged the first ever Formula One car Grand Prix in 1950 and had hosted some big international motorcycle events. The TT Mountain circuit was the spiritual home of World Championship motorcycle racing, but the writing was on the wall in the early seventies. Many of the top riders including World Champions Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read and Rodney Gould boycotted the event on safety grounds. The Spanish Federation banned any of their riders competing following the death of Santiago Herrero.

It was time to change if the sport was to progress. Silverstone led the way, but others soon followed. The parkland Montjuic Park circuit overlooking the city of Barcelona staged its last Spanish Grand Prix in 1976. Grand Prix motorcycle racing returned to this motorcycle mad city with the opening of the brand-new purpose-built Barcelona – Catalunya circuit to celebrate the Olympic games in 1992. The legendary Nürburgring road circuit nestling in the German Eifel mountains had staged Grand Prix racing since 1955 but 25 years later Marco Lucchinelli won the last 500cc Grand Prix at the Ring. Four years later Grand Prix racing returned at a new purpose-built track alongside the old 22.835 kms road circuit. Brno in Czechoslovakia, the Sachsenring in Germany and Rijeka in Yugoslavia also built new circuits to replace their road tracks.

Other circuits made drastic changes to safety to stay on the calendar. In 1977 Barry Sheene set the fastest ever average race speed of 217.37 km/h winning the Belgian Grand Prix at the 14.12 km Spa Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. Two years later the track length was dramatically reduced to 6.95 km taking out sections regarded too dangerous for Grand Prix motorcycles. Sadly, in the end the magnificent venue was deemed too dangerous staging its last Grand Prix in 1990.

A British rider has never won the premier class race at his mainland Grand Prix. Their best chance came at that very first race in 1977. Barry Sheene had brought the sport onto the front pages with his two World 500cc titles and exploits off the track. Unfortunately, he was sidelined with mechanical problems in that first 500cc Grand Prix, but his best friend Steve Parrish led the way with a few laps remaining. Sheene held out the legendary pit board ‘GAS IT W*****’ as Parrish raced towards Copse corner. It had just started to drizzle. Parrish smiled at Barry’s encouragement, lost the front end of the Suzuki, and went down accompanied by the groans of the patriotic crowd. All was not lost with John Williams taking over at the front only to crash three bends later. American Pat Hennen grabbed his chance to win his second Grand Prix. The Union Jack flag and National Anthem tape were quickly replaced and have never returned.

Fans of my generation have wonderful memories, perhaps through rose-tinted spectacles, of those old road circuits but for the sport not only to survive and also progress, those changes were vital.  Some such as the TT races in the Isle of Man have successfully survived without World Championship status. Top speeds and lap times continue to increase every season. It is what Grand Prix racing is all about. I wonder what innovations will have to be made to continue progress in the next decade.

 

By |2023-08-03T08:31:18+00:00August 3rd, 2023|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Silverstone led the revolution
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