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SPEACHLESS AT VALE’S GREATEST TRIUMPH

Nick Harris has witnessed all of Valentino Rossi’s 89 MotoGP wins but has commentated on only 88. It is hard to believe but it was 19 long years ago today that Valentino Rossi made it three wins in a row with victory on the 500 cc Honda at the 2001 Spanish Grand Prix at a packed crazy Jerez. It was the fifth of his 89 MotoGP wins and a real indication, not that we needed one, to what lay ahead.

 

I witnessed every one of those 89 victories but it would be a lie to state that I commentated on all of them because I was speechless at probably the greatest of them all.

What a time and place to lose your voice but it happened in the Californian sunshine at Laguna Seca in 2008. I started to croak during qualifying and the press conference on Saturday. By Sunday morning after BBC World Service had to curtail my pre-race chat back to London when that usually so loud voice finally gave up the ghost, I knew I had no chance. I sat at the back of the commentary box on the finish line at Laguna croaking with excitement as the brilliant Gavin Emmett and John Hopkins described that head to head confrontations of all confrontations between Rossi and Casey Stoner. That move at the legendary Corkscrew is still regarded by many but not Ducati, as one of Rossi’s greatest. This was a true World Champion at his very best and showing the World why regaining the title meant so much to him, Yamaha and Italy.

I remember that first win at the British Grand Prix at Donington Park in 2000. It was crucial to MotoGP in Britain with World Superbikes led by Carl Fogarty ruling the roost. Just 18,500 spectators turned up that whole weekend but Rossi’s win and Jeremy McWilliam’s third place lit the fire. There was three times the number one year later to cheer their new hero Rossi to victory.

Seventeen amazing years later in 2017 I was on the microphone at Assen when ‘the Doctor’ fought off the considerable challenge of Daniel Petrucci chasing his first grand prix win. It was his 89 th win in the Premier class and he came mighty close to making it 90 a year later in Malaysia when he crashed while leading with the chequered flag beckoning.

After my speechless performance at Laguna perhaps I am biased but my favourite victory in those 89 came at Welkom in South Africa in 2004. You could not have written the script. Rossi’s debut for Yamaha after leaving Honda going head to head with his bitter rival Max Biaggi who had left Yamaha to join Honda. Nobody, including myself gave Rossi much of a chance. Yamaha were in a big mess and had not won a race the previous year. Rossi changed all that in 28 laps of pure drama around the Phakisa Freeway circuit. Sliding the Yamaha and braking so late somehow he won the duel after an amazing last lap in which Biaggi set the fastest lap of the race.  At the finish Vale parked the M1 Yamaha against the guardrail kissed the number 46 as the tears flowed inside his helmet.

I was so lucky to commentate on the performance of somebody so special as I was for the other 88 wins minus one.

 

By |2020-05-06T08:53:45+00:00May 6th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on SPEACHLESS AT VALE’S GREATEST TRIUMPH

BEST KEPT SECRET

The good Dr Raines tells us that thirty-one years ago, today Eddie Lawson won his first grand prix for the Rothman Honda team at the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez. After winning three World 500 cc titles for Yamaha Eddie’s move to Honda for the 1989 season was a massive news story.

Behind the scenes Nick Harris was pulling the media strings before the announcement of Eddie’s defection to Yamaha’s great rivals Honda.

 

The phone rang very early one morning in December 1988. Either bad news or from Australia was my first thought as I picked up the phone to receive a right old ear bashing from  a furious Wayne Gardner at home in Wollongong. Did I know that Rothmans Honda had signed his bitter rival three times World Champion Eddie Lawson from Yamaha to be his new team-mate, he demanded. I did not know but I soon found out.

A couple of weeks later just before Christmas I was on the plane to Los Angeles with photographer Malcolm Bryan for a secret visit to Eddie in Uplands just outside LA. As Media Manager for the team I wanted to prepare everything for the announcement of the shock big signing in the new year. It was with more than a little trepidation we met Eddie the next morning in the lounge of the hotel decorated with Christmas trees and fairy lights. Nobody ever doubted Eddie as a truly great grand prix rider, but he could be ‘difficult’ with the media. I was worried that the extensive media campaign demanded by Rothmans would not be Eddie’s cup of tea, but I was wrong.

We had a wonderful and productive couple of days with the World Champion. Nothing was a problem for him as we photographed him running alongside a giant freight train in the desert, driving doughnuts on some vast salt flats and posing in front of his new house. We went out to dinner with his friends who honestly did not know he was a World Champion and a massive name in Europe because typically he had not told them. We flew home with everything we needed and more.

It was an amazing season with that first victory for the team at the fourth round in Jerez the start of the championship winning run. It was a scorching hot day with a typical vast noisy crowd packing every vantage spot around the legendary circuit. Kevin Schwantz looked a likely winner until he crashed, and Eddie took over to really kick–start his World Championship campaign in earnest. Wayne Rainey was second and led the Championship by ten points with Niall Mackenzie third.

Eddie followed up with wins in Belgium, France and Sweden before we set off for the party town of all-party towns, Goiania in Brazil for the final round of the 1989 Championship. Second place was enough for Eddie to join the greats by winning the 500cc World Championships on two different makes of machine. We partied and then Eddie returned to Yamaha with the job done.

He then joined Cagiva and brought them their first 500cc grand prix victory in Hungary before retiring at the end of 1992. Along with Phil Read one of the most underrated truly special riders in the 71-year history of the sport. Four World titles,31 grand prix victories say it all, not that Eddie would have ever told his mates back home.

By |2020-04-29T13:38:12+00:00April 29th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on BEST KEPT SECRET

Past and present: global impact on MotoGP™

Never since Grand Prix racing started in 1949 has the sport and more importantly the world faced anything so serious as the present pandemic. Being a sport that encompasses the globe MotoGP™ has and always will be experiencing world events well beyond just the confines of our sport.

In 1982 the opening Grand Prix of the season was held in Buenos Aires the capital of Argentina. Little did I realise what lay ahead as I first travelled by motorcycle on a six-day adventure from the bustling capital city to the border of Chile high in the magnificent Andes before returning for the Grand Prix. A stunning race between Kenny Roberts, Barry Sheene and Freddie Spencer made the perfect ending to a wonderful trip. Yes, we had stumbled on a massive demonstration by ‘los desaparecidos’ mothers whose sons had been abducted and slaughtered by the military junta. Also, there were military aircraft at the airport when I delivered some colour films from practice to be flown back to England, but we so enjoyed the party-loving and friendly city. It was only when we arrived back in England early on the Monday morning, we realised we had got out just in time. A day later all flights between Argentina and Great Britain were cancelled and war was declared between the two countries just two days later over the Falkland Islands dispute.

A year later the opening round of the Championship once again visited a country that was never far the front-page headlines. South Africa was strangled by the apartheid regime and I remember arriving at the airport in Johannesburg questioning my conscious if we should have been there. I left five days later absolutely certain Grand Prix racing had made the right decision. A united front by the Grand Prix community to ignore the segregation laws imposed on the black population. Sometimes it was not easy, and it would have been easy to turn a blind eye, but nobody did, and it meant so much to so many people. I hope the reaction of an international sporting community to apartheid was a shock to those in power.

In 2002 we flew into Melbourne airport surprised by the thousands of people waiting for the flights to arrive. Naively we thought they’d come to welcome the MotoGP™ riders on route to Phillip Island for the Australian Grand Prix, but they were there for a totally different reason. Just a few days earlier 88 Australians had tragically lost their lives in the Bali bombings and these were relatives of the survivors who were flying back home to their loved ones. I also remember after quietly leaving the airport and travelling down to Phillip Island Randy Mamola rushing to the local medical centre in Cowes offering to give blood.

Nine years later it was the MotoGP™ paddock that flew into Japan for the Grand Prix in Motegi. It was the first major sporting event to be staged in Japan since the earthquake and resulting tsunami had caused a postponement six months earlier. Despite real worries, which later proved unfounded, about a radiation leak at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station the Grand Prix went ahead. Full grids and some great racing brought both joy and relief to a Japanese nation who’d suffered so much uncertainty over the last six months.

When this coronavirus pandemic crisis finally ends, MotoGP™ will return to the racetracks of the world.

By |2020-04-23T13:29:12+00:00April 23rd, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment

Concorde announced Freddie’s Easter arrival

For British motorcycle racing fans, the Easter holiday weekend meant just one thing – the Transatlantic Trophy. Great Britain versus the USA at three so typically British racetracks. Brands Hatch on Good Friday, Mallory Park on Easter Sunday and finishing at Oulton Park on Easter Monday. Massive crowds packed the three circuits to witness the transatlantic showdown with World Champions Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts captaining their respect teams.

Good Friday in 1980 summed it up perfectly. The long wait in the traffic on the A20 unless you were lucky enough to be riding a bike, before reaching the grassy Brands Hatch car parks. Over 50,000 patriotic fans packed the 4.2 km circuit south of London to cheer on Barry Sheene and his team to take on ‘The Yanks’ captained by 500cc World Champion Kenny Roberts. Even the sun was shining.

As the teams prepared for the first round of the battle amid the screech, smoke and smell of two-stroke rocket ships all eyes turned towards the sky. The majestic shape of the supersonic Concorde aircraft leaving a white vapour trail in the blue sky as it roared overhead on route to New York from London Heathrow. Symbolically that white vapour trail announced the arrival on the World stage of an 18-year-old American. Frederick Burdette Spencer had arrived from Shreveport, Louisiana and everybody was about to take notice.

The fans cheered and waved their flags as the riders on the back of an open top lorry completed a lap of honour before the hostilities got underway. Only a few checked their programmes to check the identity of a shy teenager with a huge number eight emblazoned on the back of his blue and white leathers. They were glad they did.

Back in the paddock Erv Kanemoto was warming up the striking silver 750cc Yamaha on which Freddie was going to race for the very first-time outside America. The warning signs were there for the British team and fans with Freddie fastest in practice despite some electrical problems. Nobody was prepared for what happened.

It took Freddie just three laps of the undulating Brands circuit to force the crowd to re-check those well-thumbed programmes on just who was leading the race. Freddie just disappeared into the green Kent countryside leaving the likes of Sheene, Roberts and Graeme Crosby to fight for second.

An hour and a half later the crowd were ready, and Freddie did not let them down in the second race. He led from the start as the pack screamed into the infamous downhill Paddock Hill bend. Roberts and Randy Mamola chased hard, but this was the Silver Yamaha’s day and Freddie was a comfortable start to finish winner.

Just 48 hours into his first trip outside America Freddie had arrived. Three World titles, 27 Grand Prix wins and the only rider to complete the 250/500cc World Championship double in the same season shows we should have taken a little bit more notice of Concorde’s white vapour trails pointing all the way back to the United States on that sunny Good Friday afternoon 40 years ago.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00April 16th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Press Release|Comments Off on Concorde announced Freddie’s Easter arrival

Not only the greatest, but a true legend

My local radio station rang me last Thursday asking me to talk about my sporting legend who would have been celebrating his 80th birthday on that very same day. Oxford boy Stanley Michael Bailey Hailwood (Mike) – I could have talked about him all day long.

Nine times World Champion, 76 Grand Prix wins and 112 podium finishes in just 197 Grand Prix appearances, 14 TT wins on the Isle of Man and two podium finishes in the Formula One car World Championship speak for themselves. But there is so much more to Mike Hailwood who lived just over the hill from where I grew up just outside Oxford.

In 1961 he was the youngest ever winner of a premier-class World Championship race with victory at the TT on the Norton. That same year he became the youngster ever World Champion bringing Honda the 250cc title, the first ever for a Japanese factory. Six years later he won three Grand Prix races in one day at Assen. His wins in the 250, 350 and 500cc races came after 436 kms of racing flat out round the legendary venue. When he switched to four wheels, he won the European Formula Two Championship. In 1973 he was awarded the George Medal, Britain’s second highest bravery award, when he pulled Clay Regazzoni out of a burning Formula One Car with his own overalls on fire during the 1973 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami. In 1978 eleven years after his last motorcycle Grand Prix appearance he returned to two wheels to race at the most demanding and dangerous motorsport venue in the World and won. Hailwood was 38 years old when he returned to the 60.721 kms mountain circuit to send the Isle of Man crazy with the most highly acclaimed victory ever in the illustrious history of the TT races.

Tragically three years later Hailwood and his nine-year-old daughter Michelle lost their lives in a road traffic accident. Hailwood had set up a motorcycle retail business with former 250cc World Champion Rodney Gould and was driving to pick up fish and chips for supper with his daughter Michelle and son David. An articulated lorry illegally drove through a gap separating the duel carriageways and collided with Hailwood’s car.

I remember slouching to school one morning down Park End Street making up the usual excuses why I’d not done any homework when my future miraculously appeared right in front of my very eyes. In the window of Kings of Oxford motorcycle shop Mike Hailwood’s TT winning 250cc four-cylinder Honda reached out to me gleaming in the morning sunlight. Forget Maths, Physics and French homework, I knew where were my future lay.

In 1965 I travelled to the magical Isle of Man to watch my first ever World Championship race. Hailwood versus new boy Giacomo Agostini – surely it could not get any better, but it did. Both crashed at the same place but in separate incidents. Hailwood remounted the MV Agusta to win. I was totally hooked.

Fourteen long years later I was back in the Island working for Motor Cycle News. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I witnessed Hailwood’s last TT win on the 500cc two-stroke RG500 Suzuki in the 1979 Senior race.

Meeting your sporting hero is never easy and often unadvisable. You can end up so disappointed, but I was not. In 1968 I was working as a clerk in a Solicitors office. I was hopeless and very bored. The amiable boss of the firm rang me one afternoon asking me to come to his office. I thought it would be the usual please get your hair cut and trim your beard before meeting clients. He came to the door of his office and told me there was somebody I should meet. It was Mike Hailwood and for once in my life I was totally speechless as he shook my hand.

Mike Hailwood: my sporting hero and a total legend.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00April 9th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Not only the greatest, but a true legend

Happy 100th anniversary Suzuki

It’s an amazing racing heritage that has played such vital part in that 100-year Suzuki success story. As the Japanese factory celebrated its one 100th anniversary last week just reflect what an impact and influence, they have had in their 60 years of Grand Prix racing. Like all the major Japanese factories their success on the racetrack has enabled them to lead the world in innovative motorcycle manufacturing.

Suzuki followed Honda by understanding that success in the ultimate challenge, Grand Prix racing. They travelled to the legendary TT races in the Isle of Man. Just one year after Honda they competed for the first time in the 1960 three lap 125cc race. Two years later they took their first ever Grand Prix victory when Ernst Degner won the 50cc TT race round the infamous 60.721 kms mountain circuit. Since that day on the Isle of Man Suzuki have won 157 more Grands Prix. Including that first victory, they have won 30 in the 50cc class, 35 in the 125 and 93 in the 500cc/MotoGP™ classes. Degner followed his 1962 TT win with further victories in Holland, Belgium and West Germany bringing Suzuki their first World title the same year.

Suzuki led the revolution in bringing their two-stroke expertise into the premier 500cc class that had been dominated by the British and Italian four-strokes. In 1971 New Zealander Jack Findley re-wrote the history books at the Ulster Grand Prix. Not only did he bring Suzuki success for the first time in the premier class but also the very first two-stroke victory against the all-conquering four-strokes. The floodgates opened with a long haired loud British legend Barry Sheene spearheading the Suzuki onslaught riding the magnificent RG 500 four-cylinder rocket ship. Sheene brought Suzuki the 500cc World titles in 1976 and 77. He was followed by Italian’s Marco Lucchinelli and Franco Uncini in the early eighties.

Then Honda and Yamaha dominated before a hard riding rear tyre smoking Texan won back the title in 1993. Nobody embodies the Suzuki spirit of racing these incredible frighteningly fast and unpredictable two-strokes than the 1993 World Champion Kevin Schwantz. Once again Honda fought back but as the two-stroke stroke era was coming to a close the son of a rider who’d so often been the thorn in the side of Suzuki brought them their last World title. Kenny Roberts Junior closed the chapter on the all-conquering RG 500 story with a successful conclusion. The American clinched 2000 World 500cc title before Valentino Rossi and then the four-strokes took over.

Australian Chris Vermeulen brought Suzuki their first four stroke win at Le Mans in 2007 but these were tough times. After a brief respite Suzuki returned to the fray and were rewarded four years ago when Maverick Vinales brought them their first win for nine years. Last year in Austin Alex Rins put Suzuki back on the top step of the podium fighting off nobody less than a certain Valentino Rossi. The Spanish rider repeated their success at Silverstone with a famous win over World Champion Marc Marquez to add to the list of Suzuki Grand Prix winners.

Heading the honours board are New Zealander Hugh Anderson and Schwantz with 25 wins apiece. Schwantz took all his wins in the 500cc class but Anderson, on route to two 50cc and 125 cc World titles, won eight 50cc and 17 125cc Grands Prix. Sheene won 21 Grands Prix for Suzuki. Three in the 125cc class and 18 and two World titles on the 500

Suzuki embark on their new decade in great shape on the racetrack that has played such a major part of their history. Rins and Joan Mir look certain to continue that winning tradition embodied by Anderson, Degner, Sheene and Schwantz over the last 60 glorious years.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00April 2nd, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Happy 100th anniversary Suzuki

Top 10 motorcycling books

Here are a selection of the best motorcycling books that you can enjoy while we #StayAtHome. Which books would you have on your list?

Nick’s picks:

WAYNE RAINEY HIS OWN STORY – MIKE SCOTT
I will never forget that cloud of numbed silence that engulfed the Misano paddock on September 5, 1993. Nobody could or wanted to believe the news about Wayne. His life before the accident and even more after is vividly illustrated in a way that only Michael Scott can portray. A stunning read about darkness, courage and love.

THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES – CHE GUEVARA
It was only when I read the book that I realised I had ridden a large part this legend’s route through Argentina. In 1982 Peter Clifford and myself embarked on an incredible motorcycle journey from Buenos Aires to Chile before the Argentinian Grand Prix. Guevara’s steed was a 1939 500cc Norton nicknamed Poderosa 11. We rode a lot more modern Hondas. He went onto lead the revolution while our main worry was getting out of Argentina before the Falkland Islands War started.

THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE RACING – MIKE HAILWOOD AND MURRAY WALKER
This was my bible when I was growing up thinking that I was going to be a motorcycle racer. Those dreams ended in a muddy ditch beside Tumbledown Hill just outside my home village. I’d followed Hailwood’s advice about riding fast in the wet and discovered that I neither had the skill of courage to follow in his footsteps. Not many or if any others did.

STEALING SPEED – MAT OXLEY
This could have been a John L’Carre novel, but it was a true story brilliantly conveyed by my old friend Mat Oxley. In 1961 Ernst Degner defected to the West after the Swedish Grand Prix. Not only did the rider and his family defect but he brought with him all the two-stroke secrets from the East German MZ factory which he gave to Suzuki ultimately leading to World Championship success for both the rider and factory. Even John Le Carre would have struggled to make this story up.

THE WORLD’S FASTEST INDIAN – ROGER DONALDSON
What an inspiration this book about New Zealander Burt Munroe is to everybody and especially to people of my age. Burt Munroe followed his dream of setting a world speed record on his home built Indian Motorcycle. He defied all the odds to build the bike, travel to America and then ride to a new world record. Both the film starring Anthony Hopkins and the book graphically illustrate that you must never give up on your dream.

Martin’s picks:

STORY SO FAR – BARRY SHEENE
Like Valentino Rossi now, Barry Sheene was a rider whose fame went far beyond the world of motorcycling as well as a rider who came out on top of the 500cc world championship in both 1976 and 1977. This book was published after his World title win in 1976 and covers his rise to fame as well as his World Championship endeavours. The book is special to me as it covers the time when I first started to attend race events – the first of which was at Oulton Park in Easter 1972 when the young Sheene racing in white leathers stormed to victory in the 250cc and 500cc races. From that event onwards I was hooked!

TECHNIQUES OF MOTORCYCLE RACING – KENNY ROBERTS
This the modern version of the Murray Walker book that Nick has in his list. Written by Roberts in conjunction with Peter Clifford, who adds the engineering expertise, this book explains the physics of racing technique. When he arrived in Europe Roberts changed the approach to racing and this book explains how he did it, with a more analytical approach to understanding why and how a motorcycle responds as it does.

THE AGE OF SUPERHEROES – MAT OXLEY
If a photo can tell a thousand words then this is the book that confirms it – but in addition to those wonderful photos Mat, in his usual brilliant way, tells the story behind the photos. If you want to read about those heroes who rode the 500cc monsters without any electronic aids – then this is the book for you.

THE PRIVATEER – JON EKEROLD
In my 48 years of watching motorcycle racing, there may have been harder racers than Jon Ekerold – but I am not sure who they would be. In the 70s and 80s racing was very different from it is now: it was possible to go GP racing with a couple privately owned machines and a transit van. The existence was very much hand-to-mouth and the prize and start money from one race paid for the fuel to get to the next one. Jon Ekerold was one of many such racers, but one of the few to win a World title. This book tells the real story of Grand Prix racing in that era.

JARNO SAARINEN – KLAAS TJASSENS
For me the racing book that I wish had never been written. Jarno Saarinen is my all-time hero of racing. I cannot read this book without feeling great emotion these many years later: great sadness, along with anger that the riders of those days were treated so poorly with regard to safety. In the early 70s Saarinen was the man who was taking the Grand Prix scheme by storm, by challenging the dominance of the great Giacomo Agostini and his fabulous MV. Saarinen won the 250cc World title in 1972 and then was signed by Yamaha to lead their attack on the 500cc title in 1973. After dominating the early season events he arrived at Monza leading both the 250cc & 500cc championship standings, before events at Monza on the fateful day in May 1973 when he lost his life alongside Italian legend Renzo Pasolini.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00March 26th, 2020|Martin Raines Blog, News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Top 10 motorcycling books

Click your fingers and they would arrive

It seems only a few years ago that you could just click your fingers and they would arrive from across the Atlantic to win Grands Prix and in many cases, World Championships. It was like the Pilgrim Fathers in reverse as Kenny Roberts led the charge from America closely followed by Eddie Lawson, Freddie Spencer, Wayne Rainey, John Kocinski and Kevin Schwantz. Even in the 21st century the likes of Kenny Roberts Junior and Nicky Hayden kept the Stars and Stripes flying high on foreign soil.

It was only when Joe Roberts took that magnificent Moto2™ pole in Qatar last week I realised just how the exploits of those American heroes were confined firmly to the history books. American success in the all three classes in the MotoGP™ World Championship was long overdue. Incredibly, a decade overdue.

Fittingly it was at an iconic legendary American venue that Ben Spies grabbed the very last American pole position. It was in the 2010 MotoGP™ race at the Indianapolis Speedway that the Yamaha rider started the 28-lap race from pole position after leading qualifying. Spies finished second in the race behind the Honda of Dani Pedrosa. I’m sure there would have been many more poles and race wins for Spies if his career had not been cruelly cut short by injury.

That same year an American rider grabbed his country’s only ever pole position in the Moto2™ class. Never has the media centre celebrated a pole position with such noise when Kenny Noyes crossed the line at Le Mans. His father Dennis was a doyen of the Grand Prix press core for many a decade and I think we all felt part of his pride.

That was that. Ten barren years and to be honest not much sign that times were about to change until that memorable Saturday night in Qatar.

It was back in 1978 a dirt tracker who was never afraid to express his opinions arrived in Europe to compete in the 500cc World Championship. Kenny Roberts is the biggest single influence in the 71-year history of the sport. The Californian simply turned the Grand Prix racing on its head both on and off the track. He dominated the 500cc World Championship for the next three years with a sliding style that had been honed on the mile-long dirt tracks under the floodlights back home. The European riders led by double World Champion Barry Sheene had never seen anything like it and had no answer. Off the track Kenny led the riders in their fight to improve appalling lack of safety and financial rewards. He was successful on both counts.

If that was not enough, he then brought the likes of Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson from the States to join the likes of Spencer and Schwantz to carry on the American domination of the 500cc World Championship. He set up his own British-based Grand Prix team and produced a son who carried on the family and American tradition by winning the 2000 500cc World title. The only father and son to win a World title.

Pat Hennen was the first American Grand Prix winner when he won the 1976 Finnish Grand Prix at Imatra. Two years earlier Kenny Roberts had popped over the Atlantic to test the water with a 250cc ride in Assen. He started his Grand Prix debut on pole. We should have realised then just what an impact he was going to make.

When you have the same surname as a true legend you have so much lot to live up to. Joe made a start in Qatar.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00March 18th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Click your fingers and they would arrive

A smile never to forget

That smile perhaps even cheeky grin was all I could think about as the chequered flag dropped at the end of the Moto2™ race on Sunday.

It was very much a case of mixed emotions as Moto2™ celebrated its tenth birthday under the Qatar floodlights. I wanted to celebrate the ten years that has produced some amazing racing and a World Champion that has gone on to become one of the greatest premier class World Champions in the 70-year history of the sport. I wanted to celebrate the maiden Grand Prix victory for Japanese rider Tetsuta Nagashima on his 70th Grand Prix appearance after another typical fiery Moto2™ encounter.

My mind went back ten long years and that very first Moto2™ race won by another Japanese rider Shoya Tomizawa. We honestly did not know what to expect and it really was a shot in the dark, if you will excuse the pun. Could these Honda powered 600 cc four-strokes really replace the two-stroke 250’s that had reigned supreme for 50 years. We didn’t have to wait long to find out. Tomizawa eventually got away at the front on the Suter from a frantic battle between Alex Debon, Jules Cluzel and World Champion elect Tony Elias. The smile and celebrations on the podium by the young Japanese rider made me realise that he was something so special both on and off the track.

The second round in Jerez confirmed his ability on the bike as he fought a titanic battle round the legendary venue to finish second behind Elias by one tenth of a second. Just half a second separated the first four – Moto2™ had arrived. Off the track Tomizawa was a delight. Somehow, he managed to combine that natural Japanese trait of courtesy and good manners with a friendly cheeky smile and always a word with everybody. How many riders would stop in the middle of a busy paddock to joke with a 60-year-old television commentator, everybody was treated with the same respect but with such a sense of good fun.

I have rarely witnessed such raw distress in a Grand Prix paddock when Shoya lost his life in that tragic accident at Misano in September of that first year. Not only had the sport lost a great rider but a true person who embodied what the sport was all about. He just loved racing motorcycles and enjoying life with everybody. I’m sure he would have gone on to win a Moto2™ title and move on to MotoGP™, but it was not to be.

Tetsuta Nagashima celebrated that tenth Moto2™ birthday in true style but even more important he dedicated his first Grand Prix win to his old friend. He is the first Japanese rider to lead the Moto2™ World Championship since Shoya. I know he would have approved with that smile.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00March 12th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on A smile never to forget

Not for the first time

This year the circumstances are unique, but this is not the first time that the opening round of the World Championship has had problems

Probably the most famous cancellation of the first round came in 1980 when heavy snow not only covered the Salzburgring circuit in Austria but even blocked the paddock entrance. A year later snow also caused the postponement of the first day of practice although it thawed and the Grand Prix finally went ahead. Already the proposed opening round in 1980 in Venezuela had been cancelled because of financial problems.

It will also not be the first time the smaller classes have taken the limelight with no premier class race at a Grand Prix. In 1982 the old Brno road circuit in Czechoslovakia was deemed too dangerous for 500cc machine and the smaller classes – the 350cc, 250cc, 125cc, 80cc and, of course, the sidecars, entertained the vast crowds.

It has also worked the other way. In 2008 the rapidly arriving hurricane meant the 250cc riders at Indianapolis made the long trip across the Atlantic but never actually raced at the legendary venue. The opening round under the Qatar floodlights a year later had to be split into two days with the MotoGP™ race on a Monday after rain brought proceedings to a halt on Sunday night.

There are a number of occasions when the leading 500cc riders refused to race on safety grounds. The worried organisers usually managed to pull together a grid of privateers who just had to race and ignore the danger to enable them to fill their van with diesel and buy a new set of tyres for the next Grand Prix. The result was some unlikely 500cc Grand Prix winners.
In 1974 unknown German rider Edmund Czihak won the 500cc German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring when the leading riders, led by Phil Read and Giacomo Agostini, refused to ride on safety grounds highlighted by the amount of Armco barriers surrounding the circuit. Five years later, Dennis Ireland won his only 500cc Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps when the top riders refused to race on the slippery surface. Swiss rider Michel Frutschi won in 1982 at Nogaro in France when the top riders, led by Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts, asked me to draft their letter to the organisers stating the circuit was too dangerous for 500cc bikes.

In 1989, I can still see Eddie Lawson sitting on the pit lane wall at Misano signalling to 500cc Grand Prix winner, and local rider, Pier Francesco Chili with a single finger every lap of the race. I don’t think it was to celebrate the fact Frankie was leading after the top riders refused to compete in the re-run race after the first one was stopped on safety grounds.

The 2020 season has hit very different problems that have never been encountered before. It’s new territory for everybody but one thing is for certain: those Moto2™ and Moto3™ riders will put on a great show under the floodlights on Sunday to start the new season in style.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00March 5th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment