The legendary journalist, the late John Brown, summed up perfectly his two visits to Sentul for the Indonesian Grands Prix a quarter of a century ago. Very, very hot and the cold beer tasted great was how JB described his visits to a country that is such a hotbed of MotoGP™ support. Grand Prix Motorcycle racing makes a welcome return this weekend 25 years after its last visit and Indonesia cannot wait. Then it was Doohan, Biaggi and a young fresh-faced Rossi they flocked to support and watch at the Sentul circuit. Two-strokes ruled in all classes and if you did not have a Honda in the 500cc class it was hardly worth turning up. It was a decade ruled by Doohan and Honda but already two young riders were making their mark, especially in the 1997 Grand Prix at the bumpy 3.965 kms Sentul circuit situated forty-five kms south of Jakarta
A year earlier Valentino Rossi had finished 11th at Sentul in just his second 125cc Grand Prix. He returned in 1997 already crowned the 125 cc World Champion to win his 11thGrand Prix of the season which is a record for the 125cc/Moto3™ class. Bigger things beckoned for the Italian, and he so nearly made it as the only rider to compete at Sentul and then the Portamina Mandalika circuit on Sunday. Jorge Martinez finished third in 1997 which was his last ever podium finish before retiring at the end of the season after 14 years of racing which brought the Spaniard four World titles. The previous year the youngest of the Aoki brothers Haruchika finished second behind Masaki Tukudome but went on to retain his 125cc World title.
Max Biaggi and Rossi were talking in those days. Rossi’s bitter rival in years to come won the 250cc race riding the Honda to open a six-point lead in the Championship. At the final round in Phillip Island Biaggi’s second place behind Ralf Waldmann was enough to clinch his fourth consecutive World title. A year earlier Tetsuya Harada won his only 250cc Grand Prix of the season giving Michelin tyres their last ever 250cc victory.
The big surprise of that sweltering weekend in 1997 was that Mick Doohan did not win the 30 lap 500cc race. The only way to beat the all-conquering Aussie those days was to shadow him until the last corner, if you had the nerve, and then make your move. It worked for Alex Criville and at Sentul for his teammate Tadayuki Okada who grabbed his first 500cc victory by 0.069s. The mighty Mick was not impressed with such tactics especially from his Honda teammates, but he should not have worried. He had already secured his fourth World title, won 12 Grands Prix that season and that second place gave him a record-breaking 340 points for the season, but Mick hated losing. He had won the Sentul race a year earlier with Alex Barros and Loris Capirossi completing the podium.
So, on Sunday a new circuit, a new audience, and a new breed of hungry riders on such a variety of four stroke machinery but one thing will never change. It will still be very very hot, and the cold beer will taste just as good.