Monthly Archives: August 2020

Close your eyes and take a deep breath

I didn’t think I would ever admit it after that delayed start but like everybody else I need a breather and a lie down in a darkened room  after the most incredible start to a season in the 71 year history of grand prix racing.

For the last four decades I have often written and spoken about ‘The Changing of the Guard’ after the first few races of a new season. New grand prix winners arrived; new manufactures stood on the top step of the podium while old champions started to fade but never has so much happened in such a short space of time. The new statistics after five breath taking encounters have just poured out in bucket loads of drama, excitement and incident.

I remember enthusing about Jarno Saarinen when he won those first two rounds of the 1973 World 500cc Championship before his tragic death. I wrote about those first grand prix wins for the likes of Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner, Kevin Schwantz, Max Biaggi and Kenny Roberts Junior at the first rounds of the season. All apart from the unlucky Biaggi they went on to become World 500 cc Champions, but this season has eclipsed anything we have witnessed previously.

Who would have dared to believe what lay head when the season tentatively got underway behind closed doors in Jerez last month.

Eleven different riders have finished on the podium with four separate race winners. Brad Binder was a Rookie winner in just his third MotoGP race at Brno. Three of the four race winners Fabio Quartararo, Binder and Miguel Oliveira won their first premier class grands prix. Binder and Oliveira brought South Africa and Portugal their first ever premier class victories. Apart from first Austrian winner Andrea Dovizioso the three other winners have started less than 25 MotoGP races and are under the age of 26 years old. Franco Morbidelli and Joan Mir took their first MotoGP podium finishes.

KTM became the newest Manufacturer to stand on the top step of the podium not once but twice while Honda since their return to grand prix racing way back in 1982 have not yet finished on the podium. The record books did not escape being ripped up in Qualifying either. There have been four different pole setters. They included Pol Espargaro who gave himself and KTM their first pole position. Yamaha and Ducati were the other two pole setters. Ten different riders have filled the five front rows with 30-year-old Johann Zarco the oldest.

In those cold dark days of March and April I began to fear that we might not witness a single MotoGP race this year. Instead through the sheer hard work, foresight and tolerance of everybody involved in this sport we have been treated to a truly memorable five grands prix. What lies ahead I have no idea, but I need that lie down before it kicks off once again in Misano.

By |2020-08-27T08:45:19+00:00August 27th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Close your eyes and take a deep breath

Portimao could be the decider

Not only does MotoGP™ make a return to Portugal but that final round in Portimao could well be the decider if those first four incredible races are an indication. After an eight-year absence, Portugal makes a welcome return in November to continue a racing heritage that started in Spain of all places 33 years ago.

Those first two Portuguese Grands Prix did not actually take place in Portugal. The very first Grand Prix was held on the outskirts of Madrid at the Jarama circuit in September 1987. It was a crucial race and the last one of the season in Europe with the final two rounds in Brazil and Argentina. Not only was it a race that would have a bearing on the outcome of the Championship, but it earnt me an expenses paid trip to the penultimate round at Goiania in Brazil

I will never forget those magic words from the man of few words back in the BBC Studios in London. Book your flight to Brazil was the simple message via my headphones from producer Derek Mitchell after Wayne Gardner finished fourth in the 37-lap race behind Eddie Lawson, Randy Mamola and Kevin Magee. Gardner had built up a fantastic rapport with the BBC radio listeners on a Sunday afternoon with stories of his Grand Prix adventures in the season. Damaging his wrist whilst arm wrestling on the ferry to Holland and being given a suppository instead of a pain killer by a circuit doctor with disastrous results during a race to name but a few. His fourth place in Jarama gave him a massive chance to clinch the World 500cc Championship at the penultimate round in Brazil and the BBC wanted to be there. It turned into the perfect decision with Gardner winning the title two weeks later – but that is another story.

The next season Portugal continued on the Grand Prix calendar but at a new venue and again not in Portugal. Jerez staged the race won again by Eddie Lawson. We then had a 12 year wait before the next Portuguese Grand Prix but, at last, it was in Portugal at the fantastic Estoril circuit just outside Lisbon.

I knew the track, the route from the airport and the flight times like the back of my hand because I had spent so much time there in the previous six years. It was the Rothmans Williams Renault Formula One test track. We launched the team there in 1994 with Ayrton Senna and talented motorcycle racer Damon Hill and I had watched David Coulthard win his first Grand Prix. I used to tell the F1 boys they need a motorcycle Grand Prix in Estoril to show the circuit’s true potential. In 2000 at last, Estoril was ready to stage a motorcycle Grand Prix and Garry McCoy did not let us down. The Australian typically just lit up the surface to set two wheels in motion with a memorable victory in that first race on Portuguese soil

For the next 12 years, Estoril was one of our highlights of the season. Who could forget the Pedrosa/Hayden crash in 2006 and Toni Elias’s win in the same race after Kenny Roberts celebrated victory a lap too early. The imperious Jorge Lorenzo winning three in a row while Valentino Rossi won four in a row earlier as he dominated the title chase on both Honda and Yamaha machinery. Throw in the Atlantic coast, the nightlife and restaurants of Cascais and Friday night trips to watch Benfica play football and it was just about perfect. Who could forget that final Grand Prix in 2012 won by Casey Stoner on the Honda? Portugal was on its knees financially and the organisers lowered the ticket prices resulting in a record crowd packing the 4.182km circuit for the last time.

Five years ago, I flew to the final round of the 2015 World Championship in Valencia via Lisbon. It was the year that Miguel Oliveira was really putting the frighteners on Danny Kent who had looked the odds-on Moto3™ World Champion after winning six Grands Prix before September. As Kent faltered in the Autumn, Oliveira piled on the pressure with three wins. The Portuguese rider won in Valencia but failed by just six points to prevent Kent from taking the title. The Lisbon flight on Monday morning not only included Oliveira but so many patriotic, passionate and hung-over Portuguese MotoGP™ fans. I bemoaned the loss of Estoril for these fans as their country struggled but now, they have been rewarded. Portimao looks a magnificent circuit to take over the mantle of Estoril. Oliveira’s place on a MotoGP™ podium cannot be far away and the icing on the cake, the World Championship could well be decided on the Algarve in November.

By |2020-08-19T16:12:39+00:00August 19th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Portimao could be the decider

Grand Prix apprenticeship – still learning

Brad Binder’s truly memorable ride into the history books and then his immaculate calm TV interview with Simon Crafar in the Brno pit lane afterwards made me smile. Memories of another great South African World Champion, the Brno road circuit and the apprenticeship as a Grand Prix reporter.

Forty years ago, I travelled to report on the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix on the old Brno road circuit. It was my first season as a Grand Prix reporter, and I was keen, very keen, too keen. There was massive interest in the 350-cc race which was the penultimate round of the Championship. It was a fight between the toughest Grand Prix rider I have ever met, South African Jon Ekerold and the talented German Toni Mang. Privateer Ekerold arrived at the 10.920 kms road circuit on a sweltering afternoon with a 14-point lead in the Championship. It was not easy for a South African to get a visa to race in Czechoslovakia

His two Bimoto Yamaha mechanics had been refused entry and he only managed to get a precious visa because he had inherited a Norwegian passport from his father. Ekerold looked so much the likely World Champion as he trailed leader Mang through the villages, corn fields and forest. Suddenly the Champion elect started to slow, which we discovered later was with a broken piston ring. He limped home in tenth place, with Mang’s victory ensuring the pair would go into the final round in Germany on equal points.

I was first there with pen and notebook in hands as Ekerold limped into the pits and took off his helmet. Others with a bit more experience and nouse than the novice waited for the dust to settle. I had dived in as Jon was still removing his helmet with a breathless enquiry about why he had slowed and how he felt about not winning the World title. His reply was unprintable, and he made it very clear what he thought about me.

A week later I drove to an iconic venue for the final round of the 350 cc World Championship. The Nürburgring road circuit nestling in the Eifel mountains was on its last legs. As I drove into the paddock Jon Ekerold was waiting for me at the gate. I was ready for another ear bashing but instead he apologised for his outburst, said he was out of order and I was only doing my job and shook my hand. He then went out to produce a ride of pure genius and guts that you had to be there to appreciate.

His victory over Mang brought him that World title and left me with memories I will never forget. His last lap between the trees and barriers that lined the 22.835 kms deteriorating surface was one of the greatest single laps I have ever witnessed. His last lap would have qualified him in second place on the 500cc grid and his race time would have placed him fourth in the 500cc race.

Onto Austria on Sunday and I loved both the old Salzburgring and in recent years to the similar picturesque location of the Red Bull Ring. The Salzburgring was special especially watching those 500cc grand prix motorcycles at such a high speed. It was the ultimate amphitheatre for riders to show not only skill but so much nerve and courage. A little Alpine stream used to trickle between the trees past the media centre and a family ran the communication service, charging extortionate prices. Upset Mother, Father and especially Daughter and there was no chance of copy being filed

In 1983 Kenny Roberts was fighting like a true champion to win back the World title he had last won three years earlier. It was a crucial sixth round of his fight with Freddie Spencer at the Salzburging. I had organised with Yamaha that if he won, the presenter back in London could interview him live for BBC Radio at the end of his victory lap on the finish line before he went to the podium. Kenny completed his part of the deal perfectly. A classic six second win over Eddie Lawson and he stopped in front of me, took off his helmet and put on the headphones ready to speak to the BBC.

Unfortunately, the people back in London had not grasped the situation. Instead of coming straight to Kenny they asked him if he would mind waiting a couple of minutes because they were doing a cricket round up around the county club grounds. Kenny may have just completed 131.440 kms at over 190 kph but he never lost that wicked sense of humour. He asked them if that was the same game of cricket in which the match can last five days and still end in a draw. Kenny waited, the rostrum ceremony waited and eventually the interview with the winner was completed.

Four decades later and I am still learning.


By |2020-08-13T10:20:12+00:00August 13th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Grand Prix apprenticeship – still learning

Never say never

Write the outcome of the 2020 MotoGP™ season off at your peril. August may have arrived, but these are still very early days with 12 rounds and 300 points up for grabs. What a fantastic start by the superb 21-year-old Frenchman Fabio Quartararo but I promise you he knows the big challenges have yet to come. History backs him up.

Back in 1979, the new 500cc World Champion Kenny Roberts lay in a hospital bed as his great rival Barry Sheene won the opening round of the Championship at a sweltering San Carlos in Venezuela. Kenny had broken his back when he crashed in pre-season testing for Yamaha in Japan. His chances of retaining the title he had won after a captivating battle with the then World Champion Sheene had surely disappeared before the first wheels had turned in anger. Six weeks later the tough little American was not only back in action but winning. He won the second round by over six seconds from Virginio Ferrari at the Salzburgring in Austria to set up a successful defence of his title although it went down to the very last round. Third place at Le Mans in France at the 12th and final round in the race won by Sheene completed the season that had started in a hospital be

Thirteen years later in 1992 his great protégé Wayne Rainey had written off his chances of retaining his 500cc crown as the riders arrived in Assen for the eighth round of the Championship. Rainey could not even be there. The America Yamaha rider had crashed in practice at the previous round in Germany and his injuries forced him to retire from the race at Hockenheim. Mick Doohan won his fifth race of the season to open up what seemed an impregnable 65-point advantage over Rainey with just six rounds remaining.

That Friday afternoon of qualifying at Assen I will never forget. It was total carnage. Doohan crashed and broke his right leg. I was Media Manager for the Rothmans Honda team and listened as Mick and the team decided an operation at the local hospital rather than flying to London or the States would be the quickest solution. Mick even suggested he might be back for the next round in Hungary in just 15 days’ time. He was joined in the hospital by Kevin Schwantz who had broken his forearm and dislocated his hip after a collision with the Cagiva of Eddie Lawson. Schwantz, riding the Suzuki was second in the Championship, 53 points behind Doohan.

Then it all went so terribly wrong. Mick did not return to the track for seven long painful weeks. Gangrene had set in and to save having his leg amputated both legs had to be sewn together to try and restore the blood supply. All Mick could do was lie there praying he would not lose his leg and watch Rainey drip feed that precious 65-point Championship lead at the next three Grands Prix.

Mick finally returned for the penultimate round at Interlagos in Brazil. He was a shadow of the rider who had so dominated proceedings before Assen. Gaunt and grey after seven weeks of hell. His legs were spindly remnants of what they used to be, and his right calf was still encased in a light cast, but nothing was going to stop him defending that precious 22-point lead he still held over Rainey. I have never seen anybody give so much with absolutely no reward. After 28 laps, 121.044 kms of excruciating pain the Australian finished with no points in 12th place in the race won by Rainey, but he was back and ready for the final showdown at Kyalami in South Africa just two weeks later. He was hanging onto the Championship lead by two precious points

Rainey clinched the title by four points after finishing third behind John Kocinski and Wayne Gardner. Doohan’s sixth place was a superhuman effort but not enough for the title he had looked an absolute dead cert to win. We all knew it was only a matter of time and two years later Mick won the first of his five successive World 500 titles.

Quartararo arrives at the magnificent Brno circuit for the third round on Sunday with a ten-point advantage over Maverick Viñales. There are three Grands Prix in just two weeks with 75 precious points at stake. Just two weeks before the season started Andrea Dovizioso had a broken collarbone re-plated. While others focused on his contract talks with Ducati the Italian got on with his job with third and sixth places in Jerez. Last year Dovi was second at Brno and won the year before. It’s straight on to the Red Bull Ring in Austria for two Grands Prix. Ducati have won there for the last four years with Dovi successful twice, including last year.

Remember this is MotoGP™ – never say never.


By |2020-08-06T12:04:59+00:00August 6th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on Never say never
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