Monthly Archives: May 2023


It’s a day 50 years ago that many of us will never forget. May 20th, 1973, the day World Championship Motorcycle racing lost a rider who was destined to join the likes of Hailwood, Agostini, Nieto, Rossi, and Marquez as one of the true greats, if not the greatest.

The only rider in the 74-year history of the sport to win his opening two premier class Grands Prix. The likes of Geoff Duke and Max Biaggi are among a distinguished club of riders who won on their premier class debuts, but only one won on his opening two. A rider who was destined to win both 250cc and 500cc world titles in the same season 12 years before Freddie Spencer became the first and only rider to achieve that double.

A rider, it was rumoured, that was even contemplating adding a 350cc world title the same year to make it a treble. A rider who honed his road racing skills back on the frozen lakes in his Finnish homeland before arriving on the World scene to win the 250cc World Championship. A rider who won both the legendary 200 Mile races at Daytona and Imola in 1973 beating the 750s riding a 350cc Yamaha. A rider Yamaha chose to spearhead their first 500cc world title challenge on a four-cylinder two-stroke machine.

Twenty-seven-year-old Jarno Saarinen lost his life in a horrendous multi-rider accident in the 250cc race in the 1973 Grand Prix of Nations at Monza. It was a crash that also claimed the life of Italian Renzo Pasolini, who had finished runner-up to Saarinen in the 250cc Championship the previous year. Grand Prix racing and Finland grieved. Yamaha immediately pulled out of the 500cc World Championship for the season. No wonder Yamaha chose Saarinen to spearhead the two-stroke challenge in the four-stroke dominated 500cc class and he did not let them down.

The Finn arrived in the premier class after dominating the 250cc World Championship and winning five 350cc Grands Prix. Often, we would see this new phenomenon at British circuits where he eclipsed the likes of Barry Sheene at places such as Mallory Park, Silverstone and even the infamous Scarborough Road circuit. He needed the money to finance his Grand Prix racing and we were lucky there were organisers who had the foresight to pay him.

Saarinen’s debut season in the 500cc class was nothing short of sensational. After winning the 250cc race at Paul Ricard in France he went on to beat Phil Read’s MV Agusta by 15 seconds on his 500cc debut ride. He almost doubled that winning advantage at the next round at the Salzburging in Austria with his Yamaha teammate Hideo Kanaya second. Earlier he’d won the 250cc race. It looked a hat trick at the next round in Hockenheim but after a third 250cc win the Yamaha’s chain broke in the 500cc race and his winning run came to an end.

He arrived in Monza for round four with his wife Soili looking to return to double winning ways. On the first lap of the 250cc race 15 riders crashed at Gran Curve after oil it was suggested had been dropped on the tarmac in the previous 350cc race. An ominous pall of black smoke rose above the Grand Curve and slowly the riders made their way back to the start the wrong way round the legendary circuit. Saarinen and Pasolini did not return. We will never know where his World Championship journey would have ended. I’m just thankful I was so lucky to watch a true Champion in action.

Thanks, Jarno, I will never forget.


By |2023-05-25T08:04:42+00:00May 25th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Jarno

The birth of a dream in a very different world

I wondered just what Freddie Frith would have made of it. I was stood at the entrance to Chemin Aux Boeufs chicane on the first qualifying lap for the 1000th Grand Prix at Le Mans on Saturday morning when Marc Marquez arrived. Rear wheel showing plenty of clear air from the tarmac as he applied the brakes at over 300 kph before sliding the Repsol Honda left and right. Then he was gone.

Seventy-four years ago, in such a different world, it was dry and clear as 100 350cc riders lined up on Glencrutchery Road. June 13th, 1949, and the birth of a dream. The very first Grand Prix: seven laps and 425 kms of the legendary Mountain circuit in the Isle of Man. Just four years after the end of the Second World War, the FIM launched the motorcycle Grand Prix World Championship one year ahead of their four-wheel counterparts. Four solo classes; 125, 250, 350 and 500, plus of course sidecars, and at European venues Berne, Assen, Spa-Francorchamps, Clady, Monza and the Isle of Man. They had been racing motorcycles on this chunk of granite stuck in the middle of the Irish Sea since 1907. Back then there was a 25kph speed limit on British roads. The forward-thinking Manx government realised that closing their roads for racing could have far-reaching consequences and they were right.

The Lieut.-Governor Air Vice Marshall Sir Geoffrey Bromet dropped the Manx flag to start the race as the riders, all competing on British machines, started in pairs every ten seconds to race between the houses down the fearsome Bray Hill. Every vantage point around the Mountain circuit was jammed with patriotic British fans at last shaking off the devastating effects of war and taking a holiday for the first time in over a decade. Former bomber pilot Les Graham – who had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in 1944 – led by 19 seconds at the end of the first lap, but a broken clutch brought his race to a premature halt. The AJS of Bill Doran took over until his gearbox broke going up the Mountain at the Gooseneck on the final lap. Forty-year-old Freddie Frith, riding the Velocette, had no way of knowing of Doran’s demise and put in a record last lap to become the first grand prix winner. Irishman Ernie Lyons made it a Velocette one two with Artie Bell third on the Norton. Tragically, though, the day provided a dark reminder how dangerous it was to race motorcycles on the Mountain circuit when Ben Drinkwater was killed after crashing on the fourth lap. A different era to the safety standards of today.

Four days later, technical disaster struck again for Graham who appeared on course to make up for his 350cc disappointment by leading on the last lap of the first 500cc grand prix. Four kilometres from the finish with a 90 second lead the magneto shaft on his AJS shattered and he had to push the bike to the finish. Bespectacled Harold Daniell brought the Norton home for a comfortable victory but Graham’s luck changed. He was crowned the first 500cc World Champion at the end of the season.

The atmosphere and racing at Le Mans were a fitting tribute to those riders who have competed in those 1000 Grands Prix. A cacophony of sound and adrenalin generating from those towering grandstands. A Sunday crowd of nearly 120,000, the largest one-day sporting crowd in France this year, embraced what Grand Prix motorcycle racing is and has always been all about. Freddie Frith and all those pioneers who set such a high standard for others to follow 74 years ago would have loved every minute of it.  Even the gravel trap altercation between Bagnaia and Vinales. Without a shadow of a doubt, they would have demanded a ride on a modern MotoGP™ machine.


By |2023-05-18T07:34:54+00:00May 18th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The birth of a dream in a very different world

Dani made my week

I’m not ashamed to admit I thought there must have been a misprint when the results came through from that first MotoGP™ practice session at Jerez on Friday morning. Dani Pedrosa leading all those young pretenders on the KTM he’d work so hard to develop for the factory team and their riders. Of course, there was no misprint. Dani probably, together with Max Biaggi, the unluckiest rider not to win the MotoGP™ World Championship. Throw in Randy Mamola and the unluckiest rider not to win a premier class world title. Thirty-seven years old and still capable to lead a MotoGP™ practice session, that would do for me because I was still annoyed.

I get annoyed rather than angry these days, apart from when watching football, but a letter from a gentleman to a leading British Motorcycle publication raised the hackles. He suggested that racing had gone soft. That riders in the sixties and seventies often raced with strapped-up limbs and joints that were severely damaged or even fractured. He suggested now we seem to have MotoGP™ prima donnas.

I hope this gentleman was watching the weekend at Jerez. A 37-year-old who had fought back from so many injuries to lead the first practice. Despite those injuries, that probably cost him a MotoGP™ title, Pedrosa won three world titles and 54 Grands Prix. Did he witness the determination and bravery of Enea Bastianini trying to overcome the pain recovering from a broken shoulder blade but finally having to call it a day. The frustration of eight times World Champion Marc Marquez at being told he could not race by the doctors because of his broken hand. Marquez, who has come through three years of major surgery and pain, wanted to race but the doctors said no. The second big accident of the season for Miguel Oliveira in the race which could put him out of action once

It is so easy to recall the past through rose-tinted glasses and I’m probably the worst offender, but I promise you modern day MotoGP™ riders are no prima donnas. Of course, riders from the past were tough. I witnessed first-hand some remarkable brave acts by riders coming from injury. Barry Sheene’s recovery from his Daytona crash to win two 500cc world titles. Then, I was at Silverstone for the horrendous fireball crash in 1982 but Barry returned to race again. Mick Doohan’s 1992 ride in Brazil when he could hardly walk but was determined to defend his lead in the World Championship, I will never forget. In more recent times Jorge Lorenzo flying back to Barcelona in 2013 to have a titanium plate fitted with ten screws to mend a broken collarbone sustained in a practice crash at Assen. The five times World Champion returned two days later and rode to fifth place after 26 laps of the legendary Dutch circuit.

The very nature of the sport means that motorcycle racing always was and always will be dangerous. What had to happen was to make Grand Prix racing as safe as it possibly could be. That is exactly what has happened. Safer circuits, revolutionary improved rider protection, instant medical care and medical staff that are prepared to say no if they think a rider is not fit have been crucial. Surely nobody wants to see riders get injured but accept there will be crashes. Anything that can be achieved in preventing riders avoiding serious injury has to be applauded. Everything that can be done to ensure instant medical attention after a serious accident has to be correct.

Modern day MotoGP™ riders, prima donnas?  I don’t think so and Dani, thanks for making me smile.


By |2023-05-04T15:12:20+00:00May 4th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Dani made my week
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