Monthly Archives: June 2023

Three GPs in 15 days – I’d never had made it

Never had to check the diary. The last Saturday in June was Assen, followed eight days later at Spa. Thursday night at Assen fired up ten days of total chaos and some brilliant racing. Car races, deadlines, overnight ferries, flights in ancient aircraft, chips covered in mayonnaise, plenty of cold beer and planned parking; all coming into play to ensure back-to-back grands prix at two European classic venues, that somehow produced copy and photographs onto the pages of our respective magazines.

The fun and games started on the overnight ferry between England and Holland. I remember Wayne Gardner having to go to the medical centre in Assen with a strained arm. He told the doctor it was arm pump, but it was caused by an arm-wrestling contest late one night in the middle of the English Channel. The pace hotted up on the Thursday evening at Assen. After a full afternoon of the six classes of Grand Prix practice the Dutch rounds of the TT Formula One and Two races took to the hallowed tarmac. It was Championships dominated by British and especially Irish riders, such as the great Joey Dunlop and Brian Reid. After the prize giving it was time for the celebrations or commiserations usually starting in Assen and often finishing in Groningen with the sidecar boys, always up for a party, joining in

Racing at Assen was always on Saturday, a throwback to the early days when they did not want to affect the attendance at the local churches. Parking early on race morning was a crucial part of the plan. As the final race ended you had to be out of Assen on the road with a bag of films and photocopied results from the 50cc, 125cc, 250cc, 350cc, 500cc and sidecar Grands Prix on route to the Hook of Holland and the overnight ferry back to England. That 250 km journey was our very own Grand Prix and time was tight. The FIM Stewards would have been very busy. Once back in England on Sunday morning it was drive to the office, write 2000 words of copy, type out the results get the films developed and then sleep.

Two days later we were ready to start the process all over again at the magnificent Spa Francorchamps circuit, carved out of the forest high in the Belgium Ardennes. Often we would fly across the Channel this time. Once we hitched a free flight on an ancient Viscount airliner being used by a certain Richard Branson to set up a new airline. Thank goodness, no TT Formula One or Two races, but just as much fun and games. A Sunday race meant tighter deadlines. We had leave even earlier to catch the flight back. I remember a bag of films being thrown over the track during the sidecar race from the inside of the La Source hairpin so we could get away before the traffic.

So Assen and Spa, the most memorable back-to-back races of the season – well actually not quite. Anybody who was lucky enough, although I might not have used those exact words at the time, to board that overnight party ferry between Finland and Sweden after their respective Grands Prix would agree. Was it the relief of leaving Imatra alive or the worry of leaving Anderstorp with the prospect racing over those Imatra railway lines looming? Was it the fact it never actually got dark as the boat wound its way through hundreds of tiny islands? Perhaps a combination of them both, but the party-loving Scandinavian blond ladies, loud music and beer certainly played their part.

The riders, teams and media have just completed three back-to-back Grands Prix in just 15 days. Back in the day I don’t think my brain, body or liver could have taken the strain. Enjoy the summer break – you deserve it.


By |2023-06-29T09:28:09+00:00June 29th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Three GPs in 15 days – I’d never had made it

The Italian Job

Fifty-four years ago, Grand Prix racing history was being made on the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia, although nobody would have believed it at the time. It was only after another Ducati-dominated MotoGP™ race at the Sachsenring on Sunday that it really emerged just how much the tide had turned into an Italian job. Unbelievably there were just three Japanese machines on the starting grid for the 30-lap race on Sunday. It was over half a century ago on September 7th 1969 that fewer Japanese motorcycle lined up for the start of a premier class Grand Prix. It was only a year ago the then World Champion Fabio Quartararo brought Yamaha their last MotoGP™ win at the Sachsenring.

Alex Rins kept the Japanese flag aloft with wins for Suzuki at Phillip Island and Valencia. Suzuki stepped down from the rigours of MotoGP™ but Rins continued to fly the flag bringing the LCR Honda team victory in Austin, however, that was that for the Japanese factories who had dominated Grand Prix motorcycle racing for six long decades.

Twelve months ago it would have been unthinkable that just three Japanese machines started a MotoGP™ race. Injuries to key players Marc Marquez, Joan Mir and Rins kept them off the grid but you still have to go back those 54 years to find less Japanese machines preparing to start a premier class Grand Prix. At the final round of the 1969 500cc World Championship, Australian Terry Dennehy was the only rider on the grid for the Adriatic Grand Prix riding a Japanese motorcycle. Fresh from a fourth place at the penultimate round at Imola, he arrived at the infamous 6.00 kms cliff-top road circuit at Opatija for the 29-lap race riding the Honda he’d converted from a CB450 cc road bike housed in Drixton frame. Unfortunately, he retired from that race in Yugoslavia but still finished a credible 12th in the final World Championship standings. Not only was the pioneering Australian the only Japanese starter but he was also the only rider to score points in the 12-round World Championship riding a Japanese machine

Ironically the 174 kms race produced the end of an era. British rider Godfrey Nash secured his one and only grand prix win riding a single-cylinder British built Norton. It was the last Grand Prix victory for the British factory and the last time a single-cylinder machine won a Premier class grand prix.  Norton had won 41 350 and 500cc Grands Prix and played such a massive part in developing the World Championship in those early days. Their time was up, as the Japanese factories moved in.

In 2003 Honda, led by Valentino Rossi, took the first five places in the Rio Grand Prix. Twenty years later it was Ducati that produced a similar result for the first time since Rio, led by Jorge Martin in Germany. For the last 33 MotoGP™ races a Ducati has been on the podium and they have already won six Grands Prix, which is half the total they won last year. Throw in a couple of Tissot Sprint wins for Brad Binder on the Austrian-built KTM and you realise just what the Japanese factories face in their fight to return to the top.

No way do Honda or Yamaha find themselves in a similar position to Norton half a century later. It is not in their culture or history to throw in the towel. They will return to starting grids and the top step of the podium but there are signs they could be in for a long wait.

By |2023-06-23T07:25:22+00:00June 23rd, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The Italian Job

Genius of the Swinging Sixties

This was the Swinging Sixties. A decade of revolution and innovation. A never to be forgotten era embraced by Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Multi-cylinder Japanese designed and built engines. Maverick riders who displayed such skill to ride these mechanical masterpieces to Grands Prix and World Championship victories, accompanied by the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Jimmy Hendrix.

Forget those terrifying 500cc two-strokes, the V8 Moto Guzzi 500cc monster or the 360km/h modern-day MotoGP™ machines, because they were, and are, a doddle to ride compared to that incredible 50cc motorcycle that Hans-Georg Anscheidt coaxed to three World titles. A Grand Prix motorcycle that demanded a genius to ride to the limit. Anscheidt certainly earned that particular title.

In the modern Grand Prix world of electronics, multiple tyre choices, carbon fibre disc brakes and wings it is hard to fully understand just what a jack of all trades you had to be to even ride, let alone win on these 50cc machines. Mechanical masterpieces they may have been, but to harness all that potential you required a skill never witnessed before or after. The RK67 Suzuki on which Anscheidt won the 1967 and 1968 World titles was the perfect example of what was required by the man in the saddle.

Just how did they cope? Let’s start with the 14-speed gearbox. No wonder they wore off so much leather from those left boots. Constant gear changing was vital to keep the 50cc two-stroke water-cooled parallel twin engine peaking at around 17,500 rpm. The tiny engine with pistons the size of eggs which produced an incredible 17.5 hp was totally unforgiving. If you did not keep the engine in the narrowest 1000 rpm power band the speed simply disappeared. Certainly, Anscheidt found the speed and winning the 1968 Belgium Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps was reported to have gone through the speed trap at a truly extraordinary 205 km/h on the RK 67 Suzuki. Over 200km/h on a 50cc machine was not enough for Suzuki and they started to develop a three-cylinder version, but then the FIM stepped in to limit the number of cylinders and gearbox cogs to keep the spiralling costs down and the development ended. Just where would it have ended up in all classes? These speeds and gear changes were kept in contact with the tarmac by tiny 5cm wide tyres more suited to a push bike. The engine was housed in an aluminium frame with the whole package weighing just 58kg.

Anscheidt really was the undisputed king of the 50s. He won the very first 50cc Grand Prix at Montjuic Park Barcelona in 1962 riding the Kreidler. He won five more Grands Prix for Kreidler before switching to Suzuki in 1966. Anscheidt won the World title for the Japanese factory that year and retained the title for the next two years and in total won 14 GPs. The 50s disappeared in 1983 switching to 80cc. Many World Champions, and especially those in Britain, started their careers racing 50cc machines before moving on. Mike Hailwood, Bill Ivy and Barry Sheene all cut their teeth on the tiddlers. Sheene’s second Grand Prix win was in a one-off ride for Kreidler at the 50cc Czechoslovakian Grand Prix in Brno. He is the only rider to have won both 50cc and 500cc Grands Prix.

What a decade to grow up in. Five-cylinder 125s, England winning the World Cup, six-cylinder 250s, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, three-cylinder 50cc two-strokes with 14 gears and Hans-Georg Anscheidt.

By |2023-06-15T07:25:28+00:00June 15th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Genius of the Swinging Sixties

Nice to be so wrong

I’ll put my hands up and admit it. When Andrea Dovizioso brought Ducati just their second MotoGP™ win for six long years in 2016 and his first win for 2650 days, I didn’t have the foresight to realise this was the start of a challenge against the seemingly unbeatable Marc Marquez and Honda. A resurrection of the fortunes of the legendary Italian factory spearheaded by a revitalised Dovi. Of course, the Italian from the Adriatic coast had always been a world class motorcycle racer but, wrongly, I’d only thought of him as Mr Consistency, Mr Reliable, and a really nice guy.

I’d seen him win the 125cc World Championship on the Honda in 2004 fighting off the Aprilia challenge of Hector Barbera and Roberto Locatelli. He was unlucky to face Jorge Lorenzo riding the Aprilia in 2006 and 2007 in the 250cc World Championships. Dovi finished second to Lorenzo both years riding the Honda after finishing third in 2005 behind the pretty impressive duo of Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner. All three of those 250cc contenders joined MotoGP™ with both Lorenzo and Stoner going on to taste world title successes. In 2009 Dovi, riding the Repsol Honda, won the very last MotoGP™ Grand Prix at a damp Donington Park in England. For the next seven years, he rightly earned the title of Mr Consistency – picking up 30 podium finishes for Honda, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, and Ducati who he joined in 2013

Honestly, I thought that Donington win might be it but there were stirrings in the red side of the paddock. After resting on their laurels for far too long after Stoner’s magnificent World title in 2007 on the 800 cc Ducati, the Bologna-based factory were back in the hunt to fight against the might of Japan. Who will forget that fantastic all Ducati last lap battle at the Red Bull Ring in Austria in 2016 where Andrea Iannone grabbed his one and only MotoGP™ win by less than one second? Iannone disappeared to Ibiza to celebrate. Dovi stayed at home to plot his second MotoGP™ win and he didn’t have to wait for long.

Two thousand six hundred and fifty-three days since that Donington victory he was back on the top step of the podium after a comfortable three second win over Valentino Rossi in the searing heat of Sepang in Malaysia. A more different venue to a damp Donington you could not imagine. Dovi and Ducati, wings and all were back in business and ready to take on Marquez and Honda. Out of the saddle, Dovi was still the friendly pleasant quietly spoken guy but once the lights changed something had altered. He explained a settled personal life had helped but spearheading a patriotic team fighting for a world title must have been such an incentive.

Right from the start in 2017, they were at it. Victory at a crazy Mugello was followed by wins at Barcelona, Austria, Britain, Japan and Malaysia resulting in the Championship fight with Marquez going into the final round in Valencia, where third place for Marquez was enough to keep the title. Second place for Dovi and Ducati perhaps not just rewards for their efforts to push Marquez and Honda off the top step

Two Grands Prix summed up that memorable season. Both last lap, last bend confrontations with Marquez who simply loved these head-to-head last bend scraps because he usually came out on top. The World Champion didn’t at the Red Bull Ring in Austria and in the rain at Motegi in Japan. I’ll never forget the look Dovi gave Marquez when he beat him in Austria but the win in Motegi was the one to savour. Ducati beating Honda at their home circuit in the pouring rain was pretty special. Two weeks later he won again in Malaysia to keep his Championship chances alive, but it was not to be. It was a similar story a year later when four wins gave him second place to Marquez. In 2019 second again behind the Spanish Honda rider and a year later his last Grand Prix victory of 24 including 15 in MotoGP™ in Austria.

Sometimes it’s nice to be so wrong even if it takes 2650 days to realise it.


By |2023-06-07T14:56:16+00:00June 7th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Nice to be so wrong

MotoGP™ fans are a savvy lot

Of course, sunshine helps and there was plenty of it pouring down on that record crowd at Le Mans a couple of weeks back. Good weather is the perfect start to encourage big crowds to witness Grands Prix first hand but there are so many other factors which have changed during the 74-year battle to lure spectators through the gates at circuits throughout the world. Admission prices, quality of racing, facilities, parking, and camping are the obvious ones but over the last seven decades politics, combined Grands Prix with Formula One cars and motorcycles, tradition and national pride have played their part

The 280,000 weekend and 125,000 race day crowds at the Shark French Grand Prix was generally regarded as the biggest in the MotoGP™ era, but a Grand Prix 71 years previously is still regarded to have attracted the largest ever attendance, and the reasons are not hard to identify. On the weekend of July 20, 1952, a crowd estimated at over 400,000 flocked to Solitude for the West German Grand Prix. It was the first Grand Prix to be held in Germany since the end of the Second World War and the first World Championship event to be staged in Germany. British rider Reg Armstrong won both 350 and 500cc races riding Norton machinery.

The World Championship was in its fourth year and promoters were already looking at new ways to attract fans. At the very first Swiss Grand Prix in 1949 at the 7,280km Berne circuit, they staged a joint race meeting with Formula One cars, who started their World Championship a year later. Les Graham, who went on to become World Champion, won the 500cc race while Alberto Ascari brought Ferrari to victory on four wheels. The success of the double act encouraged the promoters to continue with the theme. Combined World Championship Grands Prix were held at Berne from 1951 – 1954. What a weekend for spectators, but impossible and dangerous in the modern day however, what a dream.

While spectators in West Germany celebrated the new post-war era, it was a different story for the population of East Germany and Czechoslovakia as the Iron Curtain separated them from the Western World. Grands Prix motorcycle racing proved their salvation at the Sachsenring and Brno. Vast crowds were allowed by the authorities to flock to these legendary road circuits to catch a rare glimpse of the world outside. I will never forget the pictures of the manmade grandstands with fans perched high in chairs at the top of a pole above a sea of faces. Authorities were never comfortable with the influx of Western riders to compete.

Prize money was paid in local currency and not allowed out of the country resulting in a few beer fuelled clashes between celebrating riders spending their prize money and the local police in Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz) and Brno. Phil Read once drove to the Sachsenring in a Rolls Royce which caused a right old commotion. In 1971, 125cc World Champion West German Dieter Braun won the 250cc race, and the Police (the Stasi) prevented the West German national anthem from being played over the loudspeakers to the East German crowd although, to their disgust, they had to play it at the podium

There is nothing a patriotic nation loves more than a national hero. The likes of Valentino Rossi, Barry Sheene and Wayne Gardner brought a completely new audience to Grand Prix racing in the World Championship-winning years. The success of Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) has sparked enormous interest in France. The Le Mans Sunday crowd was reported to be the largest one-day sporting crowd of the year in France. The former World Champion played a massive part in attracting so many people but there are many other reasons. MotoGP™ fans are a savvy lot, and they appreciate and will support Grands Prix that provide value for their hard-earned money and Le Mans did just that in every way. Of course, that wonderful sunshine did help.

By |2023-06-01T09:47:12+00:00June 1st, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on MotoGP™ fans are a savvy lot
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