Monthly Archives: August 2023


For some it’s just a giant granite rock stuck in the middle of the stormy Irish Sea. For many others world-wide it means so much more. A shrine to motorcycle racing for over 100 years. A shrine to grand prix motorcycle racing where it all began 74 years and over 1000 grands prix ago.

It’s wild. It can be windy and wet. It’s certainly dangerous but this is a beautiful place. A mystical magic Island where you can see the mountains of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland from its highest peak on a clear day. A summit high above the legendary TT mountain circuit on the Isle of Man.

Between the Austrian and Barcelona Grands Prix I paid my annual visit to the Shrine to watch the Manx Grand Prix. It was as it always is. An insight into those pioneering days of World Championship Grand Prix racing around the most famous racetrack in the World. A 60.721 kms road circuit snaking its path through towns, villages, fields, forests and up and down mountains. A ribbon of tarmac diving between stone walls, lamp posts, phone boxes while jumping over bridges and streams.  

The TT races go back a long way in history. In 1907 the British government would not close public roads for racing. The Manx government seized the opportunity and closed their roads. The Tourist Trophy races were born, and the rest is history.

Even before you start a lap of the track at the grandstand high above the curving Douglas Bay, you must visit the Fairy Bridge. For over those 100 years the riders have made the trip to ask the fairies in the stream below for a safe race. They have not aways obliged. The famous scoreboard opposite the grandstand that was operated by the local Boy Scouts and had a clock and light indication where each rider was situated on the course, has gone, a scoreboard that had endorsed Freddie Frith as the winner of the very first World Championship race on June 13th, 1949. The scoreboard that told the crowds in 1957 that Scotsman Bob McIntyre had set the first 100 mph (160.9 kph) lap of the mountain circuit riding the 500 cc four-cylinder Gilera.

From the grandstand the riders plunge down Bray Hill between the houses at over 200 kph. They hit the bottom before racing on to Quarter Bridge over the Ago leap. A bump where 15 times World Champion Giacomo Agostini would wheelie those beautiful red 350 and 500 cc MV Augusta fire engines. In my youth I agreed to one lap of the Mountain circuit as a sidecar passenger to double TT winner Trevor Ireson. The first time I opened my eyes was at Quarter Bridge.

The tarmac then just flows through towns, villages and open roads with mystical romantic names. Union Mills where you can watch the racing in front of the church while receiving wonderful home-made cakes sandwiches and cups of team from the vicar and local ladies. The Highlander, Greeba Castle, Ballacraine and Glen Helen. Onto Sarahs cottage where both Ago and Mike Hailwood crashed on my first visit to the Island in 1965. On through some fast bends such as Rhencullen where the riders travel over four times faster than the 40-mph speed limit signs for normal road uses. Over the Ballaugh Bridge jump on towards Ramsey and the climb up the mountain past the Guthrie memorial. A kiln of stones to celebrate the life of TT winner Jimmy Guthrie who was killed at the Sachsenring in the 1937 German Grand Prix. 

Just before the highest part of the course the riders race through the bleak Hailwood Heights, a tribute to the nine times World Champion before plunging back down towards Douglas through bends such as Kates Cottage and Creg-Ny-Baa. The final corner at Governors Bridge passing the front gates of the Governor of the Isle of Man residence. 

Every corner can tell a story. Every blade of grass, centimetre of tarmac, stone wall and lamp post has witnessed heroic battles, bitter disappointment and tragedy. Close your eyes and you can touch the very soul of grand prix racing.

It’s a shrine to riders past and present. You have to visit the Isle of Man at least once to understand.

By |2023-08-30T16:13:16+00:00August 30th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

Veijer rewards those loyal Dutch fans

I must be honest and tell you I was cheering on Dutch teenager Collin Veijer to win that fantastic Moto3™ race at the Red Bull Ring. If anybody deserved a bit of success and glory, it is those loyal Dutch fans. They have not had so much to celebrate in the 74 years of Grand Prix racing. Three 50cc World titles, sidecar World Championships and a handful of Grand Prix wins is scant reward. They are the only country to stage a Grand Prix in 1949, the first year of the World Championship and to continue every season since at the same circuit, apart from Covid years

The legendary Assen circuit, the Cathedral, the diamond in the MotoGP™ calendar that regularly attracts race day crowds of over 100,000. While their countrymen have celebrated the phenomenal Formula One success of Max Verstappen, they have remained loyal to two wheels despite having so little to raise a glass to, of that wonderful beer. Being an Englishman with a similar problem I have great sympathy. Hopefully 18-year-old Veijer is lighting up that long dark tunnel.

On Saturday Veijer became the first Dutchman for 33 years to take pole position in the 125/Moto3™ class. In the amazing Moto3™ race the next morning, he came so close to becoming the first Dutch Grand Prix winner for 33 years. In the end he had to settle for fourth with just 0.13 s separating winner Deniz Oncu, Daniel Holgado, Ayumu Sasaki and Veijer.

Hans Spaan was the last Dutch pole setter in the class at Phillip Island in 1990. He twice finished runner-up in the 125cc World Championship. Bo Bendsneyder’s podium at Austin this year brought hope in the Moto2™ class. Wilco Zeelenberg was the last 250cc pole setter in 1991. A year earlier, he won his only Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, while three months later Spaan was the last Dutch rider to win a Grand Prix at Brno in Czechoslovakia with his ninth 125cc victory

There have been just three Dutch riders winning premier class Grands Prix in those 74 years. Wil Hartog won five and I remember his last at Imatra in 1980. The red helmet and white leathers flashing through the forest with the lake glistening in the background on the border between Finland and Russia. Jack Middelburg deserved more than two. I will never forget his first at Assen in 1980 with the 150,000 crowd going crazy. It was my first Grand Prix as a ‘proper’ newspaper reporter. I thought after that experience every Grand Prix would be the same.

That second win came at Silverstone a year later when he fought off World Champion Kenny Roberts by 0.30s. Cigarette smoking and unassuming Boet van Dulmen’s only win came in 1979 at Imatra. The last Dutch rider to start from pole before this Sunday was in the premier class – Jurgen Van den Goorbergh put the super-fast Rolf Biland built 500cc MUZ on pole at Brno in 1999.

On two wheels Dutch World Championship glory came in the smaller classes in the early days. Jan de Vries won the 50cc World title in 1971 and 1973. Henk van Kessel was 50cc World Champion in 1974. On three wheels Assen born Egbert Streuer won three World titles in the eighties.

For the last four decades, especially in the premier class, The Dutch, German and English fans have cowered in the shadows with just a few shafts of light to grasp. First it was the Americans, then the Australians before the Italian and Spanish armadas swamped the opposition. It’s time for a change. The weight of expectation will weigh heavy on Veijer’s shoulders. No wonder I was cheering for a Dutch victory on Sunday.

By |2023-08-22T16:38:31+00:00August 22nd, 2023|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Veijer rewards those loyal Dutch fans

Aleix an inspiration to others at perfect venue

Remember what we were always told by parents, teachers and coaches when growing up. If you don’t succeed try, try again. The history of the Red Bull Ring and Aleix Espargaro’s crazy celebrations with family and the Aprilia team in the Silverstone pit lane last week just endorsed that advice. It also gave real inspiration to other MotoGP™ riders and perhaps Johan Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) in particular, to never give up the chase of that first premier class victory. Aleix’s brilliant win at Silverstone was not only his second premier class victory but also just his second Grand Prix in any class. That first win came in Argentina after a long, long wait. It was 12 years 216 days after making his MotoGP™ debut that Espargaro finally did it on the Aprilia in Argentina last season. That second win in the superb Silverstone race came one year and 125 days later. Twenty-six Grands Prix after the Argentinian victory on his 200th MotoGP™ appearance. I don’t think he will have to wait that long for his third.

Double Moto2™ World Champion Zarco may be fighting for his MotoGP™ future, as he chases that elusive first premier class win which would surely ease the pressure. The Frenchman is a mere novice compared to Espargaro. He has made 113 MotoGP™ starts since his debut in Qatar six years and 147 days ago. Zarco has come so close with an amazing 11 second place finishes in that period.

With fewer Grands Prix in the past, others had to wait even longer than Aleix before seeing that chequered flag. Australian Jack Findlay burnt plenty of rubber racing and travelling around Europe. He made his 500cc Grand Prix debut in the 1958 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. Thirteen years, 25 weeks later he secured that first win in the 1971 Ulster Grand Prix riding the Suzuki around the demanding Dundrod road circuit.

For some very talented riders that first victory just never came. Who will ever forget Colin Edwards crashing out of the very last bend in 2006 at Assen while in sight and sound of that elusive first Grand Prix win. His fall handed the race to American countryman Nick Hayden who went on to win the world title. For Colin, his big chance disappeared in the Dutch gravel, and it never returned. His loyalty to team-mate Valentino Rossi and Yamaha brought them world titles. His 12 podium finishes in 196 MotoGP™ appearances deserved so much more. It was not to be.

For others, it was such a very different story counting hours and minutes, rather than years and days, to that first premier class win. Italian Max Biaggi, Finn Jarno Saarinen and British Norton rider Geoff Duke were all members of that first-time club. Biaggi, the four time 250cc World Champion, became the first European rider to win a 500cc Grand Prix in Japan and the first rider to win in 25 years on his Premier class debut at Suzuka in 1998. It was Saarinen who was that previous winner, with victory on the new two-stroke Yamaha at Paul Ricard in France. In 1950 Duke won the Senior TT on the Isle of Man on his 500cc debut. Only Duke went on to achieve World Championship success with four 500cc world titles. Biaggi won 12 more Grands Prix and finished second three times in the World Championship. Saarinen won the opening two rounds but was killed in a multi-bike 250cc crash in Monza.

The riders arrive in Austria this weekend to compete at a circuit that has provided three riders their first MotoGP™ wins in the last seven years. Andrea Iannone, Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) and Miguel Olivera (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) all stood on the top step of the podium for the first time at the Red Bull Ring in both Austrian and Styrian Grands Prix. So, the venue and the time is right for it to happen again on Sunday before time runs out for some.

By |2023-08-17T08:59:16+00:00August 17th, 2023|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Aleix an inspiration to others at perfect venue

Rins has pushed over the first domino

Even before the summer break ended at Silverstone this weekend the first domino in the row had tumbled. The move of Alex Rins to Monster Energy Yamaha from LCR Honda next season is just the start. Plenty more dominoes will fall in the next few weeks. It’s that time of the year. We have not even reached the halfway stage of this season and already next year is on our minds. It’s part and part of the process that just gets earlier and earlier every season. Some moves come completely out of the blue. Others are much more predictable.

Without a doubt the biggest defection and secret in every sense of the word came in 1961 when Ernst Degner left the East German MZ factory to join Suzuki. At the other end of the scale, Valentino Rossi’s announcement he was leaving Honda to join Yamaha in 2004 hardly came as a great surprise. Both moves played a massive part in the outcome of the World Championships for many years to follow

Degner’s story is more akin to a John le Carre cold war thriller than a Grand Prix paddock story. Riding the two-stroke East German MZ he led the 125cc World Championship from the four-stroke Honda of Tom Phillis going into the penultimate round of the Championship at Kristianstad in Sweden. Suzuki wanted Degner’s engineering and riding prowess to spearhead their attack on both 50 and 125cc World Championships in the coming seasons.

Degner was keen to shake of the shackles of living in communist-controlled East Germany and so his defection from his homeland was hatched in enormous and necessary secrecy. It was never going to be easy. Degner was accompanied and watched by a dreaded Stasi policeman at every Grand Prix to ensure he would return to his homeland after every race.

While he was en route to Sweden a friend smuggled Degner’s wife and children in the boot of an American car through the checkpoint in the Berlin Wall to safety in West Berlin. After the race once Degner knew his family were safe, he tricked the Stasi policeman and jumped on the ferry to Denmark taking with him all the MZ two-stroke secrets plus some engine parts to Suzuki. The Degner family was free and he rewarded Suzuki with their first 50cc World title the following season.

There is nothing the Grand Prix paddock likes more than a good old rumour especially over a beer at the end of a day. Those rumours flowed like that beer, in 2003. The rumour was that Valentino Rossi was leaving Honda and joining the underperforming Yamaha team. I honestly didn’t believe it at first. The BBC were not happy with me because I did not push Honda hard enough on the subject in an interview in Rio, but as the year progressed it was obvious it was going to happen.

Both Honda and Yamaha kept stum, but by the time I hosted the press conference at that final round in Valencia to make the official announcement it was old, but still sensational news. I will never forget Rossi’s first ride on the Yamaha at that opening round of the 2004 at Welkom in South Africa. Twenty-eight laps of pure theatre as those bitter rivals Rossi and Max Biaggi duelled in the sun. At the chequered flag Rossi held a two-tenths of a second advantage over the man he’d replaced at Yamaha. The rest is history and Rossi went on to win Yamaha the World title that season and three more times. I should have believed those rumours from the start!

So the silly season has already arrived with still 11 races remaining. The Silverstone paddock was buzzing with rumours especially concerning the three M’s. Marquez, Morbidelli and Martin. Rins has pushed over the first domino and be prepared for plenty more to follow in the next few weeks. We love it.


By |2023-08-11T15:34:53+00:00August 11th, 2023|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Rins has pushed over the first domino

Silverstone led the revolution

August 14, 1977, was not only a historic day for British Motorsport but for the future of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. It was the day that the very first two-wheeled Grand Prix was held on the British mainland. It was a day that heralded the start of a revolution that other circuits and counties followed. It was a day that those legendary road circuits that had been the very backbone of the pioneering days of the World Championship started to be replaced by purpose-built safer circuits as speeds and lap times increased rapidly.

The former second world war aerodrome hosted that first mainland Grand Prix 28 years after the very first World Championship event was held on the 60.721km TT mountain circuit on the Isle of Man in 1949. Silverstone had staged the first ever Formula One car Grand Prix in 1950 and had hosted some big international motorcycle events. The TT Mountain circuit was the spiritual home of World Championship motorcycle racing, but the writing was on the wall in the early seventies. Many of the top riders including World Champions Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read and Rodney Gould boycotted the event on safety grounds. The Spanish Federation banned any of their riders competing following the death of Santiago Herrero.

It was time to change if the sport was to progress. Silverstone led the way, but others soon followed. The parkland Montjuic Park circuit overlooking the city of Barcelona staged its last Spanish Grand Prix in 1976. Grand Prix motorcycle racing returned to this motorcycle mad city with the opening of the brand-new purpose-built Barcelona – Catalunya circuit to celebrate the Olympic games in 1992. The legendary Nürburgring road circuit nestling in the German Eifel mountains had staged Grand Prix racing since 1955 but 25 years later Marco Lucchinelli won the last 500cc Grand Prix at the Ring. Four years later Grand Prix racing returned at a new purpose-built track alongside the old 22.835 kms road circuit. Brno in Czechoslovakia, the Sachsenring in Germany and Rijeka in Yugoslavia also built new circuits to replace their road tracks.

Other circuits made drastic changes to safety to stay on the calendar. In 1977 Barry Sheene set the fastest ever average race speed of 217.37 km/h winning the Belgian Grand Prix at the 14.12 km Spa Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. Two years later the track length was dramatically reduced to 6.95 km taking out sections regarded too dangerous for Grand Prix motorcycles. Sadly, in the end the magnificent venue was deemed too dangerous staging its last Grand Prix in 1990.

A British rider has never won the premier class race at his mainland Grand Prix. Their best chance came at that very first race in 1977. Barry Sheene had brought the sport onto the front pages with his two World 500cc titles and exploits off the track. Unfortunately, he was sidelined with mechanical problems in that first 500cc Grand Prix, but his best friend Steve Parrish led the way with a few laps remaining. Sheene held out the legendary pit board ‘GAS IT W*****’ as Parrish raced towards Copse corner. It had just started to drizzle. Parrish smiled at Barry’s encouragement, lost the front end of the Suzuki, and went down accompanied by the groans of the patriotic crowd. All was not lost with John Williams taking over at the front only to crash three bends later. American Pat Hennen grabbed his chance to win his second Grand Prix. The Union Jack flag and National Anthem tape were quickly replaced and have never returned.

Fans of my generation have wonderful memories, perhaps through rose-tinted spectacles, of those old road circuits but for the sport not only to survive and also progress, those changes were vital.  Some such as the TT races in the Isle of Man have successfully survived without World Championship status. Top speeds and lap times continue to increase every season. It is what Grand Prix racing is all about. I wonder what innovations will have to be made to continue progress in the next decade.


By |2023-08-03T08:31:18+00:00August 3rd, 2023|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Silverstone led the revolution
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