Monthly Archives: October 2023

Worth the wait

I have waited six years and 209 days to write this blog about ‘The Professor’.  At last, a MotoGP™ winner after 120 Grands Prix for a rider who certainly does not fit the stereotypical picture of a world class racer. Johann Zarco’s (Prima Pramac Racing) incredible last lap win was not only totally deserved but universally celebrated. The long wait after 19 previous MotoGP™ podiums was worth it for the double Moto2™ World Champion who is a unique figure in the crazy world of MotoGP™.

It was 1.30 am on a Monday morning at a deserted Melbourne airport seven years ago, when we made our way around the empty corridors to find our flight to Kuala Lumpur, en route to the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix. I heard a piano playing in the background but took little notice. It had been a long hard and exhilarating day at Phillip Island and piped airport music was not going to stir the soul. Rounding the corner I saw, sat all alone at a keyboard, Johann Zarco happily playing away without another person in sight. The Moto2™ World Champion totally absorbed in his music. The World Champion overcoming his disappointment not to retain his world title that afternoon in the Australian Grand Prix after finishing 12th. He made amends six days later at Sepang.

Three weeks later, the celebrations in our hotel after the final Grand Prix of the season in Valencia were in full cry. Zarco was celebrating with his team the second Moto2™ World Championship before moving onto MotoGP™

As we saw, after that historic win on Saturday, every win for the Frenchman is celebrated with the legendary back flip off a safety barrier. This time no barrier and so the bar was cleared of glasses for the Champion to back flip amidst the cheers.

We nicknamed Zarco ‘The Professor’ for the way he would explain and analyse in detail every question. The quietly spoken Frenchman was like a college professor explaining to his students what had happened in qualifying but of course there is another side. You don’t win 17 Grands Prix and two world titles without a ruthless streak. He had already upset some of his Moto2™ rivals before taking on the big boys. Nothing changed and Valentino Rossi, in particular, was not happy as his rattled a few of the MotoGP™ legends, especially in that first season.

Only once did I witness Johann switch personalities from track to press conference. In Barcelona, an Italian journalist was asking some probing questions about the fatal accident of Luis Salom in 2016. The Frenchman took exception to the tone and threatened to jump over the media conference desk to sort things out. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) stepped in, to calm things down

Others have had to wait longer for that first premier class win. Jack Findlay made his 500cc debut at Nürburgring in 1958. His first win came at the Ulster Grand Prix in 1971, which was his 92nd 500cc start, a wait of 13 years and 25 days.

Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) rode in even more Grands Prix before that first win. The Spaniard made his debut at Indianapolis in 2009. That first win in Argentina 2022, was his 200th MotoGP start, a wait of 12 years 216 days.

We waited quite a time for Zarco’s first and only 125cc victory. He arrived as the Red Bull Rookies Champion and that first Grand Prix win came in 2011 at Motegi after six second places that same season. Zarco then switched to Moto2™ the next season and once again he had to be patient before the Grands Prix wins flowed. He started in the 2015 Argentine Grand Prix and 14 more Grands Prix and two world titles followed. The Frenchman switched to MotoGP™ in 2017, starting at the Qatar Grand with that first win coming six years 290 days later in Australia.

I hope Johann found that same piano in Melbourne airport on Monday morning to celebrate in true Zarco style. He deserved it.

By |2023-10-25T21:16:45+00:00October 25th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Worth the wait

52 overtakes and 13 lead changes – Overtaking Island

We joked after the 2015 Australian Grand Prix that there were more overtakes and lead changes in the 27 laps than the complete Formula One season. It was probably not correct but after commentating on a race that included 52 overtaking manoeuvres and 13 lead changes it’s not difficult to understand why we may have got a little bit carried away.

True or not it was the perfect illustration that Phillip Island is the most magnificent circuit for Grand Prix motorcycle racing on this planet. After that amazing Grand Prix in Indonesia, where amongst all the action the World Championship lead changed three times, there can be no better venue to stage the next round of the title fight. This will be a very different battle. Phillip Island invites overtaking and there is plenty champing at the bit to get out there and give it a go.

Re-designed for Grand Prix motorcycles by Bob Barnard, this 4.448 km ribbon of tarmac has everything. Fast and slow corners, sweeping bends on the cliffs overlooking surf beaches and undulations that provide riders with the ultimate test.

The very first Grand Prix on an island, far more famous for its amazing penguins waddling up the beach some eight kilometres from the circuit, was the perfect illustration of what lay ahead. In 1989 national hero Wayne Gardner won a fantastic 500cc battle with Wayne Rainey and Christian Sarron. Australia went crazy and I thought the Island was going to sink. Wayne was a national hero becoming the first Australian 500cc World Champion two years earlier. The stage was set for so many more great races and Australian celebrations. Gardner won again in 1990, Five-time World Champion Mick Doohan won once, while Casey Stoner brought Ducati and Honda success six times at his home circuit. Little wonder all three riders have corners named after them.

Valentino Rossi loved the Island. It provided the great Champion with a stage to show every facet of his repertoire. He won eight times including two 250cc wins and clinched his first 500cc world title there in 2001. The Italian borrowed a sheet from his hotel and covered it with an enormous number seven to celebrate the life of his friend Barry Sheene two years later. I’d started my live television commentating career with Barry and Formula One World Champion Alan Jones in Phillip Island in 1989. I said my final farewell to Barry on the Island in 2002 before his premature death early the next year.

All classes have been involved. In 2000 Olivier Jacque kept his nerve to shadow his Tech3 team-mate Shinya Nakano for nearly 25 laps at the final round of the 250cc World Championship. Coming down the final straight with the chequered flag out, the Frenchman pulled out of his slipstream to steal the world title from his team-mate. Back to MotoGP™ and who will ever forget Marco Melandri pulling a one-handed wheelie coming out of that final bend to celebrate victory in 2006?

Yes, Phillip Island is a very long and expensive journey from Europe. Clearing immigration and Customs at Melbourne airport can be a long business. All four seasons of weather in one day is not unusual. A wicked wind can whip in over the Bass Straight all the way from Antarctica.

All this will be forgotten when the lights change on Sunday, as the grid races down the Gardner Straight towards the Doohan right-hander, with the Bass Straight glimmering in the background. There is no better venue in the world for this incredible World Championship battle to continue. Remember last year when just over eight-tenths of one second separated the first seven riders?

Phillip Island is such a special place. It won’t let us down.

By |2023-10-19T08:49:23+00:00October 19th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on 52 overtakes and 13 lead changes – Overtaking Island

Marquez signs on to join exclusive top five club

In the 74-year history of Grand Prix racing only five riders have won the premier class world title on two different makes of machinery. It’s a very special list. Geoff Duke, Giacomo Agostini, Eddie Lawson, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner need no introduction. Next season Marquez grabs the chance to join them realising time was running out at Honda. He had to move before he was too old.

Duke switched to Gilera in 1953 after winning the 1951 500cc world title for Norton. It was a great move for both. The combination went on to dominate the Championship for three successive years. In 1972 Ago won his last 500cc Championship for MV Agusta. The two-strokes were coming, and he switched to Yamaha in 1974. It was a massive moment for the sport, and a year later Ago became the first two-stroke winner of the premier class winning the last of his 15 world titles.

Without a doubt, Lawson’s move to Honda from Yamaha in 1989 was the biggest surprise. I was the Media Manager of the Rothmans Honda team at the time. Lawson had won three 500cc World titles for Yamaha and was expected to continue meeting Honda head on. I was dispatched to California on a secret mission to interview, photograph, and film Eddie at home in Uplands before the announcement he was joining his great rival Wayne Gardner in the same team. Eddie just loved the new challenge and made it world title number four with second place in that final round in Brazil

Rossi’s move to Yamaha was so brave and the defection of a rider brimming with confidence and at the very top of his game. Typically, Vale had been drip-feeding his intention to leave Honda for months. His bye-bye baby helmet was a clear indication he was leaving a Honda team that he had brought three premier class titles on both two and four-stroke bikes. The move to Yamaha was announced after that final Grand Prix of the 2003 season in Valencia. The rest is history.

Stoner’s move to Honda from Ducati was certainly no such shock but produced the same result. Casey had brought Ducati their first premier class title in 2007 but the Italian factory was struggling, and the Australian switched to Honda in 2011. He dominated the Championship in typical style, and was 90 points ahead of Jorge Lorenzo at the finish. The biggest bombshell from Casey came just two years later when he announced his retirement in a shocked press conference in Le Mans.

It looks certain that Marquez will be on Ducati next season. As with those five other World Champions, some people will question his ability to make the switch. Great riders are World Champions for a reason. Eddie Lawson proved his point by winning the title for Honda in that first year and then returned home to Yamaha the next season.

Could Marc do the same? Don’t rule it out.


By |2023-10-11T22:05:26+00:00October 11th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Marquez signs on to join exclusive top five club

Be prepared – it could decide the Championship

The warning signs flashed brightly at the last two Grands Prix. The weather could play a massive part in the outcome of the MotoGP™ World Championship. The heat and humidity in India and the torrential rain in Japan could be the foretaste of what lies ahead for Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing). That three point advantage could be submerged by heavy rain, melted in searing heat or simply blown away in those final six rounds.

A World Championship truly means Championship of the World. Success is achieved by both riders and teams who are prepared to travel tens of thousands of kilometres around the globe. They learn to cope with jet lag, the setup and contrasting circuits. They must adapt to different cultures and languages, and as was so clearly illustrated in India and Japan, the weather.

In India, Martin virtually collapsed in pit lane with heat exhaustion after a heroic ride into second. In Japan, despite bringing in flag-to-flag regulations the race had to be stopped on the flooded track. It could not be restarted as the rain continued to fall. Despite reducing the number of laps in India and the flag-to-flag in Japan, the weather, as it usually does, came out on top. With the next four Grands Prix in Indonesia, Australia, Thailand, and Malaysia, contrasting weather is guaranteed.  Even in those final two rounds, there could be problems. It has rained at night in Qatar, and Valencia can be a bit chilly at the end of November.

It’s certain that flag-to-flag races will play their part in the intrigue, especially in those next four Grands Prix. Ever since James Ellison pulled into the Phillip Island Pit Lane to change bikes in 2006, becoming the first flag-to-flag participant, they have added to the overall plot. I always think of the likes of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Chris Vermeulen and Dani Pedrosa changing from slicks to wet with perfect timing. Dani changing at the end of the warm-up lap in Valencia 2012. He crossed the line in 20th place at the end of the first lap and went on to win by 37 seconds. The ones I tend to forget are the wets to slicks changes. Marc at Brno in 2017 made the switch earlier than anybody else and found himself down in 19th place on the drying track. It was brave but perfect timing. The World Champion held a 12-second winning advantage over teammate Pedrosa at the finish.

So, plenty of exciting tyre changes but what about those who stayed out there on what they started? Brad Binder’s heroic victory through the Austrian rain on the slick shod KTM at the Red Bull Ring in 2021 is surely the highlight. Bradley Smith’s second place at Misano in 2015 with fellow Brit Scott Redding third despite a crash on the Honda. It takes guts and skill, and both beat or equalled their best-ever MotoGP™ result in the race won by Marquez who had switched tyres.

The days of looking up at the clouds above or hanging out a piece of seaweed to check the weather have long gone. Modern-day technology, especially radar, can give an indication of what is about to arrive. The teams and riders will be ready for what the elements choose to throw at them in those next four Grands Prix.

They will be prepared. They know it could be the difference between winning or losing that world title.

By |2023-10-04T15:30:12+00:00October 4th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Be prepared – it could decide the Championship
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