Monthly Archives: April 2024

All roads lead south for Pedro

Pedro Acosta arrives at this legendary venue knowing he has another seven Grands Prix to re-write the history books. The Spanish teenager could wait until the German Grand Prix in the Sachsenring at the beginning of July to become the youngest rider to win a premier class race in the 75-year history of Grand Prix racing. The GASGAS rider has already displayed so much patience and maturity on the track. This will be tested to the absolute limit in the maelstrom and Spanish patriotic frenzy pouring from the hillsides and grandstands on Sunday.

Acosta is a Moto3™ winner in Jerez but this will be so different. Already he is making history in his debut MotoGP™ season. The teenager is the youngest rider to take back-to-back premier class podium finishes after those brilliant rides in Portimao and COTA. He replaced Marc Marquez who will be replaced once again if Acosta takes that win in the next seven races. It was 11 years ago that Marquez replaced Freddie Spencer as the youngest with a victory that he repeated many more times at COTA. There was a 31-year gap between Freddie’s victory at Spa Francorchamps and Marc’s in Texas. It will not be such a long wait this time round

Spain was the hotbed of brilliant riders and World Champions in all the smaller classes but they struggled on the blue riband 500cc machines. While the likes of Angel Nieto, Sito Pons and Ricardo Tormo dominated in the 50,125 and 250cc title battles, those passionate Spanish fans had to be patient – not something they are known to enjoy.

In 1992 Alex Criville’s win at the 500cc race in Assen almost went unnoticed. I remember having trouble pronouncing his name as he took the chequered flag to become the first Spanish rider to win a 500cc Grand Prix. It was a weekend of crashes and drama, especially for Mick Doohan and Kevin Schwantz, that stole the headlines. The floodgates had not been opened but the momentum was mounting.

Three years later Jerez went crazy. Alberto Puig became the first Spanish rider to win a 500cc race on home soil. With Criville in third place, it was the first time two Spanish riders had finished on a 500cc podium. The spell had finally been broken. Criville won three in a row at Jerez between 1997-1999 and became the first Spanish 500cc World Champion in 1999.

World titles and Jerez victories flowed like the Sherry that had made Jerez famous before the racetrack arrived. Home victories for Sete Gibernau, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez were celebrated on and off the track in true Jerez style. World titles arrived for Lorenzo and Marquez. Corners are named after the winners. The track is now called the Jerez Angel Nieto circuit, named after the legendary 13-time World Champion and 90-time Grands Prix winner.

All roads lead south this weekend. Jerez is the absolute example of what MotoGP™ is all about both on and off the track. No other World Championship motorsport event can generate such passion and pure excitement. The arrival of Pedro Acosta could step it up to another level, if that is possible. I don’t think he can wait until the Sachsenring.


By |2024-04-24T20:20:40+00:00April 24th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on All roads lead south for Pedro

The spirit of Soichiro Honda will put them back on track

The results at COTA on Sunday simply compounded what we already knew, Honda are desperately trying to dig themselves out of a very deep hole. Maverick Vinales re-wrote the history books for Aprilia and there were three separate manufacturers on the podium while Hondas’s last premier class win came in Texas a year ago. Since then, there have been just two Tissot Sprint races and one Grand Prix podium for Marc Marquez, before he departed at the end of the season. It is going to be a long, hard and painful journey back to the top step of the podium, but they will make it. When, rather than if, is the question. They have been here before and always come out the other side because the spirit, determination and desire of their founder will never die.

Seventy years ago, a certain Soichiro Honda arrived in the paddock at the second round of the 1954 World Championship in the Isle of Man. He left a week later announcing he would return one day with motorcycles capable of beating the best in the world, and a suitcase full of carburettors, chains and tyres. 72 constructors’ world titles and 821 Grands Prix wins later, were proof Mr Honda was a man who could always be trusted to keep his word.

He had been shocked by the speed and engineering prowess of the manufacturers competing at the TT, especially the German NSU factory’s 125 and 250cc machines. Five long hard years passed before he returned to the Isle of Man. Not alone this time but with a team to start a dream that climbed heights even Soichiro Honda would never have believed.

In 1955 the Honda team started racing at the Mount Asama Volcano race located in a village at the foot of an active volcano on the Island of Honshu, Japan. The riders started in pairs around the 19km track on the compressed volcanic ash surface. Their main challenge came from Yamaha and Suzuki. A battle that started around a Volcano soon switched to the world stage.

I was only 12 years old in 1959 but I can still remember those pictures from the TT races. Not the bikes of riders in action, but those Japanese riders far from home sitting on those uncomfortable so-British stripped deck chairs outside the TT prize giving at the Villa Marina on the Douglas seafront. They had won the 125cc prize for the Honda team with the most finishers in their first World Championship appearance. Three Japanese riders who had never competed on a complete tarmac track. Their RC142 machines featured a bevel-drive DOHC engine with four valve heads. They were down on horsepower to the Italian and East German opposition, and lack of practice on a road surface resulted in poor handling. Typically, they stuck to their task.

American Bill Hunt was the liaison officer but also competed in the 173.650km race around the Clypse course. He was joined by Japanese riders Giichi Suzuki, Junzo Suzuki, Naomi Taniguchi and Teisuke Tanaka. The team was managed by Kiyoshi Kawashima, who later became the President of the Honda Motor Company. Not only did Honda collect the team prize for most finishers, but Taniguchi’s sixth place brought their very first World Championship point. The journey had started. Two years later the floodgates opened. Australian Tom Phillis brought Honda their first Grand Prix win in the 125cc 1961 Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuic Park.  Three weeks later at Hockenheim in West Germany, Kunimitsu Takahashi became the first Japanese Grand Prix winner with victory on the 250cc Honda. The season ended with Mike Hailwood and Phillis bringing Honda the first two of their 72 constructors world titles. Phillis also became the first Honda World Champion, winning the 125cc title.

Rather like the first Honda racetrack challenge round that Volcano, there have been plenty of bumps in the road en route to those 821 Grands prix wins. Ill-fated four-stroke projects in the two-stroke age, withdrawing from racing because of engineering restrictions, tragedy, the defection of Valentino Rossi to Yamaha and domination by other Japanese factories, have all been overcome.

Honda will return to winning ways and Soichiro Honda will be looking down checking every move.

By |2024-04-17T17:33:07+00:00April 17th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The spirit of Soichiro Honda will put them back on track

Marc’s American Dream

The Spaniard arrives in his very own Narnia. His special magical kingdom that has so many happy memories. The eight-time World Champion can pick no better place to start winning Grand Prix races again.  The Spanish rider has won seven MotoGP™ contests at the Circuit of The Americas. Nobody would rule him out making it eight on Sunday, with his first ride on the Gresini Ducati at the Texas track. It is not only the Texas venue that holds so many memories, but also California and Indiana. Marc Marquez quite simply loves racing motorcycles in America and it is easy to understand just why.

Eleven years ago, Marquez arrived in Texas with expectations as stretched as they will be for Pedro Acosta this weekend. After clinching the 125cc and Moto2™ world titles, his arrival in the premier class was as explosive as anything we have witnessed before or since in the 75 years of Grand Prix racing. He finished third behind the Yamaha Supremos Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo at the opening round in Qatar. Marquez set the dice rolling with his first premier class pole, before demolishing the opposition in the 21-lap race. His love affair with the Circuit of The Americas and then the country of America had started

Incredibly, for the only time in the history of the sport, there were three Grands Prix at American circuits in 2013. They started in Texas and moved on to California and the magnificent Laguna Seca circuit, sadly for the very last time. The American riders, led of course by Kenny Roberts, always told us until you had raced down the infamous corkscrew corner high in the Monterey hills you were a bit of a coward, although they used a slightly more provocative word.

They were not wrong. What a circuit, what a venue and what a bend. Just a month later we were at a vastly different circuit and location, but equally more impressive in a very different way. I loved going to the Indianapolis International Motor Speedway a bit more than the riders. The biggest motorsport venue in the world with those towering grandstands surrounding the famous banking and the yard of bricks on the start and finish line. The road circuit inside the oval was nothing special, but the rest and the people made it such an atmospheric place.

If that Texan win had not been enough Marquez raced through the States in 2013 like a whirlwind. He won on his only premier class race at Laguna and followed with victory at Indianapolis, which he repeated for the next two years. In his three Indianapolis premier class races he was unbeaten. Those three American wins played a massive part in that first MotoGP™ world title

Marquez was simply unbeatable at the Circuit of The Americas for the next five years, but never without incident. Massive slides with elbow and shoulder on the ground, bombastic overtaking manoeuvres and even high jumps over the Armco barriers, to get to his second machine to ensure qualifying on pole were all part of the show.

It’s 903 days since Marquez won a Grand Prix but take heart, many have waited so much longer. Seven times World Champion Phil Read was the most patient in the premier class. The 125, 250 and 500cc World Champion waited an incredible 3200 days between winning the 1964 Ulster Grand Prix and the 1973 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Andrea Dovizioso had to wait 2653 days between victory at Donington Park in 2009 and 2016 in Sepang. Even Valentino Rossi had to wait longer than Marquez. Nine hundred and ninety-three days separated his win at Sepang in 2010 and Assen three years later.

I do not think anybody expects Marquez to wait so long. If he is going to start winning Grands Prix again, he will have no better chance than on Sunday.


By |2024-04-11T12:22:23+00:00April 11th, 2024|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Marc’s American Dream

That very first superstar

Sporting those immaculate one-piece tailor-made black leathers and swept-back black hair when the helmet came off. Winning your first World Championship race and going on to six world titles. Leading a strike against the promoters over start and prize money; Geoff Duke was always going to be that first Superstar. Every era had one. Giacomo Agostini in the ’60s, Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts in the ’70s and Valentino Rossi in the 2000s. All World Champions have that special talent but only a select few had that bit extra to earn the superstar status. Charisma, charm, good looks and the desire to fight for their and others’ rights made them different. In the early ’50s, when World Championship motorcycle racing was just finding its feet, along came the very first of those Superstars: Geoff Duke was the trailblazer both on and off the track to lead the way for those who followed.

The British public were desperate for a sporting hero after the rigours of the Second World War and Duke did not let them down. He won his very first 500cc World Championship race at the TT in the Isle of Man in 1950, riding the single-cylinder Norton with the revolutionary featherbed frame. He fought tooth and nail for both the 350cc and 500cc world titles on British machines but had to settle for second in both. A year later he went one better on both counts.

With the nation behind him, Duke fought off the considerable challenge of the four-cylinder Italian Gilera machines to win his first 500cc world title. He completed the double with the 350cc Championship. Duke became a household name and the number 1 sportsman in Britain. He was voted Sportsman of the Year by BBC television viewers and was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1953.

To the delight of those British fans, Duke decided to stay with Norton to meet the Italian challenge head on in 1952, but the writing was on the wall. Despite retaining the 350cc Championship the four-cylinder Gilersas and MV Agustas took over the premier 500cc class. Duke joined Gilera in 1953 after much deliberation. Overnight the good-looking English gentleman’s popularity switched to the adoring Italian fans, as he regained the 500cc world title leading the Gilera treble. He retained the title a year later and in 1955 stood up for the privateer riders who were treated so shabbily by money-grabbing promoters. It all came to a head at the Dutch TT in Assen.

Twelve 350cc riders completed just one lap in protest against the paltry start money on offer. The organisers panicked when the 500cc riders, led by Duke and team-mate Reg Armstrong, threatened to do the same in support of the privateers. After some last-minute negotiations, the race went ahead but the FIM were not happy. At the end of the season, they suspended Duke, who won his fourth 500cc title and Armstrong, plus 12 other riders for six months. Much against his better judgement, Duke made a tongue-in-cheek apology and the FIM relented, but only just. Duke was allowed to race in domestic competitions which meant he missed the two opening rounds of the World Championship the following year. Despite his fame and fortune Duke was prepared to stand up for what he believed. Twenty-four years later a certain World Champion Kenny Roberts did exactly the same with much greater success.

Duke dabbled in car racing and as a team manager for a revitalised Gilera team after his retirment. He lived where it all started on the Isle of Man and died in 2015. He was the true trailblazer to those superstars who followed and not just because of those one-piece black leathers.

By |2024-04-05T09:48:16+00:00April 5th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on That very first superstar
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