Monthly Archives: May 2024

Explosive on-track action still the key

In the 75-year history of World Championship motorcycle racing, there have been many diverse reasons why such vast crowds flocked to different venues. Whatever those vital reasons, one fact has stood above all others. The sheer excitement and quality of the racing out on the track has, and always will be, the biggest factor attracting the massive following. Circuit facilities, entertainment away from the racing, camping, ticket prices and even parking, all have played their part in recent years. Before then political divide and even history had a massive influence on the sheer size of some record-breaking attendances.

In 1952 an estimated crowd of around 300,000 packed the Solitude circuit for the very first West German Grand Prix. Nobody is sure just how many fans jammed the 11.4km circuit, just seven years after the end of the second World War. It was such a significant occasion for the West German people. At last, some World Championship sport on home soil following the war, and after being split into two with East Germany.

Nine years later, in 1961, the legendary Sachsenring road circuit staged the first East German Grand Prix. Like Solitude, massive crowds flocked to the tree-lined 8.3km track. Of course, they wanted to witness World Championship sport but it also provided them with a rare glance of freedom. For 12 years, the Grand Prix provided millions of ordinary people caught up in the Cold War and trapped behind the Iron Curtain some joy. In 1971, West German Dieter Braun won the 250cc race. The East German Stasi police were determined to stop the playing of the West German national anthem at the podium ceremony. They knew the 280,000 partisan East German crowd would go wild in protest against segregation. The infamous Stasi switched off the public address system apart from the area where the FIM officials were situated. Many of the vast crowd still celebrated despite the presence of police and dogs. It was such a poignant moment giving those fans the chance to protest at their plight

It was very much the same story at another road circuit, Brno in Czechoslovakia. Enormous crowds witnessed life from the other side of the Iron Curtain for three wonderful days of motorcycle racing.

Those divides have now disappeared, but tradition and history has never been forgotten. Enormous 150,000 plus crowds continued to flock to the Sachsenring and to Brno until it staged its last Grand Prix three years ago.

The record crowds in Portimao, Jerez and Le Mans already this year show just how hard everybody has worked to understand what the fans want. The quality of racing is guaranteed but the modern fan demands so much more. They are fun-loving, energetic and enjoy a weekend of entertainment at a decent price. Nowhere better illustrated all these principles than the rise of Le Mans from mediocrity. Giving the fans what they want, a former French MotoGP™ World Champion to support, plus some welcome sunshine, made those cold, dismal, unfriendly and soulless weekends at this legendary venue a distant memory.

So many reasons for big crowds but thankfully MotoGP™ has never lost its basic principle. First and foremost, you must provide the opportunity for teams and riders to compete at the very highest level of competition. Everything else surrounding the racing is vital to its success, but I do not think that 297,471 fans who flocked to Le Mans last weekend went home disappointed with what they had witnessed out on the track.

 

By |2024-05-22T19:43:47+00:00May 22nd, 2024|Uncategorised|0 Comments

The Usain Bolt of MotoGP™

Of course, actual Grands Prix wins are more important for points and prestige. Jorge Martin’s superb double at Le Mans was the perfect proof, but those race winning Tissot Sprint performances have given the Spaniard that commanding lead in the World Championship.

Martin is the undisputed Usain Bolt of MotoGP™. The fastest sprinter in the world on two wheels and as we witnessed on Sunday, pretty useful over the longer distances. The Prima Pramac Ducati rider leads World Champion Pecco Bagnaia by an impressive 38 points in the Championship after five breathtaking rounds. He has collected a grand total of 50 points in the Sprint races this year, including wins in Portimao, Jerez and Le Mans. In complete contrast Bagnaia’s total from his five Sprints is a paltry 14 points

Those short sharp conflicts where risks must be taken are tailor-made for Jorge Martin’s style and temperament. In his early Moto3™ days he was often taking pole, before that first long-awaited victory came along in the final race of the 2017 season at Valencia. Martin went on to win the Moto3™ World Championship the next year. His win over Marc Marquez and Bagnaia on Sunday was his 17th Grand Prix win and his seventh in the MotoGP™ class. In the 24 Sprint races since the start of last season the Spaniard has won 12 times. A 50 per cent win ratio is mighty impressive in any class, but in the rough and tumble of a Sprint race it says much about the rider.

The Tissot Sprint races have become an integral part of a MotoGP™ weekend in such a short space of time. I think some of the former Grands Prix greats would have loved the short sharp shock on a Saturday afternoon. Others may not have been so keen. The format was just made for Marc Marquez. On it from the word go, and the eight times World Champion certainly was on Saturday. What an opening first part of the first lap as he pushed, shoved and carved his way into fifth place, after starting from the fifth row of the grid in 13th place. He finally finished second for the third Sprint podium this season. The sparks will fly in Barcelona in a couple of weeks.

I am sure Valentino Rossi would have loved it. Never afraid to take risks the format was made for the doctor. Just a shame it came along too late. A good start is a vital part of Sprint success and nobody made better than Dani Pedrosa. Perhaps if the Sprint had been around at Pedrosa’s peak, he may have converted those three runner-up spots in the MotoGP™ World Championship to a well-deserved World title. His third place in the Sprint at Jerez two weeks ago, while competing as a wildcard for Red Bull KTM, was a testimony to what a difference it could have made.

Those American 500cc wizards and later the likes of Nicky Hayden, were brought up and honed their skills on the one-mile dirt tracks back home before coming over to Europe to conquer the World. Over 20 riders sliding into that first bend at over 120 kph would have set them up perfectly for a Sprint. Just imagine the likes of Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey, who needed no excuse to fight, and the first of the sliders King Kenny Roberts in a Sprint. Throw in Randy Mamola who was always up for a scrap and the Australian Garry McCoy, who won three 500cc Grands Prix sliding like a speedway rider. There would have been some fun and games.

I was not totally convinced about the new Sprint race at the start of last season. It only took a couple of races to become a massive fan. Nobody knows better than Championship leader Jorge Martin that those precious 12 winning points could be the difference between winning or losing the World title.

Just ask Usain Bolt.

 

By |2024-05-16T14:41:22+00:00May 16th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The Usain Bolt of MotoGP™

If ever a country deserves a World Champion

For 75 years and before, hundreds of thousands of partisan Grand Prix fanatics have flocked to their shrine in the north of Holland. The Van Drenthe circuit in Assen is rightly called the Cathedral of MotoGP™. Every June since 1949, apart from Covid, it has staged World Championship motorcycle racing. It is easy for the Spanish to travel to Jerez to support the likes of Marquez, Lorenzo and Pedrosa. There was nowhere better to go in the World of Motorsport when Valentino Rossi was competing and winning at Mugello. Every year the fans have supported the Dutch TT with passion and pride despite having so few Dutch riders to cheer. The lack of success by Dutch riders in the World Championship has never kept them away, but at Jerez on Sunday there were signs they could be rewarded for such loyalty.

Nineteen-year-old Collin Veijer won the superb Moto3™ battle with David Muñoz and Ivan Ortola by just 0.045s. The lanky Dutchman lies third in the Moto3™ World Championship behind Daniel Holgado and David Alonso. Last season Veijer set the wheels in motion with the first Dutch Grand Prix win for 33 years, when he was victorious in Malaysia, riding the Liqui Moly Intact Husqvarna. It was such a barren period from the last win by Hans Spaan in 1990 at the 125cc race at Brno in Czechoslovakia

You think that was a long gap. It was an incredible 50 years ago that a Dutch rider was crowned World Champion. The Dutch riders and teams loved the technical complications of preparing and riding multi-geared 50cc machines. Henk van Kessell won the 1974 50cc world title for Kreidler and that was that. Three years earlier Jan de Vries brought Holland and Kreidler their first world title. He won 14 Grands Prix and regained the title in 1973.

With solo classes so devoid of success, the patriotic Dutch fans turned their support to the sidecars. I saw exactly the same thing happen in England when we were going through a similar barren period. In England it was World Champion Steve Webster and in Holland the bearded Egbert Streuer and his passenger Bernie Schneiders became national heroes. They won 22 Grands Prix and three World titles.

Dutch riders have tasted success in the premier 500cc class but only with Grands Prix wins. Wil Hartog was one of the first Grand Prix riders to wear white leathers. You could not miss him with that bright red helmet. He won five 500cc Grands Prix for Suzuki including at Assen in 1977. Three years later Assen was my first assignment as a proper Grand Prix reporter. Jack Middelburg won the 500cc race and the atmosphere and celebrations have only been matched by Jerez and Mugello in recent times. Middelburg’s other win came in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He was also involved in the horrific Barry Sheene practice crash at Silverstone in 1982. The only other Dutch 500cc winner was the likeable chain-smoking Boet van Dulmen, who won at Imatra in Finland in 1979.

Sidecars and 50cc solos have long disappeared from the World Championship scene. Dutch success went with them but Collin Veijer is on the verge of changing all that. Those Dutch fans have waited so long and he could be the rider to reward their loyalty, support, and patience.

It has been far too long a wait.

 

By |2024-05-02T08:22:25+00:00May 2nd, 2024|Uncategorised|Comments Off on If ever a country deserves a World Champion
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