Nick’s Blog

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|0 Comments

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

The Special One

We all knew who ‘The Special One’ was waving the chequered flag at the finish of the MotoGP™ race in Portimao, but who was ‘The Special One’ on the track? Legendary football Manager, Jose Mourinho, enjoys the kudos of his title but take your pick after three days of grand prix racing on the Algarve.

Jorge Martin with a masterful victory in the Tissot Grand Prix, leads the MotoGP™ World Championship by 18 points after just two rounds. It was the perfect demonstration of just how to dominate a race from the front riding the Prima Pramac Ducati. The Spaniard could take some shifting from that top spot.

Second place Enea Bastianini has painful memories of Portimao. Last year the Italian broke his right shoulder blade when he crashed on his debut for the factory Ducati Lenovo team. It wrecked his debut season but Bastianini will be a major threat this year. Fastest in the first day of practice on Friday, followed by his first pole since 2022. It was only his second MotoGP™ pole. He messed up the start of the Sprint race but fought back to sixth before the podium on Sunday

Where do you start with 19-year-old Pedro Acosta? Third in just his second MotoGP™ race, after taking on the likes of legends Marc Marquez and Pecco Bagnaia and coming out on top. A fearless ride, not hampered by tyre degradation or worry, he was nothing short of sensational. Already a debut season matching that of Marquez who won his second MotoGP™ race at the Circuit of the Americas 11 years ago. It’s the third MotoGP™ race for Acosta in three weeks’ time at the very same circuit. Was it the frustration of being outfought by the teenager, that caused the collision between the two riders who have eight MotoGP™ titles between them? They have got to get used to it and meet the challenge head-on because it is not going away.

A clear favourite for the special title emerged after Saturday’s sprint race. Maverick Viñales had lost two and a half kilos of weight due to a stomach bug over the weekend. Perhaps the weight loss helped because he brought Aprilia victory in the Tissot Sprint race. It was the first non-Ducati Sprint or Grand Prix win for 19 races, but it was not quite enough for the Spaniard to join a very exclusive club.

Only four riders, Mike Hailwood, Eddie Lawson, Randy Mamola and Loris Capirossi have won a premier class race, on three different makes of machine in the 75-year history of Grand Prix racing. Correctly, the Sprint race cannot count but then on Sunday Viñales came so close to getting his membership card. The MotoGP™ winner on Yamaha and Suzuki machinery chased Martin so hard in the MotoGP™ race. He looked a certain second when a technical problem caused him to crash the Aprilia on the first bend of the last lap.

So they are the riders vying to take the Special One title from Mourinho in his home country, but perhaps the title should go to the Tissot Grand Prix of Portugal. A record weekend crowd for a Portuguese Grand Prix of 175,000 fans was a 41 per cent increase on last year. I think those without a vested interest breathed a silent sigh of relief. Jorge Martin, Pecco Bagnaia and Ducati dominated the proceedings at that opening round in Qatar without much overtaking, but this weekend was very different.

Do not worry Jose, nobody was trying to steal your Special One title, although there were plenty of contenders.

 

By |2024-03-27T19:55:07+00:00March 27th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The Special One

Without them, none of this would have happened

That in-built desire and hunger to win was the same but everything else was totally different. Just what would those riders dressed in two-piece black leathers, pudding basin helmets and goggles, made of the MotoGP™ grid that lined up under the Qatar floodlights last Sunday?

Seventy-five years earlier the World was a very different place. To launch a World Championship less than four years after the finish of the most devastating war the World had ever witnessed was brave, some would have thought impossible, but it happened. The first ever Motorsport World Championship and one of the first in any sport since the Second World War ended. The six-round Motorcycle World Championship was launched in June on the TT Mountain circuit in the Isle of Man.

Six European countries had been involved in a bitter bloody conflict that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Countries that had been occupied by the enemy and countries that had fought each other just four years earlier, came together to produce the birth of a dream. Great Britain, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Ireland, and Italy hosted the new Championship that incorporated five separate classes. The 500, 250, 350 and 125cc solos and sidecars lit up the darkness that clouded a recovering Europe. The quality and intensity of the racing between riders and manufacturers set the benchmark for the next 75 years

It was a long and painful ten years for riders and manufacturers since the last international races. Star riders from the thirties had to wait a decade before returning to the saddle on the international stage. Many had represented their countries in a very different way. Some paid the ultimate price never to return home. Others fought and then returned home to continue their racing careers with great success. Les Graham the first 500cc World Champion was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery, flying a Lancaster bomber in 1944. Bespectacled Harold Daniell won that first round of the 500cc World Championship on the Norton. He had been refused entry to the armed forces to fight in the war because of poor eyesight.

It was tough for the Italian riders, especially at the opening round on the Isle of Man which had been the site for an Italian Prisoner of War camp, but they did so much to restore national pride and respect. Bruno Ruffo won the 250cc world title riding the Italian Moto Guzzi. In the 125cc class, Nello Pagani clinched the world title for Mondial in the final round at Monza. Freddie Frith brought the British Velocette factory victory in the 350cc class after winning that very first Grand Prix on the Isle of Man. The ever-popular sidecar Championship went to the British pair of Eric Oliver and Denis Jenkinson.

It was equally tough for the manufacturers ravaged by the effects of war. Many of the Midland-based British factories had been damaged by German bombs. They realised their resurgence was based on the publicity gained from international success. The lack of development in the war meant that changes in design and engines were just beginning. The biggest change was that supercharged engines were banned. Otherwise, the World Championship grid looked very similar both in personnel and machinery to the late thirties. However, missing were the German manufacturers like BMW. They had dominated the 1939 TT race with their Boxer Supercharged 500, but were banned from competing in that first World Championship. The only challenge to the British domination in the 500cc class came from Italy and the Ancore-based Gilera factory. They only had to wait one more year for success.

It’s a truly amazing story. When the grid lines up at Portimao on Sunday, close your eyes, remember and salute those pioneers. Without them, none of this would have ever happened.

 

By |2024-03-20T20:31:20+00:00March 20th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Without them, none of this would have happened

Only one winner in the desert showdown

Of course, I am biased, but there was only one winner in the desert showdown over the weekend. Three world sporting events in the sand and heat of the Middle East. The opening round of the MotoGP™ World Championship in Qatar. Across the desert the second round of the Formula One World Championship at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Saturday. A heavyweight boxing fight between Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou again in Saudi Arabia on Friday night. Three massive sporting confrontations 1500 kms apart on the same weekend.

For the second weekend in succession World Champion Max Verstappen totally dominated the Formula One race from the start, finishing with a 13.6 second advantage over his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez. The long-awaited clash of the heavyweight giants Joshua and Ngannou lasted just two rounds when the Englishman knocked out his opponent. The opening round of the MotoGP™ World Championship just crackled with drama, excitement, and breathtaking racing over three proper days of track action. Where do you start

On Friday the Marc Marquez style save with elbow, shoulder, and any other part of his body by Spanish teenager Pedro Acosta on his MotoGP™ debut. On Saturday morning just nine-hundredths of one second separated Jorge Martin, Aleix Espargaro and Enea Bastianini in qualifying. In the afternoon the brilliant Jorge Martin won the Sprint to lay his cards on the table in the first points-scoring encounter of the season. Sunday was even better!

An immaculate display by Pecco Bagnaia chasing his third successive MotoGP™ World title on the Lenovo Ducati, while the sparks flew between his pursuers. Binder claimed second on the Red Bull Factory KTM ahead of Sprint winner Martin and an impressive Marc Marquez. Acosta learnt so much on route to ninth place on his MotoGP™ debut. Earlier, just 0.041 seconds separated David Alonso and Daniel Holgado in a Moto3™ battle, which was decided on the final bend. It was nearly as close in Moto2™ with Alonso Lopez and Barry Baltus separated by 0.055 seconds at the chequered flag

The only saving grace on the track for Formula One was the performance of 18-year-old British driver, Oliver Bearman, who finished seventh on his Grand Prix debut driving for Ferrari. Formula One needed a ray of light to penetrate the non-racing dramas clouding their paddock. Thank goodness MotoGP™ is in no such need, but if it was, Pedro Acosta like Bearman would be the savour. What a debut by the 19-year-old Moto2™ and Moto3™ World Champion. That save at turn one on Friday and then finishing third after the opening two practice sessions. Qualifying eighth and finishing eighth in the Tissot Sprint race on Saturday. An audacious overtake on Marc Marquez during his ride to ninth place on Sunday. We are going to hear a great deal more about Acosta and Bearman in the coming weeks. They are the future on two and four wheels.

So of course, I’m biased but I am sure the neutrals would agree there was only one sporting event to be at in the Middle East over the weekend. Under the floodlights at the Lusail International circuit in Qatar was the only place to be. Quite honestly it was no contest!

 

By |2024-03-14T19:03:19+00:00March 14th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Only one winner in the desert showdown

The wait has always been worth it

You have waited four months for this moment. All your fears and expectations may not be fully answered but there will be a real indication of what lies ahead in the next 20 races. Have riders, teams and organisers made the correct decisions? The Qatar Airways Grand Prix of Qatar under the Lusail floodlights this weekend may be just the start, but many questions will be answered.

The biggest of them all. Can Marc Marquez become the oldest premier class World Champion in the MotoGP™ era? Six premier titles in 10 seasons and now the switch from Honda to Ducati. Even Valentino Rossi’s defection to Yamaha from Honda in 2004 didn’t create the same headlines, although Marquez will enjoy reading them as he embarks on his voyage of discovery. Rossi won that opening Grand Prix in South Africa and went on to retain the World title. It can be done Marc.

Spanish Moto2™ World Champion Pedro Acosta lines up for his premier class debut. Pressure is already mounting after some impressive testing performances on the Red Bull GASGAS Tech3. Can the Spanish teenager emulate Marquez by adding the MotoGP™ crown to his Moto3™ and Moto2™ titles in his first season? Could he match Jarno Saarinen and Max Biaggi by winning on his premier class debut? Neither of them went on to win the World title for very different reasons but Marquez won on his second premier class appearance en route to the World title

Can double World Champion Pecco Bagnaia join a very exclusive club only nine riders have won three successive premier class titles. His Ducati Lenovo teammate Enea Bastanini faces the season with real hope after an injury-hit debut season with the team, crashing in the opening round last year. I remember Barry Sheene returning to race at the opening round in the 1983 South African Grand Prix. Six months after he had 28 screws and two plates fitted to his shattered legs, following his Silverstone practice crash. The double 500cc World Champion finished tenth on his return in South Africa.

It’s not only riders and teams who have watched that opening round with trepidation after making some big decisions. The opening round at Suzuka in Japan 2002 represented the biggest change before and since. The switch to the four-stroke era arrived. Could the 500cc two-strokes remain competitive against the 990 cc four-strokes? I thought they could at certain circuits, but my theory disappeared in a flurry of sound and speed. Valentino Rossi led the revolution with victory on the RCV 211V Honda. The only two-stroke threat came at the Sachsenring, but Olivier Jacque and Alex Barros crashed out while leading.

In 1987 the riders faced a very new challenge again in the opening round at Suzuka. Clutch starts at last replaced the old push starts in all classes. For 38 years riders had to push start their machines to fire up their engines to begin a Grand Prix. Some sat side saddle, cocking their leg onto the footrest once the engine fired into life. Others just pushed and pushed, jumping into the saddle when they had enough speed to interest the engine. As you can imagine it was a change well received by everybody.

It all began on a dry bright morning on June 13, 1949, when the 350cc riders lined up on the Glencrutchery Road on the Isle of Man. A world ravished by the horrendous effects of a World War that had ended four years earlier was ready to celebrate, embrace and enjoy bringing some much-needed light to a dark place. The very first race of a World Championship that celebrates its 75th birthday this season.

Nothing has changed in three-quarters of a century. The wait is still worth it.

 

By |2024-03-07T11:04:05+00:00March 7th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on The wait has always been worth it

MotoGP™ A-listers are on the track

It was only when the most famous national newspaper in the world started printing pictures of A-lister celebrities on the grid, instead of race action on the track, that I realised just how lucky we are. Pictures of the stars on the grid and in the hospitality suites, replacing race action from the Grand Prix at the four-wheeled equivalent of MotoGP™. All sports need the publicity and charisma gained from the big names grinning on the starting grid, but the A-listers in MotoGP™ are the riders and not the people who have come to watch.

It’s crucial not to let all the hype and glitter submerge why we are at 20 venues throughout the world. We are there to race. The best riders/drivers in the world competing on space-age technology-driven motorcycles and cars to discover who is the very best. From that very first World Championship race in the Isle of Man nearly 75 years ago the battle between man and machines has always been the priority. We are so lucky that the principle was fully endorsed after a season of racing that was right up there as one of the very best in the last three quarters of a century

I think that the final round in Valencia was the perfect example of why all that hype and glitz in the world is no match for the action when it’s as good as it was. It had everything to keep the massive boisterous fans and tens of millions of television viewers more than happy. Two riders after 20 Grands Prix, Tissot Sprints included, in nine months were separated by just 21 points going into those final two races. We were not let down. Fantastic racing, mind games, controversy, and crashes but when the dust settled, Pecco Bagnaia, the only Ducati rider in the history of the sport to retain the premier class title. It was everything that final rounds in other motorsport World Championships just could not match.

There was certainly no time to reflect, celebrate or rest even for the fans. The Valencia Test just two days later gave us a delicious aperitive to next season’s main menu. Of course, Marc Marquez’s Ducati debut made the headlines. The smile when he removed his helmet said it all. Throw in the Honda debut for Luca Marini, with Fabio Di Giannantonio replacing him at Mooney VR46 Racing, and a MotoGP™ debut for Moto2™ World Champion Pedro Acosta. I think you had enough to keep you going over Christmas and the new year.

Of course, there have been bumps in the road in such a long tiring journey. I think the Tissot Sprints were a great success and certainly made the weekend more interesting. I will not pretend to exactly understand the new tyre pressure rule. Some controversial decisions by the Stewards brought the same reaction to VAR in football. Ten Grands Prix in the last 13 weeks of the season put a strain on everybody. An understanding family is crucial to anybody embarking on the great adventure. Next year there are 22 Grands Prix scheduled. I think that is enough to maintain the welfare of everybody in the MotoGP™ family.

Never has a winter break been more richly deserved for everybody involved after such a pulsating season in all three classes. It was a year that totally summed up what the sport we love is all about. Stick to those racing principles and do not make it too complicated. A sport where the riders are still the A-listers.

 

By |2023-12-06T10:59:34+00:00December 6th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on MotoGP™ A-listers are on the track

Never say never, but history is against Jorge

So, it’s come to the last round showdown as expected but not quite as we hoped. 21 points is a massive advantage for Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team). Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) would have to make history to be crowned MotoGP™ World Champion at Valencia on Sunday. Never in the 74-year-old history of Grand Prix racing has a rider pulled back such a big deficit at the final round of the premier class to take the title. Of course, the introduction of the Tissot Sprint race this season has changed the situation. Now, there are 37 priceless World Championship points up for grabs instead of 25, but it’s still a massive ask for the Pramac rider.

19 times in that 74-year-old history the premier class world title has been decided at the final round. Only three times has the rider not leading the Championship going into that final round won the title. The biggest deficit pulled back was in 2006 at that never-to-be-forgotten final MotoGP™ race in Valencia. Valentino Rossi, riding the factory Yamaha, had an eight-point advantage over his old Repsol Honda team-mate Nick Hayden. The American had been brought down by his team-mate Dani Pedrosa at the penultimate round in Estoril and we all thought his big chance had gone. We were wrong. Rossi crashed, Hayden finished third behind the Ducatis of Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi to become the last American to win the title.

It was a lot more controversial in 2015, when Rossi arrived for the final Valencia showdown with a seven-point advantage over Yamaha team-mate, and not best friend, Jorge Lorenzo. Just two weeks earlier Rossi had been involved in a couple of unforgettable clashes with Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) at Sepang in Malaysia. As a result, together with an earlier penalty, the Italian had to start the 30 lap race from the back of the grid and Lorenzo knew exactly what to do. He won the race with Rossi fighting his way through the field to fourth, but it was not enough. Lorenzo grabbed his third and last world title by five points. Rossi’s big chance to win his tenth world title had gone for good.

The first time a rider not leading the Championship won the title at the final round in 1992 was in very different circumstances. Mick Doohan arrived for the final round at Kyalami in South Africa with a two-point advantage over World Champion Wayne Rainey, but that does not tell the true story. Australian Doohan, riding the Rothmans Honda, held a 65-point advantage when he broke his leg in a qualifying crash in the eighth round at Assen. Severe complications prevented him from returning until the penultimate round at Interlagos in Brazil

Doohan could hardly walk, let alone race, but somehow fought through the pain to finish 12th in the race which was won by Rainey. He held that precious but fragile two-point lead going into 28 laps of the Kyalami circuit two weeks later. Doohan gave it all and more to finish sixth. Rainey’s third place retained the title for the World Champion by four points. I remember as media manager for the Honda team I had to organise the instant destruction of 200 World Championship-winning tee-shirts, press kits and photographs before Mick saw them.

Doohan was devastated, but two years later won his first world title for Honda. He captured four more consecutive titles for Honda, and so take heart for the loser this weekend. Look to the future after disappointment and don’t dwell on the past. So, Jorge, history is against you but never say never. Win that Tissot Sprint on Saturday and the pressure is on.

 

By |2023-11-23T12:23:30+00:00November 23rd, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Never say never, but history is against Jorge

Settling Pecco and Jorge rather than starting in Qatar

When that enormous red ball of the sun disappeared below the barren desert landscape and you heard thousands of light bulbs clicking into action, you knew the new season was underway. For 16 years the floodlit Lusail circuit was the beginning of a new season, but now the roles are reversed. Suddenly the 5.380km circuit is the venue where a MotoGP™ World Championship can be settled rather than started. 14 precious points separate Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) at the penultimate round on Sunday. For the first time this season, the title race could be settled after the Tissot Sprint and the Qatar Airways Grand Prix race in the desert

Arrival in Doha always heralded a complete change of life. The winter was over and family and friends knew better than anybody the travelling lifestyle had returned, after a seemingly too-short winter. You soon discovered the waistline you had requested on the uniform trousers had changed dramatically over those hungry winter months. The shoes you requested were too big and those shirts had problems covering your larger than it had been in November tummy. You reunited with colleagues who you were going to spend much of the next eight months within commentary boxes, media centres, airports, hotels and, of course, bars.

The Lusail International Circuit staged its first Grand Prix in 2004 and its first opening round in 2007. The heat and television timings back in Europe made it tough and so Qatar came up with a solution, which I honestly thought was pie in the sky. Flying in over hundreds of kilometres of desert sand the next year suddenly the silhouette of the floodlit Lusail circuit pierced the darkness below. In 12 months the circuit had been floodlit. The 2008 Qatar Grand Prix was the first ever World Championship motorsport event on tarmac to be staged under lights. The transformation took just 175 days. The opening round was staged under the Lusail lights until this season with just one break for Covid.

I loved those Thursday afternoon Championship photo sessions on the Losail start and finish straight, before the first practice session of the season the next day. There had been Valencia and pre-season testing but this was the first time we saw the bikes and riders in their new livery. Valentino Rossi on a Ducati in 2011 and back on the Yamaha two years later. Casey Stoner on a Repsol Honda in 2011 and four years earlier, even before the floodlights arrived, the first Ducati ride that led to a World Championship in 2007. That same year the number 1 plate was proudly displayed on Nicky Hayden’s Honda for the first time. Marc Marquez made his MotoGP™ debut for the same team in 2013 and Jorge Lorenzo in Ducati leathers for the first time, after leaving Yamaha in 2017.

Qatar will be full of added tension and anticipation with so much at stake this weekend, but it will be different. Already the Moto2™ World Championship is sorted and 37 points are up for grabs in MotoGP™. The first chance for Pecco Bagnaia to retain his world title, although Valencia looks the most likely showdown venue a week later. I always remembered the Lusail circuit as the start of the adventure. Next year it returns to herald the start of the 2024 season. Marc Marquez’s first race on the Ducati sums up my memory and feelings perfectly, although Sunday could be a very special Championship decider.

 

By |2023-11-15T20:42:15+00:00November 15th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Settling Pecco and Jorge rather than starting in Qatar

Can Bautista do a Bayliss?

The circumstances are so remarkably similar. As the world focuses on the superb battle for the MotoGP™ world title, the World Superbike Champion arrives to join in the fun. Double World Superbike Champion Alvaro Bautista, fresh from that amazing final round in Jerez returns to MotoGP™ in Malaysia on Sunday. His appearance as a wildcard on the factory Ducati brings memories flooding back to 2006 and a certain Australian, Troy Bayliss.

After winning the World Superbike Championship, Bayliss was brought in by Ducati to replace the injured Sete Gibernau at the final round of the MotoGP™ World Championship in Valencia. The world was totally focused on the Nicky Hayden/Valentino Rossi fight for the ultimate prize, the World Championship.

Sounds familiar so far. Bautista joins the grid on Sunday while the world focuses on the fight for the title between Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing). Bayliss had plenty of MotoGP™ experience with four podium finishes for Ducati before returning to Superbikes. Bautista not only returns to a series that brought him a world title,16 Grand Prix wins and three MotoGP™ podiums but to a track that he loves, no wonder why. The Spaniard has won two Grands Prix at the sweltering Sepang circuit on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. In the same year as Bayliss’s Valencia success, Bautista won the 125cc race and the title. Two years later he won the 250cc Grand Prix by over two and a half seconds on his way to second place in the Championship.

Seventeen years ago in Valencia, history was made. Bayliss won the Grand Prix from fellow Ducati rider Loris Capirossi with Hayden crowned World Champion after finishing third. The very first Ducati one/two in the premier class did not go exactly unnoticed but Hayden’s first and only world title stole all the headlines. Bayliss returned to Superbikes to continue his domination after producing a ride that has never been replicated. He is the only current World Superbike Champion to win a MotoGP™ race. American Ben Spies is the only other rider to win a MotoGP™ race after winning the World Superbike Championship but not as the reigning Champion. The Yamaha rider won the 2011 Dutch TT in Assen two years after his Superbike Championship success. Without a doubt fellow American and Superbike Champion Colin Edwards deserved to join him. Who will ever forget the Texan crashing at the final esses in the 2006 Dutch TT with the chequered flag already fluttering in the breeze ready to celebrate his first Grand Prix win? Edwards stood on the podium 12 times and finished fourth and fifth in the World Championship.

The reverse scenario is not quite so barren but probably contains fewer riders than you would imagine. The 250cc World Champion John Kocinski won 500cc Grands Prix on Yamaha and Cagiva machinery before becoming World Superbike Champion. Four time 250cc World Champion Max Biaggi won premier class Grands Prix for Yamaha and Honda before dominating the Superbikes. Carlos Checa won a couple of 500 cc grands prix for Yamaha before switching and winning the World Superbike Championship.

So, can history repeat itself after 17 years in the 20-lap race at Sepang on Sunday? Understandably the spotlight will fall on the Bagnaia/Martin fight for the Championship with three rounds remaining. I promise you I will be paying a little more attention to Bautista than I did on Bayliss during the historic afternoon in the Spanish sunshine in 2006.

 

 

By |2023-11-08T17:02:50+00:00November 8th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Can Bautista do a Bayliss?
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