Nick’s Blog

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

Dani brings back memories of Japanese wildcards!

I blame the incredible performance of Dani Pedrosa in Misano and Jerez for bringing back memories of Japanese wildcards. I loved going to Japan but often dreaded commentating. Pronunciation of names was one aspect of the job I never found easy and that is putting it mildly! Going into that crucial Grand Prix at Motegi on Sunday Cal Crutchlow as the wildcard for Yamaha would not have caused a problem but it was not always the case. Not only were their Japanese wildcards to get my head round but they often won the races. Some of these riders went on to become World Champions and Championship contenders. Others just disappeared, while one career ended in tragedy.

On my very first visit to Japan in 1987 at Suzuka I got a clear indication of what lay ahead. Masaru Kobayashi won the 250cc race at the Japanese Grand Prix for Honda and then almost disappeared from sight. He finished third at Suzuka a year later. They were the only World Championship points he ever scored. Fifteen years later Osamu Miyazaki won the 250cc race at Suzuka as a wildcard entry riding a Yamaha. Second place went to the Honda of Daisaku Sakai scoring his only ever World Championship points

Other Japanese wildcard entries went onto greater things. Daijiro Kato won the 250cc race at Suzuka in 1997 and 1998 before embarking on a Championship winning career. He won the 2001 250cc World Championship for the Gresini Honda team before tragically losing his life when he crashed in the 2003 MotoGP™ race at Suzuka. The lovable Nobby Ueda won the 1991 125cc race at Suzuka on his Grand Prix debut. He raced for the next 11 years and finished second in the 125cc World Championship on two occasions.

Takumi Ito finished third in the first ever Premier class Japanese Grand Prix riding the V4 Suzuki in 1987. Eight years later Takumi Aoki was third on his Premier class debut. In 2002, the first-ever, history-making four-stroke MotoGP™ race was won by Valentino Rossi, Akira Ryo brought Suzuki second place on a historic afternoon.

The only wildcard or rider replacement winner in the modern MotoGP™ era came in 2006, but it almost went unnoticed. While the world focused on the Nicky Hayden/Valentino Rossi fight for the Championship at a dramatic final round in Valencia, history was made. The World Superbike Champion Australian Troy Bayliss returned to MotoGP™ replacing the injured Sete Gibernau at Ducati. He won the race from Loris Capirossi giving Ducati their first Grand Prix one two. Can history be repeated in Malaysia next month?

World Superbike Champion Alvaro Bautista returns to MotoGP™ to ride for the Ducati Lenovo team as a wildcard. Bautista has won both 125 and 250cc Grands Prix at the Sepang circuit and will be up for the fight.

Great to see Cal Crutchlow and a British rider back in Grand Prix action at Motegi on Sunday. He finished second there in 2018 riding the LCR Honda. It’s been a tough year for Yamaha, but a little bit of rain could make a big difference – ask Olivier Jacque. In 2005, a year before Bayliss’s historic win, out of the blue he came close to beating Valentino Rossi in China. Replacing the injured Alex Hoffman in the Kawasaki team, the former 250cc World Champion eventually finished second 1.7 s behind World Champion Rossi in the rain.

It can rain at Motegi and I would have no problem pronouncing the winner’s name.

 

By |2023-09-27T21:37:38+00:00September 27th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Dani brings back memories of Japanese wildcards!

A giant step for MotoGP™ into a new world!

This weekend is so much more than racing at a new venue. MotoGP™ takes a giant step forward when it travels to India for the very first time. A journey into an explosive new world and culture, to a country with the fastest-growing major economy. A journey to a country with the largest population of any other in the world. A population of almost one and a half billion people which is one-sixth of the population of the whole world. It’s hardly surprising that Indian riders buy more motorcycles than any other country in the world. The Indian public are sports mad. Cricket is their great love, and it was estimated a television audience of nearly one billion viewers worldwide watched a World Cup encounter with rivals Pakistan

International Motorsport is popular from a distance. The Indian Formula One Grand Prix was staged at the same Buddh International Circuit, which hosts MotoGP™, between 2011 – 2013. The legendary F1 designer Hermann Tilke designed the circuit. There were Indian drivers in the World Championship plus a Silverstone-based Indian team. International motorcycle racing makes its debut over the weekend. The World Superbike Championship was scheduled to hold Indian rounds in 2012 and 2013 but logistical problems caused their cancellation. There has always been a hard core of national races and championships at circuits such as Sholavaram from the mid-1960s and the Sriperumbudur race circuit which was built in the early 1990s.

However, it was the Mahindra Engineering Company that brought MotoGP™ to the Indian public for the first time. They raced in the 125cc and Moto3™ classes between 2011 and 2017 with plenty of success. MotoGP™ World Champion and Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) won two races in 2016 for the Mahindra Moto3™ team. In addition to his wins at Assen and Sepang, he also started the British Grand Prix from pole position the same year. Danny Webb started the last ever 125cc Grand Prix from pole in Valencia in 2011. Miguel Oliveira (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) started from pole on the Mahindra at Assen in 2013. Others who rode for the Mahindra factory included 2021 Moto2™ World Champion Remy Gardner and 2016 Moto3™ World Champion Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing). Mahindra have continued racing internationally on four wheels competing in the FIA Formula E World Championship.

It was never going to be easy for Indian riders to take the massive step up into international racing. The only Indian rider to compete in the modern Grand Prix era was Sarath Kumar. He finished twenty-fourth in the 125cc race at the 2011 Portuguese Grand Prix but failed to qualify in Qatar and Spain. This weekend is sure to whet the appetite for more to make the journey with the support of the Indian public.

Of course, there will be logistical problems at a new venue over the weekend, especially with the next Grand Prix in Japan so close, but this is an opportunity that MotoGP™ simply must not miss. The chance to showcase and expand the sport into one of the biggest economic markets in the world.  It promises to be one of the most important weekends in the 74-year history of Grand Prix racing both on and off the track.

 

By |2023-09-20T20:39:48+00:00September 20th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on A giant step for MotoGP™ into a new world!

The Godfather of MotoGP™

Mike would have hated all the fuss. The true Godfather of the MotoGP™ family who shied away from any personal praise or acknowledgement. The former racer who changed the very future of Grand Prix motorcycle racing because he cared so much. Mike and his wife Irene adopted the MotoGP™ family to save lives and provide riders and teams with well-being and respect from Circuits, Promotors, and those in authority. I hope Mike looked down on the amazing show at Misano over the weekend with a smile on his face. All those principles he set out to achieve when he first stepped foot into the Grand Prix paddock 41 years ago had been achieved.

When Mike arrived in 1982 Grand Prix racing was in a mess. The racing was fantastic and the riders brilliant, but the remainder was in chaos. Some people peering through rose-tinted spectacles will tell you different but just wipe the surface to clear those lenses. The riders asked Mike to represent them in their fight for safety, proper and liveable facilities, deserved prize and travel money and perhaps most important at the time, respect which was blatantly lacking in so many areas

In 1986 he founded the International Road Racing Teams Association. With Mike at the helm, they fought tooth and nail for the rider’s welfare and rights. The tide started to turn. Teams and riders had a voice at the table and in 1992 the foundations fought for, and achieved by Mike, played such a massive part in the transformation of the sport. Mike and IRTA were the cement that bound together the FIM, MSMA and Dorna Sports to form the alliance that changed the face of Grand Prix racing, to where it is today. Mike was a man of passion, principles, and belief. Once his mind was made up you needed one hell of an argument to change it. Of course, not everybody agreed to the changes, but he always had the rider’s and teams’ well-being at heart. He never let them down.

It’s difficult to imagine a MotoGP™ paddock without Mike. Up those metal steps to the IRTA office. Turn left and there was Irene and the likes of Tony and Rick from his loyal staff. Cup of tea if you want one but you must make it yourself because we are so busy, the usual greeting from the boys. Irene would always find you a couple of passes if you were desperate. Turn right into Mike’s office. English news and sports always on the screen behind his desk. There was always plenty to discuss and recollect before MotoGP™ ever got mentioned. Mike loved The Who, the great sixties rock band, and so concert venues were checked. The exploits of his football team Bristol City were mulled over. So many times, in the boardroom next door, we’d sat amidst the debris of empty pizza boxes and beer bottles after watching another England football defeat in World Cup and European Championship games.

We would laugh remembering the exploits of Steve Parrish and others in those unforgettable trips to the Macau Grand Prix, which Mike organised followed by a week in Thailand with Mike and Irene. We first met at Daytona Beach in Florida in the seventies. Mike organised the trips for the 200 miler for hundreds of British fans. It was a fabulous week of fun, sun, and plenty more plus, of course, motorcycle racing. Later, Mike was a journalist’s dream. He never gave away a secret, but he would give just that hint you may be on the right track when encouragement was needed.

When Mike passed away on Friday, we all lost a true friend. For me, and I think many others, the MotoGP™ paddock without him will be a very sad place.

 

By |2023-09-13T17:56:02+00:00September 13th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|1 Comment

MotoGP™ magic carpet ride to Misano

The drive from Bologna airport to the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, is a magic carpet ride through the very heartland of MotoGP™. Every road sign and every town and village on the 120kms frantic drive down the E45 autostrada has a tale to tell. The history of grand prix racing on two and even four wheels just flashes in front of you like a giant cinema screen. Riders’ birthplaces, circuits and team headquarters appear at almost every junction, turning a page of the history book.

Starting in Bologna the home of the all-conquering iconic Ducati factory that is dominating the proceedings this year. Immediately you see signs for Modena. Perhaps best known as the home of Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti but also the home of 125 and 250cc World Champion Luca Cadalora. The World Champion received a congratulatory telegram from Formula One legend Enzo Ferrari after every one of his 34 Grand Prix wins. They also raced on the old Modena aerodrome and I remember watching those bitter rivals Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read battling it out there on a pair of Suzukis in 1976.

Keep driving south and you pick up the signs for the small town of Castel San Pietro the birthplace of Loris Capirossi. The three times World Champion with 29 grand prix wins in all three classes including the first ever MotoGP™ win for Ducati at Barcelona 2003. Just over the hill from his homeland is the legendary Autodromo Imola circuit that was a regular Grand Prix venue and still stages World Superbike Championship and Formula One car Grand Prix.

Next on the historic route is the town of Forli, the home of Andrea Dovizioso. Three times runner up in the Marc Marquez dominated MotoGP™ years riding for Ducati and 125cc World Champion. From Forli you can drive high into hills on the scenic but scary back roads inland to the Mugello circuit. Carry on down the E45 past the towering hills of San Marino. Sixteen times we witnessed the Principality’s flag being raised and the national anthem played following World Champion Manuel Poggiali and Alex de Angelis’s Grand Prix wins.

Then it gets serious as you reach the coast at Rimini, Riccione and Misano. It appears nearly everybody you meet on the beach or promenade have raced motorcycle or have a connection with racing. This is Valentino Rossi country where he grew up with the likes of Marco Simoncelli, Pier Francesco Chili, Loris Reggiani and so many others. His Tavullia ranch now producing the new breed from the Adriatic coast including World Champion Pecco Bagnaia, Marco Bezzecchi and Luca Marini

Long before Vale brought them nine World titles this Adriatic holiday coast has been steeped in motorcycle racing tradition. Before the Misano circuit was built in 1972 they closed the seafront at Rimini and Riccione and raced motorcycles. In 1971 rising Italian star Angelo Bergamonti had already won the 350 and 500cc Spanish Grands Prix for MV Agusta. He was killed at Riccione when he crashed in the rain at a roundabout on the seafront chasing team-mate Agostini. Like so many others the Misano permanent track was built to replace an old road circuit. It staged its first Grand Prix in 1980 but in 1993 tragedy struck again. World Champion Wayne Rainey was paralysed in a crash while leading the 500cc race. Grand Prix racing only returned 14 years later with the track running the opposite way and it has been there ever since.

The circuit was renamed in honour of World Champion Marco Simoncelli who lost his life in Malaysia 12 years ago. His Gresini team headquarters is just down the road from the track. There is so much to remember at Misano. Aprilia, who celebrated their MotoGP™ double in Barcelona this week won their first Grand Prix there in 1987 with Loris Reggiani victorious in the 250-cc race.

Who needs a history book. Just get on the E45 and drive but be warned it’s busy.

By |2023-09-06T18:36:58+00:00September 6th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on MotoGP™ magic carpet ride to Misano

THE BIRTHPLACE OF GRAND PRIX RACING

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

Three GPs in 15 days – I’d never had made it

Never had to check the diary. The last Saturday in June was Assen, followed eight days later at Spa. Thursday night at Assen fired up ten days of total chaos and some brilliant racing. Car races, deadlines, overnight ferries, flights in ancient aircraft, chips covered in mayonnaise, plenty of cold beer and planned parking; all coming into play to ensure back-to-back grands prix at two European classic venues, that somehow produced copy and photographs onto the pages of our respective magazines.

The fun and games started on the overnight ferry between England and Holland. I remember Wayne Gardner having to go to the medical centre in Assen with a strained arm. He told the doctor it was arm pump, but it was caused by an arm-wrestling contest late one night in the middle of the English Channel. The pace hotted up on the Thursday evening at Assen. After a full afternoon of the six classes of Grand Prix practice the Dutch rounds of the TT Formula One and Two races took to the hallowed tarmac. It was Championships dominated by British and especially Irish riders, such as the great Joey Dunlop and Brian Reid. After the prize giving it was time for the celebrations or commiserations usually starting in Assen and often finishing in Groningen with the sidecar boys, always up for a party, joining in

Racing at Assen was always on Saturday, a throwback to the early days when they did not want to affect the attendance at the local churches. Parking early on race morning was a crucial part of the plan. As the final race ended you had to be out of Assen on the road with a bag of films and photocopied results from the 50cc, 125cc, 250cc, 350cc, 500cc and sidecar Grands Prix on route to the Hook of Holland and the overnight ferry back to England. That 250 km journey was our very own Grand Prix and time was tight. The FIM Stewards would have been very busy. Once back in England on Sunday morning it was drive to the office, write 2000 words of copy, type out the results get the films developed and then sleep.

Two days later we were ready to start the process all over again at the magnificent Spa Francorchamps circuit, carved out of the forest high in the Belgium Ardennes. Often we would fly across the Channel this time. Once we hitched a free flight on an ancient Viscount airliner being used by a certain Richard Branson to set up a new airline. Thank goodness, no TT Formula One or Two races, but just as much fun and games. A Sunday race meant tighter deadlines. We had leave even earlier to catch the flight back. I remember a bag of films being thrown over the track during the sidecar race from the inside of the La Source hairpin so we could get away before the traffic.

So Assen and Spa, the most memorable back-to-back races of the season – well actually not quite. Anybody who was lucky enough, although I might not have used those exact words at the time, to board that overnight party ferry between Finland and Sweden after their respective Grands Prix would agree. Was it the relief of leaving Imatra alive or the worry of leaving Anderstorp with the prospect racing over those Imatra railway lines looming? Was it the fact it never actually got dark as the boat wound its way through hundreds of tiny islands? Perhaps a combination of them both, but the party-loving Scandinavian blond ladies, loud music and beer certainly played their part.

The riders, teams and media have just completed three back-to-back Grands Prix in just 15 days. Back in the day I don’t think my brain, body or liver could have taken the strain. Enjoy the summer break – you deserve it.

 

By |2023-06-29T09:28:09+00:00June 29th, 2023|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Three GPs in 15 days – I’d never had made it
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