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Keep that phone switched on

The summer break has arrived. If the first half of the season is any indication, do not switch that phone off while lying on the beach. Never in the 75-year history of the sport has so much happened in the opening four months. Then check out what actually occurred on the racetrack, to realise just what an extraordinary first half we have witnessed.

We take for granted the on-track action and we have not been let down. The Sachsenring on Sunday summed it up perfectly. Jorge Martin joining that not-so-exclusive Turn 1 crashing club to hand Pecco Bagnaia the ideal wedding present – the World Championship lead. The battle of the Marquez brothers for second place, the fight for podium finishes behind Moto2™ winner Fermin Aldeguer and the battle for Moto3™ honours between David Alonso and Taiyo Furusato. It is what we have come to expect.

I suppose when Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo signed their allegiance to their respective teams, almost before a wheel had been turned in anger, we realised this was going to be so very different

With so many riders’ contracts coming to a finish at the end of the season, it was inevitable. The media were revelling in the drama of where Marc Marquez and Jorge Martin were going next year, as much as they were reporting the races. I love announcements that arrive out of the blue and they came in great bundles.

Marquez to factory Ducati and Martin to Aprilia were a journalist’s dream but there was so much more to come. Out of the blue, Bastanini and Vinales to Tech3 KTM. Catch a breath because there was more to follow. Bezzecchi to Aprilia, Pramac switching to Yamaha and Aleix Espargaro joining HRC as a test rider all before the summer break.

Sometimes the switch to a rival team is the worst-kept secret. It wasn’t exactly an explosive press conference at Valencia in 2003, when Valentino Rossi announced he was joining Yamaha the next season. I remember Casey Stoner in deep conversation with HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto in the Dresden airport hotel bar before the 2010 summer break. The following season he’d left Ducati to bring Honda the World title.

The switch that completely caught me cold and I think most others, came in 1988. My Phone rang very early on a December morning. A furious Wayne Gardner was on the line from Australia. Did I know that Eddie Lawson was leaving Yamaha and joining him at Honda the next season? As Media Manager for the Honda team, he presumed I knew, but I did not. It remained a secret until after I’d returned from California with videos, photographs and quotes from Eddie. He won the world title the next season and then returned to Yamaha, job done.

Sometimes a journalist can be caught in the crossfire. Barry Sheene rang me in January 1982 to say he’d turned down an offer to ride for Giacomo Agostini’s Yamaha team that season, but not to tell anybody else. Later that morning Graeme Crosby rang from New Zealand. He’d been controversially dropped by Suzuki and had no ride for the season. I told him to ring Ago. By the end of the week, he’d signed for the team and made his debut in Argentina two months later. He finished runner-up in the 500cc World Championship, but I never told Barry.

The first beer in the paddock after the summer break was always good fun. Sunburnt noses, stories from beaches and nightclubs flowed, but at Brno in 2002 it was far more sombre than usual. A message from Barry Sheene revealing he had cancer brought the holiday recollections to a temporary halt. Kenny Roberts rang him immediately and later in the evening we raised a glass of the glorious Brno beer. The stories flowed late into the night about this amazing person and great World Champion.

Enjoy your summer break because the tough part of the season is still to come. Eleven races in just over three months covering three separate continents. Remember, keep that phone switched on!

By |2024-07-10T20:49:59+00:00July 10th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|0 Comments

Over to you Pecco

It may surprise you, but I really enjoy planning and researching my blog even before race day. Assen was no exception, but then it all went terribly wrong until along came Pecco Bagnaia to save the day. A masterclass of total MotoGP™ supremacy at the Cathedral. World Champion by name and action. No wonder the Italian has the outline of Assen tattooed on his right arm. For the last seventy-three laps of Grand Prix racing, he has not been headed. His sixth Dutch TT win and his third successive MotoGP™ win at the legendary venue. The last rider to win three in a row was there to applaud. Mick Doohan won five in a row between 1994 -1998.

It had all looked so simple. Fifty years ago, the Che-Guevara of Grand Prix racing had made his debut at Assen. In 1974 Kenny Roberts arrived in Europe and life was never quite the same. With fellow American Joe Roberts winning the Moto2™ race in Mugello last month, and lying second in the World Championship, this was the perfect time to remember the past and predict the future. The time is ripe for the revival of American riders in the World Championship and ultimately to return to the pinnacle, which they dominated for so long. With the surname of Roberts, how could you fail

Kenny took pole position for that first 250cc Grand Prix, crashed in the race but remounted to finish third. The rest is history. He was so passionate about Grand Prix racing. He led a revolution from the front both on and off the track. A sliding style, honed on the dirt tracks back home, had never been witnessed on European racetracks. Much to the chagrin of the Grand Prix regulars and World Champion Barry Sheene in particular, Kenny won three successive 500cc world titles for Yamaha. That was just the start. He took on the organisers and promotors who had shown so little respect for fellow riders’ safety and welfare. Together with journalist Barry Coleman they threatened, with the support of all the top riders, to form a rival World Series in 1980. It never happened, but the very threat brought a 500% prize fund rise and a massive increase in all aspects of safety.

Kenny had built the bridge across the Atlantic for the American riders to compete. So much talent arrived in the opposite direction to the Pilgrim Fathers. They loved those fearsome 500cc two-stroke rocket ships. World titles flowed for Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz and his own son Kenny Junior. It was the golden age for America but slowly the source of talent started to dry up.  Nicky Hayden was the last American World Champion in 2006. Ben Spies was the last Grand Prix winner in 2011. For a while unbelievably there were no American riders in any of the Grand Prix classes, but then along came Joe Roberts. That second Moto2™ win gave him a competitive chance of winning the World title and a real opportunity to move up to the MotoGP™ class.

All my ideas were blown apart on Friday afternoon. The unfortunate Roberts crashed and broke his collarbone in Moto2™ practice. The OnlyFans American Racing Team rider was declared unfit, but hopefully will be back for the Sachsenring.

While walking my dog Candy, after watching the demolition of the Tissot Sprint race by Bagnaia, I had another inspiration. Later that afternoon Italy were playing Switzerland in the knock-out stages of the European football Championship. Compare the European Champions defence of their title to that of the defence of their World title by Bagnaia and his Lenovo Ducati team. At Mugello they switched from the traditional Ducati red to Azzurri blue to show their support to the national team.

Two hours later it was back to square one. Switzerland comfortably beat the Champions who were on their way home after a two-nil defeat. Pecco, your brilliance saved the day. I have got some ideas for the Sachsenring, but I think it is best I keep them to myself as I can’t keep relying on the World Champion.

 

By |2024-07-03T19:57:03+00:00July 3rd, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Over to you Pecco

Three GP wins, 440kms of racing in one day

It could only happen at the Cathedral, not once but twice. Imagine telling the Moto3™ riders lining up on the Assen grid on Sunday, that after this race you have to compete and win in the forthcoming Moto2™ and MotoGP™ races on the same day. The legendary Assen Van Drenthe circuit has rightly earned the title as the Cathedral of Grand Prix racing, for many reasons. Some are obvious, others not. Of course, it’s the only circuit remaining on the MotoGP™ calendar from that original 1949 schedule. Not so well known, is that Assen staged the closest ever 500cc finish in 1975 and two great World Champions won three Grand Prix races in a single day.

Six-time World Champion Jim Redman was the first to pull off this incredible feat of both skill and endurance. In 1964 he won the 125, 250 and 350cc Grands Prix riding the works Hondas on a rather busy Saturday June 27th, 1964. Two years later Mike Hailwood, once again on Honda machinery, won the 250, 350 and 500cc races on the same day. Nine times World Champion Hailwood raced for over three hours on his 440-kilometre adventure. It’s a unique record that will surely never be equalled

I like to think, and certainly tell my friends, that I played a part in the outcome of that closest-ever premier class finish in 1975. Around 25 of us rather boisterous fans arrived in Assen on the Saturday morning to support our hero Barry Sheene. The Suzuki rider who had recovered from that horrendous Daytona crash earlier in the year. It was a scorching hot afternoon. The cold Dutch beer was welcome and fully consumed by the time the 16-lap race got underway. We flew a large Union Jack and cheered on Sheene as he shadowed Giacomo Agostini’s Yamaha until the very last corner of the race. The 135,000 crowd, led by us, was going wild.

Lap after lap Barry had feigned to go left in that final bend and then stayed in Ago’s slipstream. He moved to repeat the manoeuvres for the last time, Ago positioned the Yamaha to block him and Barry was through on the right. They crossed the finishing line absolutely side by side and nobody knew who had won. Barry’s Dad Franco was running up and down pit lane celebrating, trying to convince the finish line judges that his son had grabbed his first 500cc victory. We joined in at a much higher pitch of both noise and excitement. At last, the Tannoy announced what we all wanted to hear. Sheene was declared the winner although for the only time in Grand Prix racing the two riders could not be separated on time. Both riders were credited with a race time of 48.01.00s. A long night of celebration followed in Amsterdam en route to the ferry home. I’m sure our support of Barry and Franco made no difference to the judges, but it made a very good story and my very first News Editor always told me, never spoil a good story with the facts. It also summed up my love of such a special place.

My first ever Grand Prix visit outside the Isle of Man in 1973. Watching Phil Read win on the MV Agusta while enjoying the delights of chips with mayonnaise, cold beer at 8 am and so many bicycles and windmills. My first assignment as a Grand Prix reporter in 1980 was witnessing Jack Middleburg claiming the last Dutch home 500cc victory. Since then, great memories from the commentary box. The Rossi/Marquez battle at the final chicane in 2015. The Doctor’s last Grand Prix win in 2017. Jack Miller’s win and celebrations a year earlier. We all felt the bitter disappointment of Colin Edwards, when he crashed in the chicane with the chequered flag in sight in 2006. If anybody deserved a Grand Prix victory it was Colin.

Finally, I loved Assen because up to 2016 the Grand Prix was always held on a Saturday. I could get home for a rare Sunday lunch with the family.

The Cathedral is the greatest Grand Prix venue in the world, for so many different reasons.

 

By |2024-06-27T15:17:55+00:00June 27th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Three GP wins, 440kms of racing in one day

King Ago

Facts are facts. Manipulate them as much as you like, juggle them to your own advantage, but you will always return to the same answer in the end. Certainly, this is the case in the 75-year history of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. The fact is that Giacomo Agostini is the greatest rider of all time and the King of our sport.

It sounds like stating the obvious but some may not agree. Fifteen world titles and 122 Grands Prix wins are surely enough. More world titles and Grands Prix wins than any other rider, but there is so much more to the Italian who graced our racetracks for 14 glorious years. Where do you start

It was the dream team for MV boss Count Agusta. A young Italian who could win him world titles. Before he had turned to the likes of John Surtees, Gary Hocking and Mike Hailwood, but at last a young handsome Italian to take on the world. Ago did not let him or Italy down. He finished second to teammate Mike Hailwood in the 1965 World 500cc Championship, winning his first premier class Grand Prix round the streets of Imatra. Jim Redman and Honda had dominated the 350cc class for the last three years but Ago, riding the new three-cylinder MV, pushed him to the limit. Only a mechanical problem at the final round in Japan prevented him from taking his first world title.

Hailwood left MV to spearhead Honda’s considerable efforts to win their first 500cc title. MV with Ago at the helm were ready to take on the might of Japan in one of the greatest duels ever witnessed. Two great riders, friends and former teammates, fighting it out for the most prestigious prize in Motorcycle racing. In 1966 and 1967, Ago fought off Honda and Hailwood to keep that 500cc crown in Italian hands after some classic battles to stir the blood. Honda withdrew from the battle in 1968 leaving the track clear for Agostini to totally dominate Grand Prix racing in a way never witnessed before or after.

Yes, for a few years he had little opposition to challenge his and MV Agusta’s domination of the 350 and 500cc classes, but he never took his hand off the throttle. Ago smashed lap records and won by record margins on fast dangerous road circuits such as the Isle of Man, Reika, the Nürburgring and Imatra. Across the 1968,1969 and 1970 seasons he competed in 54 500 and 350cc Grands Prix, and won every one.

In the 1968/69 season Ago won a record number of 20 successive 500cc Grands Prix. It could not last and new challengers and the two-strokes arrived, but he met them head-on. He held them off for a couple of years retaining both titles, especially after a tremendous battle with Jarno Saarinen on the 350cc two-stroke Yamaha, but the writing was on the wall. His new team-mate Phil Read won the 500cc title in 1973 and Ago realised that his future lay on two-stroke machinery. He made the headline switch to Yamaha in 1974.

Ago was crowned the first two-stroke 350cc World Champion and finished fourth in the 500s. A year later in 1975 he was re-writing the history books once again. He became the first rider on two-stroke machinery to win the 500cc World Championship. He is still the only rider to win a 500cc Grand Prix and world title on both two and four-stroke bikes. Ago is the only rider to win the 350cc World Championship on both two and four-stroke machinery.

In 1976 Ago was campaigning both a two-stroke Suzuki and four-stroke MV Agusta in the 500cc Championship. At the last round at the legendary Nürburgring circuit he practiced on both. The crowd willed him to compete on the MV in the race. A legendary combination that wrote such a massive chapter in the history books. Ago duly obliged putting in a classic performance leaving the two strokes in his wake. It was the last of those 122 Grands Prix wins and the last four-stroke victory in the 500cc class.

It was the only way for a true King to end his reign. Facts are facts.

 

By |2024-06-19T19:20:35+00:00June 19th, 2024|Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on King Ago

Keep an eye out Pecco

No wonder Pecco Bagnaia is smiling at the moment. A third win in a row and a Sprint and Grand Prix double at Mugello is obviously the main reason, but there are others. Before that first engine was even fired up in anger at the opening round of the season, the World Champion signed a new two-year extension to his Ducati contract which still had a year to run. Done, dusted and no clandestine meetings with other factories, constant press speculation and doubts about the future. Just get on with the job of defending that MotoGP™ world title with Ducati Lenovo for the third year running.

He must also be smiling about all the hype and speculation around on who will be his Ducati teammate next season. Of course, Bagnaia will be more than interested and may have been given the chance to voice his own opinion. All riders will tell you their number one priority in Grands Prix is to ensure you beat your team-mate. Seeing Mugello legend Valentino Rossi on the grid on Sunday was a reminder just how important the right teammate can be

Vale’s first MotoGP™ world title came in 2001 when, for the second year, he was the single rider in the 500cc Nastro Azzurro Honda team. When the four-strokes arrived, he gave teammate rookie Nicky Hayden plenty of advice. Switching to Yamaha, teammates were no problem at first. Carlos Checa and Colin Edwards were no great threat to his superiority, but a certain young Spanish upstart was on the horizon.

Double 250cc Champion Jorge Lorenzo joined Rossi at Yamaha in 2008 and life in the garage was never quite the same. It was soon very obvious that Lorenzo was not prepared to play second fiddle to the World Champion and wanted his world title. Two years later he did just that and Yamaha were literally split right down the middle. A dividing wall was constructed down their pit lane garage at every Grand Prix. While the riders feud made the headlines, Yamaha just sat back and kept winning. Lorenzo won two more world titles with Rossi runner-up two more times.

Sometimes a teammate can wreck your chances of a world title. The 250cc World Champion Dani Pedrosa joined Nicky Hayden at Repsol Honda in 2006. At the penultimate round of the Championship Hayden led his former teammate Rossi by 12 points at Estoril in Portugal. Hayden was running in a comfortable third place when at turn six Pedrosa went down skittling Hayden out of the race. Hayden still won the world title when Rossi crashed in the final round. No need to build a dividing wall this time.

Being a teammate to the great Mick Doohan was never going to be easy. Alex Criville soon realised he would not be receiving Christmas cards from the five-time World Champion, especially after the 1996 Czech Republic Grand Prix in Brno. Criville shadowed his Repsol Honda teammate for the whole race before overtaking him at the final corner to win by 0.002s of one second. Mick was not amused.

Without a doubt the most difficult teammate in the 75-year history of the sport was seven times World Champion Phil Read. He was totally focused on winning at all costs, nothing was going to stand in his way and especially teammates. He fell out big time with MV Agusta teammate Giacomo Agostini and especially Yamaha teammate Bill Ivy. In 1968 the dominant Yamaha factory decided that Read would win the 125cc world title and Ivy the 250. Ivy helped Read to the 125 crown but Read reneged on the deal and also grabbed the 250cc title. Ivy never forgave him.

The greatest teammate battle for a world title came at the final race of the 2000 World 250cc Championship at Phillip Island. Olivier Jacque tailed his Tech3 Yamaha teammate Shinya Nakano until the final straight when he pulled out of his slipstream in the 25-lap race. He won the race by 0.014s and the title by seven points.

Keep an eye on what is going on next door Pecco. There could be some fun and game in that Ducati garage next season.

 

By |2024-06-05T19:55:49+00:00June 5th, 2024|Uncategorised|Comments Off on Keep an eye out Pecco

A passionate warrior who could not give up

Legendary status is acquired for many different reasons. In MotoGP™, Legends are crowned for world titles, Grand Prix wins and bravery. Perhaps that Legend title is too easily awarded these days in all walks of life and especially sport. That is definitely not the case with Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing).

The 34-year-old Spaniard has won three Grands Prix and no world titles. He is a true and rightful legend of our sport for very different and rightful reasons. While the likes of Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Barry Sheene, Wayne Rainey, Mick Doohan, Valentino Rossi, and Marc Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) tick all the correct legend boxes, Aleix comes from a very different place.

He is the true passionate warrior who never gave up in 20 years of Grand Prix racing. A rider who wore his heart on his sleeve both on and off the track. His passion and belief finally paid off but it was a long and tortuous journey.

No other rider in the 75-year history of the sport had to wait so long for that first GP win. After the 15-year-old made his Grand Prix debut in the 2004 125cc race in Valencia, Aleix competed in World Championship racing for another 17 years, 155 days before that first win finally arrived. On his 284th appearance he finally did it at an emotional 2022 Argentinian GP.  It was such a special day for everybody. Aleix had waited so much longer than anybody to see the chequered flag. The previous longest wait belonged to Jack Findlay who only had to endure a mere 189 GPs. It was Aprilia’s first victory in the premier class and it really set the ball rolling for the Italian factory.

It was tortuous emotional journey. Aleix always gave maximum love and support to his younger brother. While Pol won the Moto2™ title and 15 Grands Prix, Aleix just soldiered on through every adversity, injury, and disappointment. He never gave up the fight. After winning the FIM CEV he began Grand Prix racing in the 125cc and 250cc classes. He finished fourth in the 2009 250cc Dutch TT and got his first taste of MotoGP™ the same season, as a rider replacement in the Pramac team. He remained in the team the next season but returned to the intermediate class, now Moto2™, in 2011. After taking his first podium he returned to MotoGP™ a year later where he became a CRT frontrunner. In 2014 he joined the Forward Yamaha team and grabbed his first MotoGP™ podium and pole position. The momentum was picking up. In 2016 he was awarded his first contract with Suzuki. Aleix brought the team their first pole since 2007 before moving onto Aprilia. In 2021 they celebrated their first podium together at Silverstone. A year later history was made in Argentina. Two more Grands Prix wins arrived at Silverstone and Barcelona last year where he also won the Tissot Sprint.

There could have been no more appropriate venue for Aleix to make his retirement announcement last week at Circuit de Barcelona–Catalunya with its giant grandstand within sight of his hometown of Granollers. An emotional farewell after 20 years with his beloved family and children, friends and rivals. Of course it was not the final goodbye. Typically, Aleix is determined to go out with a bang. Pole position, the Sprint win and fourth place in the Grand Prix was just a start. He finally calls it a day at Valencia in November and so plenty more racing, hopefully wins and passionate displays of riding in the most competitive motorsport World Championship. By the end of the season, Aleix should have ridden in more premier class Grands Prix than any other rider, apart from Valentino Rossi.

Next year the MotoGP™ grid without Aleix Espargaro will be a strange place, because this one-off passionate warrior is a true MotoGP™ legend.

 

By |2024-05-30T11:52:31+00:00May 30th, 2024|Uncategorised|Comments Off on A passionate warrior who could not give up

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|Comments Off on Explosive on-track action still the key

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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