Tuesday, December 19, 2017

World Championship GP racing

A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Eli asked me if I had been to a European Grand Prix.  I immediately thought of a couple, but it got me to thinking about all to which I had been.
20 July, 1986 was the first, the French GP at Circuit Paul Ricard.  There was a classic support race there in conjunction with the GP which I was fortunate enough to win on the Team Obsolete Matchless G-50.  But, before the classic, I watched the 500 GP with John Surtees (who I had beat in the previous day's heat race).  He was helping/coaching/supporting Paul Lewis, an Australian racer know as the Angry Ant because of his aggressiveness and diminutive size.  My memory (and no one is more aware of the slipperiness and inaccuracy of memory than me, so feel free to correct me if you think I got it wrong) is that local hero Raymond Roche jumped into the lead but pretty quickly slapped it down, undoubtedly riding over his head in front of the home crowd.  Eddie Lawson won, I believe one week after breaking his collar bone at Laguna Seca.  Randy Mamola, on the Team Roberts Yamaha was 2nd, and another local hero, Christian Sarron, was 3rd.  Mike Baldwin, Mamola's teammate on the Roberts team was 4th.  Mike and I had raced together in the mid '70s in AAMRR and WERA before he went on to greater things.  He coached me a bit at Paul Ricard, where the classics raced on a slightly shorter version of the circuit than the GP.  The Angry Ant finished 10th.
27 June, 1987 Dutch TT at Assen.  Again, there was a classic race in conjunction with the GP, but here it was a curtain raiser run on the Thurs. before the GP.  I was entered on the Team Obsolete G-50 Matchless, but it broke in qualifying .  We installed an AJS 7R motor in the chassis and switched to the 350 class.  I got a terrible start from the absolute back of the grid, but won my class and turned the fastest lap of the combined classes.  I remember talking to Fred Merkel there.  We had spent a little time together at Dr. Dave Kieffer's Gem City Bone and Joint  orthopedic clinic.  This is the year after he won his third US Superbike Championship, but a year before the first World Superbike Championship, and I don't remember what he was doing at Assen.  He could have been riding in the European Championship race that ran on the Thurs. before the Classic, or he could have been scouting for a ride.  I probably shouldn't even include this in my list of World Championship GPs attended as we didn't stay to watch the race Sat.  Instead we flew to Rome and got a ride to Misano where Gianni Perrone and I paraded a couple of Team Obsolete's newly acquired MV racers at a classic meeting.
10 April, 1987 USGP at Laguna Seca.  This was the 1st USGP in 23 years and they were to continue there through 1994, except for 1992 when there was no USGP.  I'm a little fuzzy of which of these I attended but know I attended this one as I well remember Jimmy Felice winning what I believe was the first GP he rode in, the 250 GP.  His knowledge of the track trumped the European's experience.  The track had be lengthen to meet the FIM minimum by adding a left, right, right, left (turns 2-5) to what had been a relatively straight run from #2 to what is now #5.  Lawson on the Yamaha, beat Gardner and MacKenzie on Hondas in the 500 race.
8 April, 1990 USGP at Laguna Seca.  Eddie Lawson crashed in practice when the brake pads came out of his front caliper and was hurt badly enough to miss six GPs.  Kosinski and Rainey won the 250 and 500 GPs respectively again, maintaining the record of American winners in the GPs held at Laguna.  Doohan and Chili completed the 500 podium with Schwantz crashing out while dicing with Rainey.
21 April, 1991 USGP at Laguna Seca.  Rainey won again for the third time in a row but finally there was a foreign winner at Laguna with Luca Cadalora 1st in the 250 race ahead of Zeelenberg and Reggiani.  I remember that Chili had been demoted to the 250 class, but didn't finish on a Honda.
22 June, 1995 Dutch TT Assen.   Again, I was racing a Team Obsolete bike in the Classic support race to the GP, but this time, I did see the GP.  I was leading the 350 Classic on a MV-3 when a points wire broke and I limped in 3rd on two cylinders.  Mick Doohan was in the 2nd year of his 5 year domination of the 500 class and won this year at Assen with his team mate Criville 2nd and Puig 3rd for a Honda sweep of the podium.  Max Biaggi was also in the 2nd year of his 4 year domination of the 250 class and beat Taddy Okada with local hero Zeelenberg third.  two Germans were on the 125 podium with Dirk Raudies beating Peter Ottl, and Saito 3rd.  Suzuki put on a huge retirement party for Kevin Schwartz with an impressive fireworks display.
7 July, 1996 German GP at Nurburgring.  Steve McLaughlin was the promotor and got Team Obsolete to bring a bunch of bikes over to do parade laps.  I got to ride a 500 MV-3 behind Ago who rode a T/O MV 500-4.  Nurburgring was the site of Ago's last win on a MV 20 years before, but on the long course, not the short 2.822 mile circuit that we were running on.  We did a bus tour of the 14+ mile long course with Jim Redman commentating.  Jim said that he thought this circuit was more difficult to learn than the 37.73 mile IOM Mountain course because it all looked the same with the course cutting through forest where as the IOM had distinct sections and towns that help to keep track of where one was.  Luca Cadalora beat the then dominant Mick Doohan and Doohan claimed that he didn't see the last lap board.  Local hero Waldman won the 250 race
26 June, 1999 Dutch TT at Assen.  Again, I was racing a Team Obsolete bike in the Classic support race to the GP, this time in the T/O promoted Trans Atlantic Match Race.  We had two races and in the first on the 24th, I rode a 500 MV three cylinder that was misbehaving a bit to 3rd, 500 and 7th OA.  I crashed the MV in practice for our 2nd race and ended up riding a Dutch ABSAF BSA Goldstar and DNFed with a mechanical.  Taddy Okada won the 500 from Roberts, Jr. and Gibernau.  Rossi was 2nd to Capirossi in the 250 and another Japanese won the 125 race:Azuma.
13 July, 2003 British GP, Donnington Park.  Over in England to ride the the 1952 AJS three valve 7R3, that Team Obsolete had restored and delivered to the National Motorcycle Museum, at the Bsump rally at Caldwell Park on Sat., Rob Iannucci and I went down to Donnington Park to watch our first MotoGP 990 four stroke race.  We watched near Craner Curves and saw the bikes accelerating down hill out of Redgates.  Rossi finished 1st in front of Biaggi and Gibernau.  I was a bit surprised that there was a track invasion after the race finish in polite, orderly England, but we joined the crowd and walked back to the podium where everyone was adoring Rossi.  Sometime after the champagne was sprayed, it was announced that Rossi was being docked 10 seconds for passing under a waving yellow flag and therefore Biaggi was the winner with Rossi 3rd.  Rossi was again docked 10 seconds for passing under the waving yellow at the second last race of the season at Phillip Island, Australia, but this time he was notified during the race and he cranked up the pace and finished some 15 seconds in front of everyone, so still won the  race by 5.212 seconds.  The 250 finish was Nieto, Poggialli, Ant West, and the 125 was Barbera, Dovizioso, Perugini.  That was the last foreign GP that I've been to.
10 July, 2005 USGP at Laguna Seca.  After an eleven year absence, the GP was back at Laguna and again, local knowledge counted.  Nicky Hayden won with Colin Edwards 2nd and Rossi 3rd.  Many of the foreigners complained about the rough surface.  There was no 250 or 125 GP, only an AMA support program.
23 July, 2006 USGP at Laguna Seca.  I went back the next year and it was incredibly hot, over 100 degrees.  My memory is that it was Michelin that was particularly caught out by the heat.  Hayden won again with his teammate Pedrosa 2nd and Melandri 3rd, a Honda sweep.  4th was Kenny Roberts, Jr., on his dad's bike.  Hayden goes on to win the Championship.  This was Casey Stoner's first year in MotoGP and he crashed his Honda in the race.  When Ducati hired him at the end of the year, I remember thinking that that was a big mistake, that Stoner was a crasher, he'll never get anywhere.
22 July, 2007  USGP at Laguna Seca.  Stoner wins on the Ducati.  So much for my prognostications.  Vermeulen was 2nd on the Suzuki and Melandri 3rd again.  Stoner goes on to win the Championship.
22 July, 2008 USGP at Laguna Seca.  Rossi finally wins at Laguna.  This was the year that he made the famous pass through the dirt in the Corkscrew.  Stoner 2nd and Vermeulen 3rd.  Rossi goes on to win the Championship.
5 July, 2009 USGP at Laguna Seca.   Occasionally, Dani Pedrosa just nails it, and this was one of those times.  My memory is that Lorenzo crashed in qualifying or Sunday morning warmup and started the race beat up.  Nevertheless, he was the fastest qualifier and finished 3rd behind his teammate Rossi.  But Pedrosa dominated the race.  This was the 8th GP that I had been to at Laguna, in part because it's a great venue to spectate and in part because I have a great childhood friend who live nearby in Pacific Grove and who I could stay with.  But, spectating there had become increasingly difficult with VIP stands going up in some of the best viewing areas, and Laguna didn't have a 250 and 125 race.  So, ....
20 August, 2009 Indianapolis GP.  The year before they had started MotoGP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  I was somewhat skeptical about the circuit but thought I'd give it a try.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  It's far from the most interesting circuit in the world and that track food was not as good as Laguna, but it was so much easier to get to, to get in and out of, and to view.  One could walk around the majority of the circuit and the general admission grandstands were excellent.  And, it was way cheaper.  I drove there with a friend and a couple of street bikes in the van and stayed at a ridiculously inexpensive motel in the outer suburbs just beyond the ring road and commuted to the track by M/C.  Sat. night we watched Kenny Robert do a demonstration lap on the TZ750 dirt tracker on the Indian State Fairgrounds Mil.  Jorge Lorenzo won the MotoGP race, with Alex De Angelis 2nd in perhaps his best MotoGP finish and and Nicky Hayden 3rd.  Simoncelli won the 250 in front of Aoyama and Bautista.  In the 125, Pol Espargo won with Brad Smith 2nd and Simone Corsi 3rd.
29 August, 2010 Indianapolis.  My experience the previous year had me skip Laguna and return to Indy.  Lorenzo won again, this time in front of Stoner on the Ducati and Rossi on the Yamaha.  This was the first year of Moto 2 replacing 250 GP and Toni Elias won on his way to the Championship.  Simon was 2nd and Redding 3rd.  There were still 2 strokes with the 125 GP, and Nicolas Terol won in front of Cortese and Pol Espargo.  Marc Marquez was 10th for some reason, after qualifying on pole and turning the fastest lap of the race.  He probably ran off the track, but he wasn't on my radar then, though he went on to win the 125 Championship that year.  I talked to Gary Nixon for the last time while I was cruising through the pits.  I said "Nice day for a ride" and he said that he wished he was out there racing.  He told me that he had a 250 Ninja that he tore around on back home.  He said "Everybody must know I'm #1 because they go like this to me" holding up his middle finger.
20 August, 2011 Indianapolis.  Gary Nixon died two weeks before the GP and there was tribute to him.  Nicky Hayden had been asked to to do a parade lap on a Triumph Triple that Nixon had raced and was keen to do it, but apparently Honda vetoed this.  So, Steve Parrish rode the bike doing the traditional backwards lap of the circuit.  Stoner won the MotoGP race, now back on a Honda, with his  teammate Pedrosa 2nd and Ben Spies 3rd.  Marquez won the Moto2 race from Pol Espargo and Tito Rabat.  Terol again won the 125 GP on his way to winning the final 125 Championship, with Moto 3 replacing it the next year.  Vinales was 2nd and Cortese 3rd.
9 August, 2015 Indianapolis.  After missing the GP for three years because of conflicts with my racing, I was back.  It rained before the start of the Moto3 race and it was declared a wet race.  Everyone was on wet tires except Livo Loi, who changed to slicks after the siting lap, gambling that it was going to dry, but on the grid for the warmup lap.  John McPhee changed to slicks after the warmup lap and had to start from the pit lane along with Migno and Oettl.  Loi quickly got in the lead  as all the rest of the riders came into the pits to change to slicks.  He got a massive lead and it seemed like his crew was begging him to slow down, but he kept increasing his lead and won by almost 39 seconds after a best previous finish of 12th that year.  McPhee finished 2nd well ahead of Oettl.  It stayed dry the rest of the day and Rins beat Marco and Morbidelli in the Moto2 and Marquez won the MotoGP from the Moviestar Yamaha teammate Lorenzo and Rossi.
And that was the last GP that I've been to.  Maybe I'll go to COTA at Austin, Tx next year.