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#GETD SHARPER

KTM 890 DUKE R The KTM 890 DUKE R delivers exactly what you’d expect from its R-rating. An aggressive, track-ready seating position, race-bred WP suspension and a blistering 121 hp compel you to slice through apexes with laser-like accuracy.

Please make no attempt to imitate the illustrated riding scenes, always wear protective clothing and observe the applicable provisions of the road traffic regulations! The illustrated vehicles may vary in selected details from the production models and some illustrations feature optional equipment available at additional cost.


DUKED Photo: R. Schedl


FEATURE AMA-SX


GREEN ONCE AGAIN At last. After three seasons of contention 27-year old Eli Tomac completes the AMA ‘set’ with the 450SX title and the first for Kawasaki and a Japanese brand since Ryan Villopoto in 2014. Photo by James Lissimore


MotoGP

ONE MORE? A HUNDRED? Andrea Dovizioso looks likely for a ninth term on factory Ducati in 2021 and this image kicks off CormacGP’s summary of his favourite MotoGP photography since 2015 and the last 100 issues of OTOR Photo by CormacGP


FEATURE MX

TITULAR TITULAR TITULAR TITULAR WHO LEAPS AHEAD?


A rundown of the best MXGP/Grand Prix riders this century involves two of Red Bull KTM’s current stars but who comes out top on our ranking? Flick the pages to discover Photo by Ray Archer


FEATURE WorldSBK

REA STILL ON TOP? TITULAR TITULAR TITULAR TITULAR


Jonathan Rea and Kawasaki have committed to setting the bar for another couple of years in WorldSBK but Steve English asks whether the world champion holds the ‘status’ - as well as the numbers - in the series’ history Photo by GeeBee Images


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GLIDING ACRO


OSS THE DIRT A TOP FIVE OF GRAND PRIX MOTOCROSSERS By Adam Wheeler Photos by Ray Archer

ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETAENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA ENTRADETA By Adam Wheeler, Photos by Ray Archer/KTM


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S

olely based on stats then it would be easy. Thankfully motorsport can mean much more than digits. For many, being a truly great rider is vindicated by numbers because the most wins, championships, fastest laps etc indicates that an individual/team was the best and superseded all conditions and rivals. To have achieved a strong run over time also points to good judgement and decisionmaking: the idea that athletes ‘made their own luck’. Perhaps it is a romantic view of sport but I feel there is a lot to be said for those fortunate enough to have excelled in their own way, in their own style and at their own behest: not cornered by circumstances or benefitting from quirks of fate. So, in an effort to construct this feature I haven’t published any hard-data next to the riders’ names and tried to go from a personal appreciation. Listing a tally of the top five Grand Prix racers I’ve been privileged to see takes in a range of factors, such as versatility, fortitude, sheer willpower, longevity, technique and the ability to inspire and create memories. It’s a completely subjective exercise…but was quite fun. Feel free to tweet us or reply to a related Instagram post if you feel we’ve left anyone out or have ‘made a mistake’ with our ranking.

1. TONY CAIROLI I can still recall Ben Townley’s chiding words in my direction: “Hey, where’s this Cairoli guy then?” The Kiwi was doing a track walk in between practice sessions at an overcast Budds Creek for the 2007 Motocross of Nations in Maryland, USA. ‘BT’ had had his own sterling season in the USA and pushed Pro Circuit teammate (and eventual Budds Creek star) Ryan Villopoto for Supercross and Motocross honours but I’d been writing Grand Prix reports all year for a new and prominent U.S. MX publication and the Sicilian had been magnificent in his penultimate term in MX2; even acing his wild-card debut MXGP (then MX1) appearance at Donington Park, one week after sealing his second world title on Yamaha’s 250. Even though Ben wouldn’t be able to shine at that event (a practice crash would lead to a right shoulder injury) it was disappointing that Tony was also there in name only, certainly compared to the flamboyant force of nature that had won 10 from 14 MX2 GPs that summer. The trouble began when his YZ250F did not arrive to the circuit until Saturday evening due to a holdup through U.S. customs caused by a block of parmesan located inside the crate. Having to qualify on a production Yamaha on Saturday had rattled Cairoli and two crashes meant a best finish of 14th on Sunday. Budds Creek was another episode in #222’s bizarre ‘peak and trough’ relationship with the MXoN. For every victorious sweep at Belgium (2012) and Germany (2013) and great races (2006 in the UK and 2009 in Italy) there were nightmares like the crashes in France (2005 and 2011) and injury (2014 in Latvia) and team disqualification (2018).


Cairoli broke new ground. Back in 2007 it seemed impossible that a skinny Italian could have such pace and accomplishment in deep Dutch/Belgian sand. He liked to rub it in the ‘results-wounds’ by claiming that Lommel was his favourite track. He won races from the front, from mid-pack and from poor starts and had a propensity for stalking riders late into the motos and seizing victory with two laps or less remaining. He tapered away his spectacular style on the 250, 450 and 350 and back on a 450 into more of a conservative and measured approach as the years and experience racked-up. He revealed to me in a long interview on the eve of the 2015 campaign and before a much-hyped duel with Ryan Villopoto (that never materialised) that he’d won the 2014 crown by riding at 70%. When Cairoli was spurred into overdrive then he was like a lit firework. An astonishing double DNF due to a mistake and mechanical glitch at the 2012 Grand Prix of Sweden saw him vent his frustration by subsequently owning 13 of the 14 motos to the end of the season.

MXGP TOP 5

2007 was not Tony’s ‘goodbye’ to a category where he’d set a new reference for starting prowess and feisty racecraft as well as burgeoning race-handling skill – something that he’d hone almost to perfection and would be a clear difference over the impish enthusiasm that likes of which Townley competed against in 2004 and witnessed in 2005. 2008 was the last on the 250 and would be the first of just three seasons (from his seventeen so far) to be wrecked prematurely by injury; a feat of longevity that ranks him above so many of his rivals in almost two decades of action at the highest level.


FEATURE


MXGP TOP 5 “THERE WAS A MISCONCEPTION THAT, SUCH WAS CAIROLI’S DOMINATION AT THE START OF THE DECADE, THAT HE BARELY NEEDED TO WORK OR TRAIN. PHOTOS OF HIM ON A BOAT OR RELAXING ON A BEACH HELPED FUEL THE IMPRESSION, BUT BEHIND THE SCENES CAIROLI WAS BURNING THE OIL...”


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Tony was shy, didn’t court the show, was wonky with his English in the first years and was much tougher mentally than many believed. By way of comparison: David Philippaerts – a rider not shy to make his presence felt on the track - had become Italy’s first world champion in the premier class this century with his tense and nervy 2008 campaign but Cairoli was already on the horizon. He was the rookie upstart in 2009 but – riding a stock Yamaha compared to Philippaerts’ innovative and problematic factory version – showed none of the weight or pressure of sitting at the top of the championship standings and the debilitation that hounded his countryman’s title defence. Cairoli was quicker, stronger, took more risks and beat Philippaerts psychologically as well as literally. Shortly afterwards he’d crush opponents with aching consistency: his ‘just finish on the podium’ mantra becoming an indelible part of his MXGP coda.

He was smart also, quickly embracing the power of social media both for his own promotion (he must be one of the most enduring Red Bull athletes in global motocross) and even for moments of gamesmanship. There was a misconception that, such was Cairoli’s domination at the start of the decade, that he barely needed to work or train. Photos of him on a boat or relaxing on a beach helped fuel the impression, but behind the scenes Cairoli was burning the oil. It’s honestly hard to recall many of Tony’s mistakes. It is easier to remember some of the adversity such as losing both parents while in title-winning campaigns and manfully trying not to give-in to a fractured arm that had turned black through exertion in 2015. And those numbers? Stefan Everts’ mammoth figures upon retiring in 2006 seemed like an unscalable mountain but Tony is incredibly close to the peak with nine titles to Stefan’s ten and 89 wins compared to the record 101.


Both Cairoli and Everts were active together for just two years in Grand Prix. Cairoli was the young gun at Yamaha while Everts was the undisputed king and they raced together only three times: the 2004, 2005 and 2006 Nations. Cairoli heads this list for me because of his endurance and resistant passion for racing as well as his adaptable brilliance. He’ll be 35 in September but already proved many people wrong when it comes to his advancing years back in 2017 when he stood tall again in MXGP. Watching him ride and race shows a very rare age-less quality, I doubt we’ll see the likes of which for a very long time.

MXGP TOP 5

“STEFAN EVERTS’ MAMMOTH FIGURES UPON RETIRING IN 2006 SEEMED LIKE AN UNSCALABLE MOUNTAIN BUT TONY IS INCREDIBLY CLOSE TO THE PEAK WITH NINE TITLES TO STEFAN’S TEN AND 89 WINS COMPARED TO THE RECORD 101. BOTH CAIROLI AND EVERTS WERE ACTIVE TOGETHER FOR JUST TWO YEARS IN GRAND PRIX...”


FEATURE

2. STEFAN EVERTS When Stefan Everts won the 2006 Grand Prix of Belgium at Namur for his tenth world championship and then ended his career at 33 years of age over a month later dressed in white and gold gear with white wheels on his Yamaha at Ernee for the Grand Prix of France and his 101st success (the fourteenth of fifteen that season) it was the end of an era and the closing of a second chapter of three in a remarkable family dynasty. There is barely a record or achievement in the sport that Stefan did not break or dent. Three motos on one day? Check. Home GP wins? Check. Total domination? Check. Victory in every category with a mix of brands (all the Japanese)? Also hit. Motocross of Nations? The man has enough medals to melt and carve his own statue. Everts demonstrated raw talent in 125s, showy, hypefilled days in 250s where he battled hard with the likes of Sebastien Tortelli, defied injury and contract missteps in his first forays in the 500s and finally joined Yamaha for 2001 and instigated a half-decade trawl of superiority. Crucially Stefan’s greatness came not through the eminence, his profile (he almost transcended the sport internationally and was a national household personality in Belgium) and impact of his name since the early 1990s until 2006 but in the way he did it. Although controlling a race with precision, economy and invention was his MO, Everts could also duke-it with the best of them and tangles with Mickael Pichon, Tortelli (twice) and Ricky Carmichael are fond recollections.


(that was fed for a number of years at KTM in a supervisory role) came at the wrong time for the Japanese company. Everts sacrificed some goodwill in diminishing a Geboers family legacy and eroding what was one of the slickest and best teams in the paddock. In the end it was sad to see him in the paddock, smile gone and clearly dissatisfied. He has also suffered health problems in the last year that have forced more distance from the sport. His son Liam, a baby he used to cradle on the podium in 2004, is now ensuring the Everts’ gene endures in motocross and signs are promising with the teenager already blazing a trail through EMX.

Everts was unquestionably the rider’s rider. His torquey, on the pegs, silky style has been much emulated. He inspired spectators by virtue of his ability, rather than a propensity for a spectacular show.

“THERE IS BARELY A RECORD OR ACHIEVEMENT IN THE SPORT THAT STEFAN DID NOT BREAK OR DENT. THREE CLASSES IN ONE DAY? CHECK. HOME GP WINS? CHECK. DOMINATION? CHECK. VICTORY IN EVERY CATEGORY WITH A MIX OF BRANDS (ALL JAPANESE)? ALSO HIT...”

For a year I called Stefan monthly to do his personal column for Yamaha and it was just one instance in which I was able to appreciate his total professionalism and courtesy. Rarely has Grand Prix had a more appropriate and willing ambassador and advocate. At a time when many young riders were having their heads turned by lucrative lures of AMA racing and Supercross, Everts provided a shining example of the riches and standard that could be found in the FIM World Championship. He did not race against the depth of a class currently found in MXGP but was the utter reference on this side of the Atlantic, and the beacon in the growing intensity of the USA vs Europe divide that gathered speed with Internet forums at the beginning of the century. It is such a shame that his management adventure with the factory Suzuki team was a mismatch between two parties and ended in such acrimony. Stefan’s trademark ambition and craving for results

MXGP TOP 5

His ridiculous talent and work ethic in the later years scaled up to peak performance. When he was rattled – such as in 2003 while still grappling with the immediacy of the one-moto format - he sought solutions and even more racing, and more moto mileage in the-then 125 class was the fix he needed. His creativity was best highlighted by a captivating plough through the leaderboard at Namur in 2005; perhaps the hardest track on the calendar for overtaking but #72 found a small gap before the daunting step-down to the lower road section that worked a charm lap after lap. He moved from 8th up to 2nd place and sealed the overall.


FEATURE

3. JEFFREY HERLINGS Jeffrey Herlings would show his vulnerable and softer side in his lowest moments struck by injury and those times when he would frequently scarper through Grand Prix paddocks, head down, hopeful of avoiding detection and attention. Once the cocky, irrational gestures of being a star teen and forced to grow-up in the spotlight with the pressures of existing at the top of his sport from the age of fifteen had subsided to be slowly replaced by maturity, Herlings would retreat slowly into a shell surrounded by the few people he trusts. His routine now is to come late to Grand Prix start-gates – usually the busiest, tensest and most chaotic scenes of a GP weekend – fully ready, helmet & goggles in place, no need to interact or talk with anybody; let alone rivals,

Herlings the rider? I struggle to recall a racer with a more insatiable – almost uncontrollable - hunger and thirst for victory. It stretched to the point of anti-social training regimes and inexplicable risk-taking; even blasting laptimes in relatively worthless MX2 Qualification Heats to ensure a win. Over a sustained period in MX2 Herlings wholeheartedly believed in the psychological worth of continually battering the rest of the class. For most of his peers it worked, for some it didn’t. He misjudged his entry to MXGP in 2017 but his near-perfect statistics in 2018 for a twenty-race championship may never be bettered.

Why was he so good? I’ve heard comments that Herlings substitutes his lack of technique with sheer athleticism and force. I’m unabout that one. He seems to be the “HERLINGS THE RIDER? I STRUGGLE sure complete package to me, and in the wake of three seasons of serious injuries (2014, TO RECALL A RACER WITH A 2015 and 2019) is now – so he claims, at MORE INSATIABLE – ALMOST the age of 25 - being more measured in his approach to the results sheets. Herlings UNCONTROLLABLE - HUNGER has to be acknowledged as the best sand AND THIRST FOR VICTORY. IT rider the sport has seen. Plenty of other STRETCHED TO THE POINT OF ANTI- racers have grown-up riding the terrain but few have been so devastating. I don’t have SOCIAL TRAINING REGIMES AND access to every Grand Prix result but I’m INEXPLICABLE RISK-TAKING...” willing to bet his streak of consecutive triumphs at Valkenswaard and his home event press or peers. After a race and around the from 2010 to 2016 (maiden MXGP podium Red Bull KTM team (his abode since 2009) while injured in 2017), winning again in 2018 he is normally at ease. He is fantastic with and 2020 with 17 motos from 20 in his pocket kids, and very giving of his time and forthright and through a range of climate conditions has opinions. never been topped by anybody else, anywhere. He could be said to be the antithesis of Everts: This is Herlings, the person. The wealthy, action-packed, seemingly on the edge, always revered, scarred athlete (almost ten injuries) watchable but in a different way to the Belliving a life quite unlike anybody else in the gian. sport.


Like other riders on this list, Herlings has numerical clout: all those consecutive wins and the most titles in the FIM World Championship this century behind Cairoli and Everts. He has grasped everything with only two motorcycles and one brand and has another three seasons to bag a further 13 successes and break former mentor Stefan Everts’ GP record. 2018 could be the peak, but there is still every chance that – worryingly - the best of Jeffrey Herling is still to come.

MXGP TOP 5

There was a phase when Herlings publicly acknowledged his indifference to muddy conditions. It didn’t stop him winning anyhow. Such was his impact that he seemed to create his own momentum in-and-around the scene. In 2013, after his second MX2 title at the age of 18 he was deemed far too young to be pushed into MXGP and the 450. By 2016 and his rout of the class for this final crown he was attracting criticism for staying on the 250, chasing ‘easy’ stats and bonuses, for shying away from the premier class. He’s been lambasted as arrogant and careless and but also praised as the fastest 450cc rider on the planet – his wildcard AMA Pro National victory at Ironman in 2017 helping the hype. No wonder he largely shelters from the scrutiny of most outside of his inner circle at KTM and the same set of staff that have guided and helped him for more than ten years.


FEATURE


MXGP TOP 5 “HERLINGS HAS TO BE ACKNOWLEDGED AS THE BEST SAND RIDER THE SPORT HAS SEEN. PLENTY OF OTHER RACERS HAVE GROWN-UP RIDING THE TERRAIN BUT FEW HAVE BEEN SO DEVASTATING...”


FEATURE

4. MICKAEL PICHON It’s fitting that France have two entries in this selection. Outside the USA the French have produced the best and most successful motocrossers on a global scale in the last twenty years. If Jean-Michel Bayle broke the ice, then Mickael Pichon motored through in his metaphorical wake. Pichon caught the eye of Mitch Payton and Pro Circuit in 1994 and delivered two 125 SX titles and rode for two other factories before returning to Europe and becoming a 250cc star and double world champion. Quirky and emotional, Pichon’s talent and one-lap speed was phenomenal. In the era before Qualification Heats, the Suzuki man – later to ride a Honda and attempt just one Grand Prix for Red Bull KTM in 2006 before he retired in a spell of mysterious disillusionment and illness – was a serial Pole Position holder. That pace was inherent. In 2010 in a surprise comeback for the British Grand Prix at Mallory Park (riding a Martin Honda in the world championship for the first time in four years to help the team through an injury crisis) he again showed that technique to set the fastest pre-qualifying time on the English temporary track, was 2nd in the Qualification Heat and scored two 7th positions on Sunday. They say class is permanent. Spinning back to 2000-2001-2002 Pichon cut an iconic form on the yellow Corona Suzuki. Opposition was respectable, especially in the forms of Pit Beirer, Fred Bolley (briefly), Chad Reed, Josh Coppins, Yves Demaria, Gordon Crockard and


“PICHON HAD THE TECHNIQUE, THE VISION AND - FOR A SPECIAL SMALL SPELL - THE CONDITIONING TO SET THE STANDARD ON A 250. WATCHING HIM ON A TIME ATTACK AND AT FULL PELT WAS MAJESTIC...” Pichon had the technique, the vision and - for a special small spell - the conditioning to set the standard on a 250. Watching him on a time attack and at full pelt was majestic. It’s a little far-fetched but I’d liken the racer born in Le Mans as a motocross version of Ayrton Senna: a complicated individual (who could be so generous with his time and attention but yet shied away from fans), a need to prove himself and was inspiringly superior on the track with unmatchable speed. He rests in the top five of all-time Grand Prix winners and has one of the best all-round CVs.

MXGP TOP 5

more. Later he was the only serious foil for Stefan Everts in 2003 until a knee injury ended his season and he was – perhaps unfairly – ejected from the Suzuki crew in 2004 in favour of Joel Smets and with Team Principal Sylvain Geboers placing an eye on development of the four-stroke RM-Z 450. With Martin Honda, Pichon was again Everts’ toughest test but the moments of virtuosity away from the two-strokes were less frequent. There was a strange episode at the Italian Grand Prix midway through 2005 where Pichon pulled into the paddock and told the alarmed Italian crew that he was ‘stopping’. He sat out the races at Castiglione del Lago but would complete the championship before suffering a bout of Epstein Barr that effectively ended his career at the highest level.


FEATURE

5. CHRISTOPHE POURCEL Tricky to call a #5 here when you think of the natural aptitude of riders like Ken Roczen, Tommy Searle, Ben Townley, Marvin Musquin, Gautier Paulin, Clement Desalle and Jorge Prado or the resilience of those such as Tyla Rattray and Tim Gajser. Roczen in particular was so sensational from the age of fifteen and made a mockery of far older and more experienced riders’ complaints of a track being difficult for overtaking by smiling and casually trotting out lines like “you can always find a place to pass”.

“POURCEL LOOKED LIKE HE WAS BORN ON A BIKE. HE WAS STUBBORNLY LOYAL TO KAWASAKI, OFTEN SUBVERTING TECHNICAL SETUP: HE COULD DO SPECIAL THINGS WITH THE MOST ORDINARY OF BIKE SPECS.” Christophe Pourcel earns the spot however for elevated flair across different phases of a twisting career that sadly petered into obscurity. He looked like he was born on a bike. In 2005 and 2006 the quiet, individualistic younger brother of Sebastien was the aloof dazzling teenager of the time and his capability in MX2 not only delivered Kawasaki’s second and only title this century but defeated the might of the KTMs and Yamahas (Pourcel’s crown is one of only four not owned by the Austrians since 2004).

It won the attention of a Pro Circuit berth and AMA Supercross victory in just his second appearance in the USA. Pourcel’s career and life-changing accident at the Grand Prix of Northern Ireland towards the end of a stuttering title defence in 2007 (Cairoli had the better of him that year) altered his view on the risks of the sport and the lengths to which he was prepared to push his body and safety. That realignment after his temporary paralysis did not stop him shining in the United States with two Supercross crowns and a blameless last-gasp defeat in the AMA Pro Nationals. Pourcel radically divided opinion. Those that loved his smooth, effortless style were often outnumbered by those that disliked his indifferent attitude and unwillingness to engage in the promotional show – an approach that was tolerated while he brought results in the USA but swiftly burned credit. I was critical of Pourcel in 2007. He’d miss Free Practice through poor timekeeping and seemed to treat Grand Prix with a degree of disdain; merely counting down the races and months until he could depart to AMA competition (Searle had the same wearisome and ill-advised trait in 2008). It was only when he returned to MXGP (then MX1) that I could really appreciate his capabilities. He was in the environment of his own team – helped by CLS owner and collaborator Jean-Jacques Luisetti – and was humbler. He was stubbornly loyal to Kawasaki, often subverting technical set-up: he could do special things with the most ordinary of bike specs.


Christophe would infuriate with his inconsistency, which stretched through his season-and-a-half term in MXGP, into Yamaha appearances back in the US and finally an unfortunate and injury-hit spell with Husqvarna. But back in Europe I can still remember some of the excellence he displayed. The lines he would find through the Matterley Basin mud for the 2011 British Grand Prix were unique and experimental but then very obvious. He was also a wizard in the soaking mud of Beto Carrero for the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix that year where he won the opening moto by a minute and a half. Pourcel is a worthy subject of a worn cliché: he really did make the job look easy.

MXGP TOP 5

I got to know him better through a series of personal Blogs for Monster Energy. It was a challenge to sit-down and interview the-then 23-year old on a range of topics but it was a study to discover a shy, observant and lucid person with his own strict values and views. It was impossible not to admire Pourcel’s principles – even when they skewed away from those of other people and he eventually became disillusioned with GPs - and he gave out respect where he felt it had been earned. He began to be very complimentary to former foe Cairoli and also spoke highly of his MX2 medal, whereas it seemed like an irrelevant, heavy weight in 2007.


FAC E F OA M


MXGP SBK BLOG BLOG

TITULAR TITULAR A DREAM JOB? Is being a professional motocrosser the ‘dream job’? OK, you get to ride a dirt-bike as much as you want, decide your own work timetable, travel around, have the potential to earn a good living and enjoy many perks but – at least in my view – there are hefty disadvantages. In 2020 - and the way COVID-19 has impacted the sport - yet more ‘sharp roost’ has been thrown against chest protectors. Information has discreetly emerged that many riders have had to take a pay cut (or are being asked to). You might think that’s fair game when unemployment figures are surging, and other sports are also feeling erosion caused by inactivity and the lack of promotion, but it does seem like another rock to the goggles. Why is it harsh? Well, as a niche sport, only the smallest percentage of high-level performers can contemplate losing a slice of their wages with a degree of calm.

Motocrossers may have an enviable existence - and the weird combination of freedom and the intense demand of the discipline (the thing that draws so many road racers to the MX track) means their riding can be fantastically gratifying – but they work damn hard for the privilege. Of course, there is an increased level of risk for Grand Prix riders due to the amount of saddle-time and the knowledge that their training motos are not run at a leisurely pace. There is also the acceptance that a percentage of the 213 bones and 900 ligaments in the human body are going to snapped at some point and will entail periods of pain, anguish and familiarisation with hospital wards far beyond the experiences of the average man. For every blister on the palm there must also have been moments of personal doubt and insecurity. Having the physique and

technique to compete at international standard is only part of the criteria. The spiritual freedom of riding and racing a motorcycle while banking cash is offset by all the sacrifice that comes with it. Grand Prix stars have exceptional skills and have often benefitted from maniacal or incredibly supportive parents, but they are also strange individuals with a heightened sense of drive, abnormal ambition, and a craving for some sort of personal betterment that leads them to denial and take risks that would make a normal person take a step backwards. Many I’ve interviewed have referred to that phase where passion and a juvenile love of going fast on two-wheels became something more serious and workmanlike. Their vocation became a mix of obsession and acceptance, of both childlike hope and resignation.


CREATED THANKS TO BY ADAM WHEELER BY ADAM WHEELER Their daily lifestyles are determined by conditioning, limitations (diet and activities) and the minefield of physical and mental setbacks or deep personal questioning as to whether they can perform to satisfy their own expectations or those of their sponsors, teams, brands and fans. Honestly, it sounds like a grind. Even though (serious) injury and risk are high on the agenda, it’s not all woe and violin strings. As mentioned, to be good enough to sustain a Grand Prix career into your 30s means these people are able to profit from being a Pro sportsman. If the rider is savvy, then he will have invested well and been aware of the evolving marketing game to really boost his or her stock or worth. Dean Wilson could be seen as a fine example. The Scot has yet to win a 450SX or MX Main or Overall in the U.S. but his

accessibility and approachability and the way he has injected his personality into the public perception of his racing makes him marketable and a desirable acquisition for companies. It’s another strand of ‘success’.

“SOME PEOPLE HAVE TALKED OF 2020 BEING THE ‘ASTERISK’ CHAMPIONSHIP. I’D ARGUE THAT INSTEAD OF BEING A ‘REDUCED’ TITLE IT SHOULD BE EQUALLY VALUED BUT IN A DIFFERENT WAY... RIDERS SHOULD BE PAID &A APPRECIATED FOR THAT...” So why is there a feeling of riders being hard done by? Part of the blame is in the fairly recent ‘death of the privateer’ and the culture shift in motocross where one of the most accessible and

‘even’ motorsports narrowed and converted into an elite. This only happened around fifteen years ago when sports like MotoGP had long since dispensed with an open paddock policy. MXGP was fertilised up to a point where the class boasted (and still does) Grand Prix winners and former world champions throughout the top twenty and was further squeezed by the 23 age limit on the MX2 category that pushed more talent into the premier division for a limited number of saddles, casting aside the old, injury-hit or slow developers. Good deals became like gold. Opportunities were fleeting. While are the show makers and some sit at the top of the tree for earning power in the sport they are also the most expendable commodities. In the last few years it appeared to be more difficult to find an experienced, efficient and willing Grand Prix mechanic for a full MXGP campaign


MXGP SBKBLOG BLOG

than it has to select a rider with winning pedigree or potential. The market has shrunk while the pool remains quite stocked. Motocross can be as ruthless as any other industry. Premature unemployment is frequent. Premature retirement as well. If riders like Jeremy Van Horebeek, Shaun Simpson, Tanel Leok and Kevin Strijbos – to name but four who still have the speed to trouble the leading pack and add depth and narrative to MXGP – had not compromised and been inventive to fuel their own racing then the fabric of Grand Prix might be the poorer for it. Van Horebeek has his quirks and certainly had opportunities and paydays with KTM, Kawasaki and Yamaha but he shouldn’t have stared at the end of his career in 2018 while just 29 years old. Stopping riders’ money when they are not racing and not fulfilling part of their contract might be a necessary measure for survival, especially for satellite teams facing delays or cuts over the sponsorship that fund their very existence. Factories perhaps don’t need to (or shouldn’t) be so prudent. After all, MXGP is on-hold, not cancelled. At the time of writing athletes and teams need

to be set for the second week of August. That might seem like a long time away but there are other matters going on in the background with thoughts towards 2021 (bike developments, contracts) and the need to get some racing mileage on the clock. In fact, that second priority means teams are carefully looking at national series around Europe and could be heading to events that they never would have considered before, such as the Czech national championship. Riders are carefully ticking over with training regimes and practice motos and contemplating a world championship that will pass in a frenetic blur of activity once it starts (and hopefully stays free of COVID-19 issues). All the talk in years past of ‘easing’ into a long campaign, not overextending nor taking risk and of being present for the full six-seven months of racing is now thrown into a deep rut. The whole paddock has to be primed to be fit, fast and furious to gain prizes, acclaim and publicity while the dust of 2020 remains in the air. They are not racing, but they have to work to be ready to live in the red zone when they do. Some people have talked or written of 2020 being the ‘asterisk’ championship. I’d argue that instead of being a

‘reduced’ title it should be equally valued but in a different way: racers will have to go all-out for wins and points, in autumnal conditions, for one-day events, across different tracks and with zero room for error or debilitating injury. Around 10-13 events in a period of 15-16 weeks. All the while keeping up their promo work through media obligations, social media and other PR events (the smart ones will already be ticking this large box). And for that riders should still be fully paid and fully appreciated. A little space remains to thank every single person who has opened an issue of OTOR – especially to those who continue to do so on a regular basis – as we reach the big ‘second ton’. It almost goes without saying that the magazine and the efforts of the contributors exist on these pages also thanks to incredibly loyal and fantastic advertisers; people and companies that recognise the importance of editorial and stories about their racers, sports, products and brands; it is virtually essential in the current bumpy media landscape and especially more so across the post-COVID-19 chasm. Here’s hoping for another 100...


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PHOTOGRAPHER RAY ARCHER HAS BEEN A VITAL COMPONENT OF THE LOOK AND FEEL OF OTOR SINCE THE VERY FIRST ISSUE. WE ASKED HIM TO SEND OVER SOME OF HIS FAVOURITE IMAGES FROM THE JOURNEY SO FAR...


RAY ARCHER TOP PICS


RAY ARCHER TOP PICS


RAY ARCHER TOP PICS


PRODUCTS

WE PINPOINT SOME OF THE BEST, NEWEST OR MOST INTERESTING PRODUCTS TO HAVE SURFACED IN OTOR’S LAST 100 ISSUES…

FLY RACING Fly Racing were already prominent in AMA Supercross and Motocross for well-performing and stylish riding gear when they shook the helmet market with a fantastic new product early last year. The Formula lid was the result of intensive R&D and an innovative collaboration with Rheon Labs. It was an instant hit both for its protective qualities, functionality and cool styling. Almost immediately traditional helmet brands needed to go back to the drawing board.

PROTAP

Thinking of the ben handlebars? Of pers experience even mo chance you’re cons or Renthal products expertise and mode brings to motorcycl looking at interestin Fuzion. Available fo six different bends, locked between a s and a softer shockferent conditions an of seconds.

SCOTT SPORTS This is the new Gold Edition of the everevolving Prospect goggle by Scott: the best eyewear on the market. There is stiff competition from the likes of Oakley and companies like 100%, Progrip and Fox but the Prospect is the standout model for traits such as the large field of vision, lens-locking system, the light and ventilated frame, lens shade adjustment and the aesthetic. Scott keep developing their goggles with new additions like the Fury but there is only really one choice; and the price strikes a happy medium between the overly expensive and the cheap-as-chips-will-last-two-motos options.


PER

nefits of a new set of sonalising the riding ore? Then there’s a good sidering either ProTaper s and by opting for the ernisation that ProTaper ling then you are already ng concepts such as the or 130 dollars and with the Fuzion can be easily stiff, more controlled bar -absorbing one to suit difnd achieved in a matter

KTM On the street the upgrades that KTM applied to the fearsome 1290 SUPER DUKE R for 2020 have made the rasping and torquey twin a total expression of motorcycling joy. The stability, handling and maniacal power (curated by advanced electronics) cast the extreme looking bike as an authentic treasure on the market just waiting to be discovered. Lapping the Portimao circuit in Portugal on the 2020 ‘SD R’ was still one of the most fun things we’ve done. There is a good chance that the brand new 890 DUKE R could steal some thunder though. The bike’s unveiling was slightly clipped by the COVID-19 lockdown but the first reviews and opinions are popping up around Europe and it seems the Austrians have succeeded in crafting another race-based tool for the road. When it comes to the dirt then KTM are almost peerless. Something like the KTM 390 ADVENTURE will let riders who are curious about light-offroading uncover the joys away from tarmac while the 450 SX-F remains arguably the definition of motocross competence, excitement and exclusivity. The fuel-injected two-strokes mean that the engine platform thrives in KTM’s Enduro catalogue and the 300 EXC TPI is the marquee choice.

ALPINESTARS It says a lot for Alpinestars Tech 10 boots that they remain the company’s flagship motocross footwear a second decade into their existence. Of course, the 2021 incarnations are almost unrecognisable compared to the very first Tech 10s but the principles remain: a robust, secure, flexible, light, thin, lowcut boot with the inner ‘bootie’ providing even further protection. Just by holding a Tech 10 in your hands you can appreciate the engineering and construction that makes it one of the most desirable on dealer shelves and one of the most popular in the start gates of international race series. Worn pieces can be replaced, there is room for customisation, vented versions and there have been Limited Editions aplenty: if the wallet can stretch and you are serious about your riding then there are few other choices.


L IG H W E IG H T V E N TI LATE D RAC E W E AR

DRIFT

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PIERCEBROWN


SX BLOG

ET BRINGS IT HOME Well, he did it. Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac just wrapped up his first ever 450SX championship with a steady fifth place ride here in Salt Lake City SX 7. The title that had previously eluded him is now his, the record book will show ET with the one championship that he’d wanted so badly but yet couldn’t pull off for a myriad of reasons despite dominant speed the last few years. Of course, in a worldwide pandemic, with no fans in the stands and seven races in one city, Eli Tomac would manage to get this title. I mean, what else could he experience over the last few years right?! Simply put, he slayed the demons of the last few years in impressive style. When the series was put on hold, he had broken the tie with Honda’s Ken Roczen and stood three up. The title was anyone’s at that point and although more consistent than ever, his ride the week before in Atlanta where he crashed,

had raised a few questions about whether the rider that shot himself in the foot one or two races a year had fully gone away. We got here to Salt Lake City and the type of elevation he was used to and he just pulled away from Roczen, Red Bull KTM’s Cooper Webb and everyone else. What a display of riding over the first six races with great comebacks, dominant rides and some memorable duels with Webb. He looked right at home from the gate drop and was the best man. And he was rewarded with the crown that he admitted after the race had haunted him a bit. Using the word “relieved” more than a few times, Tomac has seemed a bit dour after the races even

when he rode very well. It was after the final one that his spirits were lifted; he admitted that he had to block out a lot of the outside noise with year-after-year of failure started wear. He’s always been the rider in the field with the most speed, of that there’s no doubt. Heck, if we awarded passing points in this series, Eli would be a multiple time champion. He’s got that ‘warp factor nine’ that very few racers have ever had. He’s sixth all-time in 450SX wins and had almost double of the next rider without a title. But that’s no more, he’s now amongst the winningest riders in the sport indoors and that talk about “yeah but…” is over. He did what so many of us were expecting him to do.


CREATED THANKS TO BY ADAM WHEELER BY STEVE MATTHES And you know what? Now that he’s got the first one, he might really show us a few things next year. Ken Roczen’s now up next. Unfortunately, that’s how big time sports work. This was Kenny’s best chance since his grisly broken arm and he showed (for half the season anyways) that his consistency was almost…key word, almost…enough to pull this thing out. Roczen’s a technician out there while Tomac, he’s the bull in the china shop most times. When Roczen was caught late in Daytona and passed by Eli, that seemed to be a bit of a moment in the series. Roczen’s SLC results did produce a win but they also produced more questions as he faded in a couple of races, told us he contracted Shingles disease and generally, outside of the win, didn’t look like the same guy. With 85 days off between the races, it’s tough to say who really

did what during the pause and many of those days we thought the SX series was going to restart in the fall, but for Roczen, his comeback from a very serious arm injury is complete. Whether he can ever take home the SX title or not doesn’t matter all that much to me, he’s beating the odds by just being on the track and winning. Clearly Roczen seems to have a weakened immune system and has some things he needs to work-on that may be out of his control. It’s got to be frustrating for him and the Honda guys in that he routinely seems to have something holding him back. 2021 450SX will be another grueling test on the riders and Roczen’s got to get a handle on this to beat someone like Tomac. But whether it’s Roczen, Webb or any of the other riders, they just saw Eli Tomac put it all together for 17 races

and with everything that he’s got going on as a package, it’ll be one hell of a rider that is able to take him down. All hail the new champion!


PHOTOGRAPHY


JAMES LISSIMORE HAS BEEN IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME FOR OTOR IN AMA SUPERCROSS IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS. HERE HE REVEALS SOME OF HIS MEMORABLE IMAGES FROM THE STADIUMS...


! n O w o N e Fox Sal , w o n ff o % 0 5 Up to . o g t s u m g everythin VISIT

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Rice

Rice

SEXTON GOES BACK TO BACK.

In 1991, ProTaper introduced an industry first: the oversized, unbraced handlebar. In 2020, Chase Sexton brought home its 36th US title, winning his second 250 East Supercross Championship in a row. With 30 Supercross seasons of development behind it, the Evo Handlebar continues to offer unmatched comfort, strength, and craftsmanship, setting the benchmark for all others to follow. After all, we didn’t just raise the bar, we revolutionized it.

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FEATURE

THAT INDOOR THING


By Steve Matthes Photos by Ray Archer

STEVE MATTHES GETS BRAVE AND PICKS HIS ALL-TIME SUPERCROSS TOP FIVE


FEATURE My personal top five all-time supercross racers isn’t just taking the top five guys in career wins and making it that easy. Nah, I’d rather go behind the numbers and use the eye test and personal anecdotes from different people over the years to come up with my list. You can hate on it if ya want but away we go…

1. JEREMY MCGRATH I mean, duh! Here’s where I’m not going to outsmart myself and I can’t ignore that giant number 72. As in, the number of SX wins that MC has is staggering. Almost 25% more than the next rider and a total of seven championships. Don’t forget him going two for two in 125SX seasons that he did the whole series in as well. Jeremy was just more technical than the riders he lined up against, he used BMX skills to stay lower than others over the triples, he was super precise with landings and he was a great starter. He was the total package in what you want as a supercrosser racer, he also played the part off the track as well in his attitude, looks, and personality. He was someone that everyone wanted to be back in his day.

2. JAMES STEWART Ok, so far it’s working as usual with the rider that’s second in all-time wins second in this list. There’s not doubt that Stewart, like McGrath, raised the bar on skills in SX.


2. RICKY JOHNSON Johnson’s place on here might be a bit controversial but consider that he had just passed Bob Hannah for first on the all-time SX win list when he was struck down with a broken wrist. He was just 25 years old, had two SX titles and was five for five to start 1989 when he broke the bone at a MX round.

He never won another SX again and two years later, he was done. You can give him that ‘89 title without the injury and probably 1990 as well. RJ was a lot better indoors than anyone not named Jeff Ward back in the late 80’s. To me, he’s probably at 40 wins at least without the injury and I’m basing this list on how much better he was than his competitors back then.

4

SUPERCROSS TOP 5

James did things that left other riders in awe and unlike Jeremy, James threw away more than a few wins with crashes. In fact for many years, if James didn’t crash in a SX, he won. It was a crazy stat! His scrubbing, his whoop speed: everything James did was amazing and I wrote way back when that I thought he’d break Jeremy’s record. He was that good.


FEATURE www.suzuki-racing.com

4. RICKY CARMICHAEL RC’s got third most wins in SX history and he’s got those titles but man, the indoors stuff didn’t come as easy to him as the outdoors. In 2003, Chad Reed was better, in other years it was James Stewart but RC would end up with the championship at the end of the year. Of course, there were more than a few years where he was the best rider out of anyone indoors. Here’s the thing though, I was there for his wins and he didn’t have the same domination in SX, as great as he was, he had more than a few crashes also. Still, those numbers can’t lie and he deserves a spot in here.

James Lissimore


Reed’s got two titles, is fourth all-time in wins and if you think about, the Aussie had zero learning curve out there as he dominated 2002 125SX and then started winning against the best in the world in his rookie year in 250’s. Reed’s skills were not on Stew’s level but to me, he was better than RC in SX. Reed’s the all time leader in SX starts and podiums also. Whoop speed was always there and I can’t tell you how many times I saw Reed come into the first turn outside the top ten and somehow sneak around on lap one into the top three. He was so good at that!

I think the 6th best supercrosser is a toss-up between Ryan Villopoto and Jean Michel Bayle, RV’s got those four titles and if you think about it, he was kind of underrated as a champion. There wasn’t anything flashy about his skills but look at those numbers. Bayle was just here for three years, won one title but made the podium in 69% of the SX races he lined up for which is fifth all-time. He was the first guy to go through the whoops in fourth gear, he was precise and took SX to a new level.

SUPERCROSS TOP 5

5. CHAD REED


FEATURE


FROM SCHWANTZ TO MÁRQUEZ VIA ROSSI MAT OXLEY HAS BEEN FOLLOWING THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TRAIL SINCE THE LATE 1980s – THESE ARE HIS DECADE-BY-DECADE MEMORIES OF WORKING AS A MotoGP JOURNALIST By Mat Oxley Photos by ComacGP/Oxley collection


FEATURE

1980s No more eerie silences My first gig as a GP reporter – for British weekly Motor Cycle News – was the 1987 season-opening Japanese GP at Suzuka, which just happened to be the first GP to get underway with a clutch start. Riders had voted to ditch dead-engine push starts in favour of live-engine clutch starts at the end of the previous season. The impetus for this change was safety and fairness. Push starts weren’t a big worry when 500s made 50 horsepower, but the potential for carnage amongst a grid full of 160 horsepower two-strokes was way too big. And yet the biggest driving force behind this move was fairness. You could have the most talented rider in the world, but if he wasn’t good at bump-starting engines he might never win a race. That didn’t seem right. Clutch starts made all kinds of sense, but as a result we lost that oh-so special, spine-tingling moment before the start of every GP: eerie silence, then the green light, the pitter patter of Alpinestars on asphalt and that terrifying eruption of two-stroke sound.

Carcinogen City The 1980s was the decade when GP racing got rich, or at least a lucky few riders, managers and sponsorship fixers got rich. In 1980 there were eight world championship rounds, all of them in Europe. By 1989 there were 15 rounds, including races in Australia, Japan, USA and Brazil. Fast-developing broadcast

“I RECALL FACTORY RIDERS STRUGGLING WITH HANGOVERS IN MORNING PRACTICE AFTER GETTING TO BED AT FOUR IN THE MORNING...”


Well, that’s not quite right. Better say that all kind of tobacco companies wanted to get in on the action. In 1980 there was just one team fully backed by tobacco money: the French Gauloises Yamaha squad. By 1989 there was Gauloises

Yamaha, Rothmans Honda, Lucky Strike Yamaha, Cabin Honda and HB Honda, pretty much the entire front half of the 500 grid. During these years GP racing went about its business in a choking cloud of twostroke smoke and cigarette smoke. The paddock was like carcinogen city.

My busman’s holiday to Brazil In 1988 Eddie Lawson wrapped up the 500 title at Brno, the last European round before the paddock took off to South America for the Brazilian season finale. This was bad news for me. The championship is over, the editor of MCN told me, so we won’t be sending you to Brazil. Damn, I thought. But then again, no worries: I’ll go there on holiday instead. I’d heard too much about the race in Goiania to miss it, so I booked my flights and hotel, and looked forward to a busman’s holiday. Brazil is special. You sense the lust for life the moment you step off the plane in Rio. The race was held outside the city of Goiania, 500 miles inland, and no city has ever been happier to welcome the GP circus. My memories of Goiania are night-time, not daytime, of nightclubs, not the paddock. I recall factory riders struggling with hangovers in morning practice after getting to bed at four in the morning and an unpleasant scene at the city’s smartest hotel, where hotel staff tried to stop Giacomo Agostini entering the lift with his wife, who they thought was a sex worker.

MAT OXLEY: THROUGH GPs

technology was taking racing to the millions and all kinds of corporations wanted to get in on the action.


FEATURE

1990s GP racing’s big bang In 1992 a technical innovation was introduced that’s still with us today: the big-bang firing configuration. In those days the factories did their off-season testing in private, renting circuits individually, sometimes posting security guards at the gates to prevent media and fans from seeing what was going on. The keenest photographers would sneak around the back of the circuit and climb the perimeter wall with a stepladder and a long lens. Early in 1992 reports drifted back to Europe about Honda’s latest NSR500, which Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner had been testing at Phillip Island and Eastern Creek. This new NSR made a droning sound – very different to the piercing scream of earlier models. The concept of firing cylinders close together to improve acceleration traction was nothing new – American dirt-trackers had been running Harley twins as so-called twingles for years. The first race of 1992 proved just how well a big-bang engine finds traction.

Doohan won the rain-soaked Japanese GP by 28 seconds. By then Yamaha, Suzuki and Cagiva were already working on copying HRC’s latest brainwave – at Suzuka they recorded the sound of the NSR’s exhaust, ran the tape through an oscilloscope and retimed their crankshafts to big-bang spec.

Rainey versus Schwantz The duel between Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey defined an era. Their battle for supremacy – which raged from 1988 to 1993 – was a classic all-American shootout: two racers that hated each other and would stop at nothing to beat each other. Think of Marc Márquez versus Valentino Rossi at Sepang 2015 – that was the mindset that fuelled the Texan and Californian for several years. And yet the rivalry reached its climax once their relationship had matured from mutual hatred to mutual respect. Rainey had the better team and factory behind him for much of those six seasons. ‘King’ Kenny Roberts’ outfit was like nothing else in GP racing – pushing forward with all kinds of new technology, from datalogging to chassis software, from carbon brakes

to upside-down forks. They also had the best-developed bike on the grid. Suzuki’s RGV500 was very much undercooked by comparison. The factory had the smallest race department and therefore relied on Schwantz’s talent to make the magic, at least until they signed ex-HRC engineer Stuart Shenton in 1992. Shenton re-engineered the RGV, setting up the duo’s unforgettable 1993 title fight, which ended so sadly at Misano.

Doohan in his stubbies From the start of Doohan’s second season – at Suzuka in March 1990 – I worked for his PR man in Australia, which meant visiting Doohan every Friday, Saturday and Sunday while we were at races, to ask him how he was getting on. These interviews were usually conducted at lunchtime in his motorhome, where he would always be sat in the same seat, usually stripped to his stubbies, eating the same food, doing the same thing. He ate the lightest of lunches: dry French bread and fruit. And he spent ages examining the latest time sheets, especially sector times. The man was a machine.


MAT OXLEY: THROUGH GPs


FEATURE

2000s Here come the diesels Ditching two-strokes in favour of four-strokes in 2002 made all kinds of sense – the big factories had stopped making two-stroke road bikes and Dorna needed something to blunt the threat from World Superbikes, which had been booming (both literally and metaphorically) since the mid1990s. The 990cc four-strokes weren’t greeted with open arms by GP engineers who loved their 500cc two-strokes. Most referred to four-strokes as ‘diesels’, while Valentino Rossi’s crew chief Jeremy Burgess went further: “Bloody ditch pumps!”

The riders felt the same. Rossi (the last 500cc world champion and first MotoGP world champion) spent much of 2002 pining for his NSR500 two-stroke, even though his RC211V four-stroke is still widely considered to be the greatest GP bike of all time. By the end of 2002 there was no doubt which was better – the two-strokes didn’t win a single race all year and at the season-ending Valencia GP the 990s broke the 500 race record by more than a minute. But the 990s did enjoy a 98-percent capacity advantage.

The Rossi factor I first realised something very unusual was happening at Imola in July 1997, a couple of months before Valentino Rossi wrapped up his first world title. The hillside opposite the start/finish straight was crammed with a new breed of race fan – in particular 16 youngsters, each of them hiding behind a huge cut-out letter, which once they’d got themselves organised said: VA-L-E-N-T-I-N-O-C-O-S-M-I-C-O. And yet the Rossi phenomenon didn’t really blow up until he graduated to the premier class in 2000. Suddenly it seemed like motorcycle racing was becoming a big deal – on the drive from your hotel in


Rossi’s global profile brought money pouring into MotoGP, benefitting the entire paddock, just as Barry Sheene’s mainstream appeal had done in the 1970s and 1980s.

Cigarettes and alcohol The Rossi factor and the factories’ renewed enthusiasm for GP racing (thanks to the four-strokes) made motorcycle GP racing richer than it had ever been. Which is why for us journalists the early years of

MotoGP passed in a haze of high-fallutin’ paddock parties, the teams apparently competing with each other to ply us with the most booze, cigarettes and haute cuisine. Accepting corporate largesse while maintaining media independence can be a tricky balancing act, although not really: more than once I’ve been told by irate team managers to “stop biting the hand that feeds you!”. The best party I remember (because some I do not) was a Marlboro Yamaha do at Valencia in 2002. This was a teamonly event at the team’s hotel, when I was working for the team sponsor and going out

with one of the team cooks. Obviously what happens on tour stays on tour, so all I can say is that we were still in the hotel pool at 4am, except for Max Biaggi, who always went to bed early, if he bothered flattering us with his presence at all.

MAT OXLEY: THROUGH GPs

Rio de Janeiro to the circuit at Jacarepaguá you’d pass a giant advertising hoarding of Rossi flogging Oakley sunglasses, where usually Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise did their work.


FEATURE

2010s After the party, the hangover MotoGP’s honeymoon period ended with the arrival of the hated 800s, the global financial crisis and the end of tobacco sponsorship. The consequence of these three headaches really hit the paddock and pit lane from 2010, when Dorna embarked on a cost-cutting crusade to prevent the MotoGP grid fully collapsing. MotoGP’s days of superabundance were over. Everything that could be rationed was rationed: tyres, engines, practice, testing and (most important of all) team budgets for taking journalists out to dinner. And then the CRT bikes arrived. The factories hated sharing the grid with these dog-slow, superbike-powered MotoGP bikes which Casey Stoner namechecked in his retirement speech. MotoGP was having a major wobble. Was this the beginning of the end for those wild, carefree days of burning petrol and rubber?

Marc Márquez The 800s lasted from 2007 to 2011, the worst half decade of racing since I’d arrived in the paddock two decades earlier.


Not only was the racing less than fascinating. Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner were not the kind of riders who lit up a room, so by the end of 2011 I thought I’d just about had enough of GP racing. And then Marc Márquez arrived. Here was a warrior who rode a

RIP: Tomizawa, Simoncelli, Salom Close to 90 riders have lost their lives in world championship racing since the inaugural 1949 season. During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s GP racing was used to losing four or five riders in one grand prix season. The situation improved when street circuits were removed from the championship, but even then there were too many horrific accidents. GP racing’s most recent black year was 1983, when five riders perished in accidents at Silverstone, Le Mans and Rijeka.

“CLOSE TO 90 RIDERS HAVE LOST THEIR LIVES IN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP RACING SINCE THE INAUGURAL 1949 SEASON. DURING THE 1950S, 1960S AND 1970S GP RACING WAS USED TO LOSING FOUR OR FIVE RIDERS IN ONE SEASON...” motorcycle like no one else: locking the front tyre on the brakes, sliding the front through the corners to turn the bike and willing to win by any means necessary. He reminded me a lot of Kevin Schwantz – whenever Márquez rode out of pit lane you didn’t take your eyes off him because you never knew what was going to happen next. He’s cleverer now and he’s refined his riding style, but he’s still more exciting to watch than anyone since Schwantz.

Safety in the 21st century is many times better, thanks to safer circuits, safer bikes and better riding gear, but motorcycles and motorcycle racing can still be cruel friends. In the space of less than five years MotoGP lost Shoya Tomizawa, Marco Simoncelli and Luis Salom. Salom’s accident should never have happened. Tomizawa and Simoncelli died when they fell and were hit by following motorcycles – this is a sequence of events that is difficult to avert, especially in these days of ultra-close racing.

MAT OXLEY: THROUGH GPs

For various technical reasons – mostly a lack of torque – the 800s created processional, follow-theleader racing. For the first time in decades bike racing rivalled Formula 1 cars for the title of “the most expensive way to waste a Sunday afternoon”.


PRODUCTS

LITPRO Regular readers of OTOR will remember our feature editorial with the GPS-based LitPro system. Now available through a GPS Polar watch or a separate hardware unit that clips onto the helmet the vast resources of LitPro come into play. We’re talking session summaries, lap times, heart rate, custom track configuration, lines and lap overlays, braking, acceleration and other metrics, cornering, hot laps, start analysis and more. It’s the ideal learning tool but also incredibly useful for offroad and permanent circuit users who want to understand what they are doing on track and how to improve. It looks fantastic on tablets or phones and works like a dream.

6D HELMETS The originators and the pioneers. 6D have fought a long and good battle to present a helmet that encapsulates their ODS technology and still brings characteristics that other, cheaper and less worthy brands like to shout about, such as low weight, ventilation and snappy graphics. The ATR-2 hits the mark. A smaller shell and a refined version of the Omni Directional Suspension – that works effectively against rotational acceleration and non-linear impacts as well as concussion thresholds – are key features, but the helmet performs better as the Americans learn and progress their knowledge and experience of headwear to match the veracity of their theories and potentially life-saving research. The ATS-1R is also a very worthy option for road riders.

TROY LEE DESIGN

Troy Lee Designs blossoming relationship with Adidas is bearing juicier fruit by the year. Their SE Ultra gear was Limited Edition (and sold out extremely quickly) but the product quickly set a new bar for perfor mance wares in motocross. The thermoregulating four-way stretch fabric was lighter and seemingly stronger than anything we’d experienced before. Premier league stuff, but the good news is that the lessons learnt from TLD’s fabrication and continuing work with Adidas could drip further into their other collections. Naturally, it all looked sumptuous.


NS

r-

t k

HUSQVARNA KTM’s sister brand has some inventive designers at work and the look of the Vitpilen 701 is unmistakeable. The bike might lack some practicality but that’s to miss the point of this very agile and sporty single cylinder. We used one to ride a lap of the old Formula One circuit in Montjuic Park in Barcelona last summer and were totally enamoured by how easy, responsive and impossibly cool it was. Changing terrain and the KTM 450 SX-F’s cousin – the FC 450 – boasts a lot of the same genes (and a 2018 450 SX Supercross title) which means you are getting more performance than you’ll ever need on the dirt.

LEATT The South Africans have been prolific recently with hardcore goggles, a muchimproved gear line, inventive knee braces and a radical direction of plausible thinking with their new motocross boots. It’s hard to ignore the product that started the story though. The GPX neck brace is an engineering and biomechanical work of art. Dr Chris Leatt has been arguing the benefits of neck protection for almost fifteen years and the current status of the top-of-the-line GPX – the 6.5 Carbon/Hologram – removes almost all of the longstanding doubts riders might have. It weighs almost nothing and is constructed in a way to seamlessly fit into a rider’s kit and on-bike experience.


FEATURE

THE RACERS


S

THE BEST AND WORST PICKS FROM A PERFECT JOB THAT NOW DOESN’T EXIST

By Roland Brown Photos by relevant brands


FEATURE

T

he world’s fastest racers have been suffering from adrenaline withdrawal and deprived of their normal buzz of riding 260bhp+ works MotoGP missiles but the elite can now start flexing their wrists once more with the delayed 2020 season just around the corner. However, there are some riders who won’t be getting high that way again: the journalists for whom a blast on a MotoGP bike – or 500cc GP two-stroke before that – is now a distant memory. It’s more than a decade since the factories stopped allowing a handful of hacks a spin on their most exalted machinery, usually the day after the season-closing race. I was privileged to be involved for years – riding NSR500s and RC211Vs, Desmosedicis, YZR-M1s and more – but haven’t been let loose on a MotoGP bike since 2007, and am not sure that any other journos have either. The tests varied hugely, from very small – I recall seeing just five names on the list to ride one of Rossi’s M1s – to considerably larger. Occasionally a couple of dozen riders from magazines around the world queued for a “test” that was sometimes less than three laps: one out lap, just one flying lap, plus most of one more to get back to the pits.

That’s not much time to get up to speed on any bike, for any rider. Let alone to get the best out of one of the most fearsomely powerful and high-tech motorcycles on the planet. And even more so when, like me and most other testers, you’re not a youthful superstar but a rusty ex-racer and current keyboard warrior who’s considerably taller, heavier and older than the regular pilot, whose suspension settings and riding position you’re stuck with. More to the point, you know that the exotic, hand-made factory missile below you MUST NOT BE CRASHED under any circumstances. Adding to the pressure is the fact that, although you know your lap times don’t matter, the factory mechanics are timing you anyway, and will probably provide a printout to emphasise how much slower you were. Not that lapping well-off laprecord pace spoils the story. Having raced at a decent level definitely helped (sometimes journalists were asked to submit racing CVs) but many of the racer tests I’ve most enjoyed reading over the years have been the “Oh-my-god-it’sso-scarily-fast!” type, written by slower – or just more honest or imaginative – riders. Far better that than dispassionate but dull analysis from a recently


retired MotoGP star whose perspective is nothing like that of a typical reader. But the journalist’s riding impression isn’t what reveals most about a racebike, in any case. The important stuff comes from talking to riders, crew chiefs and suspension engineers; outlining changes made through the season; and discussing how the rival bikes compared when ridden on the ragged edge. I don’t know why there haven’t been MotoGP tests lately, though big changes in tyre construction were mentioned as a factor inand-around 2008, when the invitations dried up. It seems that we normal mortals could be trusted on the fearsome 500cc V4 two-strokes of the Nineties, but modern 800cc four-strokes are too specialised and difficult, despite their electronics. Or perhaps it was simply that the effort and expense were no longer deemed worthwhile. I’m just glad to have been around when there was a chance to ride these amazing machines. So many of them were memorable, but if forced to choose a favourite I’d pick the yellow Nastro Azzurro sponsored NSR500 on which Rossi won the 500cc two-strokes’ final world title in 2001, before he switched to the RC211V to start the MotoGP era the following season. The NSR screamed and smoked round Jerez feeling not just sensationally fast and outrageously light but improbably controllable, and other-worldly in a way that subsequent

four-stroke MotoGP bikes, however rapid, just couldn’t match. In this job I sometimes get asked what’s the best bike I’ve ridden, and usually struggle to reply. But for both purity of engineering and riding excitement, that last twostroke title winner takes some beating.

SIX MORE OF THE BEST If Rossi’s 2001 NSR500 is the finest factory bike I rode, this bunch – in chronological order – were also extra special…

JOHN KOCINSKI’S 1993 CAGIVA C593 The Italian factory’s stylish scarlet V4 didn’t win a world championship, but it won the US GP at Laguna Seca in the hands of eccentric US genius Kocinski and was a thrill to ride even at a chilly Misano. Sadly, Cagiva boss Claudio Castiglioni had to give up his

THE RACERS

“THE NSR SCREAMED & SMOKED ROUND JEREZ FEELING NOT JUST SENSATIONALLY FAST AND OUTRAGEOUSLY LIGHT BUT IMPROBABLY CONTROLLABLE, OTHERWORLDLY...”


FEATURE

dream of winning the title because it was threatening to bankrupt the company.

cuit (now Sydney Motorsport Park) – and the screaming stroker did not disappoint.

MICK DOOHAN’S ‘96 HONDA NSR500

OLIVIER JACQUE’S ‘00 YAMAHA YZR250

By 1996, Aussie legend Doohan was midway through his five-year 500cc class stranglehold, and all but unbeatable on the fiery, 200bhp NSR500, which had been clocked at over 200mph. I was happy to fly half-way round the world for five laps of Sydney’s Eastern Creek cir-

Diminutive French ace Jacque beat his team-mate Shinya Nakano by less than a second in the final race to win the 250cc title. I struggled to squeeze onto a compact twostroke V-twin that weighed just 95kg but enjoyed its agile handling and was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it


VALENTINO ROSSI’S ‘05 YAMAHA YZR-M1

CASEY STONER’S ‘07 DUCATI DESMOSEDICI

VALENTINO ROSSI’S ‘02 HONDA RC211V

Having ridden Yamaha’s YZFR1 roadster around Valencia I was stunned to ride the 240bhp, 148kg M1 there and experience how much more powerful, light and fast it was. The M1 had been redesigned with 16 rather than 20 valves, irregular firing order and fuelinjection, and was fast enough to give Rossi 11 wins from 17 races en route to a fifth straight championship.

Ducati won their first MotoGP title by designing a super-fast Desmosedici for the first year of the 800cc limit, so I wasn’t surprised to find Stoner’s V4 feeling both rapid and wheelie-happy. After all, it revved to 19,000rpm, made 200bhp and weighed under 150kg. Even so, it was the bike’s agile yet precise handling that made the biggest impression at Valencia.

Surprisingly, one of my main memories of riding the 990cc, 220bhp V5 on which Rossi dominated the first MotoGP season was not how fast it felt, but that the 145kg fourstroke seemed much heavier than the outclassed NSR500 that I also rode that day at Valencia. It was also very riderfriendly – especially for Rossi, who won 14 of the season’s 16 races.

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was to ride – and how quick, provided it was kept above 10,000rpm.


FEATURE

FOUR TO FORGET Even the worst factory racebikes are amazing, but this quartet didn’t live up to expectations…

TADAYUKI OKADA’S ‘96 HONDA NSR500V Honda’s aim with the NSR500V was to exploit the rule allowing 500cc twins to weigh 100kg, when fours had to be at least 130kg. The 123bhp V-twin was 30kg lighter but 70bhp less powerful. Okada managed one second place but couldn’t beat V4-mounted Doohan. And with my lanky body on board, the wheelie-prone NSR-V was almost unrideable at Eastern Creek.

ALEX CRIVILLÉ’S ‘00 HONDA NSR500 By the time I rode Crivillé’s No.1-plated NSR at season’s end, the 190bhp-plus V4 was sufficiently rideable to be fun even at a soaking Motegi. But that was misleading. Honda’s retuned V4 had initially been too peaky for the Spaniard and team-mate Rossi, and a mid-season revamp had come

too late to prevent the title being lost to Suzuki’s Kenny Roberts Jr.

LORIS CAPIROSSI AND TROY BAYLISS’S ‘03 DUCATI DESMOSEDICI It would be harsh to describe the Desmosedici as a failure; after all, Capirossi won a race in the bike’s debut season, and if Ducati could have given it the agility to match its awesome speed it would surely have won more. Bayliss’s encouragement to give the 220bhp V4 plenty of gas was appreciated but it was a wheelie-happy handful around Valencia.


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“IF DUCATI COULD HAVE GIVEN IT THE AGILITY TO MATCH ITS AWESOME SPEED IT WOULD SURELY HAVE WON MORE...”

VALENTINO ROSSI’S ‘07 YAMAHA YZR-M1 Two years after riding Rossi’s all-conquering 989cc M1 at Valencia I was back on the 799cc four on which he’d endured a torrid time. He’d crashed here in practice and broken down in the race, to end a season in which the M1 had been outclassed by Stoner’s Ducati, and unreliable when tuned for more power. Maybe one for the crusher, not the Yamaha museum…


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GRAND PRIX


RANKED

NEIL MORRISON SELECTS HIS TOP 5 GRAND PRIX RIDERS Photos credited

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5.

EDDIE LAWSON

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: 4 (500cc: 4) CAREER VICTORIES: 31 (500cc: 31)

A controversial choice, perhaps. You may ask why Eddie Lawson merits a place on this list ahead of Giacomo Agostini; a15 times a world champion? Or you may posit how he could possibly place ahead of standout talents Freddie Spencer and Casey Stoner, men whose sheer otherworldly technique atop a two-wheeled machine outshone that of the rider who is unfairly remembered as ‘Steady Eddie’? Quite simply, Lawson amassed the most race wins and championships during the sport’s first golden age. The mid-late eighties was an unprecedented time in motorcycle racing as manufacturers, blind drunk on the excesses of major tobacco sponsorship, extracted more horsepower from a field of factory-backed ferocious 500cc two-strokes. There was riding talent to match with as many as six possible race winners as the decade neared an end. The premier class had never experienced depth like it. Personally, it was a time when I was first exposed to the sport’s heavy allure of colour and character through a hue

of blue two-stroke smoke and grainy VHS footage. And in that time Lawson was king, emerging from the shadows of ex-team-mate Kenny Roberts Senior and Freddie Spencer to become the yardstick against which a new band of stars (Wayne Gardner, Kevin Schwantz, Wayne Rainey, Mick Doohan) measured themselves. Sure, Agostini won more. But Lawson was trading blows with – and beating – other all-time greats week-in week-out, a feat the Italian only did at either end of his career. Lawson’s talent may not have shone as brightly as that of a number of his peers. But a background on California’s dirt track ovals and America’s wall-lined road circuits (he was a double AMA Superbike and 250cc champion) prepared him for what Europe had in store in 1983, his rookie premier class campaign. Over a sparkling ten-year stay in the class of kings he devoted himself entirely to his craft, and not only shed the ‘Steady Eddie’ tag he developed in his early 500cc years by becoming the fastest, most complete rider in the class in 1988. Don’t believe me? Schwantz once rated him a tougher opponent than Rainey. And when Doohan arrived on the scene in 1989 there was only one figure he looked up to.

I always admired his fiercely independent streak; bold enough to tell an early version of the Safety Commission in Brazil, 1992 he’d do the opposite of whatever they decided. Lawson refused to cosy up to the press and made it plain he wasn’t in the game to make friends. His sense of humour was legendarily drawl and his laid back personality was often at odds with a ferocious competitive streak. An example was when he missed out on the #1 slot in racing ‘bible’ Motocourse’s coveted top ten list, Lawson took delight in telling the editor he had thrown his copy straight in the fire. “It burned pretty good, too,” was his line. Each of Lawson’s titles was more impressive than the last. Successes with Yamaha in 1984, ’86 and ’88 were just a warm-up for when he shocked the world by defecting to Honda. On possibly the evilest Honda NSR500 ever built, Eddie’s dogged catching-andstalking of long-time leader Rainey led to the latter’s unravelling in one of the all-time great title fights. It was year when he proved he deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as the all-time greats.


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GRAND PRIX TOP 5


FEATURE

Don Morley


WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: 3 (500cc: 3) CAREER VICTORIES: 24 (500cc: 22, 250cc: 2)

Self-confidence was never lacking in the make up of Kenny Roberts Senior. Coming into contact with Giacomo Agostini for the first time at the Daytona 200 in 1974, the straight talking American wanted the serial 500cc world champion to know, “I’m the world champion, not you, not Phil Read.” When asked to explain himself, Robert exclaimed: “Because the world is America, not Europe.” He wasn’t always right but that attitude came in handy when the double Grand National winner recognised his home county could only offer up so much. Roberts is so much more than America’s first 500cc world champion. In terms of riding technique he was a true innovator, utterly fearless as a competitor, and vociferously fought the cause of underrepresented riders against negligent promoters that appeared immune to taking their fears regarding safety onboard. Then there was the small matter of him repeating the success he enjoyed as a racer (24 wins, three world titles) as a team owner (four world titles). His arrival ushered in an era of American domination that would last for 16 years.

Soon Roberts’ upbringing on wrestling machines around dirt track ovals became the blueprint for any budding challenger. It’s no exaggeration to say the likes of Lawson, Rainey and Kocinski wouldn’t have made it to where they did without Kenny doing so first. How’s that for a legacy? For the Sacramento native introduced a riding style, honed on wayward dirt-track machines across west coast dirt ovals that soon became integral to taming the narrow power-bands of the rapidly developing 500cc machines. His unique brand of rear-wheel steering and sliding had never been seen before. And despite his competitive nature, Roberts prided himself as much on his ability to do what others couldn’t on two wheels, as he did by his wins tally. “There were times that I rode the motorcycle and knew that I could make it better but I thought, ‘No, I’m going to ride this because I can over-ride it. I can do that,’” he told me in 2018. “. I remember [Marco] Luchinelli at the Misano round in ’82 [was asked] ‘How come you couldn’t get third?’ And he said, ‘Well, I was behind Kenny and I knew he was go-

ing to crash so didn’t have to pass him. I was just waiting… But he never crashed! I don’t know anyone that could have ridden that motorcycle.’” To Kenny hearing the acclaim of a peer “meant more to me” than praise from the press. That first, glorious season in Europe has become the stuff of legend. So many factors should have ruled Roberts out of contention. Such as the fact he had no track experience at any of the circuits. Or the fact he was using Goodyear tyres, an untested combination in Europe. Or that he only had one 500cc machine for the first nine races (“I thought I was a factory rider until I got to Europe and then I found out I wasn’t the factory rider!”). Or that reigning champion, Barry Sheene, was ruling the roost in his fifth season as a premier class competitor. But Roberts’ philosophy was curt. “There was some uncertainty but to me a racetrack was a racetrack.” He won his first title in an assured performance at a final round showdown at the Nurburgring and swiftly backed it up with two more titles. European racing had never seen anything like it.

GRAND PRIX TOP 5

4.

KENNY ROBERTS SNR


FEATURE

3.

MIKE HAILWOOD

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: 9 (500cc: 4, 350cc: 2, 250cc: 3) CAREER VICTORIES: 76 (500cc: 37, 350cc: 16, 250cc: 21, 125cc: 2)

There was only one name on Valentino Rossi’s mind when he spoke soon after securing his first 500cc world championship. At 21 he had just become the fourth youngest rider to win in the Class of Kings. “When I was young I used to admire all the greats like Agostini and Hailwood,” he said, already pondering his place among the pantheon of greats. “But for me the number one was Hailwood.”

In some respects there were many similarities between the two. Both were audaciously talented on two wheels, exploding onto the scene in their teens and establishing themselves at the very top. And both oozed charm and charisma, enjoyed the high-life and gave the impression that there was more to the world than racing motorcycles. And during his time, Hailwood was as fondly thought of as Rossi is today. It wouldn’t be overstating things to say ‘Mike the Bike’ was one of the most naturally gifted racers to ever race in anger. His multimillionaire father Stan may have ensured Mike had the equipment and expertise on

hand to succeed from an early age. But it took Hailwood just a year to start turning heads on the British scene before he exploded onto the world stage, scoring a 250cc podium on the Isle of Man in 1958, his first grand prix outing. Mike just got on and rode the thing. He wasn’t one to worry about set-up (legend has it he once told a crew member his bike was working as he wanted at the end of a session only for that crew member to later discover the rear wheel had a puncture). Hailwood had that natural feel, with a style that was as silky smooth and recognisable even to this day.


As if his legend wasn’t exalted enough, Hailwood’s TT comeback in 1978 was the stuff of fantasy. After a brief and fairly successful stint in Formula1 in the early 70s, he had retired and relocated to New Zealand. But, at 38 he still had that itch that couldn’t be scratched. A plan was hatched to return on Ducati V-twin. Still limping from the effects a crash that prematurely ended his career on four wheels in 1974, the then 38-year old put selfdoubt to one side to beat old rival Phil Read in the Formula 1 race in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Grown men in attendance cried.

In Rossi’s autobiography he reflects on Hailwood, his early hero. “What a life, what a story” he concludes. Not for the first time, the Italian wasn’t wrong.

GRAND PRIX TOP 5

By the age of 25 he had cruised to four straight 500cc crowns on the all-conquering MV Agusta. But it was his brief spell at Honda that would cement his legend. The Japanese factory recruited Hailwood for its early assaults on the Class of Kings in 1967 and ‘68 but its four-cylinder 500 was an unruly brute. The fact Mike won eight times and pushed ex-team-mate Agostini all the way in those seasons not only spoke of his skill but an abundance of bravery to boot. His win over the Italian in the epic 1967 Senior TT is still considered the island’s greatest ever race.

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WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: 9 (MotoGP: 7, 250cc: 1, 125cc: 1) CAREER VICTORIES: 115

Anyone seeking to tell the full Valentino Rossi story would have given up on a single edition book or feature length movie a decade ago. To cover the extent of a glittering 22year career and his effect on racing would require a tomb of encyclopaedic breadth or a multi-series television deal. Netflix take note.

And despite his recent dry run now stretching a full three years, he rode to 115 wins and 234 podiums and sixth in the championship a year ago. Coming within two points of a famous tenth world title at the age of 36 in the epic 2015 showdown remains one of his greatest achievements. No one has raced this competitively for this long at the peak of the sport.

But to speak in such a way is may give the impression he’s #2 on this list for his longevity. Far from it. The first decade of the new millennium belonged to him as he controlled races, championships and comFor it wasn’t just the Italian’s petitors at will, reeling off one bravura talent (of which there improbably feat after another, are plenty of example) that each one more incredible than stands out when assessing the last. He moved through what will be the greatest ever – and mastered – the categoracing legacy when (or if) he ries with ease before joining a eventually retires. Not since depleted Yamaha in 2004. Few the days of Sheene has a figure were surprised by the outcome. from our world courted the world spotlight as he has done. His disarming of early rivals At times Rossi has transcended Max Biaggi and Sete Giberthe sport, his cheeky grin and nau was something to behold, variety of hairstyles more recas was the way he found new ognisable to the average Joe strings to his bow of attack than the MotoGP logo. when a younger, more talented generation (Dani Pedrosa, Then there is the sheer scale Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo) of his career. In July Rossi will came to town. From 125cc twoline up for his 21st season in strokes to tyre spinning 990cc the MotoGP class, his record of MotoGP four-strokes, from 402 starts unparalleled. Loris Michelin to Bridgestone tyres, Capirossi, next on that list has Rossi has proved himself adept started 328. at mastering any machine in any condition.

I’ve been fortunate enough to observe him from up close in the twilight of his career. His debriefs can be repetitive and low on detail. But occasionally he’ll reflect on times gone by or deliver a pointed attack at a rival and you see that box office appeal is still evident. Rossi has charisma in spades and can still have a room in the palm of his hand if he so wants it. My favourite Rossi story in my time covering him came after the spectacular contest at Phillip Island in 2017. Colleague Thomas Baujard approached the top three after the press conference to offer congratulations on what had been a stunning sight – eight riders, bashing fairings for 30 laps at one of the scariest. Rather than being upset at finishing second, Baujard found Rossi wide-eyed and like a punter you see in the smoking area outside a rave at 5am. “Fahk,” he beamed, saying, “If I woke up and saw a race like that…” before cupping his right hand to imitate the repetitive motion you tend to associate with teenage boys. Therein lies the secret to Rossi’s continued success. Never grow old. With that in mind, maybe hold off on the TV series for a few years yet.

GRAND PRIX TOP 5

2.

VALENTINO ROSSI


FEATURE

1.

MARC MARQUEZ

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: 8 (MotoGP: 6, Moto2: 1, 125cc: 1) CAREER VICTORIES: 82 (MotoGP: 56, Moto2: 16, 125cc: 10)

Perhaps it’s premature to place the reigning world champion, a rider currently 13 years Rossi’s junior, who still has a good four years of serial winning ahead of him, at the head of this list. But on current evidence could it really be anyone else? Marc Marquez only turned 27 in the February of this year. In his relatively short lifetime he has amassed eight world titles, six of them in MotoGP. Only Rossi and Agostini have more premier class wins and through 2019 his riding was so superior to his opposition in a time of unprecedented strength in depth it occasionally verged on embarrassing. To watch him in full flow still elicits the same sensations felt when viewing his remarkable comeback ride at Estoril aboard a teeny 125cc ten years ago: that this is a sporting talent so thrilling and unique it simply defies logic. Back then the 18-year old was in the midst of a three-rider fight for the junior class title when he binned his Derbi

on the damp track he found during the outing lap. Rushed repairs got him onto the back of the starting grid. A championship on the line on a bike that was far from perfect. By the first corner he was fifth and coolly picked off the riders around him to come home first. And it was just the start. Since then his barely believable feats have expanded by the year. Like the time he nearly stalled on the grid of the Moto2 race at Motegi in 2012 and proceeded to overtake the entire field on his way to victory. Or the time he held his nerve in the face of a late Jorge Lorenzo onslaught to become the youngest ever MotoGP world champion at just 20 years and 266 days of age. More than the records he’s rewritten, it is Marquez’s ability to find the outer edges of the limit that still elicits the loudest gasps. The Guardian’s Richard Williams put it best. Marquez’s genius lies in an “ability to take a given set of parameters and bend them into new shapes, creating a spectacle that leaves everyone, including their rivals, shaking their heads in wonderment,” he wrote in 2018. It’s hard to think of a rider in history that does it with such breathtaking regularity.

I was fortunate enough to have entered the paddock as Marquez was approaching his current heights. In that time it’s clear he approaches most things with the same gusto that’s evident when his visor goes down. His dealings with the media are engaged, considered and pointed. How he fosters a unified team spirit is second to none. And he displays a frightening determination when preparing away from the track, as evidenced by his recovery from a serious shoulder operation at the end of 2018. Aside from the occasional flash of blind pride, there really aren’t many weaknesses in Marquez’s make up. He regularly states records are not of any interest. But such is his competitive streak you’re left with the impression he won’t be done until he’s broken every record there is to break. Valentino beware.


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HERE COMES TROUBLE Will Andrea Iannone be riding the Aprilia RS-GP MotoGP machine in 2021? That depends on a number of factors, the first being the willingness of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, or CAS, to accept the Italian’s argument that the traces of the banned steroid drostanolone found in his urine at Sepang were there due to accidental contamination. And it depends on Aprilia being willing to give Iannone another contract after the ban imposed at the end of last year. Which also depends on the willingness of sponsors to back a rider tarnished by doping accusations. Aprilia have shown great patience with Iannone, and with good cause. For a start, it is good practice to back their rider until the appeals process has ended: better to keep Iannone on board, rather than having him vent his anger in the press at being dropped by his employer. And for a rider as talented as Iannone, Aprilia are willing to

make the sacrifices needed to keep him on board. In a way, Iannone’s current predicament is illustrative of his entire career. Immensely skilled, but always managing to get into hot water somehow, causing problems which test the limits of a team or factory’s patience. Doubt his talent? Go back and watch his win at Austria in 2016, or his outrageous style on the Speed Up in Moto2, or just about any ride at Phillip Island; a rider’s track if ever there was one. The problem is Iannone’s ability to cause trouble. That has a knock-on effect, casting a negative light on whatever situation he finds himself in. Take the failed doping test: drostanolone, the banned substance he tested positive for, is generally used for weight loss and achieving a chiselled physique. Iannone is famous for posting pictures of himself on Instagram wearing as little as possible, showing his, well, chiselled physique.

He has a perfectly valid reason for posting those photos, however: he is sponsored by an Italian underwear company, and part of the contract is that he shares those pictures on social media. But Iannone’s history means that innocent explanations tend to be met with scepticism. He makes it easy to think the worst of him. That history is rich and varied. There was Misano 2009, when he took out Pol Espargaro at the last corner during the 125cc race, and then headbutted the Spaniard when he came to remonstrate with him. There was his reputation for extremely aggressive riding in Moto2 – so thrilling to watch that you could forgive him his ill-judged actions. There was his penchant for turning up to Moto2 races in a Lamborghini, a car which would swallow the entire salary of even a top Moto2 rider. He made a strong transition to MotoGP, matching the results of the factory Ducati riders on the satellite Pramac Ducati in 2013, then bagging front row starts in 2014. Promotion to the factory


squad followed in 2015, capping that off with Ducati’s first win since Casey Stoner left six years previously, beating teammate Andrea Dovizioso at Austria in 2016. But by that time, he had already lost the factory Ducati seat. Early that year, in Argentina, Iannone made a profoundly ill-judged dive up the inside of Dovizioso on the final lap of the race, taking both Ducati riders out of certain podium positions. He showed a distinct lack of contrition over that incident, giving Ducati a PR nightmare to deal with. It wasn’t the first time, of course, and it wouldn’t be the last. Iannone’s disregard for the media is legendary among journalists. He is often late to media debriefs and entirely disinterested in answering questions. At one race, he turned up to a media debrief with his mobile phone to his ear, stood there nodding for five minutes listening intently to his phone, then walked off without taking a single question from journalists. I remember the communications head of one fac-

tory at Valencia, before Iannone switched teams, telling us how excited they were to be working with Iannone, and the PR potential they saw in the Italian. By the end of the test, a few days later, that excitement had been replaced by frustration. Iannone is no different to most other riders, all of whom hate speaking to the press, or doing other PR. Dani Pedrosa, for example, would sometimes answer questions with just the tiniest nod of the head. But he always showed up, and he always answered questions, even during the most difficult periods in his career. Pedrosa, like most riders, understood that media and sponsor commitments are part of the job. The worst part, perhaps, but still part of what paid the bills. That was a lesson which Iannone was not interested in learning, and it cost him at times. Such as when he posted a video of him breaking into his own car – a Porsche Cayenne – after locking himself out while driving home in the early hours of the morning

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in the middle of the season. Or the time his €350,000 Bentley Continental was seized by the Italian tax authorities because his trainer was driving the car, registered in the Swiss tax haven of Ticino. In a way, racing has been the salvation of Andrea Iannone. He was once asked what he would be if he wasn’t a racer, and he replied without hesitation, “a gangster”. He wasn’t joking either. An Italian journalist friend who knew Iannone well ascribed the Italian’s love of expensive trinkets, fast cars, and a glamorous lifestyle to his background. He grew up with little money, and ran with a rough crowd, constantly flirting with the wrong side of the law. His talent at racing brought him the money to indulge his taste for flashy objects. No need for him to be a gangster. But this obsession with displays of wealth, a jetset lifestyle, with his appearance have cost Iannone dearly. He has spent a lot of money and effort on plastic surgery, straightening

his nose and altering his jaw line. He missed a day of testing at Sepang one year, officially because of an infected tooth, though it was shortly after he had cosmetic surgery to alter his jaw. The cynics in the press room were unconvinced by the story of the infected tooth. But by then, he had given us a million reasons to be cynical. You could argue that Andrea Iannone remains one of the most talented riders ever to swing a leg over a MotoGP bike. But his victory tally in the premier class remains just that solitary win in Austria, and time and again, he is outperformed by his teammate over a season. He has the talent, he has the ability to communicate to crew chief and engineers what he needs from the bike. But he lacks the focus, the self-discipline and the dedication. Iannone is an object lesson in how not to succeed in MotoGP. It takes more than just raw speed to prosper and endure in MotoGP. And it is all too easy to succumb to the temptations that every elite athlete faces.


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A SPECTACLE DIMINISHED? That slight, repetitive drumming you hear in the distance is the motorcycle press corps nervously tapping their tables or pens in anticipation of events next month. It’s approaching four months since Qatar. With all that’s gone on, it seems like a lifetime ago. July 19th can’t come soon enough. And so we anticipate MotoGP’s season opener at Jerez knowing there will be a vastly reduced paddock with no written media on the ground. That’s different for a lot of us, sure. TV is a well-known money driver for series organiser Dorna so certain presenters, commentators and camera crew will be allowed in, broadcasting footage and socially-distanced interviews.

A protocol drawn up by Race Director Mike Webb has issued strict directives on movement in and around the circuit. Personnel will be tested before the event. And they will largely be restricted to their area of the paddock during the day and then from exiting their hotel during the evenings or between events. Keeping human interaction limited to within teams and preventing outside intervention has taken precedence. But how will that affect you? OK, the chances of returning to watch MotoGP in the flesh appears to be some time away. But will a spectator-lite version of grand prix racing actually be worse off if you’re tuning in via a pay-per-view channel or stream? Anyone watching the resumption of football around Europe would have noted an obvious lack of intensity from the empty stands, leading to long lulls in the usual action. But how much of this was down to a lack of match fitness rather than the absence of atmosphere remains unclear.

Fans’ impact on live motorsport isn’t quite as obvious as team sports. Firstly they’re spread out around a three to four mile layout rather than packed into a stadium (the Ricardo Tormo Circuit outside Valencia might be the only exception). Generally they aren’t as vociferous or partisan as the average football fan, known to indulge in a ritual taunting of the opposition. Anyway, race fans’ cheers, whoops or boos in most instances are drowned out by the noise from 25-35 four-stroke machines bellowing around a track in close company. For all intents and purposes coverage should remain as it was, just with more limited interaction between pit lane reporters and team personnel mid-session and a greater distance between interviewer and rider pre or post race. And what of the racing? Aside from the paranoia of getting sick, striving to socially distance and steer clear of the virus, and battling the monotony of sitting around in hotels between days


and events, their workload away from the track will be considerably less. Media interactions will be conducted via Zoom calls, presumably from a team truck or garage. There will be no requirements to meet fans or sign posters. For many, especially those that have been in this game for some time (I’m looking at you, Valentino) you imagine this will come as a relief. But for the MotoGP men there will still be 21 other guys to beat after four sessions of 45 minutes to perfect set-up and remain in or around the top ten. If anything the racing will be more affected by the date changes. 30 laps around the tight, narrow Jerez layout is punishing work at the beginning of May. Endurance will be pushed further in what are likely to be ambient temperatures of 40 degrees when the main event kicks off at 2pm local time. Attempting to find grip in this punishing heat around a track that has been notoriously short of it in recent years will be key.

Marc Marquez hasn’t fared badly in such conditions over the past few seasons. But Fabio Quartararo’s showings in similar low-grip conditions at Jerez and Misano should give the reigning world champion some food for thought. Between now and then we can only hope. In the past week the virus has returned in force to Melbourne in Australia, Beijing in China, Seoul in South Korea and sections of New Zealand, while infection and death rates across North and South America are worryingly some way off being under control. At the time of going to press Spain has twelve active outbreaks, with one region in Aragon reverting back to phase two of its de-escalation programme. All of which is a sobering reminder that the world as a whole is still some way off coming to terms with this wretched situation. The implications of an infection finding a way into the paddock would be disastrous in the extreme.

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BY NEIL MORRISON


MotoGP BLOG

What if, for example, a team member that has travelled and stayed with colleagues en route to Jerez is found to be infected prior to the event? There would have to be a withdrawal from at least part of that team, as we recently saw with women’s football team Orland Pride, who pulled out of the Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup. Until then let’s simply hope it doesn’t come to that and testing will be rigorous enough to find and isolate any potential infections. If the races in Jerez pass incident free then the lack of noise from the grandstands will be deemed a minor price to pay.


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Photos: R. Schedl, KISKA GmbH

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FEATURE


THE WorldSBK MIX TO GREATNESS By Steve English Photos by Ducati Corse Press/GeeBee Images & www.worldsbk.com

STEVE ENGLISH EXAMINES THE QUALITIES OF THE THREE BEST-EVER WorldSBK RACERS AND TRIES TO DEDUCE WHO COMES OUT AS #1


FEATURE

A

determination to succeed. A will to win. And a need to maximise talent. Chuck Noll, one of the greatest coaches in NFL history said that champions are made on their foundations. Rather than doing anything extraordinarily

well, they instead do the ordinary things better than anyone else. Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss and Jonathan Rea have won 200 races in WorldSBK. They’ve won 12 Superbike World Championships between them. They’re the best of the best in the history of the series. They were obviously fast but were

they the fastest? Over a single lap probably not. Over 35 minutes for season upon season? Undoubtedly yes. Their will to win manifested itself in very different ways. Fogarty was an egotistical madman that needed the world to be against him to be at his best.


It’s easy to forget their determination, or to only see their spoils. Each has had adversity that they’ve overcome, but who’s #1? Mentality and motivation Ernesto Marinelli, who worked with Fogarty and Bayliss at Ducati, said that you could see a change in Fogarty once he put a helmet on. Suddenly he was a caged animal being let loose. He was so intense that his piercing stare became his trademark. His single goal wasn’t to win; it was to dominate. He wanted to win and then rub your face in his success. Rivals? They were lucky if they beat him. Regardless of their talent he spoke down about them and demeaned their feats. Ask him about Scott Russell and he’ll tell you he was average. John Kocinski was great at some tracks and nowhere at others. Troy Corser backed his way into the 1996 title with a Ducati that Fogarty had made great. In Foggy’s eyes it was harder to lose that title than to win it.

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Ask Foggy about his year at Honda and you’ll see the same cool, intense stare return. He’s convinced that with another year he would have won the crown back. He had nothing to fear; after all he was the best.

That confidence shone at Ducati but was hidden at Honda. For that 1996 season Foggy was an imitation of himself. He projected the swagger and confidence of a double champion, but he didn’t back it up. Slowly the chirping of rivals became deafening. Colin Edwards called him out. Aaron Slight took clear joy in seeing his teammate struggle. Behind the scenes it was clear that Fogarty missed Ducati. He missed the warmth of the team. He missed security. He hated the regimented nature of life at Castrol Honda. The money helped, he was paid better than ever before but, like Valentino Rossi, he would leave Honda feeling resentment at their belief that he was just a cog in their machine. Fogarty, amazingly, needed an arm around the shoulder. He needed reassurance that he was the best in the world. He needed to be the centre of attention. That’s ultimately why he left Honda; he returned to Ducati because he needed to be loved. Needing to be loved and needing to have a home is not a statement that’s landed at Bayliss’ door often. The Australian was a racing nomad until he was plucked to replace Fogarty at Ducati in

WHO’S TOP 5 IN WorldSBK?

Bayliss was a latecomer to racing and was out to make up for lost time. Rea was the chosen one, who looked to have his career marked out from an early age by Honda, but ultimately found success with Kawasaki. It’s very easy, too easy in fact, to pigeonhole these three.


FEATURE 2000. Having worked as a spray painter, Bayliss was forced to wait until he was 23 years old to start his racing career, and was determined to get himself on a fast track to success. Within a few years he’d lined up on a Grand Prix grid and moved from Australia to Europe to try and establish himself. In 1998 he got his break by winning races in BSB. Suddenly he was a man to watch despite being 29 years old. The following year he saw off Chris Walker’s challenge to win the title. Alas there was no room at the inn for him in WorldSBK, and he moved to America to try and win the AMA title. Fate would intervene and make it a very short-lived American adventure. After Fogarty’s career ending injury the shortlist for a replacement centred on Bayliss. At 30 years of age he was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. He was forced to replace a legend for the biggest name in Superbike racing. On his opening weekend, at the always tricky Sugo circuit in Japan, Bayliss had a nightmare. A third row qualifying slot put him in prime position for opening lap crashes. He wouldn’t complete a racing lap that weekend: was he really the man for Ducati?


Bayliss was incredibly determined. His will to succeed was unmatched by anyone else. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon, he’d had to claw and scratch for every-

thing. He didn’t resent anyone that had opportunities earlier in their career, but he wanted to beat them. “I first met Troy in 2001,” recalled Chris Vermuelen. “I was a young kid in WorldSSP and he was so helpful to me. Nothing was a secret with Troy. He’d talk to me about riding styles and lines and he’d teach me different things. He was so determined to succeed. That’s what stood out to me. Even compared to other great riders he was super determined. He could crash a bike three times and still score points. Every time he gets on a bike, even now, he has

to be absolutely on the limit. Troy’s loose and was never afraid of having a crash!” For Marinelli, the key to Bayliss’ success was that ability to wring the neck from a bike. Technically Bayliss wasn’t the strongest rider, but in other ways he was invaluable. “Troy was a completely different rider to anyone else,” recalls Marinelli. “He couldn’t tell you exactly what is wrong or what needed to be done, but he was unique because every time he goes on track he’s pushing at 100%. His style meant that he was actually the best to develop a bike.

WHO’S TOP 5 IN WorldSBK?

At the following race at Monza, the Italians were out in force for their first proper look at Bayliss. The pressure was on. He needed to perform. A brace of fourth place finishes was enough to release the pressure valve slightly. Two weeks later he’d won his first race for Ducati and for the rest of the season he was a regular front runner. The following season he was World Champion.


FEATURE He was very clear about what he wanted; a faster bike! “If you made a change and it was faster it was better, if he was slower it was worse. It’s a simple way to understand the bike…but it works. If it was faster and more difficult to ride that was OK for Troy. Many riders ride on feelings and if they didn’t like the feel from a modification, they can’t push hard but Troy was the opposite. He would come in and say: ‘I don’t really like it at all, but I’m faster so let’s stick with it.’ On the other side of the coin he could say ‘I like it a lot, but I’m slower, so it’s not working.’ He was very unique to work with.” Despite their success together, Bayliss wasn’t afraid to cut ties with Ducati and switch to Honda in MotoGP after a difficult sophomore campaign. It was one last throw of the dice on the Grand Prix grid for the Australian before returning to WorldSBK with Ducati in 2006 to win the title. As a reward, he was given a chance to race at the season ending Valencia Grand Prix. With no pressure and his WorldSBK crew around him he was able to win.


The Provec Racing squad is one of the strictest in racing. Is that better or worse than other teams? It depends on the rider, but for five years they’ve been able to get the most out of Rea and they’ve

stick together regardless of offers that have been made to any of them. Like Fogarty, we have seen that loyalty is important to Rea. Like Bayliss we’ve seen that Rea is able to jump on the bike and regardless of circumstances figure a way to make it work. “Johnny is the best,” said a beaming Pere Riba in 2016, with words that echo to today. “He can jump on the bike and figure it out very quickly. He can adapt to the bike and understand what it is doing. If he needs to adjust his style he does this. He’s incredible.”

“IF I WAS TO PICK ONE RIDER TO RAG A BIKE FOR ONE LAP MY VOTE WOULD GO TO BAYLISS. TO WIN A RACE WITH MY LAST EURO ON THE LINE? I’D BACK FOGARTY. FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP? REA’S TRACK RECORD IS INCREDIBLE WITH KAWASAKI...” enjoyed unrivalled success. Rea is statistically the greatest WorldSBK rider of alltime. At Ten Kate Honda he was clearly a star, but now he’s a record-breaker. The Kawasaki ZX10-RR is key to that, but more so is the loyalty that he has generated within the team. The same crew has worked together for years and their success has made them willing to

That adaptability is Rea’s trademark. It also means that the team can trust his data and how it relates to changes made to the bike. Rea can be left to his own devices in a lot of ways, and the team can look at his data to understand the effect of changes. For Rea the advantage has been stability. His team is the same and trust him to the hilt.

WHO’S TOP 5 IN WorldSBK?

Fogarty needed the team to love him. Bayliss just needed an opportunity to show what he could do. The strict regime of Honda was at odds with Fogarty. He couldn’t adapt to the Japanese culture and strict nature of the team. For Jonathan Rea his success has come off the back of having those structures in place at Kawasaki.


FEATURE He’s developed into a very well-rounded package and has shown his mental strength in the last 12 months. Rea came back from the battering of an early season Alvaro Bautista onslaught to turn the tide and win the title. It was a champion’s performance; the type only an all-time great could achieve. Who has the edge in the mental stakes? Advantage Bayliss. Adaptability Bayliss is the only rider of the trio to have had a proper stint in MotoGP. He’s a BSB and WorldSBK champion, and a MotoGP race winner. He claimed WorldSBK outings on three different models of Ducati: the 998, 999 and 1098. He’s also won on a V4 MotoGP machine. Rea has won races for Honda and Kawasaki. Fogarty won races for Honda and Ducati but was also a TT winner and Endurance World Champion. This is arguably the easiest area to call. Fogarty showed himself equally adept in Endurance Racing, Road Racing and WorldSBK action. He was a Senior TT winner, Endurance World Champion and four-time Superbike World Champion. His ability to adapt to any set of circumstances saw him hold

the Isle of Man TT lap record for seven years, and set the pace in short circuit races. With the right opportunity he would have been able to be a front runner in the Grand Prix paddock. The four-times champion always believed he could transition to Grand Prix. Having finished just missed the podium on a Cagiva at Donington Park in 1993 when he ran out of fuel, it’s clear he had the aptitude to adapt to another bike. Could he have succeeded? Whitham is in no doubt. “Would Carl have been a successful 500GP rider,” mused Whitham. “Yeah, I think he would have. His mindset would have helped him. In his head he thought he was the best rider in the world and that determination would’ve helped him. We’ll never know but I wouldn’t bet against Foggy. He rode well when he had some chances and could have had a podium. I think he would have made a decent 500 rider. Would he have rivalled Doohan? Foggy would say he could have and Mick would probably disagree!” There’s no doubts about Bayliss in the premier class. He raced there for three seasons on two different bikes. He won a race, had some

podiums and he had plenty of big crashes. His speed was clear from the outset, by leading at the second round in South Africa and taking a podium next time out. His debut season was very strong and he was regular front runner. Things went off the rails in 2004 with a difficult Ducati, and then he moved to Honda for 2005. Bayliss was a fast MotoGP rider and if the opportunity had come earlier in his career it’s easy to see how he could have stayed around longer. It was his late start in racing that clearly worked against him as a MotoGP rider, but with three titles on three different models of Ducati, he was clearly adaptable. Rea has shown speed on everything he’s thrown a leg over. His speed on a motocross bike is not to be underestimated. In Endurance racing he’s been fast at Suzuka but not quite as polished as other riders. His MotoGP outings were solid – top tens - and showed there was very much a good base to build on...if only he had the chance. Rea has had windows to move to the Grand Prix paddock but not the right opportunity. He’s fast and adaptable to conditions and bikes but doesn’t have the CV like Bayliss or Fogarty.


www.worldsbk.com

WHO’S TOP 5 IN WorldSBK?


FEATURE

Adaptability is a strength for all three riders but one has a clear edge. Fogarty. Speed This is where it gets tricky! Who’s the fastest? Speed is such an important part of a racer’s arsenal, but these three were so dominant at different times that their speed is unquestioned. Foggy was the King of The Mountain in the early 90’s and then went on to become a Superbike reference. Bayliss stepped into his boots and Ducati didn’t miss a beat. Rea turned up as an 18 year old kid in British Superbikes and by the fifth round

he had it dialled in enough to take a pole position. By the following year he was a regular front runner. In his third season on a Superbike he was a race winner and took the championship to the wire against the established stars. In 2008 he moved to the world stage on a Supersport machine but before year’s end he was already on a Superbike, and qualifying on the front row for his debut at the season closing round at Portimao. The following year he finished fifth in the championship as a WorldSBK rookie. He was 22 years old and never looked back.

“Jonathan always had the raw speed and talent,” assess Michael Laverty. “He had a number of years on an uncompetitive Honda Fireblade and that made him really knuckle down on the technical side of the bike. He had to work hard on the settings to get the most out of the bike, and also what he could get from his own riding to get the maximum from himself. When you add that to his raw speed he was already a very strong rider, and once you put all that together on a strong package at Kawasaki he became how aware of how much easier things can be with a good bike.


WHO’S TOP 5 IN WorldSBK? “He has natural speed, he works hard and his technical knowledge and level of understanding is very high. Jonathan doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, he’s very polished now and he’s ironed out the crashes from when he was younger. He’s the full package now as far as a Superbike rider is concerned. “If I was to pick one thing that he’s maybe a bit weaker on, and I think this comes from spending only one year on a 125 GP bike before moving onto production bikes, he doesn’t carry a lot of corner speed. I think that with Michelin or

Bridgestone tyres this might have been an issue with transitioning to MotoGP, because you need that style in MotoGP. That’s not an issue with the Pirelli tyres and WorldSBK though.”

improved his qualifying in recent years, Bayliss has a clear edge over a single lap. Fogarty’s speed was very impressive but more so for his consistency and ability to stay at that limit.

While Rea was able to show his natural speed from an early age, Bayliss showed his by overcoming that late start and immediately showing his potential. He was a fast learner and his raw speed shouldn’t be underestimated. Only Tom Sykes and Troy Corser, the established Superpole stars, have more pole positions than Bayliss, and while Rea has

There’s nothing to choose between the three, but Rea’s performances at such young ages and ability to immediately show his potential underlines his raw speed. Legacy Who has left the biggest mark on the series? Rea has re-written the history books, he holds all recognisable records in WorldSBK, and


is statistically the greatest Superbike rider of all-time. Bayliss was at the centre of some of the most important moments of WorldSBK history and arguably should have won the 2002 title at a canter. Fogarty made UK headline news, front and back, for his antics. Fogarty was crucial in establishing the Superbike World Championship, especially in Britain at a time when is success coincided with live broadcast coverage on one of the major Sports networks. He was discarded by the Grand Prix paddock despite his mettle and raced with a chip on his shoulder. His ‘me against the world’ mentality perfectly suited WorldSBK in its early days. For many people the memories of seeing over 100,000 fans at British tracks or the takeover of Assen grandstands with Union Jack waving fans sticks in the mind. Foggy was loved by his fans and loathed by his detractors. He had a love him or hate him personality that made him wildly popular with some and incredibly unpopular with others. At races in the United States he had few fans and lots of critics. Bayliss was loved almost universally. He was an everyman made good, and

humble about his successes. His fanbase is still extensive, as shown by the level of interest when he returned to action for Ducati in 2015. Rea doesn’t illicit the same response as either rider. The Northern Irishman is universally respected but is he loved? Not to the same degree as the other Superbike greats. It’s something that clearly irks Rea but his legacy on the championship will be left in the record books. In terms of the legacy they’ve left on the championship and the impact they’ve had across the board there’s only one winner; Fogarty. Overall: who’s the best? On any given day I’ll give you a different answer so this really should be written in pencil to allow a correction! Which of these is the best Superbike rider of all-time? If I was to pick one rider to rag a bike for one lap and get the fastest time my vote would go to Bayliss. To win a race if my last euro was on the line? I’d back Fogarty. For a championship? Rea’s track record is incredible with Kawasaki. Who’s the greatest? There’s nothing to choose between them, but Jonathan Rea is the greatest Superbike rider of all-time.

His talent and speed is immense but his ability to win the 2019 WorldSBK title showed something that Bayliss and Fogarty couldn’t match. Rea was a wounded animal after four rounds and had been firmly put in his place until Sunday June 9. Amazingly it wasn’t even a race that he won that turned around his season. A messy crash with Alex Lowes in Race 1 had left him on the back foot for Sunday’s action. When Alvaro Bautista crashed out, his first slip of the season, Rea collected points but not a win. That moment though was pivotal in the greatest turnaround (or the greatest collapse in the case of the Spaniard) ever seen in WorldSBK. The relentless pressure from Rea that year was the hallmark of a legend and, for today at least, is the difference between Rea, Fogarty and Bayliss.


Please make no attempt to imitate the illustrated riding scenes, always wear protective clothing and observe the applicable provisions of the road traffic regulations! The illustrated vehicles may vary in selected details from the production models and some illustrations feature optional equipment available at additional cost.

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Photo: R. Schedl

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The best lines happen offline. Just like surfing the web has nothing to do with the ocean, you will never Feel the thrill of twisting the throttle from behind a desk.

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WorldSBK BLOG

THE REAL HIGHLIGHTS When I look back over 20 or so years of photographing the Superbike World Championship some of the most memorable moments are from the early days of travelling around the world. In the very beginning I had invested in a whole load of new kit, including long lenses and a film scanner. I used to have to process film in the press room and scan and ‘wire’ images to one of my clients. The conundrum was to figure out how all this could be transported with me. At the time it seemed a good idea to buy some lovely bright orange Pelican camera cases, a hard polypropylene box that is waterproof and quite honestly bombproof. It was a great idea until you try to check in 4 pieces of luggage at the airport, and then expect it all to turn up at the other end, after a 12hour flight to Johannesburg. I don’t think journalist Gordon Ritchie will ever forget the time we spent in Tokyo Central Station either, as we transferred from the

Narita Express train from the airport to the Shinkansen line for a bullet train to Sugo, with me lugging these bags up and down escalators and across the busiest train station in the world. Thankfully I soon learned the skill of packing light. The following year saw biblical amounts of rain at Phillip Island which eventually meant race two was cancelled, but not before we spent an hour or so preparing for the race, with the grid forming up and a sighting lap being run. Wet days are to be expected but at that time the race in Australia was run back to back with Sugo in Japan. A group of us spent the Monday after the race in a hotel in Melbourne trying to dry out our shoes and clothes.

I do recall leaving my trainers in the bin after they disintegrated and visiting the shops on the way to the airport for a replacement pair. There were many other standout moments from times spent in Melbourne with the group of journalists and photographers that travelled together in those early years. It kind of became our ‘Las Vegas’ and in the true spirit, and my assumption that this will be read by a family audience, what went in Melbourne, stays in Melbourne. It is something that resonates with me that in the early years of working in the WorldSBK paddock they seemed to be more relaxed, enjoyable times. I guess it is something to do with the specific group of people that


BY GRAEME BROWN travelled together at that time and there are many that I miss dearly, some no longer with us at all. It’s also something to do with getting older and more cynical but certainly the demands and immediacy of the work we do has taken its toll. I hope that Jamie and Vaclav that travel and work with me now don’t feel in any way short changed and that they are able to form their own special memories of our work and travels. In racing terms, like many, I won’t forget the title deciding race weekend in Imola in 2002. I was fortunate enough to be working for the Castrol Honda team at the time and remember it being very tense watching and photographing the race and knowing where to be to get the right shots. That tension never leaves me and the title-winning day in any year is always a stressful affair.

The days after that race in 2002 were equally as memorable as Colin Edwards and some of the team spent time at the home of Guido Cappellini, F1 Powerboat World Champion, on Lake Como. We spend a day on the water where Colin drove the Powerboat and enjoyed wonderful meals in the evening, celebrating the win with the team and the staff from Castrol. Being able to attend and photograph these special events are the things that live in the memory more in many cases than the actual races do. In 2015, after the race in Laguna Seca, Jonathan Rea was invited to the Pala Raceway in Southern California to ride motocross with Jeremy McGrath. I was staying on after the race for a couple of weeks as my son was competing in the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles so it fitted in to go along and photograph

the day. What I didn’t realize was that Jonathan was meeting one of his boyhood heroes. That was a truly special day for him and for me to be there to share that was something I won’t forget either. Lots of people ask what is the most memorable race you have photographed and there are so many its difficult to pick out one. Imola 2002 I think stands above them all but it’s honestly something that sometimes passes me by. I am caught up in the moment doing my job that I don’t get to watch a race. I see 10-15 seconds of action through a viewfinder, before jumping on a scooter and rushing to another corner for my next brief ‘fix’. Aside from some distinctive events there are a host of many other things that happen, some fairly mundane, that always stay with me wherever I am.


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Like riding a push bike with a world champion after a photoshoot; or seeing the Aurora Borealis at 39,000ft on an overnight flight to Japan; or standing at the side of the track at Jerez in January in warm sunshine whilst my wife is stuck in traffic, in the snow, at home; or going whale watching at 5am in Monterey Bay, California; or visiting a wildlife conservation park in South Africa and playing with lion cubs; many things that are not directly related to a race but nonetheless have only been possible because I work as a photographer in professional motorcycle racing. It’s a collection of memories that I am privileged to have and that is also something I won’t forget.

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ON TRACK OFF ROAD

‘On-track Off-road’ is a free, monthly publication for the screen focussed on bringing the latest perspectives on events, blogs and some of the very finest photography from the three worlds of MXGP, the AMA Motocross and Supercross series’, MotoGP, WorldSBK as well as the latest bike tests. ‘On-track Off-road’ will be published online at www.ontrackoffroad.com on the last Wednesday of the month. To receive an email notification that a new issue available with a brief description of each edition’s contents simply enter an address in the box provided on the homepage. All email addresses will be kept strictly confidential and only used for purposes connected with OTOR. Adam Wheeler Editor and MXGP/MotoGP correspondent Ray Archer Photographer Steve Matthes AMA MX and SX correspondent James Lissimore AMA SX Photographer Cormac Ryan-Meenan MotoGP Photographer www.cormacgp.com Rob Gray MotoGP Photographer David Emmett MotoGP Blogger Neil Morrison MotoGP Blogger & Feature writer Graeme Brown WSB Blogger and Photographer Roland Brown Tester/Columnist Núria Garcia Cover Design Gabi Álvarez Web developer Hosting FireThumb7 - www.firethumb7.co.uk Thanks to www.mototribu.com for the share Check out www.evenstrokes.com for the best UK MX deals PHOTO CREDITS Ray Archer, CormacGP, Polarity Photo, GeeBee Images, Mat Oxley, HRC James Lissimore, Cover shot: The most successful riders since 2015 & OTOR #100... This publication took a lot of time and effort to put together so please respect it! Nothing in this publication can be reproduced in whole or part without the written permission of the editorial team. For more information please visit www.ontrackoffroad.com and click ‘Contact us’.

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On-Track Off-Road issue 200  

The sixth issue in 2020 of a monthly motorcycle sport magazine with some of the best interviews, features and Blogs from the heart of MotoGP...

On-Track Off-Road issue 200  

The sixth issue in 2020 of a monthly motorcycle sport magazine with some of the best interviews, features and Blogs from the heart of MotoGP...

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