Ryan Vickers Q&A

courtesy of Gareth Davies of Full Factory Photography, which you can follow on Twitter and Facebook.

After a few too many pints, I spoke to Ryan Vickers, a National Superstock 600 rider who is more than certain to be in the running for race wins throughout the remainder of the season. Under the guidance of former Grand Prix winner Alan Carter, he is improving all the time and despite a tricky weekend in Scotland, he looks forward to going to his home round at Snetterton in just under two weeks time. Here’s what he had to say about a range of topics and his own career.

What do you need to do to make the next step forward in Superstock 600?

Well, at Snetterton, I want to get on the podium. We had a test there last week and we was in the top two, also because it is my local circuit. I’ve just got to aim for the highest position I suppose and see where we go from there. We’ve got to keep working in order to see the best and be the best and keep moving forward.

What got you into motorcycle racing?

My dad to be honest. He finished 4th in the world wheelie competition. I just got on a motocross bike and rode around in field. I started my first ever race when I was 7; I got a 3rd in the first race, a 2nd in the second race and a win in my third. I carried on with motocross up until a couple of years ago, when I switched to the tarmac and stayed ever since.

Where do you see yourself come the end of the season?

Towards the end of the season and especially the next six races, we will be pushing for higher results. I’ve got my worst circuit out the way now so now, we are aiming for top fives and trying to get championship points. It is a long championship so we’ve just got to keep pushing but we hope for a top five at the end of the championship. We came into Knockhill 7th in the championship and dropped to 10th which isn’t very good, but we can focus now on recovering that.

Who is your main rival in 2017?

There’s two riders who are dominating this year: Dan Stamper and Tom Oliver. They’re way ahead in the title and if I can consistently stay with them or beat them then that’s a good objective and quite helpful in progressing up the order in the championship.

What is your end goal?

As you know sometimes it can change because the main goal doesn’t necessarily work out. I’d love to go the Spanish route, via Moto2 and then into the MotoGP paddock. I rode a Moto2 bike in Spain in February and it was absolutely awesome. You’ve got to take the routes that open door and I’m open to all options, whether they be BSB or World Supersport or World Superbikes. As long as I conquer the classes I’m in so I can progress to the top I’m happy.

What’s your opinion on Moto2 being phased into BSB to be raced alongside the British Supersport?

I definitely think that it should be phased in because it’s sort of the way everything is going and it’s a stepping stone. It would make a great intermediate class. I think there should be another route as well for aspiring Superbike riders. Moto2 in BSB is going to be awesome because young riders – like myself – who want to jump on a Moto2 bike and go to the World or Spanish championships need a stepping stone like Moto2. It’s a good thing also with the price, because no matter what class you pick at that level will be expensive no matter what way you look at it. Being on Moto2 bikes will be more supported by small companies because it’s more looked at. It will be good to see how well it comes along as a route to MotoGP?

Are you more interested in going to MotoGP or World Superbikes?

My preference is definitely MotoGP? I like the whole prototype aspect. MotoGP is the pinnacle of all bike racing. I don’t really know why if I’m honest, it is just more my route, however, getting to World Superbikes would still be a mega, mega achievement.

World Superbikes has declined in the last few years – why do you think that is and how would you improve that?

That’s a hard question. They’ve tried bringing it back to life with the starting grid reform for race 2, which I support a bit, but also disagree with a bit. Rea, Davies, Melandri etc are all coming through and it all finishes the same at the end. I am more pro-reverse grid than anti-reverse grid. It does make it a lot more interesting because you don’t always know how well they will come through. Especially, the first round they did it because you asked yourself ‘can they really do it?’. It has become almost boring in a way, because you know the results by the time certain riders have come through. So maybe one way to get people interested into WSBK would be like a production line into that series, to give them more young riders. Like I’ve said, WSBK seems to be more of a dead end and maybe there needs to be another step up at the end of that. One thing it does need is maybe more personalities. It would be nice to see someone like Rea pushed up to MotoGP and give someone else a chance

With the proposal of the controlled ECU for 2018, would that maybe discourage Kawasaki and Ducati from coming into the championship?

No, I don’t think so, because they’re top class manufacturers who will always find ways around it. It’s definitely going to make it closer because in the British championships – where the rule is already in place – a variety of people can win the races, as we saw this weekend. It might make it closer but again, you can’t take it away from Chaz or Jonny, as they are unbelievable riders.

Would you say there are too many Brits in WSBK?

WSBK is not a dying class but it hasn’t really progressed. It’s come to a little bit of dead end. Hopefully things like the World Supersport 300 class will revitalise it a little bit. It’s been a very successful class I’d say. It has a massive grid and a massive range of talent on the grid. They’re all on identical machinery. It gives young riders the chance at a cheaper rate than Moto3 or Moto2, to be successful. They’re in the right paddock and can travel the world and also gives the sponsors the opportunity to progress. It’s a great stepping stone on a road-go bike and is great for the manufacturers too. It’s great for race craft, like in Imola where you’ve got a massive battle for the lead.

Do you think the British Talent Cup will be as successful?

I do support it, and I don’t support. I think the age limit should be expanded a bit because whilst they’re trying to promote riders to Moto3, the majority of the top Moto3 riders are in their 20s. It cancels out people like me. I’m 18 and kind of in the mid-ground where there’s not many opportunities to progress and that’s hard. I came into short circuits late and it’s hard to get in the GP paddock at an older age, even though I’m not really that old. There is still time. I dont feel like there’s much support for my age group. I’d probably have to take the old fashioned route through BSB, WSBK and then onto MotoGP. I can’t even apply for Red Bull Rookies. It is good that they have taken an insight into Britain though, because we as a country haven’t really been pushing talent through.

Do you think Superstock 600 in BSB should be promoted more?

Yes. I definitely think so, arguably more than Supersport because there stock class is more or less completely off the shelf, give or take a few mods to make it safer for racing. Pushing the Superstock 600 class might possibly even make the sales of 600cc bikes go up, even though some might say it’s a dying class.

Photos

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

Josh Brookes’ Tribute to Alan Bonner

Every motorsport death is sad. Whatever the sport, you lose a member of the community and family. Sometimes however, series such as Indycar and events such as the Isle of Man TT have arguably more deaths than what most would consider normal and controversially, have been campaigned against to try and stop such events. I caught up with Josh Brookes, who lost a friend in Alan Bonner at the TT this year. The Australian superstar reminds us how the expected is always unexpected and how we should remember Alan. This is Josh Brookes’ tribute to Alan Bonner and how he as a rider and friend, overcome the situation carry on through TT week.

“Unfortunately, due to circumstances, Alan Bonner had died. The reason it affected me was because he did nothing wrong. There was oil on the track and he was just the rider who got to it at the wrong time at the wrong speed and the wrong place, and he wouldn’t have known anything about it. I asked myself, ‘why does it make a difference’ because – sorry to be blunt – but he is still dead. It doesn’t matter about the reasons that caused it because it is the same outcome at the end. It bothered me because he did nothing wrong. He was so innocent in the whole thing.

Alan was the tent next door to me. I knew Paul Owen, the ex TT rider and he was a mechanic for Alan. I was going into the awning to chat with Paul and Alan was there, so the banter started and there was plenty of good fun with jokes and just having a real good laugh. I got really friendly with him and he’d liked the fact that ‘Josh Brookes, BSB Champion’ was hanging out with him. Because of the position of my motorhome, we saw each other more or less everyday. He’d use my motorhome to warm his porridge up every morning, so when I found out what happened, it wasn’t that I’d just lost a competitor but it was more like I lost a mate.

If they said that he’d just have fallen or if we saw the line that he took and it was a mistake, then we could think, ‘at least he had control’. You’d think, ‘we are all out there doing the same thing and we took our life out of our own hands’. Most people don’t understand that because of the way they value life.

If you’d made a mistake yourself and you suffered yourself, you had control. You chose what it took to get there, you chose the line and it was your choice that led to the incident. However, when it’s nothing to do with any of that and you’re riding well within your capabilities and it’s an outside element, an outside factor that swept him away, it’s difficult to comprehend and accept and that really bothered me.

I have to say that I did have a feeling of realisation. It’s not that you don’t know – everyone knows it can happen to you – but you ignore it because you have to carry on. Just when I felt completely at ease with the bike, I had a situation that bothered me and took the wind out of me a little bit. It made the first lap of the race much more difficult, far more intense than it needed to be or would’ve been. I had my own thoughts in my own head and they was affecting how I was riding.

I got to the end of the first lap and it felt like I had got rid of that excess tension. I felt good on the bike, everything was going OK and then, I just carried on with my own destiny. Then, on the 2nd lap, Ian Hutchinson fell off and it was red flagged, so we all pulled over. At that point we knew Hutchy was OK – injured, but OK. We went back to the start, had a restart and as you know, we had a strong race.

This will sound disrespectful, but the other guys, I didn’t know. Don’t get me wrong, we all felt awful when Davy Lambert and Jochem van der Hoek died, but personally, it was better for me if I didn’t know them because it was easier for me to put it behind and focus. When you don’t know them, it’s easier to carry on because you didn’t lose anything personal to you, as sad as it was. Any TT rider will tell you that it is sad when anyone dies but there’s some weird affect it has on you when it’s personal. It’s not that their deaths weren’t as important, it’s just that we didn’t have a personal connection. The same as some riders wouldn’t have a personal connection like I did with Alan.

When it’s someone you was just speaking to and you have a laugh with and have fond conversations with that form a friendship, it’s harder. We spoke about racing a lot. He spoke about a crash he had at the Ulster Grand Prix and he was just one of the lads who was willing to take the risks.

I feel for the family that he’s left behind, because despite knowing the dangers, the crash that killed him wasn’t anything to do with him. Life isn’t worth living if you’re just competing. If the world was controlled where you couldn’t do anything dangerous, then I’d probably be on the verge of suicide anyway!

I take perspective from someone like Michael Schumacher, who lived his life in one of the most dangerous sports, to end up being seriously injured on a holiday. I may as well carry on doing what I’m doing because there’s other factors that can kill you too. It’s the same for Nicky Hayden – of all the times he could’ve been killed, it happens on a bicycle when you think you’ll be OK. The times when I think you’re going to be safe are when I’m driving the car or walking on a footpath but often, that’s when it can kill you. So, I look at it and think, ‘you can’t stop doing something because of the chances it might go wrong’.

It’s easy to say that we’re all adrenalin junkies and you do it for the feeling etc. Yes, there are elements of that but ultimately you wouldn’t do it all your life because eventually, you’d acclimatise and wouldn’t be bothered by it. Being competitive and riding a motorcycle pushes you to overlook what you’re willing to risk.

The point I’m getting at is it’s not the fact that Alan died. It’s the ‘how’ he was killed that bothers me. All the emotional concern or worry is the circumstances of how it happened. I spoke to Dean Harrison and you know when you need a chat with a lad to make sure that they’re thinking the same as you? Well, we didn’t go too deep into it but we spoke about how none of us are going to go any slower in the next race. We are all going to go out there and ride as hard or harder than the previous time. The English language doesn’t allow you to describe the emotion fully.

There’s other activities and sports such as mountain climbing and skiing where there a lot of deaths. Someone loses their father, son or partner but the next year, they’re doing it again because that’s exactly what the other person would’ve done. They would’ve been there on that next holiday. Alan would’ve been at the Ulster GP this year and warming his porridge up with me at the TT again next year”.

You can donate to Alan Bonner’s GoFundMe page here, helping the family with costs and all money raised over the target amount will go to a charity of Alan’s choice.

Picture courtesy of Josh Brookes’ Twitter, here

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

 

Mossey: I Never Doubted My Ability

 

On a surprisingly warm summers day in the Knockhill pit lane, I caught up with championship leader Luke Mossey, getting his thoughts on the season so far, having Leon Haslam as a teammate and his prospects for this year and beyond. Mossey went on to take a podium (2nd) in race one and 4th in race two but leads the championship by a huge 30 points over teammate Haslam, who was absent from Knockhill following a free practice accident.

How would you sum up your season so far?

I’ve had two strong years on the Superbike, including the rookie year. We’ve had some strong testing and we said to ourselves we are ready to win races. Not only did we do that but we got our first double as well. I couldn’t really ask for a better season so far up to this point.

Are you under pressure having Leon as your teammate or do you learn things?

We’ve learnt a few things but I never doubted my ability. We knew we had speed and the issues that we did experience have gone. Of course, having Leon in the team will up my game and it will need to if I am to match a man of his stature because he’s been around a long time and has a wealth of experience. We are ready to up our game further but so far, so good.

Would you consider being at an advantage in comparison to Leon, having had more time with this team?

No, not really. It is only my third year and I’ve been on a thousand for two and a half years, whereas Leon has been around for about 15 years so I wouldn’t say that’s an advantage at all. Having a third season with the team brings some nice continuity but Leon has got experience.


Can you focus more on racing without him being your teammate for this round and possibly the next?

I like Leon and I get on really well with him but at the end of the day he’s just another guy I need to beat. It doesn’t matter if he was here, he’d have been at the front. His absence doesn’t really effect me or my team that much really.


Is Leon your main title threat?

If I’m honest, it’s Leon and Shakey for sure. Shakey had a bit of bad start to the year at Donington Park but he’s always going to be there or there abouts for sure.

How is it working with Pete for a third season?

He’s like a second dad really. We get on really well and I feel privileged to stay for a third year really and hopefully we have another year or two maybe but we will wait and see. If the opportunities come along then we’ve got to look at the world stage. I’m 24 and just starting my Superbike career so we would like to go there in two or three years but for now our focus is primarily on BSB. The MotoGP thing is a bit of a dream. You’ll never get Movistar Yamaha and you’ll never get a Repsol Honda. It’s great to say you race in MotoGP but I wouldn’t go there to finish 15th on a satellite Ducati because it doesn’t mean anything to me. I would rather stay in Britain and win races.

Can you win the championship in 2017?

Yeh for sure. We’ve got the bike, we’ve got the team and if we don’t win it then it won’t be through lack of trying. I’ve put my heart and soul into it and it’s a very tough championship – one of the toughest in the world and the goal is always to be in the top three but we are going for the title this season.

Would you consider road racing, seeing as this team has road racing pedigree?

I have absolutely no intentions in doing road racing whatsoever. Unless they paid a million pounds for it but I think that’s the end of that! I scare myself enough on the short circuits so the TT is not really in my mind. I think it is amazing what those riders do but it really doesn’t appeal to me.

Image courtesy of Gareth Davies at Full Factory Photography, which you can follow on Twitter and Facebook.

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

WSBK Misano Preview: Kawasaki Party… Again?

Gareth Davies of Full Factory Photography

 

World Superbikes stumble into Italy this weekend for the 2nd time this year. This time however, it is at the historic Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, in Rimini on the Adriatic Coast. Having his lead chopped down by 20 points at Donington Park, Jonathan Rea will be feeling the heat that former champion and teammate Tom Sykes is putting on him.

Reigning champion Rea crashed out for the first time this season in race one at Donington Park, the first time he’s been outside the top 2, too. The Kawasaki rider has 55 points over teammate Sykes although that may well change this weekend. It was a confident double win last year for Rea at Misano, fending off pressure from Sykes in race one before dominating on Sunday. A repeat performance perhaps, or will it be an in form Tom Sykes to spoil a Northern Irish party?

Sykes’ victory at Donington Park was his first of the year, astonishingly. The Huddersfielder has only finished off the podium three times this season but too many third place finishes explain the gargantuan gap between him and his teammate. Last year, Sykes came away from Misano with two second places but he knows this year he has to beat teammate Rea. It all depends on how many bikes can get in between the two all conquering Kawasakis.

Chaz Davies made another mistake at Donington Park. Crashing out of the lead at Goddard’s in the first race, Davies sits a massive 75 points behind Jonny Rea. Two retirements have put Davies’ title surge on the back foot for now but if anyone can overturn, the Welshman can. We are coming to the circuits at which he dominated last year and it only takes a mistake from the Kawasaki pairing and Davies will be there to pick up the scraps. His best result at Misano remains a third place but he has crashed out three times from ten races.

Marco Melandri hasn’t looked like a serious championship threat all season and he completes the leading four in the championship, some 123 points behind Rea. Barring miracles, Melandri doesn’t look like a challenger for the top three however, stranger things have happened. The former MotoGP race winner hasn’t had a podium since race one at Imola and is yet to win a race on his WSBK return. The last time he visited Misano, he came away with two third-place finishes but like Davies, he has never won there. The new Panigale is yet to win there too, with the last Ducati victory at Misano coming from a Carlos Checa double in 2011.

Britain’s Alex Lowes put in a stirling effort to take his first podium in over two years at Donington Park. It was also Yamaha’s first of the year. Just one DNF all season, the former British Superbike champion is starting to surge forward and now with the pressure of his home round out the way, he can focus on trying to catch Melandri for 4th (he is only 16 points behind). Alex has had a best finish 8th at Misano, which he matched last year but nothing less than a top five will suffice for the Lincolnshire rider.

Teammate Michael van der Mark is in 6th place as he continue to work through his schedule of adapting to his new Yamaha. The Dutchman is yet to take a podium this year but you get the feeling it isn’t far away. Having been usurped out of 3rd in the closing stages of race two at Donington Park, he will come to Misano – like his teammate – with a bundle of confidence. He took a podium in the first race last year at the track on a dog-slow Honda but hasn’t won there – even in his Supersport days. Could Michael be an upset? Nothing will spur him on more than being just 19 points away from his teammate.

Keep your eyes open on other movers and shakers, such as Xavi Fores and Leon Camier, but also on Stefan Bradl, who recently completed a test at the track as the team continue to gain valuable data. Jordi Torres will always be in the top 10 but could spring a surprise in the races whilst the Aprilia pairing of Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Savadori will be desperate to make up for an apocalyptically disastrous Donington Park.

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

Halsall Slams Suzuki GB ‘Unprofessional’ over Bike Supply Feud

Images by Gareth Davies of Full Factory Photography.

Martin Halsall has branded Suzuki GB as “unprofessional” and “difficult to work with” following an ongoing issue, stemming from last year when the BSB Team Owner decided to drop the Japanese manufacturer after “poor communication”. Halsall once again mentioned communication as an issue, with Suzuki GB seemingly ignoring anything Martin mentions.

“I’m pretty disappointed really, with Suzuki. I had approached Suzuki to see if I could buy some bikes to do the Isle of Man TT with William Dunlop and then with a view to return to BSB. However, due to difficulty with Suzuki, I have not been able to get my hands on the bikes”.

“I have now written a letter to Japan to see if that can do anything but what Suzuki have got to realise is that they are a PLC, so they’re answerable to shareholders. So, the people not selling me the bikes are answerable to the people willing to invest in their business”.

Halsall left the manufacturer last September, having done so well with the bike, considering it is seven years old.

“There’s no logical sense to why I can’t buy bikes off Suzuki, it makes absolutely no sense. OK, I ran Suzuki and then decided not to run Suzuki for 2017. However, as a bike, the 2017 model is a very, very good piece of equipment and that was never in question before; I always knew it was going to be a good bike, I just didn’t want to work with Suzuki GB anymore.

“I like to do things my way and if I’m the one spending the bulk of the money, then I should be having the say. I think they forgot who’s team it was from time to time. If they want to fund the whole of the team’s budget, then that’s fine and people can be answerable to them but if they’re not, they have to succumb to the person who is paying the bill – which was me. It has already been good out of the box as a stock bike with Richard Cooper in the National Superstock 1000 Championship, so there’s no reason why it can’t be a really good and competitive Superbike”.

Have Suzuki messed this up? The Halsall Racing outfit is one of the most striking and well branded teams in the paddock, with a huge presence still existent from last year, ranging from merchandise to fans of Halsall’s operation of his team.

“People can see how I brand things. The thing about my businesses are that they are exceptionally branded. We’ve invested a lot of money into having proper marketing done and proper branding done to be professional with the business. I would do a good job with any branding. We’ve done it already with movuno.com, the online estate agents”. There’s no reason why we can’t follow that through to Superbikes and create an exceptionally well branded team with it”.

Have Suzuki no loyalty? Halsall dropped a proven race winner in the Kawasaki at the end of 2014 to pursue success with Suzuki – which he achieved. Now, despite persevering with a seven year old bike, the effervescent charismatic Lancastrian now finds himself banging his head against a brick wall.

“There is no reason why we as a team with the right rider can’t make the 2017 Suzuki work. We proved what we could do last year with two podiums on a bike that effectively, nobody else was interested in running. Primarily, I ran the bike with the bigger picture of picking up the new bike. So for me to walk away from Suzuki – after making massive investments for two years – hurts a bit”.

“Primarily, why can I not buy bikes? I can go and buy bikes tomorrow morning from any Suzuki dealer, without the Halsall Team name. We will be wanting some race parts from Yoshimura, from Suzuki and therefore, it makes sense to have a proper link with Suzuki – which I have tried to do on numerous occasions. I can’t see any logical sense at all in why I can’t buy bikes”.

“It’s good for Suzuki’s anyway if another team runs their brand. It is also healthy for a championship and the fans. ‘Why not bet on two horses’ comes to mind. I wouldn’t mind, it isn’t at Suzuki’s expense! It’s an absolute no-brainer. I think it is really unprofessional how a well-known brand is turning down such a well-known, successful and popular team with great presence in the paddock”.

Suzuki haven’t helped their image in this sorry saga. No WSBK effort and a difficult start to their 2017 MotoGP campaign, they’re relying mainly on BSB for their results – and that, as it stands, is risky business. Although risky business to them succeeds ‘no business’ with Martin.

“It’s had an effect on William Dunlop too. He wanted to ride the Suzuki at the TT but that isn’t possible. It is just crazy that they won’t give a top class road racer a bike that he demands. It has actually stopped the road racing side of Halsall Racing Team progressing on the roads because primarily, we’ve run out of time. Within the communication I’ve had with Suzuki, I made it clear that William Dunlop would ride the bike and that is what he wanted.

“At the end of the day, I own Halsall Racing. I am in charge. The people who I am trying to deal with aren’t representative of what Suzuki stand for. If i had the bikes in time for the TT, we could have got them prepared, potentially leading to a come back in BSB. If we got the right rider, there’s no reason we couldn’t run in BSB from 2017 and be successful”.

This is a developing story and you can find out exactly what the outcome of it will be when we hear news of it.

 

Story by @MotoGPKiko

Raw Emotion

Prosperity. Positivity. Hope. Many things were bought to the MotoGP and World Superbike paddocks but it was Nicky Hayden who did it better than anyone else. From long hair to man-buns, hardcore riding to effortless speed, Nicky Hayden brought a breath of fresh air with him wherever he ended up. From his first MotoGP race at Suzuka in 2003, to his last WSBK race at Imola in 2017, the effervescent American was a charmer in every sense of the word. The world of sport warmed to him and now the world of sport mourns him.

The first time Nicky Hayden was a name amongst the racing world was in 2001, after a stellar season in the AMA Superbike championship. Finishing 3rd behind the likes of championship victor Mat Mladin and runner-up Eric Bostrom was by no means something to be ashamed of – and of course, Nicky being Nicky, he wasn’t. The 20 year old Kentucky rider was starting to become a bit of a pest within the AMA hierarchy. But it was welcome. His warm personality and constant smile was something that disguised his fierce, tenacious nature on circuit. The reason for the number 69 was because he crashed so much as a kid, he needed a number that he could read upside down. If that wasn’t a personality, then seriously, what was?

In 2002, Hayden became AMA Superbike champion, beating Mat Mladin to take his first big championship victory. Not only did he win the championship, but he won the Daytona 200, the motorcycle racing world’s answer to the Indy 500 or the Monaco Grand Prix. His efforts were rewarded with an outing in World Superbikes, at his home round at Laguna Seca, California. Finishing a strong 4th in race one before a collision in race two saw him finish in 13th, us as motorcycle fans knew we were witnessing something special. This young rider was sending shockwaves in all championships, rocketing through every paddock he welcomely stepped foot in.

2003 would see Nicky Hayden make the big time. Not only had he joined the MotoGP family but he joined the Repsol Honda Team and Valentino Rossi in a season that would be remembered for a variety of reasons. Finishing the season in 5th position meant that not only had he become Rookie of the Year, but he had beaten proven talent such as former WSBK champion Troy Bayliss, reigning WSBK champion and fellow countryman Colin Edwards, WSBK superstar Noriyuki Haga, Alex Barros, reigning 250cc champion Marco Melandri and fellow American John Hopkins. Hayden was ruffling feathers in the biggest possible way. Taking his first podium at Motegi and following it up two races later at Phillip Island, the talent had been showcased in great quantity.

Despite another two podiums in 2004, Hayden slipped down the leaderboard to 8th. But, it would be 2005 when The Kentucky Kid earned his corn. A return to Laguna Seca for the American Grand Prix would see Nicky Hayden dominate. Having not had a podium all season, times were looking hard. Pole position followed up by a classy, exuberant race win gave him America’s first win in the MotoGP era and Honda’s first ever at Laguna Seca. It was this race where a zest of Kevin Schwantz would come in, with the wild celebrations at the crowd’s demand. He was a hero. Hayden would go on and take five more podiums that season, finishing in the bronze medallist position at just his third attempt.

2006 was always going to be special. Hayden started the season with four podiums and never dropped below 5th before his first race win of a truly unforgettable campaign. A last lap dual with Colin Edwards will go down as the day that America conquered The Netherlands. Taking his 2nd ever win after a rare Colin Edwards crash on the last lap at the chicane, we once more saw that emotion which Nicky emitted every single time he achieved his goal. Three races later and he did it again, his third and final MotoGP win at home again. 2006 was turning into a Nicky Hayden year but in Portugal, we saw emotion that Nicky had never shown before.

Rookie teammate Dani Pedrosa wanted good results and needed them to stay in the fight for a top three placing. A pass on Nicky Hayden at the parabolica interior would send Repsol Honda spiralling to the ground, both on track and off. Management watched on in disbelief. All the effort of 2006. All the graft of the team. Every droplet of sweat and molecule of tear shed. It had all come to seemingly nothing. Dani Pedrosa wiped out his teammate with just one race left after Portugal. The swearing erupted from championship challenger Hayden. Fingers pointing and feet stomping. Tears streaming. Hayden wished he was only dreaming. A little boys dream to reign supreme was lying amongst the bits Repsol Honda in the gravel. Would this be his last chance?

“Valencia 2006” – a sentence that every MotoGP fan gets goosebumps thinking about. All Valentino Rossi had to do was beat Hayden, or make sure Hayden did not finish in a position that was worth nine points more than him. But even five time champions make mistakes. Rossi crashed in the race, all but gifting Nicky Hayden the title. Whilst the Ducatis of Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi took first and second, Nicky Hayden finished third, enough for him to take the crown and the crowd by storm. Screaming his name they were, in awe at what they just witnessed. One of MotoGP’s finest 45 minutes. As former commentator Charlie Cox would say, “the only thing predictable about MotoGP is that it is completely, unpredictable!”.

Defying the odds after despondently marching through the gravel across the border in tears of dejection two weeks previous, Nicky Hayden now celebrated in front of the longest continuous grandstand in the world, basking in the Spanish sun as the burnouts came surplus to requirement. And instead of tears of dejection, it was tears of joy. From the dirt tracks of Owensboro to the Grand Prix circus on the world stage, The Kentucky Kid had accomplished his childhood dream and ambition in becoming MotoGP world champion.

Never once did he give up or question his ability. He never once was put off by Valentino Rossi’s hoards of fans or by the status of the man he was battling with. Nicky displayed one of MotoGP’s most determined rides ever, with his natural charismatic style blending with his on track resilience to conquer the world and reign the two-wheeled King.

And that is how I want to remember Nicky Hayden. Not as someone who would only go on to achieve a handful more podiums. Not as a rider who was struggling on uncompetitive machinery in World Superbike. But as the champion of our hearts. The champion who was as common as the rest of us, just with that flamboyancy and individualism only Nicky could make work. A people’s racer with just one desire, he leaves us with some fantastic, irreplaceable and unforgettable memories. His ‘happy-go-lucky’ aura captivated millions of fans from across the planet as we watched one rider chase a dream before watching the same rider realise his dream had become a reality. Living on in our hearts and riding on above with some other stern opposition, you can be sure that Nicky Hayden will be remembered as a true legend, both on track and off it. The Kentucky Kid will never be forgotten, even if his visor has come down for the final time.

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

BREAKING: Brookes Replaces McGuinness at Jackson Racing in Supersport TT Bow

Josh Brookes has joined Jackson Racing Honda for the 2017 Isle of Man TT, in place of the injured John McGuinness following the Morecambe Missile’s crash at the NW200.

Former BSB champion Brookes has already been announced as a competitor on the Norton in the Superbike class at the TT and also as a rider for Ryan Farquhar’s KMR team in the Supertwins race.

The Australian first rode the 37 mile ‘Mountain’ course back in 2013 for TAS Tyco Suzuki, with a best result of 10th place. At the time, he was the fastest ever newcomer, setting a lap time of 127.726. Only Peter Hickman went quicker on his debut.

Brookes returned with the Shaun Muir Milwaukee Yamaha team for 2014, achieving a best result of 7th in the Senior TT which closed the week. He also achieved a 10th in the first Superbike outing.

Having had two years away, Josh said that he will be looking to “rekindle the memories” of the TT, but insisted to me in an exclusive interview that a 2nd BSB title is still top of the list and that a Senior TT wouldn’t be higher on the priority list.

There was talks of Brookes’ return to the road racing scene being slightly sooner, when the Anvil Yamaha Team he rides for in the BSB championship were contemplating the NW200 but the talks remained just that. Brookes and the Norton he will also be riding at the TT received backing to go to the NW200, with only insurance and homologation rules preventing such things.

The effervescent Australian is 4th in the British Superbike championship, just 9 points ahead of Shane Byrne who occupies 7th; the Londoner just 1 place outside the all-important showdown positions.

The TT will start on the 27th of May, finishing on the 9th of June.

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

Moto3 Spanish GP Preview: Home Victory or Home Defeat

 

Moto3 rolls back into life this weekend with the Spanish Grand Prix. Following Romano Fenati’s victory at COTA, the front four in the championship are covered by a mere 13 points, with Joan Mir leading the way from Jorge Martin and John McPhee. However, the return to Europe always shows us who the real deal is and who is going to be in the championship hunt to the end. We have yet to see the likes of Enea Bastianini, Fabio Di Giannantonio and Nicolo Bulega up at the sharp end, promising us a frantic next few races. The question is whether or not Spain will take a win or if one of the other nations will beat them on their home territory.

Joan Mir’s 8th place at COTA was his worst finish of the year, but he maintained the championship lead, despite it shrinking to just six points. The Spaniard will be searching for a good result at home and an improvement on last year’s sixth place at Jerez.

Jorge Martin will be wanting his first race win of the year, having started with two 3rd places and a 2nd at COTA. The young Spaniard scored a 14th at Jerez back in 2015 and that remains his best result, seeing as he crashed out last year. He and Mir may end up in a Spanish showdown on who will take honours in their home race.

Of course, it may be neither of them. John McPhee has had his best ever start to a year with two 2nd places and a 7th last time out in The States. Having spoken to the young Scot at the Oulton Park BSB meeting, it may well be worth watching him, as he is confident at more familiar circuits. Britain’s Danny Kent won the Moto3 race in 2015 and a repeat performance from McPhee would do us Brits just nicely indeed.

Romano Fenati elevated himself up the leaderboard after his first win of the year at COTA. Having won their in 2016, Fenati made amends whilst those around him fell and languished. The Italian has a winning history at Jerez too, with a dominant 36 second win in 2012 in just his 2nd ever GP. Can the diminutive Italian force his Honda to work around Jerez?

There’s more Italians in behind Fenati too. In 5th, Andrea Migno has finished every race in the points so far, with a worst result of 12th coming last time around. The VR46 rider will hope his form at Jerez will change, with 11th last year being his best. He is the first KTM rider in the championship and the manufacturer scored an excellent one-two last year. Could that signify something special on race day?

Fabio Di Giannantonio took 3rd place in COTA for his first podium of the year. The young Italian whipper-snapper returning to the form we know he has after being punted off by Bulega in Argentina. He crashed out of the race last year at Jerez but will be looking for the first back to back podiums of his career and maybe even his first win, to launch his title charge properly.

Nicolo Bulega’s 2nd at Jerez last year is his best Moto3 result to date and one of only two podiums. With a return to form at COTA with 5th, Bulega will be hopeful of a shot at the podium under the Spanish sun.

Watch out for other riders such as Aron Canet, Phillip Oettl and Juanfran Guevara, with Gabriel Rodrigo, Enea Bastianini and Livio Loi also hoping for good results. Former CEV riders Kaito Toba, Nakarin Atiratphuvapat, Tony Arbolino, Ayumu Sasaki and Marcos Ramirez will also feel more at home this weekend, coming to a circuit they are familiar with.

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

MotoGP Spanish GP Preview: A Sherry On Top of the Cake

The first European round of the 2017 MotoGP championship comes from Jerez de la Frontera for the Spanish Grand Prix. Situated over 600km away from the country’s capital Madrid, Jerez has seen some memorable scenes acted out around the 2.7 mile track. From Michael Doohan and Alex Criville in 1996 to Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau in 2005, this circuit has seen it all and we could be in for a weekend filled with action and drama as well as thrills and spills.

Valentino Rossi, for the first time since November 2015, leads the series. The Movistar Yamaha veteran has finished on the podium in every race so far this year and arrives at a track at which he has triumphed on nine occasions, the most recent being last year. With a six point lead over teammate Maverick Vinales, The Doctor will need to bring his ‘A’ game to Jerez. Should he win at Jerez, it will be his 10th at the track and his 22nd in Spain, as well as 115th in his GP career. The scene of many incidents in his career, Jerez is steeped in Rossi history but what will the future hold for 38-year-old Italian, as he continues his quest for title number 10. He’s like a good Spanish wine: he gets better with age.

Chasing him in the championship is Maverick Vinales, making it a dream start to Movistar Yamaha’s 2017 championship aspirations. However, Vinales couldn’t handle the heat in Texas, falling in the opening laps, gifting teammate Rossi the series lead by a mere six points. Having won at Jerez in his 2013 Moto3 championship year, Maverick’s best result in the MotoGP category was 6th place last season on the Suzuki. Two wins to his name so far this year indicate Vinales’ pace but now we arrive at circuits which are familiar to all MotoGP riders. Yamaha have won at the track for the last two seasons with two different riders and Maverick will be hoping he can be the 3rd. Competition will be tough and it may well be a matter of Vinales maintaining his composure, seeing as the speed is most definitely there.

18 points back of Valentino and 12 back from Maverick, Americas GP’s winner Marc Marquez got his season kick-started in the States. The Repsol Honda rider arrives at his home GP off the back of domination but his form in Spain doesn’t indicate a certain win this time. 3rd last season and 2nd the year before, Marquez knows that he has to take points off the Movistar Yamaha men whilst the season is still young. Honda haven’t won since Marc was in his winning form in 2014 and there will be big pressure from team sponsor Repsol to end the drought. Can he perform in front of his home crowd to take his first back to back victories in 2017 and close down the leading Yamaha duo before they build an unassailable lead on the five time champ?

Despite finishing just 6th in the USA and not finishing in Argentina, Andrea Dovizioso remains 4th in the series, 8 points behind Marquez in 3rd and 26 behind leader Rossi. Dovi hasn’t had the best luck so far in 2017 but a lacklustre display in the USA highlighted that the Ducati is struggling in both his and Jorge’s hands. The Ducati hasn’t got a particularly amazing record at Jerez either, with their last podium coming in 2009 with Casey Stoner and their last win with Loris Capirossi in 2006. Will they solve the problem with Dovi? Can he return the Bologna Bullet to the Spanish GP rostrum? We will soon see! Dovi hasn’t won at the track and he’s not taken a premier class podium either, so form may suggest not this weekend.

Cal Crutchlow sits pretty in 5th place in the championship, just one point behind his former Tech 3 Yamaha and Ducati Factory teammate. The British rider has had a good start to the season on Lucio Cecchinello’s Honda, despite crashing twice under the lights at Losail. A 3rd in Argentina and a 4th in America mean Crutchlow comes back to Europe without the sense of needing to prove himself to doubters. His Spanish Grand Prix results speak for themselves, with a stunning 4th in 2012 and 2015, and a 5th in 2013. If he does manage to mount the podium, he will be the first British rider on the premier class podium at Jerez since Niall Mackenzie in 1992. Now, I will leave you with that thought.

The second of the Repsol Hondas is occupying 6th place, with Dani Pedrosa’s third place in America elevating him up the championship pecking order. Pedrosa sits just 2 points behind Cal and 3 points behind Dovi in the series standings. The Spaniard has been very successful around Jerez, accumulating three victories and 10 podiums, although the last time he stood on the rostrum was 2013. Pedrosa feels confident with the Honda now that he has a podium under his belt and this weekend could be a Pedrosa weekend if he can get away with the leaders. If he gets on the podium, it will be the first time since Sepang and Valencia 2015 that he has had back to back podiums. An astonishing statistic for such a high-profile name.

The two Tech 3 Yamaha riders are 7th and 8th in the championship, with Zarco ahead of Folger by a mere one point as they continue their battle for top rookie. Both riders have had podiums at Jerez but Jonas Folger is the only winner, back on the AGR Kalex Moto2 bike in 2015. There has never been a German or French rider on the podium of a premier class Grand Prix at Jerez, a statistic Folger and Zarco will both want to change.

Tied on 21 points with Folger is Pramac Ducati’s Scott Redding and Marc VDS Honda’s Jack Miller. Both riders finished outside the points last season and will want to change that as they try and hunt down Cal Crutchlow for top independent rider. With Jack Miller yet to finish outside the top 10 and Redding’s podium at the track in 2013, don’t expect to be seeing them vacate the top 10 at Jerez.

A difficult start to the year has seen Danilo Petrucci drop to 11th in the championship on the 2nd of the Pramac Ducatis but on the Factory version. The Italian has hit back though in the past two races, with a seventh and an 8th, with the latter involving him beating Factory Ducati rider Jorge Lorenzo late-on in the race. Jerez is a track that hasn’t been too kind to him however, with no top 10 finish to date. Can that change in 2017?

Alvaro Bautista has shown us that he has some amazing pace for 2017, pace that can either be challenging the top four or throwing it on the floor. Two crashes have seen Bautista drop to 12th in the championship, despite recovering to finish 15th in the USA. His best premier class result at the track is sixth, on three occasions between 2012 and 2014. He has one victory to his name, in 2006 on his way to his 125cc title. Will he be able to cause a shock this weekend?

Jorge Lorenzo is 13th in the championship and the fourth Ducati. A wretched start to his 2017 campaign looked to be recovered when he qualified 6th at COTA, only for him to drop back to 9th come race day. He has some impressive form around Jerez, including premier class wins in 2015, 2011 and 2010, as well as podiums every year apart from 2014 and 2009. Like we have already discussed, the Ducati is a handful around Jerez and that may mean that Jorge may well be relying on his form at the track to haul the cumbersome bike onto the podium.

Aleix Espargaro leads Andrea Iannone in 14th and 15th, with the Aprilia and Suzuki rider desperate to turn their season around and rapidly. Aleix had a terrible time of things at COTA, describing the Saturday as the “worst day of his life”. Things didn’t get better for the Losail revelation either, when the team attended a private test at Mugello, only to be hindered by rain. His best result at the track is 5th. However, Andrea Iannone has got some form. Having finally finished a race in the points at COTA (7th), he can build on what he found. The trouble is for Iannone, out of 12 starts at Jerez, there’s been just 1 win and 9 results have been outside the top 10 or DNFs. Now, if that isn’t a bogey track…

Loris Baz and Karel Abraham are in 16th and 17th, with both riders failing to score points last time out in The States. Baz’ best finish around Jerez was 13th last year, although a 7th in WSBK might suggest that he doesn’t enjoy the track. As for Karel – who is injured following COTA – his best result was 7th in 2011, although this was his last points at the track to date.

Tito Rabat and Hector Barbera, whilst languishing in the championship have actually scored points in every race this season. With both riders on 8 points, they are actually level with Abraham so with some luck this weekend, positions could change. Barbera’s best result consists of 6th in the premier class but a 3rd in 125s in 2004. For Rabat, he was 18th last season but finished 3rd in 2015 on the Moto2 bike and also took his first ever Grand Prix victory at the track in 2013. Will happy memories return for the former champion?

Alex Rins sits 20th in the championship for Suzuki but following his accident in Austin that led to a broken wrist, he is missing out Jerez and possibly Le Mans and Mugello. His replacement rider is Takuya Tsuda, the Suzuki development rider who makes his Grand Prix debut this weekend. He becomes the first Japanese rider since Hiroshi Aoyama at the Sacshsenring in 2015 to start a European MotoGP race.

The KTM pairing of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith head to Jerez hoping for a better weekend than their America visit. No points for either and a retirement along the way mean that the bike may well need a solid showing in Jerez to prove to doubters that it has the capabilities to match the skill set of both riders on board. Both have won at Jerez, with Espargaro winning in 2012 in Moto2 and Bradley Smith in 2009 (his first ever GP win) in the 125cc class. Both riders finished in the points last year (8th for Pol and 12th for Bradley) and will be looking for a repeat performance again this year, even if it isn’t to the positions.

In last place in the championship, Sam Lowes is point-less at the foot of the championship. His Aprilia has been a handful and a series of crashes at COTA won’t have done his confidence any good at all. He won the Moto2 race at Jerez last season so he will take the positives of that to Sunday but he must start to bring the bike home within the top 15. His other two GP results at Jerez have been outside the top 15 but in 2013, he did win the World Supersport championship at the track with a win.

With every rider analysed and the build up underway to an amazing weekend of racing, we now look forward to Sunday for the day that matters. Will Valentino Rossi repeat last years feat and build his points lead in the title or will Maverick fight back after a disaster in America? Can Marquez win back-to-back or can teammate Pedrosa shock us all? Those are the questions and you can get the answers by keeping up with our live text commentary across the weekend.

 

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

McPhee – We’re Feeling Really Positive

John McPhee was in the British Superbike paddock on Monday, which meant that I had to go and speak to him. The Scotsman says he’s positive but we also discussed other topics. The British Talent Cup, Honda and tyres are all spoken about in this exclusive interview.

You’ve had a great start to the year, how are you feeling?

It’s been great to have such a good opportunity this year with a good bike and a good team around me, with a couple of podiums to start of the year in the perfect way too. In Texas we had a difficult weekend but we were still there in the podium challenge and in the points. We got some really important points on the table and now we are arriving back in Europe, we’re feeling really positive.

How does this Honda compare to the previous Honda you rode?

There’s a big difference because in 2015, we actually had the 2014 bike so there’s three years development on the engine and the chassis. Honda have made a massive improvement over the last few years, obviously I haven’t done a back to back comparison with last year’s bike but they (Honda) have made a big step forward now and the bike is working really good thanks to a really good job by Honda. Everything just feels like home for me.

How does the Honda compare to the Peugeot?

Chassis wise the Mahindra was actually really strong – it was actually one of the strongest bikes I’ve ever ridden for chassis set-up. The downfall of the Mahindra was the engine power, it didn’t quite have the power there, especially with acceleration. With Honda, they’ve got the whole package and they can compete with the Mahindra and they’ve got more power there as well.

How do you feel the Moto3 tyres have developed since you’ve been in the class?

The main compound is the mediums and they’ve remained pretty standard throughout the last few years, they’ve not changed much. What they have changed is the soft tyre and it’s not quite as soft and the hard tyre is not quite as hard so they’ve brought all the tyre compounds a lot closer which means people tend to use the soft or the hard tyre more throughout races than what they would’ve done a few years ago. Actual development of the tyre is pretty standard.

Is tyre wear an issue for Moto3?

As the lap times are getting closer and the bikes are getting closer, it is becoming more of a factor. People are starting to look into that a lot more. In Argentina, when I qualified on pole we had the hard rear tyre in rather than the medium because it provides a little bit more stability. It has made a difference a couple of times now and that’s good because it gives us another area to look at and to try and improve.

Brno last year and you won, then come October you was stranded in Australia – how are your injuries?

I think even before Brno we had a bike that was working but we just didn’t have the opportunity to show it. We lacked a bit of horsepower at some of the track we went to and it was difficult to hide that, however at the more flowing tracks – like Phillip Island – we was able to carry corner speed. After the accident, it took a very long time to recover. I wouldn’t say I’m back up at 100% yet, I’m more like 95% and there or there abouts. There’s no pain or anything which is good so hopefully we can get quicker.

Which track do you feel will be your strongest?

I think Phillip Island is going to be one I’m always going to be strong at, it’s more about the rider rather than the actual bike which I quite like.

If you was to choose one rider to go up against at Valencia for the title, who would it be?

Obviously it’s difficult to say, Joan Mir is riding well and leading the championship at the minute but it is a long year. I have a bit more experience than him but we will need to wait and see and it will come down to the last few races for sure. At the minute it’s a bit hard to put one name down.

Where do you see the British Talent Cup in the future? Can it be successful?

I think that the whole intention of this is to bring more British riders along because I think the talent is there but it’s just not being shown and there’s a couple of reasons for that. One of them is funding, the other being accessibility to tracks and teams, down to the lack of funding in the UK. The whole idea of the British Talent Cup is to fund young riders and give them the opportunity of getting the track time, the bike time and the correct people on bikes around them. I think that it will be similar to the Asia Talent Cup. If there is any talent there – which we believe there is – to bring it through and give them the opportunity. You see families re-mortgaging there house to try and fund it. We know there is talent there and this is the opportunity to try and make it shine through.

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko