Sunday, 22 April 2012

Weekend Thoughts....and are they good enough to win a title?

Firstly I have to say a massive thank you to you guys for the great response to my small rant on the blog before last. I’m glad I got my point across in the right way and didn’t offend anyone in the process – I also have to say thanks as it was my most popular blog in terms of hits with upwards of 900 views, proves I did something right I think!

It’s so nice to get the season underway properly; the only thing we’re waiting for is for the start of the European MotoGP season next weekend and then it’s all gravy, baby!
Qatar MotoGP always seems to be more of a ‘ceremonial’ start to the season; maybe this is due to it being held under lights, without the massed ranks of partisan fans and completely different to the bright sunshine (mostly!) of the other 17 races. Hopefully the weather will be a little more clement in southern Spain this time round as the race was an absolute lottery last year – at one point looking like nobody actually wanted to win it!


World Superbikes returned to Assen this weekend...what a great circuit – visit it if you can for WSB, MotoGP or of course BSB in September, it’s not as far as you think! As for WSB in general, my thoughts have been covered elsewhere but I must give a big tip of the hat to Tom Sykes, coming of age nicely this season and I couldn’t be happier for him...well that was until I drafted him in to my MCN Fantasy Race Team! So I apologise for his performance this weekend, none of which being of his own doing I must add!

Right, I think I’ve possibly found my issue with World Superbikes...well, some of the British contingent therein...
In race one, Leon Haslam was lapping 3s per lap faster than anyone else and at the rate he was going was going to win Race 2 before it had even begun! So why then, with a wealth of experience on his shoulders did he sling it up the road with certain victory in sight?! I fully appreciate the conditions were just short of abysmal but really, should a rider of his 14 years experience have fared better?

Has Leon really got what it takes to win a Championship? I’m not questioning his ability to race a motorcycle, which goes without saying for ANY rider in ANY championship as far as I’m concerned, I just wonder how many more chances he needs to deliver a title. He’s always come reasonably close, having four consecutive top four finishes in BSB on top flight machinery and finishing top 6 in the last three WSB seasons- including finishing second to the dominant, rule-bending Aprilia of Max Biaggi in 2010.

Leon has had competitive machinery for the last eight seasons and nothing to show for it – I’ve always wondered how good he really is and where his level is...I think today showed he hasn’t quite got the consistency or racecraft it takes to become a champion. He’s a good rider, but for me not a great rider. You would be hard pressed to find a more determined and hard rider this side of Cal Crutchlow but that alone doesn’t bring home championships. I truly believe Leon has found his level in WSB, consistent top five but not enough for top two again. I’m more than happy to see him prove me wrong, I’d be happy for that to happen.

The other Leon, of the Camier variety, is another one that flatters to deceive. A wholly dominant performance in BSB in 2009 saw the former British Supersport Champion snapped up by the Factory Aprilia team on a two-season deal to propel him to world glory and become the next British Superbike World Champion. Unfortunately, for various reasons including illness, Leon is another rider who hasn’t lived up to his potential and again this season looks to be struggling with the level of competition.

Camier has proved in the past that he is capable of delivering a title but I believe that again, just like Haslam, he has found his level in WSB and I wonder if he’s got what it takes to get to the next level that Fogarty, Hodgson and Toseland all achieved before him. Personally, I don’t think so. Again I’m more than happy to be proven wrong but I don’t think I will be.

It’s great to see Tom Sykes raising his game to compete amongst the best Superbike riders in the world and looking like a genuine contender for the 2012 title ahead of his more experienced countrymen.

In World Supersport I’m starting to have serious doubts about Sam Lowes, or more importantly his race winning potential. I don’t know if it’s team management that’s affecting him or if he’s trying too hard – but in a full season and 2 races it’s disappointing not to see him on top of the podium. He needs a big season in 2012, and in post-race interviews looked visibly shaken after a potentially a huge rollocking from his team boss.


In BSB we had what really was a false start to the season at Brands Hatch over Easter weekend, dreadful weather most of the weekend put paid to us fans getting a true idea of who will be up front for 2012, not to mention all the shiny new liveries, leathers and lids all coming away looking decidedly second hand!

Obviously it’s been well documented what happened during race day and the cancellation of race two, but kudos to the riders themselves they still put on a good show for race one but I guarantee that Top 3 wont be repeated again this season!

Thruxton saw us return to the dry racing, if a little bit on the chilly side. BSB’s governing body decided to introduce a new rule in light of the Brands debacle – a rule that is enforced across the British racing scene already except BSB – in that any rider crashing out of any session must be checked over by a Medical Officer and the bike passed over by Technical Control before rejoining the session, very difficult to do with the one bike rule so I expect less crashes for the rest of the season already...and Thruxton, one of the fastest tracks on the calendar was testament to this!

The racing in Hampshire was fast and frantic as you would expect, great to see the pre-season favourites getting back in to the groove...apart from Michael Laverty, oh dear not the start he wanted, some serious questions being asked in Louth as I type but expect him to be back up front at Oulton Park...I hope!

There were awesome results for the Batley Brigade of Padgetts Racing at Thruxton, a great win for the somewhat under-rated Ian lowry, who will no doubt emerge as a genuine challenger this season, and a strong debut for his more experienced team-mate Luca Scassa who showed glimpses of his class in both races at a circuit he’s never seen before.

Also it was nice to see the main protagonists getting in to their stride, two good second places for Tommy Hill after his Brands Hatch nightmare and good results for Shane Byrne and Stuart Easton. I really can’t wait for better weather at the next round at the fantastic Oulton Park – where again close racing is almost guaranteed!

As always these are just my opinions, but most importantly – thanks for reading. 

Friday, 13 April 2012

It's Not Just About Racing...

My last blog saw a necessary, and thankfully well-received, rant about people’s attitude to one another on certain Social Media sites.

I want to redress the balance a little in this next blog by choosing – without prompt or promise of favours – three very different causes that are helping make a difference to our world of motorcycling and motorcycle racing.

If you’re not one for charity, I urge you to read on. I am not asking for donations, I am just trying to raise a little more awareness for 3 excellent individual causes – to donate or not to donate is purely personal choice. Please, read on...

Last October saw a man with motorcycling in his blood, Steve Keys, BBC  TV show Red Dwarf’s very own ‘Cat’ keen biker Danny-John Jules and the BBC’s MotoGP presenter and shameless Huddersfield Town fan Matt Roberts set off from the Ace Cafe in North London on a trip to the Valencia GP, known as Viva! Valencia.

Nothing untoward about that you might say, however Steve and Danny were riding bright pink Yamaha R1’s – with matching leathers and helmets -  and Matt was riding the specially prepared one-off Yamaha R1 that Jorge Lorenzo rode around the Isle of Man TT course in June 2010, all in the name of charity. The aim of the trip was to raise awareness and funds for Riders For Health – motorcycle racing’s own charity that provides health care workers in Africa with uninterrupted access to reliable transport. The ride was needless to say a great success.

Steve and Danny have set up their own company Motoventures  to organise rides and promote biking to a wider audience whilst raising money for charity. This year, as well as Viva! Valencia 2012, thetwo boys are embarking on a very different challenge...

In September one lucky person will join Motoventures on Challenge 125 - an epic trip across Europe to the San Marino MotoGP...on a 125cc motorcycle...with only £125 to fund the trip. The best part is they want to take one member of public with them! All the details of how to be in with a chance of being a part of this incredible ride can be found here but if you have a bike licence already then don’t bother – only non-riders need apply!

The ride is borne out of support for the motorcycle industry funded campaign to introduce more people to the joys and cost-saving of motocycles and scooters, you can learn more about it here . If you haven’t a licence yet but fancy riding then get involved, Challenge 125 will take care of everything!

This summer Stuart Gunn is going to attempt the Solo Land Speed Record, there’s a small amount of bravery required to do it but when you consider that Stuart is paralysed and blind it makes you sit up and take notice a little more...

In 2002 Stuart was involved in an accident in Edinburgh when a van pulled across his path. His words make for incredible reading... ‘I flipped over the bike and twisted in mid-air. The base of my back hit where the windscreen and roof joined; my head and shoulders went through the sunroof and my legs went through the windscreen, literally snapping me in half...backwards’
The accident saw Stuart break his back in three places, a few ribs and his shoulder. 

Within 18 months his incredible determination saw him back on his feet unaided and despite doctors saying he would never walk again was back riding within two and a half years.

In a cruel turn of fate once more, Stuart took a tumble at home, banging his head on a table in the process. The fall pinched a nerve in his back that sadly proved inoperable and left him paralysed in his right leg. The bang to the head also left Stuart with a neurological condition that induced fits. One fit in particular in the Autumn of 2007 lasted for an hour and left him paralysed completely down his right side. Whilst in hospital recovering from this latest set-back Stuart had yet another fit, a massive two hour ordeal that sadly took his sight leaving him 100% blind.

I think the speed record is an incredible thing to attempt in Stuart’s situation, a fantastic amount of bravery and mental focus is required, far beyond what he uses just to negotiate everyday life. 

Also, it’s not just about breaking the world record, incidentally set in 2003 by ex-soldier Billy Baxter at 164mph, it’s about selflessly helping others in the process. The Joey Dunlop Foundation, RNIB, DiabetesUK (Scotland) and Riders For Health will all benefit from Stuart’s efforts.

You can keep up to date with his progress and donate via his website , facebook  and twitter

Good luck Stuart!

The CJR Fund is a charity I’ve supported since its inception some six years ago. I was present at Cadwell Park in August 2005 when Chris Jones was seriously injured in a start-line crash as the lights went green in the British 125cc Championship race. After being airlifted to hospital, Chris sadly succumbed to his injuries the following day. He was 14 years of age.

For those of you unaware of the background to the fund you can read more about the talent Chris possessed and Eugene Laverty’s tribute here

There is no doubt that the British Superbike riders and support class riders are better protected and cared for than at any time prior to the Funds launch. The fund has provided soft barrier protection around the tracks, they have provided an X-Ray machine which has proven it’s worth many times over – not only in locating fractures for immediate treatment, saving a rider a trip to a hospital that may be miles from home then allowing them to get to their own hospital in some form of comfort, but also, and just as important for a rider, discounting potential fractures too which saves the possibility of losing track time by having to visit the local A&E - only to be told its just heavy bruising!

The CJR Fund rider assistance doesn’t just stop at the track, the after –care for injured riders is just as important to them as the immediate post-crash treatment. The Fund provides physiotherapy support and advice to healing riders and is constantly supporting research in to conditions affecting bike riders and racers. I’m sure you agree, it’s a fantastic all-round rider safety organisation.

When you see the guys and girls at the BSB meetings with their buckets, wristbands and merchandise plus the annual raffle to win a brand new Honda CBR1000RR make sure you give generously – it’s there to protect our riders and ultimately our sport. Alternatively you can donate here

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 9 April 2012

MotoGP Thoughts...and a rant!

Finally, after 5 months of waiting the lights went out in Qatar and launched the 2012 MotoGP season.

The hype was building all weekend through Free Practice and Qualifying with the Aliens (minus one) consistently topping the time-sheets and our own Cal Crutchlow showing that his form in pre-season testing was no fluke.

The race itself was looking like continuing from where last season left off with Casey Stoner grabbing the lead and looking like he might break for home but a problem with arm-pump slowed his progress and the smooth-riding Mallorcan Jorge Lorenzo took a deserved victory from Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner in third and a second consecutive 4th Place finish for Cal Crutchlow.

Now for the bit that really matters....

Valentino Rossi had yet another weekend to forget. There are serious problems in that garage and no amount of Jeremy Burgess and crew magic is going to fix it. That Ducati looks like it needs to be ridden a certain way and unfortunately its not the way that Valentino fact it is completely the polar opposite! Nicky Hayden is finding the new GP12 a little easier to ride as his 'dirt track' loose rear riding style is more suited to the fickle-fronted Bologna Bullet.

VR places a lot of stress on the front of the bike, it's the way he's always ridden, and rather than adjust his riding style to suit the bike he's trying to do the complete opposite but with small changes to his style....and its not working! Clearly, as proven by his team-mate, it is not a bad bike but as to why Valentino can't adapt, only he really knows...

Does this mean the end of Vale? No I don't think so. Was the move to Ducati the wrong one? Yes I think so - but when you've burnt a few of your bridges like he has, then it was really the only move available when he decided to leave Yamaha.

Make no mistake, there is a New World Order. Heroes come and go. We've had Ago, Sheene, Roberts, Spencer, Lawson, Rainey, Schwantz, Doohan and VR, the bulk of which I've been lucky enough to see race. We now have Lorenzo, Stoner, Pedrosa to name but a few and, after Moto3 race yesterday, the future of MotoGP looks phenomenally bright for the next 14 years at least with Vinales, Sisiss, Olivera and Alex Rins all stars in the making - and bear in mind Arthur Sisiss was only a month old when Valentino Rossi made his debut... so in that case, our future prodigy's are literally only just being born, proof if ever it was needed that time moves on!

The one thing I really do hope is that the fans that Valentino Rossi has attracted to MotoGP remain and continue to grow with the sport - there was racing before VR and there will be racing after, and it will still be exciting!

Now, the biggest disappointment of the weekend was the attitude of some of the users of social media. What began late last year as banter between mainly Rossi and Stoner fans reached a new low this weekend. 

Sadly its the Yellow fans that have been the downright rudest both on Facebook and Twitter. One user posting a general question on one fan page only to be met by an incredible response from a VR fan - who ran away with her fingers in her ears when people lept in - that prompted me to post a response in defence of his perfectly simple question.

Not all of the Yellow Army are this way inclined, so I'm not generalising in any way - most VR fans are absolutely some of the nicest people I know and am happy to call them friends. I wrote that she was 'the epitome of a blinkered Valentino Rossi fan' and I stand by that as I truly believe it. She will depart MotoGP when Valentino departs and good riddance to be honest.

To some there is no other rider out there and anyone who dares to question 'the messiah' will be immediately shot at dawn. Well I have news for them, VR is not the Messiah - or a very naughty boy - he's human, he's made a bad choice going to Ducati and he's also caused other riders to raise their game to such a level that he'd find it hard to dominate even if he was back on his beloved M1. His time is coming to an end, not at an end, but its coming - its only natural.

The vitriolic abuse that was directed at Casey Stoner, for example, over the weekend by the minority of the Yellow Army was beyond banter - it was ill-masked abuse. The reigning Champion hadn't even got off his bike before the finger-pointing and intensely personal abuse began. This is simply small-minded and crass. Sorry if this offends anyone but it's my blog and my opinion. Feel free to get a licence, get out on track and go and do better. This is not just because it's Casey, it's because he's a motorcycle racer - nothing more nothing less.

Some of the stuff I've seen about Dani Pedrosa and his Yachting Exam have been nothing short of brilliant, proper banter and harmless fun. A massive difference to what others receive...

Sure I have riders I prefer over others, I'm no big fan of Jorge Lorenzo or Josh Brookes to name but two, but I have the utmost respect for them as riders and I certainly wouldn't think of subjecting them to some of the stuff I've seen this weekend as I know I couldn't do any better!. 

I'm disappointed by the minority this weekend, one or two are genuinely have no clue about racing in general and it shows.

Everyone is welcome to their opinion - some just need to take a breath, understand the concept of respect, and consider what they're saying and how it may make them look before pressing send...

Thanks for reading. Rant over.