Features

A Tribute To Nicky Hayden, By Steve English

As a tribute to Nicky Hayden, who tragically died last week, succumbing to the injuries sustained in a cycling accident, we will be running a series of three articles over the next couple of days, by WorldSBK commentator and Paddock Pass Podcast member Steve English.

The first piece is Steve's moving tribute and memories of Hayden from working with him in both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks.

I've always been a fan of racing and from my earliest memories all I can remember is watching racing and loving it. From when I started watching motorcycle racing, I was drawn towards Flat Track racers from the United States. Perhaps it was because the risks they take are so similar to Road Racing in Ireland, or just their style on a bike. There was always an attraction for me towards Flat Trackers and as a child the riders I admired were Americans who grew up on the dirt. Whether it was hearing stories of Kenny Roberts and Freddie Spencer or watching Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz, the Americans held a certain mystique for me.

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2017 Donington Park WorldSBK Race 1 Notes: Weird Crashes And Tough Performances

Notes and quotes on the first WorldSBK race from our man on the ground at Donington Park:

On a day when Nicky Hayden wasn't far from anyone's minds the WorldSBK paddock paid tribute to The Kentucky Kid. With a minute's silence, tribute videos and the Stars and Stripes fluttering in the breeze as fans lined Donington Park the American flag it was the racing that truly honored Hayden.

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2017 Le Mans Sunday Round Up: An Age Of Champions

It sucks being the best rider in the world. Just as you believe you have everything under control and can dominate your rivals, along comes some jumped up kid with ideas above his station, determined to administer a king-sized kicking to your behind. That kid has answers to all the tricks you learned to use to beat your rivals, and now you have to reinvent yourself, push harder than you wanted just to stay in the game.

Back in 1998, for example, a cocky Italian swaggered into the 500cc class and threatened the supremacy of Mick Doohan. Doohan finished Max Biaggi off at the end of that year, but he had to dig deep. After Doohan retired, another cocky Italian took his place to rough Biaggi up, just as the Roman Emperor thought he owned the premier class. After a string of titles, Valentino Rossi, the cocky Italian in question, found himself facing a couple of rookies giving him real trouble. Casey Stoner beat him at the second time of asking in 2007, then Jorge Lorenzo took the fight to him inside Rossi's own team, getting the better of him in 2010.

Just as Lorenzo was settling in to take what he considered as his rightful place atop the MotoGP pile, along came a cheeky-faced Spanish youngster on a record-breaking spree, winning his second race and the title at his first attempt. After winning two titles in a row, then an impressive third last year, Marc Márquez suddenly finds himself grappling with an improbably fast Yamaha rider with steel in his soul and the name of a warrior (albeit a fictional one). And in addition to Maverick Viñales, Márquez has to contend with Johann Zarco, who has sprung from Moto2 like a jack-in-the-box, scaring the living daylights out of the regulars.

This is the circle of racing. Every racing series is in a state of permanent revolution, where the newcomers dream up new ways of usurping the established riders, and the old guard have to adapt or die. The moment you get comfortable is the moment your era has passed. The ultimate reward for being top dog is to ride around with a massive target on your back.

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2017 Le Mans MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Zarco's Brilliance, Rossi's Non-Retirement, And Miller's Mental Fortitude

It has been a tough weekend for a lot of people at Le Mans. The weather has done just about everything to confound and perplex the riders, conditions changing every session. Friday went from wettish to very wet, Saturday went from drying to almost completely dry. There hasn't been a single session of stable weather with a consistent and unchanging track.

That has caused a lot of problems, especially in MotoGP, shaking up the qualifying system based around the combined times through all three free practice sessions. For the fans, though, it's been fantastic, producing two of the most exciting qualifying sessions we have seen for a while. Tricky conditions in free practice put Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, and local hero Johann Zarco into Q1, producing fireworks in the battle for who gets through to Q2. Then, in Q2, the battle happened all over again, this time in a straight up slugfest for the front row. That went right down to the wire, the first three safe only once the dust had settled.

The weather reignited the debate over MotoGP's qualifying system, a common complaint among several riders, and also a regular topic at the Safety Commission, the meeting where riders and organizers gather to discuss how to make racing safer. Andrea Dovizioso voiced the concern on Saturday, despite having made it through Q1 and into Q2. "It’s really stressful, these rules for everybody because every practice has to be a qualifying," the Ducati rider said. "You have to be in the top 10 because the weather can change."

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2017 Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Wasted Day In The Wet, And Tire Wars Revisited

"A wasted day, again at Le Mans," was Cal Crutchlow's verdict on the first day of practice at the French circuit. He had a point: the first session of practice started wet but dried out towards the end, though the track was never really fully dry. FP2 started completely wet, with plenty of rain, but again the rain stopped and the track improved a little. At no time did the track ever really become consistently one thing or another. And with dry weather forecast for Saturday and Sunday, there was not much to learn.

"It’s just a joke," Crutchlow complained. "I don’t know why we come here again at this time of the year. First of all, obviously I really believe we should have a race in France, I like coming to France, the fans are completely mad and I have a good rapport with them. But I don’t know why we come here and I don’t know why we come here now. No idea. Every year, I can’t tell you a year I’ve raced in MotoGP where it’s been sunny all weekend, I don’t think."

Naturally, this kicked off a heated debate among the various nationalities of journalists over whose country has the worst weather, with Silverstone and Assen the candidates giving Le Mans a proper run for their money. Crutchlow remained firm. "I love Le Mans, the history is superb, bike racing at Le Mans is massive as well as car racing. But the circuit’s no good. It’s stop-start and the time of the year’s always raining." It isn't 'always' raining at Le Mans, of course. But it feels like it does.

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2017 Le Mans MotoGP Preview: Rough Nights, More Grip, And Hayden In Our Hearts

There are few circuits on the calendar whose names ring so loudly through the annals of history as that of Le Mans. Only Assen, the Isle of Man, and Indianapolis are as inextricably associated with motor sports as Le Mans is. Like Indy, though, Le Mans is more associated with four wheels than with two. The 24h Du Mans endurance race is truly one of the landmark events of the motor sports year.

The glamor of that event rubs off on the 24-hour motorcycle race as well. That race is arguably the biggest race on the FIM EWC endurance calendar, and victory there adds extra shine to any rider's record. It is a highlight not just of the endurance racing year, but on the motorcycle racing calendar, marking the rhythm of the racing season as loudly as Jerez, Assen, the Isle of Man TT, Mugello, Phillip Island.

It sets a high bar for the French Grand Prix at Le Mans to live up to. Despite the deep and entrenched love of endurance racing in France, and especially at Le Mans (they have a 24-hour event for everything there, a taxi driver once told me: 24-hour car, bike, truck, and mountain bike race, 24-hour literary festival, even a 24-hour tiddlywinks competition), more spectators flock to the Le Mans circuit for MotoGP than for the 24-hour race. Last year, over 99,000 attended.

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Subscriber Feature: Alberto Puig Interview - On Identifying Talent, And Making Champions

Alberto Puig has a remarkable knack for identifying talent. Since a leg injury forced him into retirement, the former Spanish Grand Prix winner has been deeply involved with the search for young racing talent, in Spain and beyond. His list of successes is vast: Puig is famous as the man who discovered Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner, Toni Elias, Bradley Smith, and many others.

Because of these successes, he has often been called to lead projects searching for talented young riders. He started with Movistar, then worked with Dorna to set up the MotoGP Academy, which became the Red Bull Rookies Cup. He has worked and advised on the Asia Talent Cup series, and is now involved in setting up the British Talent Cup.

How does Puig do it? What qualities is he looking for when he evaluates young riders, trying to assess whether they will be a success or not? And is there a rider where he got that assessment wrong? At the launch of the British Talent Cup back in February, I quizzed Puig on his secrets. He joked off my statement that he was one of the best at identifying young talent. "Maybe I'm lucky!" he laughed. But I persisted, and Puig explained what he was looking for in young riders in a fascinating conversation.

Q: It might be luck considered luck if you had only found Dani Pedrosa, but there are so many riders....

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