‘THE TEAM SHOOK THEIR HEADS WHEN THEY SAW ME RIDE A 500’
Tyre-smoking 500GP winner still gets it sideways... on a Harley
What was your first bike?
I got a Honda Mini Trail when I was six – they call them Monkey bikes in the UK.
When did the racing start?
I started straight away doing dirt gymkhanas on the Mini Trail. It’s a good way to get a feeling for bike control. I then started junior motocross on a 125, which I rode until I was 16.
And you nearly went to Speedway?
My dad used to race speedway. He knew a guy selling a bike, we bought it and I started racing it. I only did a few years, but I did pretty good. I’d saved all my money to race in England and had a try-out planned with Poole Pirates. But at the last minute I used the money to buy a Suzuki RGV250 proddy bike to race at my local tracks.
And Barry Sheene spotted you?
My first road race was in 1991 when I was 19 and I won both my races. Barry Sheene was commentating, but I thought nothing of it, then a while later he called me up. He recommended me to the AGV Team Germany 125cc Grand Prix squad after one of their riders got injured at the Japanese GP.
When was your first Grand Prix?
I’d only just stated road racing. They entered me in the Australian GP at Eastern Creek. It was my first time on a 125, on slicks and in GPS. I qualified 12th and was running ninth until the exhaust blew to bits. The bike wasn’t that good but they were happy with what I’d done. I did 125s from ’93-’97. I finished seventh in the world in ’97 and then a friend, Jeff Hardwick, who ran Shell in Australia wanted me to ride in his Shell Advance team on the V-twin.
Wasn’t 125s to 500s a big jump?
I’d raced 500cc two-stroke speedway and dirt track bikes and used a Honda CR500 motocrosser when training for speedway and road racing. I always loved the big bikes and I knew I had good control. I took to the 500 like a duck to water. Admittedly it was only the twin and not the V4 and it probably would’ve been better if they’d have made two different classes. It was a bit of a struggle, but I got some results.
Then you took a break?
I did the full 500 season in ’98, then the team went to 250s on factory NSRS with Toru Ukawa and Anthony West with Mick Doohan as team manager. I was left without a ride and was back in Australia fitting roller doors. I’d given up and didn’t want anything more to do with racing. I thought I’d stay at home and have a normal life working like everyone else. But half way through ’99 Simon Crafar, who was on the Red Bull Yamaha, lost confidence in the tyres after they went from Dunlop to Michelin, and the team rang me.
What’s a V4 500 like?
I got to ride that bike for the first time at Assen. I remember the mechanics shaking their heads when I came in. They couldn’t believe I was just wringing the bike’s neck. They said it was like a wild bull and I was just fighting it. I got used to it, slowly set it up, and ended up with a good feeling.
When did you quit racing?
At the end of 2009. I did Motogp in 2003, WSB with Ducati in 2004 and with Foggy Petronas in 2005. I also set-up my own team up for the World Supermoto championship, but I underestimated just how good those guys like Chambon and Van Den Bosch were. They’d been doing it for 10-15 years before me and knew bikes and how to ride them to their absolute limit.
We’ve heard you ride a Harley now?
Yeah! I’ve got a 2007 Night Train I cruise around on. I slide it a bit – if the missus were here she’d tell you. She’s been on the back when I’ve had it sideways.