YOU’RE ( NEARLY) THEC NEXT BARRY SHEENE
These are the men who kept British fans happy(ish) between Barry Sheeneõs last GP win and Cal Crutchlow’s first Motogp success earlier this year
Agloomy 35 seasons stood between Barry Sheene’s final GP victory at Anderstorp in August 1981 and the nation’s next premier class success at Brno in August 2016.
But surely not all Brits were losers during that period? Certainly not. Several British riders won GPS in the 125, Moto3, 250 and Moto2 classes during those years and some challenged for victory in the premier class. So here’s our top picks of the Britons who tried manfully to end the country’s GP doldrum years.
JAMES TOSELAND HIGHLIGHT FRONT ROW: QATAR, 2008
Toseland arrived in Motogp to much fanfare in 2008, as a two-times World Superbike champion. He qualified on the front row at his very first Grand Prix and seemed full of promise, but in fact that was as good as it got. He never made the front row again and never got close to challenging for the podium. The closest he got was nine sixth-place finishes during his two seasons in the class.
Toseland, like most Michelin riders, struggled at some tracks in 2008 and then he found the going even tougher when Motogp switched to Bridgestone in 2009. A huge highside during pre-season testing left him gun-shy and sealed his Motogp fate.
BRADLEY SMITH HIGHLIGHT 2ND PLACE: MISANO, 2015
Smith’s career has followed the same trajectory as Scott Redding’s: racing in Spain, then 125 GPS and Moto2, with three wins in the little class and three podiums in the intermediate category.
Smith was promoted to Motogp in 2013. By 2015 he was fully competitive and finished the year as top non-factory rider. He had some great rides, including a podium finish at Misano, alongside Redding, after a ballsy decision to stay out on slicks while everyone else changed tyres.
Last season he should’ve regularly bothered factory riders in the dry – but struggled to adapt to the Michelins and never made the top seven. But racing isn’t like it was in Sheene’s day; now there are many more competitive bikes on the grid. Hopefully the KTM will be on the pace.
RON HASLAM HIGHLIGHT 2ND PLACE: ASSEN, 1985
On the British scene in the 1970s, the long-haired loon from Langley Mill struck terror into the heart of Barry Sheene, but like so many fiery youngsters he calmed down and replaced youthful overenthusiasm with mature race-craft.
Haslam’s first three GP seasons were as Freddie Spencer’s team-mate. He scored seven of his nine 500 GP podiums in this period, using Honda’s quickstarting, easy-handling NS500 triple to sometimes beat Eddie Lawson and Randy Mamola.
He was then signed by Elf to ride their wacky 500 with hub-centre steering. He spent three seasons with the French concern, uncoincidentally achieving his last two podiums in 1987, when he had to ride a regular NSR500 because the
Elf NSR wasn’t ready.
CAL CRUTCHLOW HIGHLIGHT WINNER: PHILLIP ISLAND, 2016
No-one (surely!) could argue that Crutchlow isn’t Britain’s greatest GP rider since Sheene; if only because last season he did what no Briton has done since Sheene. Crutchlow didn’t just win one race in the wet at Brno, he also beat everyone in the dry at Phillip Island, resisting serious pressure from nine-times world champion Valentino Rossi.
And he’s had some other great rides, most notably at the Sachsenring in 2013, where he chased Marc Marquez home, and at Silverstone last season when he beat Rossi and Marquez in a head-to-head for second place, which included a genius pass on Marquez at Woodcote.
Crutchlow admits he isn’t a naturally gifted racer. He has to work hard to reach the limit and even harder to not overstep it. He crashes a lot, but teams don’t mind riders bending bikes if they get results. FULL INTERVIEW WITH CAL, p4
DANNY KENT HIGHLIGHT MOTO3 WORLD CHAMPION: 2015
Danny Kent’s career proves that machinery is now more important than ever, because the differences between a good bike and a bad bike are smaller than ever.
Kent won six Moto3 races in 2015 to win the world title and won two Moto3 races in 2012, but otherwise has struggled to get near the front, in Moto2 and Moto3. His best wins in 2015 – by ten seconds in Argentina and eight seconds in Texas and Britain – were historic in a class that normally crowns its winners by a few tenths.
Those victories suggest an uncanny skill to squeeze the maximum out of a motorcycle, but when the machine isn’t quite right Kent seems to go to pieces. He needs to deliver in Moto2.
JEREMY MCWILLIAMS HIGHLIGHT WINNER: DUTCH GP, 2001
Mcwilliams was the nation’s top Grand Prix rider of the late 1990s and the early 2000s, when pretty much every other Briton was busy chasing glory in World Superbikes.
He spent years as a 500 and 250 privateer, catching the eye of Aprilia when he beat a certain Valentino Rossi to second place in the 1998 German 250 GP. Mcwilliams was a factory rider for the Italian marque for several years, winning the 2001 Dutch 250 race and chasing Rossi home in the 2000 British 500 GP. He later rode King Kenny Roberts’s Proton 500 two-stroke triple, beating all the Motogp four-strokes to pole position at the 2002 Australian GP.
ROB M MCELNEA HIGHLIGHT 5TH OVERALL: 500GP, 1986
All kinds of factors go into deciding the fate of a racer’s career. The deciding factor of Rob Mcelnea’s six seasons in 500s was his size.
The burly Humbersider’s best race weight was 84 kilos, which is approximately 1.75 Dani Pedrosas. This affected everything: acceleration and top speed, as well as tyre wear and brake wear. There’s no doubt Mcelnea had talent but he always fought an uphill battle against riders of more normal racing stature.
He scored eight fourth-place finishes and never quite made the podium, missing out by a fraction of a second on several occasions, after which he could be found crying his eyes out in the shower. Ten kilos less and he would’ve
been higher up this list.
SCOTT REDDING HIGHLIGHT WINNER: BRITISH MOTO2, 2013
Crutchlow may be the first Briton since Sheene to win a premier class GP but Redding could still become the first Briton since Sheene to score victories across three different GP categories.
Sheene won in the 50, 125 and 500cc classes, whereas Redding has so far won in 125s and Moto2. He also challenged very strongly for the 2013 Moto2 world title, the first Briton to make a serious GP title bid in decades.
Redding hasn’t had the easiest time since graduating to Motogp in 2014. Last season was his first on a bike that felt right to him and he had several promising rides cut short by bike problems. At Assen he did what he had done at Misano the previous year – made the most of rainy conditions to score a podium. All he needs now is some dry-weather top threes.
NIALL MACKENZIE HIGHLIGHT 4TH OVERALL: 500GP, 1990
Mackenzie had both the good luck and misfortune to compete in one of the golden age of Grand Prix racing. He raced 500 GPS during the late 1980s and early 1990s against Mick Doohan, Kevin Schwantz, Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Gardner.
The Scot never won a race but he climbed the podium on many occasions and would surely have made the top step a few times if he hadn’t had to deal with that five-some of racing superheroes.
Like his friend Rob Mcelnea, Mackenzie returned to the British scene from Grands Prix determined to teach a lesson to anyone who believed his failure to win a 500 GP suggested he wasn’t that good after all. Three consecutive British Superbike titles – between 1996 and 1998 – proved just how fast he was, even at the end of his career.
Cal’s Australian GP win was his second of 2016, and his first victory in the dry