fighting The Irish!
As if battling the legendary names from the grand prix scene of the 1990s wasn’t enough on fearsome 500cc twostrokes, Eddie Laycock had his own, private battle to win. Here’s part two…
Taking part in the 1989 Macau Grand Prix was completely different to anything Eddie Laycock could have ever imagined…
Miketrimby had arranged the invite whilst all flights, freight and hotels were paid for by the organisers.the humidity was almost oppressive while the curious culinary delights were not to the Irishman’s liking: Eddie would stick to Mcdonalds for his entire trip…the racing diet wasn’t too bad – he finished 4th behind winner Robert Dunlop, Phillip Mccallen and Steve Hislop.
From 1990, Eddie would be more of an international racer, rather than a domestic one: his only non-gp races that year were the North West, thett, the Ulster and Macau. First up, the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez, southern Spain, which was a long drive from Dublin…
As a privateer Eddie wasn’t eligible for a garage so he and the team had their truck in one of the car parks – oh the glamour! But at least he was now full-time against the likes of Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Gardner. For Eddie and his team, as soon as the race was over, it was time for the non-stop return journey back to Ireland to be on time for Wednesday evening’s North West 200 qualifying – 1990 would be Eddie’s last NW,TT and Ulster: he was a grand prix rider now, well, he’d take part in eight of the 15 races
Eddie’s 1990 North West started badly, with him crashing out in first practice, but he was lucky to do so without injury. A wet Thursday practice would see him on the fourth row, but telling the guys ahead that the Joe Millar TZ250 would be coming through ‘fully lit!’ Eddie won both 250cc races comfortably and recorded a pair of 3rd places on the NSR500 in the two superbike races. The Isle of Man TT was next, where Eddie took 3rd in the Junior, had a retirement in the F1, and then took 7th in the Senior on the NSR. He once again got the use of the Suzuki RGV250 in Supersport 400 where he was well pleased with fastest in practice but changes to the bike led to a seizure in the race just off the start down Bray Hill.
From the ridiculous to the sublime: from the TT it was back in the truck and straight to Assen for the Dutch TT, where he finished 12th meaning he could go to Spa for the next race. Eddie rang his good lady Helen telling her he had to stay on for another week – and rewarded her with a 13th place finish and an entry for the French GP at Le Mans a fortnight later. Eddie had just enough time to get back for the Ulster GP, where he took 3rd in the King of the Roads race on the NSR as well as pole and a superb win on the Durex Suzuki RGV: back in the truck for Le Mans, where he finished a creditable 11th, followed by a 12th at Donington Park and the British Grand Prix. These results were backed up by two 14th places in Czechoslovakia and Hungary which meant the team could head to the season-ender at Phillip Island, Australia with all the transport/accommodation costs covered! Eddie rode well once more and took 11th, putting him 17th overall in that year’s
championship. To top it all, Eddie returned to
Macau and took a 5th.
With sparse grids in 500cc grand prix racing at the time, the impetus on the powers that be was to get more riders out there. With his good results, Eddie was put forward by Kenny Roberts and Mike Trimby of IRTA to get hold of one of the Yamaha YZR500S campaigned in 1990 for the 1991 season – along with a spare: time to head to Japan…
It’s March 1991, pre-season and pre-suzuka – the opening round of that year’s grand prix season. Eddie, Joe Millar and one of the crew land in Japan and have to find their way – by bullet train – to Iwata to meet the Yamaha bosses. Despite not speaking a word of Japanese, they make it, Eddie: “I reasoned that if the train left at 15:04, we could stand on the mezzanine overlooking the platforms and head for a train that turns up at – say – 15:01. The Japanese are that efficient…”
It worked! What followed for the lads was a lengthy Japanese-style evening of cigarettes and whiskey punctuated with a lot of enthusiastic, rapid-fire Japanese that the three lads couldn’t ever hope to comprehend... The next morning Eddie, Joe and Drew were taken to a remote shed, up a hillside where they were introduced to an immaculate, all-white, YZR500 1990 machine: Eddie then showed the Yamaha technicians pictures of his previous Millar mount – the NSR500. In a lovely touch, the next time the team saw ‘their’ YZR, the Japanese at Yamaha had the bike sprayed in the Team Millar colours – all from that photo. In addition, for the Suzuka race the team even had a pit garage and an official Yamaha technician, better still, Yamaha racing’s top man–kazunori Maekawa – would even pop in to say hello and see how things went. Soon, Maekawasan and Eddie would become friends: even if his job was more to check on how Marlboro Team Roberts were doing!
Eddie’s first outing on the YZR500 was in lashing rain, but he still managed a top 15 in qualifying which, considering all the wildcard locals who had intimate knowledge of the circuit, was an impressive feat. In the race however, while running well in the top 10, on the penultimate lap, he overcooked it at turn four and the bike came round in a massive high side that resulted in a bad injury, meaning he couldn’t walk and had to be carried onto and off the plane to Australia’s GP the following weekend. Eddie gave it his all in Australia, and was well pleased with his 13th place finish on his first visit to the Eastern Creek circuit.
The following weekend was Laguna Seca, another circuit which he was seeing for the first time and, again finishing 13th. What was the Corkscrew like: “Fantastic: you don’t realise the severity of the drop until you do it!” Eddie’s next outing, a few weeks later, was in the familiar surroundings of Jerez in southern Spain. As with previous visits Eddie drove the truck from Dublin, a journey he was well used to, and secured an impressive 11th place finish.
One time at Jerez, Eddie and the crew could let their hair down with a certain Kevin Schwantz. Eddie recalls: “After the race one year, me, Helen and a few others piled into Kevin’s jeep and headed to a small bar on
a hillside very near the circuit where Kevin was in full flight ordering beer for everyone. He then turns to Helen and says: ‘I hope you brought your running shoes. Why? ‘Cos we ain’t paying’ and with that we all sprinted back to the jeep and tore off!”
Next stop: Misano for the first time, when the circuit went the OTHER way around: Eddie would take a superb 10th place finish, in a race with Doohan, Kocinski and Lawson filling out the podium. He would back this up with another 10th at super-fast Hockenheim, where Eddie’s YZR would notch a top speed of 190mph, pretty good, but not up there with the Hondas which would touch around 200mph… Austria’s Salzburgring was next – another track with the so-called ‘Honda lanes’, but while Doohan would win ahead of Rainey and Schwantz, Eddie would take another excellent 10th place finish.
Eddie was on a roll, especially with a 12th at Jarama – but then came Assen and the Dutch TT… Eddie was battling in the top 10 in the race when he crashed and was catapulted through the gravel at some rate of knots, at the same time – a few corners up the track – Mick Doohan also crashed heavily and was picked up by ‘Eddie’s’ ambulance. Eddie says: “Mick had injured his leg and me my hand. It was at least a 30 minute ride to the hospital in the back of the ambulance. We smiled at each other, nodded, maybe shrugged, but neither of us spoke. There wasn’t anything to say!”
Three weeks later at Paul Ricard was little better, with Eddie crashing just before the start-finish straight, better was to come at Donington Park for the British Grand Prix.
In a race won by Schwantz, Niall Mackenzie would finish 7th on his return to 500cc racing, Eddie would be 11th and Ron Haslam 12th, on a Norton rotary of all things! This would be the first of four 11th place finishes, including Mugello, Brno and Le Mans. The season finale would be at Shah Alam – back to the oppressive heat and humidity. Eddie: “Any outdoor activity in that heat would leave my
Irish body feeling drained! I mentioned this to Mick Doohan who advised me: ‘Eat fruit, lots of fruit and nothing else!’ It worked for me!” Indeed it did, with a 12th place finish. His points haul also left him in 12th overall in the championship. Respect!
Time to have a relaxing break… at the 1991 Macau GP, where – strangely- Eddie was the poster boy for the event: he had to ‘remove’ one, it still has pride of place in his home today. Practice went well, putting the YZR on pole. Then came the shenanigans: 20 mins before the race Eddie was approached by someone from Lucky Strike, the backers of the Suzuki Grand Prix team. Schwantz’s team-mate Didier De Radigues was taking part in the race. The conversation went something along the lines of: “I know you’ve got a great chance to win, but we can’t let you. This is by far the biggest market for the Lucky Strike brand, they invest huge amounts of corporate money in this market and this event. If you ever want an invite back to this event, let Didier win…” Starting from second, Eddie went out, catching and passing a group, before slotting into 2nd, chasing De Radigues in the lead. The Belgian would win the race, with Eddie in 2nd.
Back home Eddie was finally getting some recognition and a reception at the Mansion House, hosted by Bertie Ahern, minister for sport, as well as an appearance on the Late, Late Show gave most Irish people their first glimpse of this new hero. Then there was the fan mail, loads of it, most of it coming from abroad containing photos that people wanted signed. Eddie recalls many envelopes with simply: ‘Eddie Laycock, Dublin, Ireland’ on them, and nothing else by way of an address!
1992 was to promise so much, even if points were only awarded down to 10th, not 15th… Also, there were now only 13 rounds to make up the season.
Suzuka was still the season opener and Eddie binned the bike in a wet race won by the droning ‘big bang’ firing order NSR500 of Doohan. Bad luck dogged Eddie at the next round in Australia – another crash. It was hard for the team to get the bike in good order for the next race in Malaysia, the following weekend: thankfully Marlboro Team Roberts
LAYCOCK CAN BE PROUD OF HIS TIME IN RACING. HE RACED THE BEST ON THE ROADS AND THE BEST RIDERS EVER SEEN IN THE 500CC CLASS ON SHORT CIRCUITS.