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There’s nothing like those special celebrations between Philipp and Peter Oettl after the Moto3™ race in Jerez to get the old eyes watering. A father celebrating with his son after his first ever Grand Prix win never ceases to make me feel good and emotional. Unlike many other sports, Grand Prix motorcycle racing has produced few successful father and son winning combinations. If the sport is not tough enough already, the pressure and expectations heaped on the son of a Grand Prix winning father must be like a lead weight in his leathers. Of course, Dad can open a few extra doors - especially in the early stages - but at some point, the comparisons stop and the son has to stand on his own two feet.
Like it or not, many sons are just not like their Dads who sometimes just can’t understand why. In other cases, they are just a chip off the old block and you recognise all those familiar traits shown at least two decades earlier. Kenny Roberts Senior and Junior seem very different characters off the track, while Graziano could only be Valentino Rossi’s Dad.
Without a doubt the most difficult steps to follow must have been if your father had been killed racing which, perhaps for the wrong reasons, increased their status to legendary proportions. Twenty years ago, I worked closely with Formula One World Champions Damon Hill and Jacque Villeneuve. Graham Hill had been killed in a plane crash and Gilles Villeneuve in a Grand Prix and I probably more than anybody at the time - to satisfy the insatiable needs of the media and sponsors - had to constantly ask them about their legendary fathers. Like it or not, they were being compared, but both - in very different ways - followed their own paths to World Championship success. It must have been so tough at times.
This has only happened once on two wheels. Les Graham was the very first 500cc World Champion in 1949, but he was tragically killed at the Isle of Man TT in 1953. Fourteen years later in 1967, his son Stuart returned to the Isle of Man to win the 50cc race for Suzuki and the 125cc Finnish Grand Prix at another road circuit in Imatra, before turning to four wheels for further success.
There must have been something special in that 1949 air because the very first 125cc Champion, Italian Nello Pagani, who also finished second behind Graham in the 500cc class, also produced a Grand Prix winning son. Alberto Pagani won three 500cc Grands Prix in the late sixties and early seventies, but probably the toughest act to follow was the daunting task of Pablo Nieto. Pure bad luck and mechanical problems seemed to form an impregnable barrier to that Grand Prix win, but finally in 2003 he won the 125cc race at Estoril in Portugal. At last a father and son win to celebrate with his 13 times World Champion Spanish legend Angel, who certainly had learnt the art of celebrating after 90 Grand Prix victories over the last three decades.
Stefan Bradl went one better than Dad Helmut by winning the 2011 Moto2™ World Championship. Twenty years earlier Helmut had finished runner–up in the 250cc Championship, winning five Grands Prix that year. However, the only father and son to win world titles remains in the very firm grip of the incredible Roberts family. Kenny Senior, the brash outspoken genius who changed the very face of Grand Prix racing, and Kenny Junior, who shunned the limelight.
What a racing family. Chalk and Cheese off the track, but cheese and cheese - plus a few biscuits - on it.
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