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6 days ago
By Nick Harris

Snow, snow, quick, quick snow

Nick Harris recalls the 1980 and 1981 Austrian Grands Prix, a time when the paddock weren't just worried about the rain...

Of course, riders worry about the weather before they go into battle but at the Austrian Grand Prix in the eighties, it was not rain or high winds that caused furrowed brows before the visors dropped. Snow and really thick snow was the problem.

The MotoGP™ riders looked up at the darkening sky as clouds amassed over the grid on Sunday – would the weather play yet another vital part on the 21-lap proceedings round the 5.403 km circuit that snaked its way through forests on its undulating journey up and down the hillside overlooking the city of Brno. This time those black clouds did not drop their contents and the asphalt remained dry throughout.

Next Sunday the riders will once again cast a wary eye over those magnificent mountains that surround the Red Bull Ring as they line up for the Austrian Grand Prix. Just ask anybody who was there in the nineties if it can rain, I promise you it can and very hard but snow in August, surely not a chance.

The Salzburgring was a magnificent venue but I didn’t have to race a fearsome 500cc two-stroke round the 4.240 km frighteningly fast undulating track that staged the Austrian Grand Prix 22 times. Magnificent scenery in the foothills above the city of Salzburg. A mountain stream ran through the tunnel that led you into the paddock and you’d walk alongside another stream that followed the wooded path to the start and finish line and the communications hut that was staffed with an iron fist by the apply named Fax Family who were very easy to upset, which we often did. We stayed in a great hotel in the lakeside village of Fuschl Am See, which is now the home of Red Bull. They not only understood why you needed to be on the phone at reception for a couple of hours to relay the race story back to England but would keep a supply of apple strudel and beer to keep you going on a yet another long Sunday night. Marlboro would stage a magnificent dinner usually hosted by Giacomo Agostini at the superb hotel half way up the mountain overlooking Salzburg before practice got underway on Thursday night.

So, a great place to work and spectate but it was the timing of the race which often was the first Grand Prix of the season that spoilt our fun. The Venezuelan Grand Prix had already been cancelled in 1980 because of financial problems and so Austria was due to start the new season on April 27th. Spring it may have been but some unseasonable thick snow - even for this part of the world - not only prevented riders actually tracing the outline of the circuit in the blizzards but blocked any chance of the trucks and motorhomes getting into the paddock. The first race of the season moved onto Misano in Italy two weeks later where Kenny Roberts was a comfortable winner. You would have thought they had learned their lesson but a year later on the same weekend practice had to be delayed for the opening Grand Prix of the season. You guessed it, because of the snow. Although the race won by Randy Mamola did take place.

Never say never but with Europe frying in the summer sunshine, the last thing on the riders mind lining up for the Austrian Grand Prix as Ducati chase a hatrick of victories will be snow.

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