"Please don't crash"

Former MotoGP™ commentator Nick Harris reflects on Aragon's Lap 1 drama, and remembers other famous injury comebacks in the sport

What a compelling heart-stopping first lap in Aragon. Watching the return of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) over the weekend brought back so many memories and an expression under my breath of genuine concern. Even when commentating on what unfurled in front of me I would whisper to myself away from the microphone, ‘Please don’t crash.’ Watching a rider return to the rigours and dangers back in the saddle after a serious injury was a double-edged sword. It was great to see them back in the fray but after all that pain and sheer hard work they had endured to return, I prayed they would not crash.

So many riders have returned from serious injury to find success. Grand Prix motorcycle riders always have been and always will be tough guys. It is what the sport is all about. Nothing will stop riders from competing if humanly possible, often at the expense of pain and suffering when they have finally cried enough and retired. Barry Sheene and Alex Criville not only won 500cc world titles after returning from serious injuries but also became national heroes in their respective countries. Sheene’s two life-threatening accidents at Daytona and Silverstone rather than two world titles made him a British icon. Criville became the first Spanish rider to be crowned a premier class World Champion two years after a serious hand injury kept him out of action for over two months.

I remember two very different comebacks that had very different times scales involving World Champions Mick Doohan and Jorge Lorenzo. One lasted 56 days, the other just two days. Mick Doohan’s pinched grey face matched his mood when he arrived for the penultimate round of the 1992 500cc World Championship. When he showed me the spindly remains of his legs and especially the right leg I understood just why. His right calf was still encased in a light cast while the wounds below reminded of our local butcher’s shop. Mick had missed four Grands Prix after breaking his leg in the final qualifying for the Dutch TT. The Australian rider had seen his massive Championship lead slashed to 22 points coming into the penultimate round at the dangerous chaotic Interlagos circuit on the outskirts of the massive sprawling City of Sao Paulo in Brazil. He had almost had to have his right leg amputated after infection set in after the operation. At one point, both his legs were sewn together to try and restore circulation from one to the other.

Watching Mick complete 121km in the drizzle was a humbling experience coupled with fear of what injuries he would suffer if he crashed again. He did not but all that pain and effort was unrewarded. Somehow he finished in 12th place which meant no World Championship points. Wayne Rainey won the race and two weeks later won the title by four points. It was a bitter pill for Mick to swallow but after a difficult 1993 season, all that pain and anguish was rewarded when he won the 1994 500cc Championship for Honda. That win just opened the floodgates for the Australian legend who won four more world titles on the trot.

Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha Factory Racing, Assen

Even on that tiny television screen in the Assen commentary box in 2013, it was obvious Jorge Lorenzo had broken his collarbone when he crashed in the second wet practice session. That horrible dropped left shoulder walk through the gravel trap said it all for the World Champion. He was immediately flown to Barcelona to have a titanium plate fitted with ten screws to repair the snapped collarbone. We surmised he could be back in a couple of weeks at the German Grand Prix but Jorge had different ideas. He flew back on the Friday night and was passed fit to race after the Saturday morning warm-up. Race he did and finished fifth after 26 laps of pain. Unfortunately, the story of the defence of his world title did not have a successful conclusion when he crashed and re-broke the collarbone at the Sachsenring two weeks later. He lost the world title to Marquez but two years later won back his crown amidst the Valentino Rossi/ Marquez shenanigans.

So can Marquez follow in the footsteps of the likes of Sheene, Criville, Doohan and Lorenzo. Of course he can but while he has been away the opposition has got both stronger and younger, beware of those young pretenders at the next three Grand Prix in Motegi, Buriram and Phillip Island. The eight-time World Champion won the last MotoGP™ races to be held at all three. Stand by for the fireworks.

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