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Spanish riders are some of the best in the world, now with a broad history of success. But without Jerez nothing would be possible.
Spain has not always been the dominant force in motorcycle racing it is now. In the not too distant past Spain was still looking for her first premier class win, yet alone title. As the 1980s began only Angel Nieto and Ricardo Tormo had taken world championships in the 125cc and 50cc classes. Spain had just one Grand Prix, held in Jarama from 1969 as it was the only circuit capable of holding World Championship rounds.
However, the Circuito de Jerez project coincided with a growing interest from Japanese motorcycle manufacturers in the Spanish motorcycle market, something that would play a critical role in the coming revolution of Spanish riders in the 250cc class.
Sito Pons, current team manager of the Paginas Amarillas HP 40 team in Moto2™ and father to Edgar and Axel Pons, took victory at the Grand Prix of Spain in Jarama in 1984 and in 1986 he did it again on a satellite Honda NSR 250 designed by Spanish engineer Antonio Cobas. Pons would become part of the elite in the class, ending as runner up in 1986.
The first edition of the Grand Prix of Spain hosted by the Circuito de Jerez was held the next year in 1987 and received incredible support from local race fans. It was a thrilling race with a number of Spanish riders on the podium as well.
Juan Garriga was third in the 250cc class behind Martin Wimmer and Luca Cadalora, the Spaniards first podium in the World Championship. Meanwhile, the 80cc class podium was filled with Spanish riders, including a young Alex Criville who was just 17 years old.
From here the GP of Spain in Jerez was established as a festival of Spanish motorcycling and continues to draw in hundreds of thousands of spectators. For years Spanish riders continued to do exceedingly well in the lightweight class, Pons taking his second 250cc title in 1989. In 1990 both Pons and former title rival Juan Garriga moved up to the premier class and Spain finally began to feel they might have a potential race winner and champion in the prestigious 500cc class.
Unfortunately the Spanish GP in Jerez would lack local riders on the top step of the podium, Spanish talents such as Luca Cadalora and Loris Capirossi starting a renaissance of Italian racing.
Garriga, who retired in 1992, was one of the few who could fight with the dominant Americans and Australians in the premier class. Pons’ retirement came a year before after several troubling injuries, never quite getting to the podium.
With his hopes of a premier class title gone, Pons created a team to help bring through a new era of Spanish riders in the 500cc class. The first to ride Pons’ Honda NSR500 was Alex Criville, who got his first podium in just his third race and took his first win, and Spain’s first win, in the eighth round. Then Criville found himself battling for the podium in Jerez.
Criville’s progress continued, moving to the factory Honda team in 1994 as Mick Doohan’s teammate. This continued to grow Criville’s legend as a Spanish hero, becoming the first Spanish rider to run in the factory Honda team.
Pons’ garage also continued to turn out Spanish talent, helping Alberto Puig to take his first win, and only win, in 1995 at a very special circuit. It was of course in Jerez. Puig was not the only Spanish winner for the Pons team, Carlos Checa also having spent time with them.
The Andalusian track quickly became the scene of many Spanish victories, the work of Pons opening the floodgates. Criville took victory in the 500cc class in Jerez in 1997, 1998 and 1999 going on to take the first 500cc title for Spain that year.
Since then Jerez has continued to be a great circuit for Spanish riders with the likes of Hector Barbera, Dani Pedrosa, Alvaro Bautista, Jorge Lorenzo, Sete Gibernau, Pol Espargaro, Nico Terol, Maverick Viñales and many more all spurred on by the roar of the crowd to achieve a number of podiums and wins at home.
The Spanish GP has seen many glorious moment for MotoGP™ riders, Lorenzo winning in 2010, 2012 and 2015, Pedrosa in 2008 and 2013 and Marc Marquez in 2014. All three have also consistently been on the podium, rarely a year now without at least one Spanish flag hanging above the podium.
Thanks to the success of the Spanish GP in Jerez, Spain’s racing scene exploded with the Barcelona – Catalunya circuit, the Valencia circuit, Almeria, Aragon, Navarra and Albacate all rising from the ground in the 30 years follow Jerez’s debut. With the tracks can a number of national championships, transforming Spain into a country with race fuel flowing through its veins.
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