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22 days ago
By Nick Harris

Fresh pastures

Nick Harris shares his memories of heading to new circuits with the MotoGP™ paddock as the inaugural Thai GP beckons

Don’t get me wrong. I still loved going to the likes of Mugello, Jerez and Phillip Island but I’d been there so many times that when a new circuit, and especially new country, appeared on the schedule it made life more interesting and in many case, a little bit more exciting.

I’m sure that’s just how everybody feels as they make their way to Thailand this week. Not only a new venue at the Chang International Circuit, but a new country in Thailand to stage a MotoGP™ race. ™

Thailand is the first new country to stage a MotoGP™ race since Turkey in 2005. Remember the week before we were in Australia and flew back over the Istanbul circuit from Melbourne, then flew back to Istanbul from London followed by a three hour drive to find first the circuit and then the hotel (that was a polite word for where we were staying).The Istanbul circuit was magnificent, especially watching the race winner Marco Melandri slide the Honda round the fast fifth gear right hander. The rest of the trip was more than a little scary but we survived.

Thailand is the 30th country to stage a World Championship event since the Championship started in 1949. We went to Malaysia for the first time in 1991 at the Sham Alam circuit which was close to the old Kuala Lumpur airport. I really did not know what to expect. Immediately we all loved KL. The food, the nightlife and the friendly people but Shah Alam offered a few worries for us westerners. They told me; although I assure you I never went in and checked that a python was asleep in the rafters when they opened the press office. Our office was an old shipping container, the lack of flushing loos was a major problem for anybody who’d overloaded on that spicy food while it was rumoured that the marshals would not help riders at a certain corner because the undergrowth was full of poisonous snakes. We survived but only just, especially with the spicy food problem.

Sometimes the problems going to a new country are a lot more serious and played on my conscious before our first trip to South Africa in 1983. I remember coming through the arrival gate at Jan Smits airport in Johannesburg recalling the television pictures of the rebel England cricket team arriving amid so much controversy the previous year and wondering if I’d done the right thing. I left five days later knowing we had all done the right thing by totally ignoring all the restrictions that had been imposed on the black population. I received some pretty scary letters after pictures appeared of me sitting on a motorbike surrounded by the black workers at the Kylami circuit.

The Chang International Circuit is the 28th different venue to stage a Grand Prix event since the four-stroke MotoGP™ era started in 2002. With the addition of Thailand to the schedule, the 19 event 2018 season is the longest in the 70 year history of the sport. I’m sure it will come as no great surprise it will be the 37th different circuit where Valentino Rossi has competed at a Grand Prix event – he’s never had time to be bored.

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