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4 days ago
By Nick Harris

The sound of music

Former commentator Nick Harris remembers a time when pre-season testing wasn’t so expertly organised as it is today

It had been a long agonising winter of wait so what a moment to savour. The desert was alive with the sound of music. Those lockdown blues were blown away in an instant on Friday. No bird song or tumbling water but a raucous ear-shattering symphony of music. The unique unmistakable sound of 1000cc four-stroke engines in anger suffocating the windy dusty desert air. MotoGP™ was back.

Last month a journalist friend cheered me up and whetted my appetite for the 2021 season. The sound of a single Supersport bike negotiating those two glorious fast right-handers at the back of the Jerez pits in the WSBK test rattled through my phone – I lowered my face mask; the new season was getting closer.

Pre-season testing is so brilliantly organised even in these pandemic dominated days. While MotoGP™ got underway in Qatar both Moto2™ and Moto3™ had already started in Portugal. It is a far cry from my early days as a journalist. No organised pre-season testing. Just a couple of race meetings if you were lucky before that first Grand Prix but it had its compensations. A chilly trip to the Adriatic coast of Italy or a flight across the Atlantic to Daytona in the Spring were the usual choices. No disrespect to Misano but there was only one winner.

Florida sunshine, the college students celebrating their Spring break, the amazing beach, the parade and carnival of exotic motorcycles along the Boulevard every night, Supercross, ice-cold beer and even the occasional rocket being launched from nearby Cape Canaveral. What more could you ask for, but I must not forget there was also the racing round the most famous banking in the world.

That amazing 300kph banking was not a place for the faint-hearted. It was where I was fortunate to watch two very special and different riders in action. Straight away I knew I was witnessing something very special, and both went on to win the ultimate prize, the 500cc World title.

In 1981 I met and then watched Freddie Spencer riding for the American Honda Superbike team. Immediately it was obvious why Honda were preparing the young so talented American to spearhead their return to Grand Prix racing the following year. The previous year Freddie had made his first trip to Europe to dominate the prestigious Transatlantic Race series in England. He made his Grand Prix debut at Zolder in Belgium riding a private Yamaha and in 1982 began a Grand Prix career that brought him and Honda two 500 and one 250 cc World title. Freddie is still the only rider to win both 250 and 500 cc titles in the same season.

That same year in Daytona I also met a raw but so fast young Australian who was determined to come to Europe. Riding the naked Moriwaki Kawasaki with those straight handlebars. Wayne Gardner was quick, determined and brave. The three qualities that brought him to Europe a year later were so evident when he re-captured Honda that 500 cc World title in 1987. The first Australian to win the premier title which he followed up by winning the first two Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island.

It is ironic that those trips to Daytona were organised by Mike Trimby who is the CEO and founder of IRTA. Today it is The International Road Racing Teams Association who organise all the pre-season testing with such precision and professionalism.        

May I assure Mike that anybody who went on those early ‘Trimby Tours’ to Daytona will never forget them. When we arrived there, we honestly thought we had landed in paradise!

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