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Two brilliant wins this week, one on two wheels and the other on four, emphasised that loyalty will be rewarded. Pecco Bagnaia’s magnificent first premier class win at MotorLand Aragon on Sunday coming seven days after Max Verstappen’s Formula One win at Zandvoort sent Holland crazy, were a perfect illustration. The problem is those rewards can be just around the corner for some, but decades away for others.
Bagnaia’s successful fight with Marc Marquez secured Italy their 250th premier class victory. Verstappen’s home win in among the Zandvoort sand dunes brought unbelievable celebrations from the patriotic success-starved home crowd. No wonder Holland celebrated because motorsport success, especially on the tarmac, is long overdue to a nation that shows amazing loyalty even without one of their own winning races. What other sport could produce such loyalty despite not witnessing a home rider winning a premier class MotoGP™ race for 40 years.
Name me another sport that could attract record crowds each year to the Assen circuit which has staged Grand Prix racing right from the start in 1949 and has rightly earned the title as the Cathedral of Grand Prix racing. It’s not only the Dutch that have shown such loyalty. Huge crowds flock to the Sachsenring each year despite the only German victory in the premier class coming 47 years ago. Two weeks ago, the restricted Silverstone attendance was sold out despite a British rider never winning a premier class race at his home Grand Prix since it arrived from the Isle of Man.
The Dutch certainly know how to party which I found out 41 years ago. It was one of my first assignments as a Grand Prix reporter to 1980 Dutch TT. Local hero Jack Middelburg won the 16 lap 500cc race from Graziano Rossi and Franco Uncini to spark off celebrations from the 100,000 plus crowd I’ve barely witnessed since. The place went completely crazy. Not the organised pyrotechnics of Zandvoort last week but just an outburst of orange and joy fuelled by some local brews that seemed to go on forever.
I rather naively thought every Grand Prix would be like that, but Assen that afternoon, evening and night set a precedent that has barely been surpassed. A year later Middelburg won the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and that was that. A Dutchman never won another premier class race. Nine years later in 1990 Wilco Zeelenberg won the 250cc German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring and Hans Spaan won five 125cc Grands Prix and secured the last ever Grand Prix victory for a Dutch rider, but the crowds continued to flock to Assen every single year.
Despite great success in the smaller classes thanks to the efforts of the likes of Toni Mang, Dirk Raudies, Ralf Waldmann and Stefan Bradl, Germany has only tasted success in the premier class on one occasion and even then, it was controversial. Edmund Czihak won the 1974 500cc German Grand Prix race at the Nürburgring when all the top riders boycotted the race on safety grounds.
Cal Crutchlow has brought some much-needed joy to British fans with three premier class wins, but they had to wait 35 years. Before Crutchlow the last British premier class winner was Barry Sheene in 1981 in a sport once dominated by British riders and machinery. They flocked to Silverstone a couple of weeks ago in the knowledge that no British rider had won the premier class race on home soil since it switched from the TT Mountain circuit in 1977.
It was no great surprise that sidecar racing was so popular in Holland, Germany and Great Britain. All three countries produced some brilliant World Champions on three wheels for fans baying for Grand Prix success. No wonder they hosted sidecar World Championship races long after sidecar racing ceased to be part of the official World Championship in 1996.
Sidecar racing will never return to the official World Championship calendar. Max Verstappen may reward those Dutch fans with the Formula One World Championship but what those Dutch, German and British fans really deserve for their loyalty and patience is the ultimate reward of MotoGP™ success. The long wait, however long, will be worth it. Just ask Fabio Quartararo and those French fans.
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