When you call it a World Championship you must mean it. MotoGP™ arrives in Europe this weekend after a journey of approximately 43,000 km dropping off in four countries on three separate continents and that is just the opening four rounds of 21. Exhilarating and exhausting all rolled into one.
The logistical freight problems first encountered, and then brilliantly overcome by the MotoGP™ community in Argentina, is part of crisscrossing the globe week after week. Twenty-one races in 17 separate countries on six continents in just eight frantic months is bound to cause problems and not only for the teams and riders.
Ironically 40 years ago I made my first journey outside Europe to report on a Grand Prix. There had not been a 500cc race outside Europe for three years when we ventured to the 1982 opening round in Buenos Aires for the Argentine Grand Prix. It was the same circuit that had hosted the first-ever Grand Prix outside Europe in 1961, 12 years after the birth of the World Championship. I had been to Daytona in Florida a couple of times for the pre-season races, but this was so different. Somehow Peter Clifford and I persuaded our editor that we should go a week earlier to ride across Argentina to the border of Chile high in the Andes in a Che Guevara style motorcycle trip. We returned after an amazing journey to witness a classic Grand Prix. Kenny Roberts fighting off the Yamaha of Barry Sheene by 0.67s with Freddie Spencer, spearheading the Honda return to Grand Prix racing, in third place. We had no idea there were problems between Argentina and Great Britain. We arrived back in London on the Monday after the race. Two days later war was declared between the two countries over the Falkland Island dispute.
I had been due to go to Venezuela two years earlier, but the Grand Prix was cancelled. Barry Sheene had won at the San Carlos circuit at the three premier class races between 1977-79. Most people and certainly journalists had been forced to stay 100 kilometres from the circuit. Typically, Barry got friendly with the local fire brigade and slept in the fire station in the local town.
The year after the Argentine adventure we went to South Africa for the first time and the Kyalami circuit on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It was an amazing trip where the MotoGP™ community ignored the apartheid regime. I had severe doubts about making the journey but honestly felt by going we had helped in our small way to fight against prejudice. Freddie Spencer won that first 500cc race but two years later crashed when his rear wheel collapsed. He arrived to the airport to fly back to London in a wheelchair. Flying films out of South Africa at the time was not easy because the authorities want to develop films to see what pictures were going to be distributed. Freddie took the films and sat on them in his wheelchair, and we sailed through customs and on the plane.
In 1987, Grand Prix racing returned to Japan after a 20-year absence. It was my first trip to a country whose machinery had dominated the World Championship for so long. It was a wonderful experience flying to Suzuka. In those days you could not fly to Japan in one go and we landed at Anchorage in Alaska to refuel where we were told they had the biggest duty-free shop in the world and there was a massive stuffed bear outside the entrance. The racing and hospitality were fantastic but something else was my highlight. We met ‘Mr Fax’ in the media centre who persuaded us if we put a sheet of paper in his machine it would arrive at the other end in London. It worked and those long hours on a Sunday night typing out the race results that could be from six classes at some Grands Prix had disappeared at that moment. We loved ‘Mr Fax.’
Portugal on Sunday. No time for a breather, the next country, and continent beckons. It may not be quite Around the World in Eighty days, but it is very close.