The MotoGP™ bubble takes over your life when you are on the road. Practice, qualifying times and tyre choice plus any gossip about take potential rider moves fill your brain and conversations for three days and nights. Then it’s on to the race itself. The outside world rarely gets a look in. It has to be something pretty big and special to break it, as I discovered on my first trip to Argentina.
I’d never heard of the Falkland Islands when we flew into Buenos Aires on a sunny spring morning in 1982. By the time we landed back home in Gatwick ten days later I certainly knew exactly where they were. Who can blame me and my colleague Peter Clifford for knowing nothing about a group of isolated Islands that were about to grab the headlines for many months to come.
After all, we were on the trip of a lifetime. Somehow and I still don’t know how, we’d persuaded our editor that a Che Guevara ride across Argentina into the Andes and the Chilean border was the perfect prelude to the Argentina Grand Prix. Honda provided the machines and Peter with a scoop, with three naked RS 500s lying naked in the workshop when we went to pick up our bikes and everybody was at lunch. Freddie Spencer was due to make his Honda Grand Prix debut on the one of the new three cylinder two-strokes. The expected battle between the young American and the old warhorses Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts turned into a classic.
We returned from a memorable 1000 mile road trip to Buenos Aires and the Grand Prix, which was the opening round of the 1982 Championship. We’d seen a newspaper headline in Mendoza about the Falkland Islands but thought nothing more. Even when Barry Sheene lent me his hire car to take some colour films to the airport in order to have pictures on the front page next Wednesday, I didn’t notice the presence of military transport aircraft on the runway. We were having such a great time in an amazing city, although there were a few worrying aspects. One evening when seeking a shop that sold cheap leather jackets we found ourselves in the middle of a demonstration. Thousands of women with placards demanding to find out what had happened to their lost sons and a large contingent of riot police armed with water cannons was a grim sight.
Away from demonstration Buenos Aires was buzzing. Great restaurants, night life and to us Brits not a mention of the Falklands. We rode our Honda road bikes to the circuit on the morning of the race. New Zealander Graeme Crosby, who had just signed a massive deal to ride for Giacomo Agostini’s factory Yamaha team, insisted on a lift with Peter before his much publicised debut. A pair of flip flops and shorts was not the ideal clothes for the occasion but this was Croz. Of course, being the TT and Daytona winner, it was not going to be an easy ride and on the approach roads to the parkland circuit he started standing on the rear footrests. It was obvious to me riding behind what was going to happen and of course it did: Croz lying in the middle of the road with a Honda road bike on top of him, blood pouring from his knee just a couple of hours before his factory Yamaha debut.
A little bit of instant first aid and a grazed Croz arrived on time for his debut and Yamaha and Ago were none the wiser. The 32 lap 500cc race round the Autodromo was a classic. At the finish Roberts beat Sheene by just 0.67s with Spencer an impressive third.
Racing over, we rushed to the airport to catch the British Caledonian Sunday night flight to Gatwick. Good job because it was one of the last flights to fly out of Argentina to England for many a long year, but still we were oblivious to what was happening. Arrival at Gatwick changed all that with the morning newspaper headlines screaming about the invasion of the Falklands by Argentina. We had escaped by the skin of our teeth and war was declared two days later.
For once that MotoGP™ bubble had been burst.