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Silverstone GP another cause for national jubilation

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Matt Roberts | 17:38 UK time, Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The tea has barely gone cold from the Queen's jubilee celebrations but it's time to get those Union Jacks out again and support our boys in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone this weekend.

This is our third visit to the iconic Northamptonshire circuit since the race returned from a 23-year stay at Donington Park in Leicestershire and in terms of motor racing nostalgia there are few venues in the world that compare.

British bike fans of a certain vintage will immediately cast their minds back to an era-defining race between the legendary Barry Sheene and his American nemesis "King" Kenny Roberts, which was decided on the final lap and featured a moment that caused millions of jaws to drop around the country.

"And look at that!" yelled Murray Walker as Sheene, leading the race, turned to flash a very British two-fingered salute at his rival. "Barry Sheene, with absolute effrontery, not only looks over his shoulder but takes his left clutch hand off the handlebar and waves to Kenny Roberts!"

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The 1979 British Grand Prix, eventually won by Roberts, was actually one of the few events in the iconic Cockney racer's illustrious career to be witnessed by a live television audience and while Murray's inimitable interpretation of events may never be bettered, media coverage in general has thankfully moved on since the grainy early days of Grandstand.

Indeed, with every race broadcast on terrestrial television and now in glorious HD, as well as qualifying, practice and the Moto2 and Moto3 races available online and on the Red Button, British bike fans have never had it this good.

At the BBC we are all very excited about our home race and we have some pretty cool plans for it, including an unusual opener that we hope will get to the heart of modern British culture as well as tipping a metaphorical bowler hat to our own legends of this amazing sport.

Sheene, the 500cc World Champion in 1976 and 1977, will be the face you are most likely to recognise (if only for those brilliant aftershave commercials he filmed with Henry Cooper. "Splash it all over," anyone?) but look out for our five other premier-class title winners: Leslie Graham, Geoff Duke, John Surtees, Mike Hailwood and Phil Read.

These legendary names give our country an unrivalled heritage in two-wheeled sport that we can be extremely proud of, even though the silverware has been in short supply over the past few decades.

The time for a new British hero is long overdue but this weekend we have nine contenders across the three classes looking to move a step closer to filling the void: Cal Crutchlow and James Ellison (MotoGP), Scott Redding, Bradley Smith and Gino Rea (Moto2), Danny Webb, Danny Kent, Fraser Rogers and John McPhee (Moto3).

Leading the charge, of course, is Crutchlow, our most realistic and genuine chance of a premier-class podium finish since Jeremy McWilliams secured third behind Kenny Roberts Jr and a young Valentino Rossi at a soaking wet Donington Park back in 2000.

Poor Cal must be bored of being reminded of that stat, not to mention talk of the last British winner: you guessed it, Sheene - back in 1981 at the Swedish GP at Anderstorp, four years before Crutchlow was born.

It is unfair to expect him to pick up Sheene's mantle just yet and nobody wants to raise expectations too high but yesterday I did a series of pre-recorded interviews for regional BBC radio stations to use this weekend and the question I was asked the most was: "Can Crutchlow win?"

The truthful answer is that he has an outside chance. His performances so far this year at circuits he had no knowledge of prior to last season suggest as much, especially with the uncertain weather forecast.

Crutchlow and the rest of the British boys are down in London today, meeting the national press and filming for various television crews. On Thursday they will be at Silverstone and you can meet them there by buying tickets for Day of Champions - an annual fundraiser in aid of the official MotoGP charity, Riders for Health.

As well as getting the rare opportunity to wander around the paddock and mingle with the teams and riders, punters are also treated to entertainment throughout the day on the main stage and an auction, which this year includes an incredible star lot: a pair of MotoGP grid passes. Hopefully I will meet plenty of you there (tickets are still available at

There will be plenty more serious activity going on within the paddock fences at Silverstone, as the rider transfer market picks up pace following Yamaha's announcement this week that Jorge Lorenzo has signed up for two more years.

It was a big statement from Yamaha because there was definite interest from Honda and it will be interesting to see who both factories turn to next in the post-Stoner shake-up.

There will certainly be no shortage of rumours, with the early season form of Crutchlow, Stefan Bradl making adapting impressively to MotoGP in his rookie season, an uncertain future for Rossi at Ducati and the likely graduation of Marc Marquez from Moto2. Amid all the romantic hype, Andrea Dovizioso's podium in Barcelona also provided a timely reminder to factory team bosses that he remains one of the true class acts in the field.

Whatever transpires at Silverstone it promises to be an entertaining weekend both on and off the track.

To quote the magical Murray Walker once again: "Anything happens in Grand Prix racing, and it usually does."


  • Comment number 1.

    Wrong quote and anyway "Anything happens in Grand Prix racing" actually doesn't make any sense. Murray used to say "Anything CAN happen in motor racing and usually does."

    I recall Our 'enery was part of the Brut aftershave campaigns but the duet that became the alternative Eric & Ernie, Laurel & Hardy, was Bazza and James Hunt.

    I had the very great pleasure of spending a day with Bazza, back in the mid-70s, at his country place in Essex, for the Sunday Telegraph colour supp. He wheeled his Bultaco scramblers out onto the lawn, a 500, a 250 and a 125 and said, "Have a go. Ride anything you like," He proceeded to do wheelies up and down the lawn, tearing up the grass, going over backwards hooting with laughter. He had his Daytona leathers pinned like an animal pelt to the wall of his den, shredded to pieces from his 180mph off. A more naturally hospitable and generous fellow you could not hope to meet.

  • Comment number 2.

    Matt, you're obviously far too young to remember (in fact, I doubt if you were even born) but in the 1970's Barry Sheene was a media star, as well known as most footballers, both for his exploits on the track and for his lifestyle off it. In my view he single handedly dragged bike racing from a dreary era of black leathers and undecorated helmets into the sport that is recognizable today. The race in 1979 is the best known but there were many others that I was privileged to watch, one of my favourites being another battle with Kenny Roberts at Donington (can't quite remember the year but I suspect it was late 70s or very early 80s).

  • Comment number 3.

    Cant wait for the British GP
    I hope Crutchlow can pull off a shock, but i expect that Lorenzo and Stoner will battle it out for the win.
    I also dont believe there are tickets still left. I would be there if not for other engagements.

  • Comment number 4.

    Barry Sheene and James Hunt. We will never see their likes again sadly. Definitely not the identikit sportstars you find around paddocks today.

    I hope Cal can absorb the pressure of the home crowd and use it like Mansell used to, spurring him on to greater efforts. Tech 3 are unlikely to win (barring rain) this year but a podium would be lovely.

  • Comment number 5.

    McWilliams came third in 2000, not 2001.

  • Comment number 6.

    Will Colin be doing anything on stage on the Thursday? ;)

  • Comment number 7.

    Poor Cal ... when tipped for a podium... he tips off. Better luck next time !


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