Motorcycle Racing: Robinson's fighting chance

NEW FACES FOR '97: One young rider has become the only Englishman in any of motorcycling's three grand prix classes to gain a factory-supplied bike next season. He talked to Andrew Martin
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The Independent Online
With a single punch, Jamie Robinson earned himself more attention than a season of eager progress on motorcycling's 250cc grand prix circuit.

Knocked from his saddle at a crucial stage in last year's British Grand Prix, the incensed 21-year-old Yorkshireman flew at the rider whose error had ended his hopes of a top-10 finish in front of an expectant Donington crowd. Robinson, a slight, boyish figure, lunged at the bigger, helmeted rider, and chinned him.

"However, if I had won the event, I would not have had so much exposure," Robinson says wryly.

That uncharacteristic rush of blood to an otherwise level head led to pictures of the incident from an otherwise unremarkable race flashed around the world. Robinson gained a degree of notoriety - the rider hailed as "the man who would be king" by Motor Cycle News seemed more likely to make headway under Don King.

It also marked the point when Robinson's season took a downward curve, his privateer mount proving increasingly unreliable, a finish ever elusive.

From three ninth places to a host of noughts. Like so many young Britons on motorcycling's blue riband series, a bright prospect appeared to have missed his opportunity.

So Robinson's exuberance can be forgiven when he now says: "I can't wait for the start of the season - I just want to tear the handlebars off the bike."

Why? Because the only Englishman competing in any of the three grand prix classes - 500cc, 250cc and 125cc - has been contracted to ride a works Suzuki bike for the coming season. In boxing terms, a factory-supplied bike is like entering the ring with an iron bar in your glove.

The team - Arie Molenaar Racing - is in its first season at 250cc after winning last year's 125cc title with the Japanese rider Haruchika Aoki.

"Straight away I got a really good feeling with the team," Robinson beams. "My life is taking such a different direction. I'm really enjoying myself now. I've got a really good feeling about my racing. I think I'll have a good year. Since I signed my deal, everything is more interesting and fun.

"I wasn't happy with the results I was getting; the bike was never consistent. I just couldn't do my job and I was really angry with the situation and getting frustrated."

That frustration was vented in the Donington fisticuffs. "I ride on a lot of emotion - I put my heart into my job," Robinson says. "It's not something I'm playing at - it's my life.

"It was the British Grand Prix; I had so much at stake. He knocked me off and that was it - it was just all my emotion coming out all in one punch. I restrained myself before it all went too far, but we got away with that one."

The Suzuki marque carries a heady significance with British race fans. Barry Sheene rode one to two world 500cc championships, in 1976 and 1977.

Since then only Carl Fogarty, twice a world champion in the rival World Super Bike series, has set pulses racing here. Hence the expectation riding on Robinson's precocious talent in what this season will be the toughest of the grand prix classes.

With the three-times world champion Max Biaggi staying at 250cc and the former 250cc title holder Loris Capirossi stepping down from two years at 500cc, the competition will be testing indeed. They are joined by the top five riders from the 125cc class on a grid cut from 36 to 24 qualifiers.

Robinson adds: "There's a clutch of good bikes out there - it's going to be exciting. It's also going to be hell. I don't really know what to expect."

He will know better after testing the RGV250 in Australia and Malaysia, a world away from last year when he travelled from circuit to circuit in a camper van with little or no time to prepare the bike.

"I've never gone winter testing before. Usually we'd go for a few days somewhere and then to the first race. Now I've got a lot of time to get things settled, get my head into the speed thing. To feel comfortable on a new bike. Perfect."

Robinson won his first race on his 16th birthday at Cadwell Park in 1991, and became the youngest rider to win the British 250cc championship four years later. He stepped up to the grand prix circuit in 1996. Racing bikes is all he has ever wanted to do.

"At school I'd tell people that I wanted to be a motorcycle racer and they'd say: `Pick a proper job'," Robinson says.

"If racing hadn't happened I would still be doing something athletic because I've got that kind of ambition inside me that I need to do something physical - certainly not boxing," he grins impishly. "Judging by the British Grand Prix, you wouldn't have thought so."

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