Motorcycling: Mission for lone rider

Norman Fox discovers Donington is banking on the sole Briton today
Click to follow
The Independent Online
When, barring some uncharacteristic error, the most talented and successful motorcyclist of recent years, Michael Doohan, takes the world title at Donington Park today, he will be well into his lap of honour before the first and only British rider crosses the line. Not only that, Jason Vincent would not even be on the same track were it not for his wild-card entry given at the discretion of the promoters.

The reasons for Vincent's appearance are not unrelated to the facts that he lives in the Midlands and that crowds attending grand prix events this season are down. In fairness, he is not some fortunate novice. Usually, though, he concentrates on the British 250cc title, which is somewhat less awesome than mixing it with the big guns in the 500cc grand prix events in which Britain's stock is dismal, and has been for a long time.

Because of Doohan's huge lead in the championship following an accident to his Spanish team-mate Alex Criville, who might otherwise have made a race of it, the grand prix circuit desperately needs the pulling power and excitement that the world superbike championship now holds. Motorcyclists relate to superbikes, which - unlike grand prix machines - are based on road-going bikes.

Who was it who attracted 70,000 people to Brands Hatch a fortnight ago? The British superbike rider Carl Fogarty, whose magnificent dice with the American John Kocinski was everything the grand prix scene lacks. If those two could be drawn into next season's GP series along with Doohan, the racing would be much more entertaining.

Rumours are rife that both will be lured. Fogarty, who last year said he had abandoned hope of riding on the grand prix circuit, is known to have been offered a new retainer by Ducati but is interested in a formidable Honda GP machine, the NSR500, and so too is Kocinski. A year ahead the possibility is that Britain will again have a world championship challenger, but for the moment Vincent is the token banner bearer.

The reasons for the absence of British riders on 500cc GP machines are obscure. Fogarty himself is obviously skilful and brave enough but says: "The whole scene is political - factory rides don't come to Brits any more." There have been well over 200 GP races since a British rider (Barry Sheene) last won, back in 1981.

Domestically, the sport is healthy but as soon as British riders move on to the GP circuit they find that instant success is expected. For years no one has proved to the factory team bosses that they have the ability to compete consistently. As a result they have never been given full- hearted support.

Vincent is 25 and one of several promising Brits who could already be too old to make it on the world 500cc circuit. Although concentrating on 250cc racing, he rode a 500 Honda to victory at the Race of the Year at Mallory Park and also rides big bikes in European events. He is frighteningly quick but on outdated Honda machinery. "I think the main reason why we don't have riders winning," Vincent said, "is that in Britain we now concentrate so much on the superbikes and they get all the attention and sponsorship, so that's the class for everybody to take up. I don't think it's got anything to do with a lack of talent. There's money and prestige in superbike racing, but I've been brought up differently, riding grand prix bikes - mainly 250s - so my main aim is to get into grand prix racing permanently. But what sponsorship money is around at the moment doesn't come our way." His defiant sponsors, Padgetts, well-known motorcycle dealers, are not in the same league as the multi-nationals who support the leading riders.

Vincent thinks that teenagers coming into the sport are given more encouragement than they were a few years ago but says that when he started it was a lot less expensive, which means that young riders need substantial sponsorship. "When I first raced it was all down to me but everything was so much cheaper. At least Britain is making an effort to bring on young riders."