my own goal; Mick Grant

THE British motorcycling grand prix at Donington Park next Sunday will bring back extraordinary and embarrassing memories for the former British champion who signed up for a world-beating team and ended up at the back of the grid
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The Independent Online
IN 1979 I had just enjoyed four very good years with Kawasaki when out of the blue Honda, who had not been in grand prix racing since the days of Mike Hailwood and Jim Redman, made a comeback. They asked me to help develop a new four-stroke called the NR500. It was every rider's dream to compete for Honda, the biggest and usually the most successful company, and to be involved in a grand prix project. Most of the machines around were two-strokes, but even so I expected the Honda to be fairly competitive. They totally underestimated the opposition and the magnitude of the task, however.

These days Honda make 500cc bikes for the likes of Mick Doohan with the specific aim of winning the world championship, but then they wanted to put ideas from the race track back into production road machines. A lot of the concepts are in use today, but we had no racing success. Even though Honda took over half the paddock and used stacks of Japanese engineers.

The engine used to rev to 21,000, which was unheard of, and basically it didn't work. In the first year the motor wouldn't tick over at less than 7,000rpm and motive power came in at 13,000 and tapered off at about 17,500. In layman's terms it wasn't an easy ride. A driver doesn't mind a bike being hard to ride if it is competitive, but this wasn't.

During testing at Suzuka before the grand prix season it was so unreliable that we could not string together more than three or four laps. I came off and broke my leg but raced again the following weekend. Everything about the bike was experimental . . . there were so many problems. In the British Grand Prix at Silverstone my team-mate was Takazumi Katayama and we were the last two qualifiers on the grid. That was at a time when I was riding better than ever before.

In those days there were no clutch starts, the only way to get the bike going was to run and bump- start it. As the bike didn't tick over until 7,000rpm you needed legs like Linford Christie to get it going. Takazumi started his first time but I took three goes to get mine on the move. He waited for me, but eventually got fed up and went off. We knew we weren't going to finish as Honda thought that would be less embarrassing than finishing last.There wasn't even enough fuel in the tanks to complete the race.

When the bike did fire, I was on the back of the seat. I went down the straight on the back wheel but, unknown to me, the oil had tipped back in the gearbox and covered the breather hole. The engine was pumping all the oil on to the back wheel. I knocked the throttle off going into the first bend where the crowd could see the back wheel was very well lubricated, but I couldn't. So down I went. The only record we ever held on the NR was that on its debut I went 300 yards before I crashed it.

Later that season I went with Takazumi to Le Mans - that was a riot. We rode so hard in practice that we were two-wheel drifting on every corner. If we had been on competitive bikes we would have been on the front row, but we didn't qualify. We were first and second on the reserve list but nobody dropped out so we did not race. It was a great embarrassment for Honda, who had again taken up half the paddock with great big awnings advertising their new machine. We were served smoked salmon for lunch by waiters in white jackets, but we hadn't even made it on to the grid.

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