Robinson has polish of Sheene

BRITISH MOTORCYCLE GRAND PRIX: British standard-bearer set for advance, says Andrew Martin
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If the subject of Ferraris is something of a sore point with Michael Schumacher at the moment, Jamie Robinson will quite happily talk about them. Like the black one he has promised to buy his mum when he wins the world championship on two wheels.

That may sound a fanciful pledge given that the dashing young rider is a mere 20-years-old, but there is something distinct about the Aprilia rider from Holmfirth that is more than mere Yorkshire bluff.

Tomorrow at Donington Robinson will line up against the best 250cc riders in the world - such as the world champion, Max Biaggi, and the rapid Japanese, Tetsuya Harada. However, unlike the crop of British wild card riders, his will not be an experience out of the ordinary. For in a grand prix class that is practically a closed-shop of Italian and Japanese riders, Robinson has been Britain's sole representative this season, scoring a pair of ninth finishes - in the Dutch Grand Prix and at Jerez, Spain. He stands proud at 16th place in the world championship and is currently the youngest 250cc grand prix rider. As befits any precocious British motorcycling talent, the winsome Robinson is widely tipped as the next Barry Sheene.

After his top 10 finish at Assen, the race director of Biaggi's Aprilia team, Jan Witteveen, said: "If he carries on like this there could be something special for him next season." That "something special" would be a works ride on one of Aprilia's pounds 500,000 factory machines. Ah, if only...

If Robinson is ready to talk Ferraris, just don't mention his own bike. The pounds 40,000 two-year-old machine has been frustratingly unreliable, despite the best efforts of the Dutch Docshop team to provide Robinson with a consistently competitive ride.

"People see that my bike is not as fast as these guys - that I'm doing the best with what I've got - that's really pleasing for me. I'm not moaning about it because I can't keep up, I've actually got a genuine reason. We're doing a bloody good job with what we've got, but I couldn't go through another season with what's going on now," said Robinson, referring to a year of wildly oscillating fortunes.

In the French Grand Prix, the brakes failed on the first corner, spilling Robinson into two other riders. In Japan, the bike seized in practice and he missed the race, and at Sentul in Indonesia's crushing heat, Robinson was placed 10th when the cylinder head cracked. In Germany, the bike ground to a halt on lap three.

But worse has happened. At Mugello, Italy, Robinson was rushed to hospital after crashing at 160mph when the engine again seized. He discharged himself the following day, told the race officials some large fibs about his physical state and, having been on a drip feed an hour before the race and qualifying last, finished 17th.

"I needed to get back on the bike as soon as possible; if you get back on the bike straight away it doesn't affect you. With the next grand prix just two weeks away I would have been just thinking about my crash, and by the time I got back on the bike it would have been in my head. I wasn't going to be defeated, to let a big crash slow me down."

It is that combination of determination and temerity that marks out Robinson as rather special. After being given his first bike at three by his father, Phil, a keen classic bike racer, Robinson progressed to schoolboy moto- cross before switching to road racing at 16. He entered his first grand prix, aged 17, as a wild card in the 125cc British Grand Prix.

His potential was spotted by the former world champion, Kenny Roberts, who offered Robinson a grand prix ride on a works Yamaha. Robinson, however, crashed the bike in qualifying, breaking his collar-bone to compound his misery. A furious Roberts then called him something quite unprintable. It takes pannier bags brimful of self-confidence to bounce back from such a rebuff and, undaunted, Robinson won the British championship the following year. He then raised some pounds 100,000 in sponsorship and now rides for one of the smallest teams on the 250cc circuit. And when the bike is on song, Robinson is quite capable of being among the front-runners.

"One of the reasons why we're not doing so well is that we haven't got as big a budget to run on," said Robinson, who drives to each race in a motorhome with his girlfriend, Leigh. The Docshop team's annual spend of pounds 350,000, however, does not run to wages in a paddock where the world champion can earn in excess of pounds 2m in a season.

Robinson's performance tomorrow will be buoyed by some improvements to the bike, and some vociferous home support. "When I came back from Germany, I was dreading the British Grand Prix. I was thinking 'things can't get much worse leading up to it '. But since then things have gone a lot better."

Helping improve Robinson's confidence has been Alan Carter, a fellow Yorkshireman who, in the early 1980s, was the last British rider to win a grand prix. "I've been involved with Alan on a friendly basis for the last four years - he lives in the next village. He quit racing about two years ago and now helps me out with my preparations, getting me psyched up for Donington.

"I feel very positive in myself and, as long as the bike is running well, I'll do the best job I can. I couldn't really handle it if the bike was good and I was crap.

"I'd like to think that things are really going to pick up and I could have my best result of the year at Donington."