Celebrating 40 years of the British MotoGP: 1991 to 2008

Stuart Barker
By Stuart Barker
Editor of the official TT programme and Classic TT programme and author of 'TT Century: 100 Years of the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy.' He has also written biographies of Barry Sheene, Steve Hislop, Niall Mackenzie, David Jefferies and Evel Knievel.

 

The British Grand Prix celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, so we've chosen 40 unforgettable moments and events from the last four decades of Britain's biggest motorcycle race. Sadly, no British rider has ever won the premier class at the British Grand Prix but several have come agonisingly close. And Brit riders have won the other classes so there's plenty to celebrate.

Here are the top ten moments from 1991 to 2008…

 

Schwantz-_-Rainey-1991

 

Round the Outside – Schwantz takes Rainey (1991)

In what was one of the most audacious moves ever seen at a British Grand Prix, Kevin Schwantz achieved the near-impossible by riding around the outside of Wayne Rainey at the Melbourne Loop to take the win at Donington in 1991. The two men famously hated each other and it's doubtful if Schwantz would have risked such a move on anyone but Rainey, but such was their mutual loathing of one another the two Americans were prepared to try anything to win. After Rainey was paralysed in 1993, the pair have happily become best friends.

 

Ron-Haslam-Norton-1991

 

Norton Scores a Point (1991)

Ron Haslam sent the Brit GP crowd wild in 1991 when he brought the JPS rotary Norton home in 15th place to score a point. The bike had been given permission to race despite ongoing arguments over its actual engine capacity because of its unique rotary engine. At a time when Niall Mackenzie was the only British rider in the 500cc class, home fans were delighted to have something additional to cheer about and seeing a low-budget British-built bike taking a point in the world's premier motorcycle racing championship ensured Haslam got the biggest cheer of the day.

 

Niall-Mackenzie-1993

 

Mackenzie On the Podium (1993)

After his near miss in 1989, Niall Mackenzie finally took a home GP podium at Donington in 1993 aboard his privateer ROC Yamaha after passing Carl Fogarty (who was having a one-off ride on a factory Cagiva) in the final corner of the race. “To the spectators, it looked like Carl had run out of fuel and that’s what he told the press afterwards” Mackenzie says. “Usually, you have to believe what a rider says, and I’m not doubting that Foggy thought he’d ran out of fuel but at the time I remember thinking that he actually selected the wrong gear going into Goddard’s. I saw his foot slipping off the peg as he was trying to change gear and my feeling was that he engaged third gear by mistake instead of second gear. That meant his bike wasn’t in the power band coming out of the corner and he had no drive so I out-dragged him to the line. I suppose I’ll never know what happened and I don't really care because, either way, I got third place and achieved a lifetime’s ambition by standing on the podium at my home Grand Prix!”

 

Fogarty-1993

 

Foggy Proves a Point (1993)

World Superbike legend Carl Fogarty proved he could mix it with the Grand Prix stars in a stunning one-off ride for the Cagiva factory in 1993. The four-time WSB champ has often faced criticism for never taking on the big boys in Grand Prix but he proved he could cut it when he only missed out on a podium to Niall Mackenzie in the very last corner at Donington. And if he could do that on a one-off ride, what might he have achieved had he been a full-time GP rider?

 

Rossi-Robin-Hood-1997

 

Rossi Robin Hood (1997)

He would later become famous for his wild post-race celebrations and wacky costumes but 1997 was the first time British fans got to see the contents of Valentino Rossi's dressing-up box. After winning the 125cc race at Donington on his Aprilia (en route to winning his first world title), Rossi slung a kiddy's bow-and-arrow set over his back for his victory lap and then added a Robin Hood hat on the podium. His thinking? Donington Park is close to Sherwood Forest. Whatever, the crowd loved it.

 

Simon-Crafar-1998

 

Crafar Kicks Ass (1998)

Mighty Mick Doohan was so dominant in 500cc Grands Prix in the late 1990s that few other riders got a look-in; the popularity of the sport was suffering due to the lack of different winners. So it was quite a shock when Kiwi star Simon Crafar took off at the front of the 1998 British GP at Donington and beat Doohan by more than 11 seconds. Sadly, it would prove to be the New Zealander's only win. When his WCM team changed from Dunlop to Michelin tyres in 1999, Crafar failed to make the transition work.

 

John-McGuinness-1998

 

McGuinness in the Points (1998)

Proving that he's not just the greatest living pure roads racer, TT legend John McGuinness finished in a fine 12th place as a wild card at the 1998 British Grand Prix at Donington. He rode a Honda NSR500V to finish ahead of future GP winner, Garry McCoy. McGuinness had another points-scoring finish in 13th place in 2000, ahead of Alex Barros, Anthony Gobert and Nobuatsu Aoki. Just a road racer, eh?

 

Rossi-wins-in-2000

 

Rossi's First Premier Class Win (2000)

When Valentino Rossi took his first ever premier class victory in Grand Prix, it was on a 500cc two-stroke – testimony to how long the miracle man has been racing, and winning. The Italian had already won the 125cc and 250cc world championships but had never won a race on his Nastro Azzurro Honda NSR500 until a damp British Grand Prix in 2000. He has now won six 500cc and MotoGP races at the British – more than any other rider.

 

McWilliams-Donington-2000

 

McWilliams' Dunlop Tribute (2000)

Belfast's Jeremy McWilliams took a stunning third place in the 2000 British GP at Donington and shared the podium with Valentino Rossi who had just taken his first ever win in the premier class. Kenny Roberts Junior was second. The race took place soon after the tragic death of Joey Dunlop and McWilliams dedicated his podium to his fellow countryman.

 

Scott-Redding-2008

 

Redding Becomes Youngest Winner (2008)

Aged just 15 years and 170 days, Britain's Scott Redding became the youngest ever winner of a motorcycle Grand Prix when he romped to victory in the 125cc class at Donington in 2008. And he beat some impressive names on his way to the top step of the podium, including Andrea Iannone and Marc Marquez. Redding's win on his Aprilia came in only his eighth Grand Prix and his eventual 11th place finish in the championship was enough to win him the 'Rookie of the Year' award. His win was the first in a 125cc British GP for a British rider since Tommy Robb in 1973 and the first home win for a Brit since Ian McConnachie in the 80cc class in 1986. It had been a long-time coming and the Donington crowd loved him for it.

 

For more great racing moments, click here.

 

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