Author: Dave Fern Posted: 29 Mar 2015
Where to start? The best ever Grand Prix races debate, spanning the decades since the opening round of the FIM World Championship was held over the Isle of Man TT Mountain Course back in June 1949, produces a number of incredible encounters.
The most memorable titanic struggle for supremacy, slugged out lap after lap has to be the epic British 500cc Grand Prix battle between Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene at Silverstone on August 12, 1979. The result was unknown until the last lap, with the American outdragging Sheene out of Woodcote to win the dash to the line by 0.03seconds.
Sheene, riding Suzuki, had never won his home Grand Prix, plus, he was still smarting from losing the world crown the previous season by a handful of points to Roberts. The pin-up boy of British racing knew that unless he won this time, then effectively his hopes of the title were gone.
Roberts had the edge on him and as he finally took Will Hartog on the tenth lap to grab the lead, Sheene followed him through. They ran almost as one but five laps later Sheene was ahead at Woodcote, though it was only just as the pair ran almost side by side and. It was duel that was to go all of the way. Sheene had gambled on solving issues with some last minute changes and they were working as he took the fight to the front, but Roberts bit back soon after Sheene had given him a cheeky two fingered salute as he thought, mistakenly, he had him beaten.
Going into the final lap Roberts eased past a back-marker, Sheene went wide avoiding him, losing ground, but pride was at stake and he soon found something extra to close in again on his rival. Approaching Woodcote for the final time there was only a dozen yards between them. Roberts slowed a little into the corner, Sheene tried to take him on the outside. He was wider into the corner, almost on the grass and although he rammed the power down and was faster, Roberts had less distance to cover and snatched the victory by half a bike length.
It had been a remarkably close encounter and one that eased Roberts towards a second crown in what was to become a hat-trick of World titles but for the Yamaha rider, this was the race that sticks in his memory: �There were other races where I had to ride harder or be more clever, but the one everybody remembers is Silverstone �79.�
Pushing that British race closely was the Portuguese round of the now MotoGP series, running four stroke 990cc bikes, at Estoril on 15 October 2006 in which Toni Elias riding Honda produced a stunning ride through the pack, from eleventh on the grid, to head off no less than World Champion Valentino Rossi by 0.002secs in a dramatic final lap to take the victory.
Rossi, who had produced a stunning lap to take his fourth pole of the campaign, looked to have everything under control as he led, but, adrift of him there was the growing threat of Elias on the satellite Honda and by half distance the Spaniard was through to second at the expense of Colin Edwards. With seven laps to go Elias grabbed the lead, but got carried away a little making a couple of errors and dropping back to third, a little down on Kenny Roberts Junior and Rossi.
Elias was still third going into the last lap but he overtook first Rossi and then Roberts who had led the penultimate lap, miscounting and thinking he had won! Elias took advantage as the American erred briefly, to take the lead. Rossi moved second, then regained the lead only to be stunned when Elias rocketed past him as the powered out of the final turn to take his lone victory. As Rossi put it, �Elias rode like a devil�.�
Another memorable race comes from where it all started, at the Isle of Man TT, where there was a World Championship showdown in 1966. It came in a race delayed from its traditional June date to 2 September because of a seaman�s strike but it was worth waiting for, providing a superb battle over six laps of the torturous course between two of the sport�s all time greats, Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini.
Hailwood had switched from MV Agusta to rejoin Honda at the start of the season, riding their brute powered four-cylinder 500cc bike, while Agostini continued to ride for the Italian marque. It was a real head to head. Hailwood shattered the record on the opening lap, next time around Agostini bettered it, but Hailwood increased the pace with a then record lap of 107.070mph to take the win by 13seconds. It was his ninth victory on the Island, but second best was good enough to ease Agostini towards the World crown.
Bringing it back to the modern era, there have been a number of titanic battles between the finest riders of the present day.
The first of these takes us back to 2008, at the famous Laguna Seca circuit in California. Valentino Rossi, the winner of no less than nine titles, all but two at the top level, went head to head with arch rival and reigning world champion Casey Stoner in what is regarded as one of the most memorable races in recent times.
It came in a time where the MotoGP tyre wars were still raging, but Bridgestone had made such a step forward anyone with different rubber didn�t stand a chance.
Using the entire track and more, Rossi passed the Ducati rider on the gravel through the iconic corkscrew section, before the Aussie would go on to fall off in pursuit of the Italian.
Rossi�s move was replicated five years later, however this time the roles were reversed. Young upstart, Marc Marquez, in his first ever race at Laguna Seca, saw Rossi jump out of his seat as the Repsol Honda man performed the exact same move on the Italian hero before going on to win the race. Stoner had called the move �reckless� back in 2008, but Rossi was first to congratulate Marquez on his braveness and ability.
One not to forget when reminiscing great Grand Prix races is Rossi�s outstanding victory against Jorge Lorenzo at Catalunya back in 2009. The duo had scrapped throughout the race but towards the end, Lorenzo looked to have edged his teammate out. However, a determined Rossi closed the gaps in the final lap to instigate an incredible battle. Still, Lorenzo looked stronger and leading in the final section it was almost certain he�d take victory. Then, out of nowhere, Rossi came passed the Mallorcan ahead of the final corner � somewhere no rider has ever overtaken before. MotoGP fans around the world were sat on the edge of their seat as despite Lorenzo�s best attempts to outdrag Rossi to the line, the Italian took victory once again.
With the 2015 MotoGP season looking closer than ever, hopefully there�ll be a few more to add to the list soon enough!