Triumph, Inspiration And Heartbreak On Two Wheels

How one great race, and the passing of a superb rider sums up why motorcycle racing has heroes that football could only dream of...
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How one great race, and the passing of a superb rider sums up why motorcycle racing has heroes that football could only dream of...

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Marco Simoncelli (1987 -2001)

I don’t mind admitting that my first love is football, but I have always ridden bikes.

As I descend into middle age, I am now older than all players except Steve Claridge. I struggle to find any heroes in the new footballing breed. It is hardly surprising. JT’s moral compass?  Interviews with Wayne Rooney? Titus Bramble. There’s a soft spot for Balotelli I don’t mind admitting and Joey Barton’s twitter account gets a wry grin. Scott Parker holds his own.

I have come to realise the importance of sporting heroes though.

Sporting heroes enrich ones hopes, empathy and resolve. They inspire. I have learnt that I can live without many things in my life, money, a job, love and a roof over my head. What I can’t live without is smart attire and inspiration.

On 9th October this year Brit Tommy Hill entered the final race of the British Superbike Championship at Brands Hatch. He was neck and neck on points with John ‘ Hoppo ‘ Hopkins and the victor of the two in the final race would win the season long championship.

Hurtling down Brabhams straight with one lap to go Hill found himself in a hard fought second place with Hoppo right on his shoulder in third.

Hill had been in the uncomfortable position of leading Hopkins most of the race knowing him to be there, carefully evaluating his strengths and weaknesses ready to make his move.

Hill, the Brit, a survivor of a near fatal motocross accident in his early career and whose path has been hardly fought and contested through the ranks ever since, was at his crest. Hopkins by contrast, an ex Moto GP racer, held in high regard and destined perhaps to race in the premier class again next season. Hill's an exceptional talent but you would have had to make Hopkins favourite going into that last lap.

Hill cuts off Hopkins into Paddock Bend and takes a very tidy line into Druids.

Hopkins then gets a better drive out of the Graham Hill Bend and he’s got him!

At this point I imagine Hill saying to himself, in the vein of Jamie Carragher's famous Talksport phone in: ‘I’m not havin' that at all'. It was his Death Star moment, when Luke elects to switch off his targeting computer and uses the force. He has one shot at this.

Sporting heroes enrich ones hopes, empathy and resolve. They inspire.

I can think of no greater sporting spectacle than seeing Hill, snaking dangerously into Surtees, charging full pelt after Hoppo down Hawthorn Hill. As James Whitham had said going into the last lap ‘ I tell you what this is blokes racing this, this is blokes stuff this now and it’s the biggest man whose gonna take it ‘

Hill passes Hopkins on the Hawthorn bend. A significant psychological overtake. Hoppo knows that the Brit is not for the taking. He's tough as nails. A true Brit. Hoppo retakes into Westfield and then we see Hill go scorching into the Sheene curve - foot off the peg, retaking the lead. He’s smoking.

This race is going to the last bend of the last lap of the last race of the championship - Hill is in the lead.

You know that Hoppo has the goods in his locker mind and the over take is coming.

Hoppo rifles into Clearways taking the inside and he's going to try and sling shot Hill. It’s a curious line into Clearways but it is my least favourite corner. I have tried them all and still can’t find the best one so can’t evaluate the line of Hopkins as best I should. Hill with less momentum takes the tight line and tucks articulately underneath and ahead of Hopkins. Hoppo is banking on a better drive out of the bend but Hill's in front and it’s a race to the line which sees Hill taking it by 0.006s

Heart, determination and composure. The chips were down and our man has smoked Hopkins like a kipper. Sporting glory.

Hill is utterly magnanimous in victory. First to congratulate Hopkins on a clean fight before acknowledging his own achievement. Hopkins for his part is equally gracious in defeat. He could barely speak and did so only to congratulate Hill.

‘ That is the best race I have ever seen in my whole life ‘ says Whitham.

Shortly after at the Sepang Moto GP race Marco Simoncelli tragically passed away after being involved in a racing accident.

Many fitting tributes have been written to Simoncelli.

Valentino says he would fondly remember the time spent dying of laughter with Marco, who was clearly a very funny fucker. The two I’m sure not short of tomfoolery in a paddock largely dictated by straight laced racers.

It just conjures up visions of Vale, Uccio and Marco trying to sneak into the Yamaha garage late at night to draw bums on Jorge Lorenzo’s bike. Marco likely sent in first to recce and ultimately the one who would get caught as the lights went on and he is brandishing a sharpie. ‘ Why always me? ‘ Valentino and Ucchio scuttling off only for the weighty Ucchio to get stuck in the escape vent. Vale desperately trying to wedge him through chortling uncontrollably.

Marco was a charger. The rider most others would not want to jostle with on track and one of the elect most spectators would want to aspire to be.

I think of Marco often when I am on two wheels. There is camaraderie among all riders of all levels I believe.

United in the fact that it is undoubtedly a very dangerous way to spend your time. I love it mind, as Marco clearly did and when I think of him he makes me smile and charge. 

Two sporting heroes.

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