Matters of moment, July 2017

I sit down to write this just after hearing the terrible news that Nicky Hayden has died. We’ve run out of time this month for an obituary, but this issue cannot close without a few words about the ‘Kentucky Kid’. You may have guessed that I’m a fan, and this news hurts.

There were a number of things to like about Nicky. He was expressive with a motorcycle – artistic even. He drew shapes with it, twisted it, turned it, bossed it – all in the pursuit of speed. A dirt tracker, Nicky knew how to carve performance out of a bike – any bike. But he wasn’t wild; his run to his sole MotoGP championship was measured and mature. For some the edge is something to explore infrequently; so comfortable was Nicky at the edge that he could sustain it longer than others – and rack up the points. 

His 2006 world championship year demonstrated another side to Nicky that I’ll never forget. When his team-mate Dani Pedrosa inexplicably took him out of the Portuguese GP at a crucial stage in the season, Nicky tore off his crash helmet and looked for all the world like he was going to hook Dani clean over the Armco. Instead, his face shredded with emotion, capillaries bursting at the surface, Hayden punched nothing but insults at the sheepish Spaniard. Nicky’s restraint spoke volumes. 

He became firm friends with Valentino Rossi – something few team-mates have done. Sure, Nicky couldn’t generally match Rossi’s pace and that made him less of an irritant than Lorenzo was in recent years, but Rossi’s romantic view of riding dovetailed beautifully with Nicky’s. They were easy riders. Their love of motorcycling telegraphed with every black line that emerged from the RCV211V – of which there were many. I’m convinced that the very best drivers and riders reach the peak not solely through talent and determination, but also fed by the energy of a deep joy of operating the machine. Nicky did. Valentino does. Lewis does. Michael did. Good company to keep.

Rest in peace #69. 

It may come as no surprise that, having come from the world of modern motoring magazines, I’ve experienced my share of PR pampering. I’ve been on private jets, hobnobbed with celebs and flown around the world to drive exotics. I’m pretty ambivalent to it all, embarrassed even, but it was a job and somebody had to do it… 

I held a racing licence too – back in 2004. My then editor wanted me to write about the British VW Cup series – a highly competitive, sub-touring car category – and sure enough I was handed a couple of Golfs and a Polo in which to tug around (eight entries, two DNFs, one crash, highest 10th). A
polite commentator would say my performances were average.

During this period, the burden on my wallet was precisely… £0. Indeed, absurdly, I was paid to race in all eight events, if you consider my writing fee. How odd that I’ve earned more money from racing than some F1 drivers over the years. Since I adore motor racing, I always felt a fraud for this. For all my passion for the sport, I’d never stuck my hand in my wallet and gone racing. Until now.

Yes, this year myself and online editor Ed Foster will be sharing his lovely ex-works MGB in a number of races, predominantly the Equipe GTS series ( Ed was looking for a team-mate, I was looking for a race in historics and the planets thus aligned. Naturally I didn’t look at costs and fees when I initially agreed – but I am now that the bank account is starting to dry up. My wife seems to have noticed, too, which is doubly worrying.  

However, something strange is happening. No matter how hard the financials look, I find more ways to justify the season ahead. I adore the distraction and the theatre of preparing for a race. I’ve even enjoyed the paperwork and form filling.

Talking to John at Equipe GTS about the series feels like I’ve opened the door to a new group of comrades, and the time I spent with some extraordinarily passionate marshals at Silverstone recently – in order to gain another signature on my licence – was simply fantastic. And I thought I loved racing…

I can honestly say that while I’ve been reporting on motoring and racing for many years, I’ve never quite felt the buzz for it as I do now. You’ll be able to read about our adventures in racing over the coming months on all of Motor Sport’s platforms – from print to web to app. Will the appeal fade? Will I run out of money? Will Ed and I fall out?

Stay tuned!

I’d like to introduce some new members of the team this month. A belated welcome to Lyndon McNeil – Motor Sport’s new staff photographer – who joined recently, plus a big hello to Motor Sport’s first filmmaker, Hamish McAllister. In this image and video-hungry age, both appointments will undoubtedly keep Motor Sport at the front line of race reporting for many years. Also, we’ve launched a new gallery function on our website and Hamish will be producing short- and long-form films for the site and our YouTube channel. In summary, I’m promising more in-depth content across all of our platforms in the coming months. To stay in touch, your best bet is to subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on social media. 

Finally, don’t forget to seek out the Motor Sport ‘issue commentary’ podcasts (see the website for more). We produce these monthly to give you a ‘companion’ tour of each issue – and to offer a behind-the-scenes view into how we construct more than 200 pages of content. The best way to listen is to pour yourself a nice drink, find a quiet corner, grab your copy and then listen as we narrate the issue. You’ll even hear from newbie Lyndon about the photographic challenges (of which there are many, or so he tells us) and art editor Damon Cogman – who will reveal some, but not all, of the tricks of the design trade.