Photos & Musings: Grands Prix

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Austrian GP, Sittendorf

This photo is from Sittendorf, Austria 1987. I am #47 on my JBR Honda, Kees van der Ven is #5, then behind us is David Thorpe, Leif Persson and Hakan Carlqvist. I canít tell who the final rider is.

Sittendorf is an amazing track. Slotted high in the hills above picturesque villages, it is totally natural, with not a man-made jump in sight. I wish I had some more photos of this place.

The first 500cc Grand Prix I attempted to qualify for was at Sittendorf, in 1985. I could not believe the track when I saw it. There was a huge steep hill and the top part was just a sheet of jagged rock. Big boulders and chunks of masonry would come rolling, or flying down the hill from the rider in front. To ride up it you had to get speed before then roll it off over the rocks. Hit them on the gas and the back end would kick all over the place and the tyre would get shredded! When I walked the track no other riders seemed at all perturbed by it. I was 23 and a rookie and it just made me think that the 500 GP guys must truly be as hard as legend suggested.

The track was lined with either the wooden fences shown in the photo, or green ski netting. Either way, there was no cutting the track. The green netting stuff was awful. I think in 1987, as in the photo shown here, I had two holeshots and should have had two top five finishes but DNFíd the first moto when I got the netting sucked into my back wheel.

Sittendorf was where I had probably my finest day. I had not qualified there in 1985, but 12 months later I returned, qualified in 2nd, then went 7/4 for a surprising joint 2nd overall. As it was the first GP of the season that left me equal second in the World Championship! The 39th placed rider from the previous season was 2nd in the standings! Still canít really believe that happened. On the day everything just clicked and it seemed that everyone else was going slow. That GP had 8 or 9 world champions racing too, so there were a lot of champs that I beat.

Sittendorf had the pits positioned on top of a small hill. The access road wound around the back of the hill to allow the trucks to get to park on the plateau at the top. Keith Thorpe would always arrive a day ahead of anyone else to get the prime parking space on the edge of the escarpment. David, when he arrived in his rental car would drive full blast through the field below and hammer his little car up the steep bank to try and park next to the HRC truck. Iím talking 50 miles an hour across the field and the bank was really steep. He didnít always make it and ended up slithering backwards, locked up to the bottom. How he never rolled it I donít know.

The track was surrounded by forest, and Jared Smith, renowned hard man and Rambo fan (but actually a really nice guy) went hunting Wild Boar with Stuart Coyle. He had just his bare hands. Iíd like to tell you how successful he was but I think that actually, when they found one, they realized just how big, nasty and dangerous these tusked monsters are. The boar chased them back to the pits and I donít think they went Ďhuntingí again.

I had great starts at the 1987 GP, pulling two holeshots on my CR500. In the press cutting photo you can see American Trampas Parker, #72, also getting a good start.

Trampas made his debut in 500GPs. Pretty much an unknown rider on both sides of the Atlantic, both organisers and riders really had no idea who he was or even which of his names was his surname! In fact, even this Motor Cycle News caption has him down as 'American 'Parker Trampas'!

Trampas didn't really set the world alight in the 500 class. However, after all but disappearing in 1988 he suddenly switched to the 125 class and came out swinging in 1989, blitzing his way to a world title! Most of us couldn't believe it! An amazing turnaround of fortunes.

The Austrian GP, Sittendorf, 1987. Enlarge image

1984 & 1985 world 250 champion Heinz Kinigadner, chasing me at his home GP Enlarge image

In 1987 I had two holeshots at Sittendorf! Enlarge image