Niall Mackenzie Column - Jan 09

Ex-Grand Prix legend turned super-fast roadtester Niall Mackenzie is back on the top step of the podium at the tender age of 47

Posted: 15 January 2009
by Niall Mackenzie

As an ex-racer that decided he was no longer prepared to risk everything as a professional in his sport I will watch with interest the progress of one former ‘A lister’ that is back in 2009.

Sete Gibernau announced his retirement two years ago after finishing 13th in the World Championship alongside Loris Capirossi in the Marlboro Ducati Team. His fnal championship position would have undoubtedly been a lot better as he showed good early season potential but his season was spoiled by crashes and injuries that lead to seven non finishes.

I believe when a rider decided to retire that special part of his personality that is prepared to endure anything for the cause has checked out and is not returning. I can’t help thinking Sete has been standing trackside remembering how good it felt to win GPs on sunny days while very occasionally beating Rossi in the process. He will also remember the glory, adulation and rewards that came with that success. But like a woman that forgets the unsavoury parts of childbirth, when that place is revisited it is not pleasant, so I think the reality of laying his neck on the line with the likes of Lorenzo and Stoner might make him question his decision of making this comeback.

Racing for a living is fantastic, but you quickly forget having to get into your leathers on cold wet days or crapping yourself on the grid when you’ve made the wrong tyre choice, never mind the pain of injuries and disappointed team faces when you’ve had a bad day. None of that matters when you are totally focussed and driven. it is only when your retire, then go back, that you are reminded why you quit in the first place. I appreciate the 35 year old Spaniard has been posting decent times as a factory test rider, but committing to an 18 round championship and the relentless hard work that comes along with it is a different ball game altogether.

I know a 38 and after 11 years of retirement Mike Hailwood made an incredible comeback to win the Isle of Man in 1978, but even riders from that era believe he could never have competed with Roberts and Sheene in that year’s championship. One other high profile rider that springs to mind was the amazing Freddie Spencer. Freddie dipped out and in of retirement for about six years (three times as my teammate) and in my opinion was looking for all the good things racing had previously brought him without putting in any of the graft. On occasions he didn’t even turn up which made getting results tricky!

At his peak no one would argue with Sete’s immaculate riding and results, but his drama queen antics when things didn’t go his way meant I never joined his fan club. We actually have some mutual friends who say he is a decent bloke, but his trackside tantrums have unfortunately scarred me for life.

And on the subject of comebacks, I won my first two supersport races at the age of 47 up at Knockhill last month! Okay, it was only the Scottish Championship and the competition was obviously exhausted after a hard season of racing but wins are wins. Ironically, I won the ‘Niall Mackenzie’ trophy, which I happily passed on to second placed man and worthy front-runner Lewis Farrow.

Many thanks to everyone who helped me that weekend, get well soon Kenny Edwards and don’t worry Andrew Pitt, I think your job is still safe.

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