The ride of their life

What do the best of the best rate as their most cherished moment in the saddle? Racers recall their most rewarding, career-defining rides

NIALL MACKENZIE, 1986 HRC test, Suzuka

Our own 'Spuds' Mackenzie had been riding an Armstrong 250 in GPs and ridden the Skoal Bandit RG500 in the last few 500cc races of the year. Then he got a call to go to Japan for a private test with the mighty HRC...

"I was doing the Castrol Six-Hour race in Australia and got the call from HRC. Erv Kanemoto had told them I was worth testing. It was my first time in Japan, and a strange feeling as the bike they gave me to ride was Freddie Spencer's 1986 NSR500. He'd been my hero for years, and here I was sitting on his bike. I knew if I impressed I may be able to get a good ride out of it. The bike was awesome, Freddie's settings worked for me and the bike suited the circuit. The NSR was different to the RG I'd ridden; the Suzuki was like a comfy armchair, the NSR felt like a missile. It didn't steer particularly well but with Suzuka having so many fast turns, it worked. I knew I had to ride the wheels off the thing and at least get close to the lap record. Eventually I dipped under it. There was a bit of pressure to do well but I simply had to go as fast as I could. I still remember sitting in the airport waiting to go home with a six-figure HRC contract for the 1987 season in my hands. I couldn't believe it. My love affair with Suzuka continued as I took pole there at the first race of the 1987 season for the HB factory Honda team."

JAMES WHITHAM, 1999 WSS, Donington Park

James Whitham had been unfairly given the flick from the Suzuki World Superbike squad at the end of 1998, and held out for a WSB ride which never came. Instead 1999 saw Whit as a fast gun for hire. Then the Belgarda Yamaha World Supersport squad came knocking in time for his home round at Donington.

"I have to pick this one as it was against the odds and a bit of a rude awakening to racing 600s - and it led to a few years' good, fun work with Belgarda. At the start of the year I'd been looking for rides, basically pushing away those I thought were beneath me, but took the offer from Yamaha in World Supersport. So I rode the R6 for the first time and came into the pits and told 'em it was chattering and they said, 'They all do that. We could try heavier fork oil but that causes other problems.' Every time I came in with a problem they'd look at each other and explain this was just the way it was. It were a world away from my superbike. Today's 600s have more race-ready geometry, but not back then. The night after qualifying I were dead worried. I'd pushed hard and was ninth on the grid. I had to win else I looked shit. On top of that if I had a bad result I wouldn't get a ride anywhere. The night before the race I thought, 'You knob, Whitham. There's a queue of people out there who think you're shit.' I've never been much of a qualifier so I knew I'd get some time back, but come the race I was down to 15th by the first corner. The second lap was better as I passed about eight riders and eventually I was passing blokes who had out-qualified me. The team put out a lap board with 1m 37.3 on it, and I thought, 'Bloody Hell, a few years ago that were good on a superbike.' Thing with the R6 was that as bad as it felt, it didn't get any worse. By the time I got to the leaders after eight or nine laps I knew that unless something went wrong I'd beat them. I remember thinking how mint it was going to be winning from so far back. And it was."

NEIL HODGSON, 2000 Oulton Park, Cheshire

Y2K was turning into a mammoth battle between Hodgson on his GSE Ducati and Chris Walker on his Crescent Suzuki GSX-R750. It was a year which would see the pair clash on track before Hogdson snatched the championship at the final round after a heartbreaking mechanical DNF for Walker.

"Oulton Park stands out. To win from the back of the grid is special and this makes it my best ride ever. The thing that really sticks out is that, even after being put at the back of the grid, I was still perfectly calm. That year, the rules were being changed all the time. During the race before James Haydon had stalled on the grid. He was allowed to keep his position but the decision makers said next time you go to the back of the grid. So there I was. Normally I'd have a pretty short temper, but I was dead calm! Saying that, the first corner was scary. I piled in, went really wide and nearly ran off the track. On more than a few occasions I'd find myself heading into corners way too fast. And you don't want to be doing that at Oulton Park; it's an unforgiving place. But that mad first lap was the only time things were crazy. After that I settled down and everything felt good. I just kept passing people by braking really late. Eventually I took the lead with eight laps to go and started to pull away. I never did that all year! Even starting from the front I'd hang with the others and just nip it on the last lap. There wasn't any out-of-body experience, just utter calm."

KEVIN SCHWANTZ, 1994 500GP, Donington Park, one of his favourite tracks

Carrying the number one plate for the only time in his career, Kevin was desperately trying to fend off Mick Doohan and keep hold of his title. But he was miles behind on the points and he'd crashed at Assen three races earlier, making a mess of his left wrist. It was in a light cast as they came to the UK and one of Kevin's favourite tracks.

"The ride of my life came in 1994 at Donington Park. I'd had a huge crash on Saturday coming out of the the Old Hairpin. I had a massive highside, landed hard on my right shoulder and limped to the side of the track feeling pretty beat up. Nothing was broken, and me and the team knew we had a good set-up for the race if I felt okay. I did a 1m 33.811s to qualify second, which we were pretty happy with. Come the race I was third into the first corner and after a couple of laps down to seventh with Doohan first. Eventually I got into a rhythm. I made a couple of passes at the Melbourne Hairpin and eventually overtook Mick going round the outside there. To beat Doohan on the Sunday was HUGE, especially after such a big practice crash. After the race I split the credit for the win between Doctor Costa and the team, as both had done so much for me. It was my last GP win."

JOHN REYNOLDS, 2000 WSB, Brands Hatch

Replacing a cancelled round of the WSB series, Brands Hatch was drafted in mid-way through the season as a replacement venue for the final round of 2000. England in October? Of course it had to rain...

"The Brands win was a strange race thanks to the conditions. If Colin Edwards hadn't crashed, he would have won. He was on intermediates on a drying track and that was the way to go. But you have to be there at the end to win it and I was. Realistically, I was aiming for a podium. I'd had a podium finish in WSB at Brands back in 1995, but I never stood on the rostrum at the time as it was awarded to me later when Yasutomo Nagai was judged to have overtaken on a yellow flag. I wanted a 'proper' podium in front of my home fans so badly. Thanks to those conditions it was a weird race. I was thinking of going for inters, but with the races being so long and the weather changeable, I went with the majority and chose wet tyres. A fair way through the race and I could feel them going off. As they degraded, you couldn't hold the throttle open - the bike would just shake and weave. Troy Bayliss was in the same boat, but I guess I just dug in a bit harder! It was unbelievable for me as it was my first world championship win. To win it and come around Clearways for the last time, knowing the race was won and seeing the team going barmy on the pitwall was something else. I know my wife Shelley won't thank me for this, but it was like no other feeling I've ever had."

RON HASLAM, 1982 Isle of Man TT

The 1981 F1 race should have been Ron's, but instead was shrouded in controversy when Graeme Crosby was awarded the win. The Rocket wanted revenge.

"This was a special win for many reasons. The previous year I had stood on the podium as winner, but was demoted to second when a protest from Suzuki about Crosby's start time was upheld. In the race I'd backed off, thinking I had it in the bag. I didn't know they'd changed the results until the presentation that night! This made me more determined for that 1982 race. My team-mate Joey Dunlop was strong and other experienced riders like Roger Marshall and Mick Grant were there, so it was a quality field. The 999cc RCB was a real pig. It were the latest thing from Japan for the F1 World Championship, so it were good on the short circuits with plenty of power, but getting that to the ground was near impossible on the Island. I pulled in after my first lap of practice with blisters on my hands, you couldn't even hold it flat down Sulby Straight. On a race like the TT, you don't get into a groove like you do on a short circuit. You're not doing the same corner 30 times, so you aren't so precise lap after lap and you have to leave a bit in reserve. Still bloody scary though, because you can't help but make the odd mistake. Mick Grant led the first lap, with Joey in second and me third. I passed Joey for second and was chasing Mick until he retired at Ramsey. With all the problems the year before, it was a sweet win. One of the nice things about the Island is that with all your pit-boards around the course you know how much you have in hand over the opposition and that gives you longer to celebrate the win. Nothing beats going over that line and seeing the flag or coming back up the pitlane seeing the spectators and team going mad."

JAMES TOSELAND, 2004 WSB, Magny Cours

Riding the factory Fila Ducati 999F04s, James Toseland and team-mate Regis Laconi were battling it out for the WSB title, which seemed to be inexorably heading the Frenchman's way. But Toseland had hung in there and fought back to be in contention at the final round in France.

"Just the way a championship should be decided, it was down to the last round. It was me against a French guy, racing in France, who also happened to be my team-mate. Whoever won that first race had the upper hand psychologically for the final race, the title decider. I knew things were going well in the first race as I was leading it for a long time. Then Noriyuki Haga came past, but I knew I had a bit of an edge on him. I didn't know where Laconi was, but I ended up pulling a bit of a gap on Haga in second. I needed the win because I wanted to stamp my authority on the race and show that I wasn't going to give up the championship easily, even if we were on Laconi's home turf. Haga finished in front of Laconi and that gave me a five-point lead in the championship going into that final race, but it was still all up for grabs because Laconi had more race wins than me. If I finished first and he was second we'd be equal on points but he would win the title. Winning the first race had him thinking I was the stronger one and I knew I could beat everyone out there because I had just done it. So, for race two I just focused and got the job done to win the world championship with a second place behind Haga. Regis finished third. Just to keep it all together for that last race made it probably the better race of the two and the ride of my life."

COLIN EDWARDS, 2002 WSB, Laguna Seca/Imola

Colin had been 'bustin' his ass' for second place all season to Ducati's Troy Bayliss. It was time for a turnaround at his home track of Laguna Seca.

"There are a few rides that stand out in my career and these two do in that amazing 2002 season. That afternoon at Laguna was the biggest of my career. I'd set pole, we had the Stars and Stripes livery on for my home round and I wanted two wins. Thing was, race one and I ran wide with four laps to go letting Troy and Ruben Xaus through. To get third was awful, I actually felt like going home. Thankfully I hung out for race two and everything just came together and the whole Castrol Honda squad went from despair to joy. It was about as good a turning point in a season as you could get and it proved to be the start of a winning streak that had us all superstitiously following the same routines through my seven-win streak to that last round in Imola. There I just gave it everything I had and I didn't want to settle for second place, either in the championship or on the racetrack. People can learn a lot about what Colin Edwards is about by watching that whole season and those last races in particular. Never give up! I've said this before, but even if I do win a MotoGP championship, I doubt it could replace or beat the feelings I had on the podium celebrating that second championship."

CARL FOGARTY, 1995 WSB, Brands Hatch

After winning the World Superbike championship in 1994, Foggy-mania was just taking off. Carl had been destroying the opposition through the early part of the season, but at the race before Brands - Laguna Seca - he'd suffered his worst results so far, a fifth and a seventh. He wasn't full of confidence for Brands.

"Even compared to other great races I've had, like my first World Superbike win at Donington Park in 1992, the one that rates as the best is that Brands Hatch race. It was a superb event, rather than two good race results. It was perfect. I took pole, the lap record and two race wins. To top it all it was a beautiful day and there were 50,000 fans there. It wasn't looking good for me on the run-up to Brands. The meeting before at Laguna Seca I'd had my first bad results of the year and was worried going to Brands as it's a similar sort of circuit, with lots of up and downhill sections. But from the first time I arrived the bike just worked so well, probably the best it worked all year. You normally turn up at a track and the gearing is out here or there but at Brands the bike was spot-on. It made the races easy, I just disappeared. Another thing that made the event so special was that crowd. To get that many watching a bike race made people think back to the era of Sheene and Roberts or the Transatlantic races. It also marked the start of WSB putting GPs in the shade. All-in-all, that Brands Hatch meeting was perfect."

TROY CORSER, 2000 WSB, Misano

Dumped from the Ducati works team at the end of 1999, Troy was desperate to prove the Bologna firm wrong. Switching to Aprilia he'd been mixing it with the Bologna twins all season. Then the WSB circus headed to Ducati's 'home' track of Misano...

"It's got to be on the Aprilia RSV when I won both races at Misano. What made it sweet was the fact that it was Ducati's track, and to do the double the way I did it was something pretty special. I'm not sure, but I've got a feeling that as I went past the Ducati pit crew, who were leaning over the wall, I showed them one finger! It meant that I was the number one, not that I was giving them the finger you understand! Oh, okay, may... After all these years I can't remember so well! Thing was, Ducati had sacked me the year before and I think this was the first time that anybody had beaten them and done the double at their track. Right from first practice we were quickest by half-a-second. They caught up, but I got pole, two wins and the lap record - all in the same weekend. Magic! Just to dominate a whole event like that is a very special feeling and it doesn't come along too often, so it felt like something else. It is hard to describe, but I think we had a really good party that night. At least I think we did, I can't remember it all that well..."

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