Top 10 racing rivalries

Motorcycle racing can be an unfriendly business

WHEN riders are so evenly matched that there's nothing to choose between them, they can be prepared to go to any length to gain an advantage. From crashing into rivals and knocking them out of the way, to courtroom battles, wars of words in the press, ignoring team orders, and even fisticuffs, it seems there's nothing that highly-motivated racer won't do to ensure success. Here are 10 of the best racing rivalries and incidents that prove just how hard you've got to be to beat the best.

10. Neil Hodgson and Aaron Slight, WSB, 1998

On the grid at the Brands Hatch World Superbike round in 1998, Kiwi Aaron Slight asked Neil Hodgson to stay out of his way as he intended to challenge Carl Fogarty for the world title. Hodgson, quite naturally, opted to actually race his motorcycle rather than play supporting act to a man who wasn't even his team-mate. Slight was so furious that he lashed out at Hodgson on the slow-down lap. The two then dropped their multi-thousand pound race bikes on the track to have a proper set-to. They were pulled apart by marshals before going the distance.


9. Loris Capirossi and Tetsuya Harada, 250cc GP, 1998

How far would you go to win a world championship? Loris Capirossi was prepared to go all the way. As he sat behind title rival Tetsuya Harada in the final round at Argentina, he faced a near impossible battle to catch and pass him. But, with a four point lead, if he crashed into Harada and took both riders out, he would take the title on points. With a lunge to end all lunges, this is precisely what Capirossi did, and walked away with the world title. His Aprilia employers refused to sign him the following year, despite the title win.

8. Phil Read and Bill Ivy, 125 and 250cc GP, 1968

As factory Yamaha team-mates, Bill Ivy and Phil Read had reached a gentleman's agreement that Ivy would help Read win the 125cc world championship and Read would support Ivy in the 250cc class (the pair were so superior in 1968 that no other rival mattered). But after Ivy did his duty and helped Read secure the 125 title, Read reneged on the deal and announced he was going all-out for the 250 title too. His treachery infuriated Yamaha bosses as well as Ivy. In the big showdown at Monza, Ivy's bike oiled a plug, handing the title to Read anyway. But the Japanese don't forget easily and Read never rode a factory Yamaha again.

7. Chris Walker and Neil Hodgson, BSB, 2000

Chris Walker and Neil Hodgson crashed into each other innumerable times in 2000, and both seemed guilty of questionable manoeuvres. Ultimately the season-long feud came down to a winner-takes-all decider at Donington. Record crowds turned out expecting a mighty showdown - but Walker's GSX-R750 engine blew up while he was in a title-winning position and Hodgson took the crown.

6. Ben Spies and Matt Mladin, AMA Superbikes, 2000-2008

Australia's Mat Mladin had won the American Superbike Championship six years in a row before a young Ben Spies started kicking his ass. Frustrated and humiliated, Mladin resorted to psychological warfare to try and regain the advantage. But comments like 'He still has his mom hanging around wiping his bum' only served to make nice-guy Spies ride even harder and he beat the Australian to take three consecutive titles before moving to WSB and winning that series in his rookie year. He claimed this astonishing feat was 'easy' because he didn't have to race Mladin for the world title.

5. Niall Mackenzie and Steve Hislop, BSB, 1998

As fellow affable Scotsmen, Hislop and Mackenzie might have been great friends. They weren't. Mackenzie was the highest paid rider in BSB and a returning GP god while Hislop rode in the same team for no wages just to secure a decent ride. The pair clashed several times during the 1998 BSB season, throwing away likely wins and at one point knocking each other off track. Mackenzie said after one clash at Oulton Park: 'We know the rules now - there are no rules.' Hizzy's challenge was ruined by injury but he returned in the final round to ride shotgun for Mackenzie and help him secure the title. It was a gentleman's gesture and began a friendship between the two that lasted until Hislop's tragic death in a helicopter crash in 2003.

4. Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene, 500cc GP, 1978-1982

Kenny Roberts famously said the only reason he got out of bed in the morning was to beat Barry Sheene. Sheene felt the same about the American and neither was too shy to tell the press about their feelings. When asked what Roberts was like as a development rider Sheene quipped 'He couldn't develop a cold.' Sheene was a double world champ and darling of the press when Roberts turned up and started beating him in his rookie year, so there was bound to be friction. Their five-year rivalry was epitomised by their classic encounter in the 1979 British GP, when Sheene had the audacity to take his left hand off the bars and give the fingers to Roberts after passing him. Roberts passed him straight back and went on to win the race after an epic tussle. Ultimately, he took three titles to Sheene's two but Bazza was the far bigger star.

3. Carl Fogarty and Scott Russell, WSB, 1992-1994

Calling your pet Vietnamese Pot-Bellied pig after your racing rival may not make you any faster on the stopwatch but it seemed to help Carl Fogarty in his battle with Scott Russell. The glitzy American and gritty Northerner were chalk and cheese and Foggy wasted no opportunity to put down his rival, even making the w****r sign in Russell's direction as he crossed the line ahead of him at Albacete in 1993. The pair refused to shake hands on the podium on many occasions but there was grudging respect behind all the animosity. 'I found Russell arrogant and mouthy' Foggy said, 'but I probably needed to hate him because he wanted to win as badly as I did.'

2. Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey, AMA and 500cc GP, 1986-1993

Schwantz and Rainey hated each other so much (though neither knows quite why) that they openly admitted barging into each other and riding dirty just to win - a dangerous game to play in bike racing. 'We would ride each other right into the grandstands' Schwantz has said, 'I just didn't care.' Both men lived to beat the other and their rivalry in American Superbike racing and later in GP was so intense they couldn't even bear to look at each other on the podium. When Rainey was paralysed in a crash at Misano in 1993, Schwantz saw the bigger picture and did all he could to support his former rival. The two remain the greatest of friends and Schwantz even wore a Rainey replica helmet in his recent comeback ride at the Suzuka 8 Hour.

1. Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi, 500cc GP, 2000-2006

Max Biaggi was the darling of the Italian press and the top Italian rider in GP in 2000, so he didn't take kindly to having to fend off a young and confident Rossi. Biaggi got so pissed off with being beaten that he elbowed his rival at Suzuka at 140mph. Rossi shrugged it off, re-passed Biaggi, and flipped him the bird as he went. Two months later, the pair came to blows on the steps to the podium at Catalunya. The incident was off camera but when Biaggi was asked about the mark on his face he replied 'I was just bitten by a mosquito.' Rossi proved to be more trouble than an insect, taking every championship between 2002 and 2005 while Biaggi retired from MotoGP without a premier class title to his name.

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