Spend Friday afternoon practice with Cal Crutchlow’s LCR Honda team
Mat Oxley is one of the most experienced, trusted and respected journalists in the MotoGP paddock. A former Motor Cycle News (MCN) GP Reporter, Mat has raced around the world and claimed an Isle of Man TT win along with multiple TT podium finishes.
He’s been working in the Grand Prix paddock for more than 30 years and his contacts within the racing teams are among the best in the world.
We asked Mat to pick out his favourite motorcycle GP racing moments from the long history of the track and he has chosen three. The second is perhaps one of the most famous racing duels of all time; Barry Sheene racing against his arch-rival Kenny Roberts in 1979.
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Silverstone 1979: Sheene versus Roberts
By Mat Oxley
King Kenny beat Bazza in the closest British GP of all time, but Roberts reckons there were no losers that day
Barry Sheene won a lot in his life – 23 Grand Prix races, two world championships and Stephanie McLean – but he never quite managed to achieve his ambition of winning his home GP.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. Sheene should have won several GPs at Silverstone in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but luck was always against him. He made his first attempt in August 1977, when he arrived at Silverstone as reigning 500cc world champion, determined to win for the army of Bazza fans that had shown up. But this time his factory Suzuki RG500 played up like a second-hand lawnmower. His race ended with a blown head gasket and Sheene was so mad that he rode his RG into his pit fast enough to bend its forks against the back wall of the garage.
Two years later it was ‘King’ Kenny Roberts that got in his way. Literally. Sheene and reigning champ Roberts duked it out throughout the race, only for Sheene to lose vital yards at the start of the last lap, when the pair passed backmarker George Fogarty (Carl’s dad). But the home-race hero wasn’t for giving in. He rode a storming last few corners, hurtling throughout Woodcote for the final time and gaining, gaining, gaining on Roberts. He went for the outside line as the chequered flag loomed, but ran out of room because Roberts was using all the track. At around 120mph he missed the grass by inches and the win by 0.03 seconds.
The Sheene/Roberts duel remains one of the all-time greats and was enlivened by the Briton giving his American nemesis a V-sign as they hurtled around the airfield circuit. What fans didn’t know was that Roberts had already been signalling to his rival.
“Every time Barry led we’d drop half a second, so the other guys were catching,” recalls Roberts. “That’s why I motioned to Barry: get your ass in gear or they’re gonna catch us. When Barry gave me the bird it made me chuckle because people hadn’t seen me waving at him saying, fuck, let’s go asshole! Really there was no loser that day – if you come that close, there’s no losers.”
The last time Sheene had a serious chance of winning his home GP was in 1982, when he had an up-to-date factory Yamaha for the first time. But this attempt ended very badly. Through no fault of his own he crashed at 160mph during pre-event practice, shattering both legs and many other bones.
Sheene had won his final GP the previous year and it wasn’t until Cal Crutchlow won the 2016 Czech GP that another Brit climbed to the top of a premier-class podium. And still, no Briton has won the British GP. No pressure, Cal…