As even the most innocent of racing enthusiasts know, the first rule of racing is, “Always beat your team mate.” Before you can even think about beating the rest of the field you must establish the pecking order within your own team and make sure that you finish in front of the rider who is riding what is ostensibly the same bike as you are riding.
In the field of motorcycle racing and also in the wider field of racing in general we have seen many examples of this mantra at work. In Formula 1 car racing, for example, there have been numerous instances over the years; the epic battles between Senna and Prost when they were team mates at McLaren, Australian Mark Webber’s intense battles with his Red Bull team mate, Sebastian Vettel and, possibly the most odious examples, the “juggling” of team personnel by Senna and later Schumacher so that they never had a team mate who was capable of beating them.
Grand Prix motorcycling has had its internecine battles as well. In a similar but possibly not so blatant examples the Senna/Schumacher scenario, the great Giacomo Agostini had many talented team mates over the years but none who could consistently beat him.Honda’s first foray into GPs saw some amazing inter-team battles, oddly enough fermented by Honda itself and often stage managed to suit the team’s policy of the Constructor’s Championship being of much more importance than the championship for the riders. Even the great Mike Hailwood fell victim to Honda’s “the marque at all costs” mentality.
Throughout the 70’s each of the major teams had a standout rider, Roberts, Sheene and so forth and it was comparatively rare to see the #2 rider getting up, though it did happen from time to time. This continued through the 80’s and right on through to the beginning of the new millennium. Even our own Mick Doohan’s domination of the scene in the 90’s was pretty much at the expense of his various team mates as well as everyone else who fronted up on the grid. While his team mates were very talented and capable of winning, they rarely did so.
The ascendency of Valentino Rossi saw the situation continuing with few of his various team mates getting many runs on the board. While some will always say that the team leader automatically gets the best bike, in Rossi’s case, at least before the introduction of the “control” tyre, he also got the better tyres as well so, if you were his team mate you were pretty much on a hiding to nothing.
But you have to not only beat your team mate on the track in these days of corporate greed and media attention; you must totally dominate him if you can and Rossi showed he was the master of that as well. Following in Doohan’s tyre prints, Rossi proved to be the master of the psychological side of the game as well, messing with his team mates’ minds like none before him had done.
Doohan probably statetd it. He would wait till qualifying was almost done and everyone had taken all the risks they dared to get the thing on pole then he would calmly motor out of the pits just as the flag was about to drop to close the session and go half a second faster than everyone else. If that isn’t totally demoralising to everyone else who has just spent the last half an hour dancing near the edge of disaster, I don’t know what is.
Rossi took it further, however, because Rossi made it personal. His systematic destruction of Sete Gibernau when they were team mates was a masterful and cruel piece of psychological warfare the likes of which we had never seen before. It culminated in the Qatar affair and Rossi’s famous quote, “You will never win another Grand Prix.” which became a self-fulfilling prophecy for the Spaniard.
Moving on into our millennium we have seen the same scenario being played out. After enduring playing second fiddle to Nicky Hayden at Honda, Dani Pedrosa has suffered the indignity of first being beaten comprehensively by his new team mate, Casey Stoner and then having the dose repeated when HRC hired Marquez. There seems little doubt that the ship bearing Dani’s World Championship aspirations has sailed and that he will join the ranks of the group of which no one wants to be a member, “The Greatest Riders Never to Win a World Championship”.
It is only in recent years that we have seen Rossi seriously challenged by a team mate who is as determined, ruthless and brutal as he is, Jorge Lorenzo. Look back to some of Lorenzo’s rides on the 250’s if you want to see win-at-all-costs racing. Lorenzo has been the thorn in Rossi’s side since Rossi returned to Yamaha from the wilderness of Ducati and the honours are pretty even.
Of course, this situation is played out in any arena of racing no matter how many wheels are involved and we have seen this very clearly in the World Superbike Championship this season. For the last three seasons the man to beat has been Britain’s Tom Sykes. Already a World Champion after finally breaking the Italian domination of the category in 2013, many believe that he was denied a second title in 2014 by the actions of his team mate, Loris Baz, a man with his own agenda who let it get in the way of team loyalty. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, the fact that Kawasaki did not renew Baz’s contract at the end of the season speaks volumes.
Clearly the best bike on the grid has been the green machine so Sykes must have been relishing the prospect of 2015. No Baz so another chance to win another title. Except that it’s not looking like that. Tom’s colours are being regularly lowered by the new boy in the team, another Britain in Johnny Rae. Out of left field, Rae has jumped up to being the #1 rider in the team and while media releases from the team loudly crow about another Kawasaki 1-2, the order in which the riders are finishing is not what many of us would have expected at the start of the season.
Is Rae a better rider? It’s starting to look that way. Hardened by several years of trying to turn the underpowered Honda into a winner, Rae has relished having a bike that is a regular front-runner and potential winner and he has unleashed years of pent-up frustration on not only the field in general but upon his team mate as well. Of course the season is still young, but if you were given the choice of where you would like to be sitting on the championship ladder, you’d surely choose to be Johnny.
But I cannot close this article on beating your team mate without a little snippet from history, and from Australian racing history in particular. I’d like to close by recounting one of the most memorable team mate rivalries that I can recall.
The 1970’s saw open class racing in Australia being dominated by Team Kawasaki Australia. Under the leadership of Neville Doyle, TKA riders, Ron Toombs, the battle-hardened veteran and Murray Sayle, the up and coming star, TKA was in the process of sweeping all before it in the ARRC as well as many other races. When Toombs’s place was taken by the Queenslander, Gregg Hansford, the pain that TKA was inflicting on all the other teams got worse. And Sayle found himself as still the #2 rider. It was only when Hansford left to pursue the World Championships in the 250 and 350 classes that Murray assumed the role of team leader and had the chance of being the main man. New team mate, Rick Perry, became #2 and so the rivalry continued. For a brief period there were THREE Kawasaki 750’s for everyone to chase and photos from the era of 02, 22 and 26 all together on the track are precious. I might add that the close of the TKA era saw a single bike team with the great Graeme Crosby at his lairy best on the KR750.
But the 750’s, even though they were the main game, were expensive to buy and run and there weren’t that many of them. 350’s, however, well they were relatively cheap, came with as spares kit and allowed owners to run in the 350, 500 and Unlimited class on the one bike. So the fields for the minor classes were always huge and, since the 350 class also offered good practice if one intended to head O/S and race one there (the majority of our top-rated 350 pilots did just that), competition in the Junior class was intense.
Victorian Yamaha distributor, Miledge Yamaha must then have thought that they had struck the jackpot at the start of 1979 when they signed two of road racing’s rising stars to the team for the upcoming season. Andrew “AJ” Johnson, tough as teak and making waves on a privately sponsored TZ was signed along with equally tough and ruthless Albury rider, Robbie Phillis. Set to race together as team mates in the 350 as well as the Unlimited class, it was, on paper, the Dream Team.
What started out as a dream, however, rapidly turned into a nightmare. There simply wasn’t enough room in any team for two mercurial riders like Robbie and AJ and, if it didn’t actually come to blows behind the scenes, it certainly went very close. It was WWIII on wheels and nobody was surprised when it only lasted for a season. Robbie and AJ went their separate ways, both scarred by the acrimony the year had produced and both went on to carve out their own legendary parts of Australian road racing. But always beat your team mate took on a whole new meaning that year.
It is a fascinating study and 2015 in all of its aspects will undoubtedly highlight again the first rule of racing. Always beat your team mate.
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