[SIZE=+1]Ryder Notes: Defending The Crown. Easier Said Than Won[/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]by julian ryder, back home in the uk now[/SIZE]
[SIZE=-2]Monday, November 12, 2007[/SIZE] [SIZE=-1]World Champions can be sensitive. Casey Stoner's antennae are fine-tuned for any suggestion that he regards a undervaluing his achievements this year. Nicky Hayden suffered a lot of that 12 months ago but didn't react as publicly. He has also dealt as well as humanly possible with losing his title. What he has trouble dealing with is not winning a race while he wore the number-one plate. It looked like he would at least be able to challenge Casey for the win at Phillip Island but his Honda expired early on leaving the American as angry as he was twelve months earlier in Portugal. It's an understandable preoccupation, and, equally understandably, Nicky gives the impression that he is the only man to have this misfortune visited on him. Not so. Ten others have had to wear the championship crown without getting to step on the top box of the rostrum.
The last one was Kenny Roberts Jnr. He won the 2000 championship with a mixture of cunning and courage on a bike that clearly wasn't the best. Unfortunately, Suzuki didn't see it that way and turned up with an almost unchanged bike for 2001. I saw him in the pits at Suzuka before the first race. I remember the conversation vividly:
'How's it going Kenny?"
'We're in the shit,' he replied.
He was right. He only got on the rostrum once, that season and that was in third place. Worse still, his team mate Sete Gibernau won the race. Portugal 2006 will haunt him though, that is the race he really should have won.
There were those who had their championship year ruined by injury. Chief among them has to be Mick Doohan whose Jerez crash at the third race of 1999 was a career ender. Eddie Lawson's infamous 1990 accident at Laguna when his brake pad retaining pin wasn't inserted put him out until Assen and he didn't win any of the remaining races. He would only win once again, but that was the glorious gamble in Hungary in 1992 when Eddie gave Cagiva their first win in the 500s.
In 1983 Franco Unicni fell and was hit by Wayne Gardner as he tried to run off the track at Assen. He was lucky to live, never mind race again. Uncini's predecessor as Champion, Marco Lucchinelli, moved from Suzuki to a Honda triple, taking the number-one plate with him for the 1982 season. He was plagued by reliability woes and injury at the start of the year so spent the rest of the season partying.
Perhaps the most extreme case of number-one-plate syndrome was Freddie Spencer. After his fabulous 250/500 double of 1985 the Fast One was so worn out he never again stood on the rostrum of a Grand Prix race, and that's despite being on pole for the first race of 1986. What odds would you have got on that at the start of 1986? About the same as if you'd wanted to bet on Valentino Rossi never winning again at the end of 2002.
The other way not to carry on winning is simply to retire. That's what John Surtees did after the 1960 season. Well, he retired from bikes and went on to do rather well on four wheels... Libero Liberatti won for Gilera in 1957 but that was the last year of the factory team. Afterwards, he rode a variety of machinery, even a Saturno in the 500s, but never again had the machinery to win. Umberto Massetti was another Gilera winner in 1952, the following year Gileras filled the top three places but he wasn't on one of them. Unlike Liberatti, he did pop up again to win at Monza in 1955 but his complex personal life tended to get in the way of the bike racing.
Amazingly, the great Geoff Duke was the first man not to win while Champion, although he had a very good reason: he stuck with his Manx Norton single for 1952 just as the Italians in general and Gilera in particular got the tyres, suspension and reliability they needed to go with their multi-cylinder motors. He was also injured and missed three of the eight races
Duke, of course, went on to win again - fifteen times, all of them on Gileras except for one final fling on a Norton at Hedemora in Sweden when MV didn't turn up. He is one of only three of our list who recovered from their fallow year to stand on top of the rostrum again and the only one who went on to take another title. Could Nicky Hayden do that? Why not? One thing I will put money on, though, is that Nicky will win races again. That alone would put him in pretty rarefied company.
So much for " Nicky had the worst title defense in history " arguments , eh ?