MOTORCYCLE HERO: MICK DOOHAN
THE LEGEND (AND VICTIM) OF HONDA'S NSR
Only Giacomo Agostini and Valentino Rossi have won more MotoGP titles than this Australian legend. With five consecutive World Championships, he dominated the sport in the 90s, claiming an amazing 54 victories on Honda's NSR. But his racing success would come at a price. A series of accidents throughout his career would put serious strains on his body, eventually forcing the retirement of one of the greatest riders of all time. Here is his story.
Michael Doohan was born in Brisbane, Australia, on June 4th, 1965. The youngest of three brothers, he was never far away from a bike and had his first powered two-wheeler - a 50cc hand-me-down minibike - aged eight.
Doohan soon began competing in dirt races in local club competitions. His first achievement was coming 2nd in the Queensland 10-12 years Championship. Road racing came later, when he was 19, at the Surfers Paradise Raceway.
After some successful races, both on and off-road, Doohan's talent became obvious during a season in 250cc production racing. He was offered a one-off ride in the Australian Superbike Championship which would pave the way for his future career.
In 1988, Doohan won both races of the Superbike World Championship at Oran Park. To date, he is one of the few MotoGP World Champions ever to have won a Superbike World Championship race. That same year, although in his first season, he also managed to win the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.
In 1989, he made his Grand Prix debut for Honda. It had taken him just two years to progress from a 250cc production to 500cc Grand Prix rider. It was a tough first year for him as he struggled on Honda's NSR. A collision during the Suzuka Eight Hours took the tip of one of his fingers off, which, although reattached, meant he had to miss three rounds. Still, he made a promising comeback of 4th place when he returned to race in the Brazil finale.
He finished 9th that year. But, true to form, he was quickly progressing and managed to finish 3rd the year after. In 1991, he won the Suzuka Eight Hours endurance race and finished runner-up in the 500cc World Championship. His 14 rostrum finishes out of 15 starts was the most by any rider.
'I use to think all road racers were nuts. You know racing around a track at that speed.' - Mick Doohan
To everyone watching, Doohan was on his way to winning his first World Championship. Honda had made some changes to the machine by way of an ultra-secret 'big bang' engine configuration. It would give the machine much better traction at the expense of ultimate power. But in 1992, a crash during a practice race at Assen led to him breaking his right leg. It was thought he'd recovered relatively easily, but medical complications saw his leg get much worse, to the point where he almost needed to have it amputated. Although he was 65 points in the lead, he would not be able to race for eight weeks. He returned for the final two races but lost the championship by four points to Yamaha's Wayne Rainey.
The struggle with his leg stayed with him during the 1993 season. Being his right leg, he'd lost the use of the rear brake but started to recover once the team had fitted the now famous thumb-operated rear brake. Sadly, though, that year would be most remembered for the crash at Misano that permanently paralysed Rainey from the chest down. Following the news that his friend would never ride a Grand Prix racer again came Doohan's own crash in the penultimate round at Laguna Seco which would break his collarbone. He came fourth that year and spent the time before the following season undergoing and recovering from corrective surgery on his leg.
Back on top form, 1994 was to be his best year yet and his first 500cc World Championship win. Taking pole position and victory at Assen, where he'd crashed in '92, played some part in laying his demons to rest. He had six successive wins that season, nine in total. Another victory in round 11 left him with an unbeatable lead in points with three races remaining. He'd won his first title, and also became the first rider to achieve podium results in every round since Agostini in 1968.
Doohan's domination had begun. He was to win the 500cc World Championship for the next four years - five consecutive wins in total.
1995 was considered to be a year lacking in competition, his win being more of an expectation than a surprise. In 1996, the competition had once again stepped up. Yet Doohan still managed to win. He repeatedly beat his rising team-mate, Àlex Crivillé, who'd gained a reputation for being “towed” by Doohan. Crivillé eventually ramming him off during the last Grand Prix of the year.
'Your perception of racing needs to be fine-tuned' – Mick Doohan
Doohan was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his contribution to motorsport. But despite his continuing success and rising fame, Doohan was not interested in being a star and was often short with the media. He was there to ride well and be paid well. A continuous battle for Yamaha to steal him from Honda led to Doohan's earnings skyrocketing so much that he became the first motorcycle racer to earn an eight-figure salary.
His most successful year came in 1997 when he won 12 races – 10 consecutive - out of 15, coming 2nd in two others. For this season, Doohan had returned to an even order engine configuration, the one that had proved troublesome to him in his first years with Honda. It was a gamble, but it paid off. He won the championship with four races to go, setting a new record for the most number of wins in a 500cc season since it had begun in 1949.
1998 was to be his final successful year and his fifth consecutive win. Doohan was once again in a fight against Crivillé, as well as a new rival on the 500cc scene, Max Biaggi. It was pretty much level pegged until the Catalan Gran Prix when some unfortunate incidences were to work in Doohan's favour. Crivillé fell, and as a consequence, Biaggi ignored both the yellow and black flags. He was excluded from the race classification, putting Doohan firmly in the lead. He needed only one more win to claim victory, which he did in style at his home circuit, Phillip Island.
1998 completed Doohan's five consecutive years as a World Champion. The following year bad luck would once again hit him in the form of yet another accident. This one would end his career. During a qualifying session for the Spanish Grand Prix, he crashed after the back wheel of his NSR spun up in wet conditions. He broke his wrist, collarbone, foot, hand, leg and ribs.
Despite initially claiming he would make a comeback, Doohan retired eight months later. He would need many operations in the years to come and would be left with a permanent limp. He had come 17th in his final Grand Prix. In his absence, his team-mate Crivillé was finally able to take what would be his only 500cc World Championship.
After retiring, Doohan took the position of General Manager of Racing of Honda Racing Corporation until 2004, guiding Rossi to some of his own titles. His other business developments include property, aviation, and hospitality. He received an Australian Sports Medal in 2000 and has been placed in the Australian Sports Hall of Fame three times. To add to his legacy, the first turn at the Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit is named after him.
Mick Doohan Victories
Motorcycle Grand Prix:
World Championship Wins: five (1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998)
Race wins: 54
1997: Most 500cc MotoGP wins in one series, most 500cc MotoGP pole positions in a year, most points in a 500cc MotoGP season
Others in the Motorcycle Heroes series:
29/03/17 - Magnificent Rider , Great Champion
29/03/17 - Bit of a hero that one
29/03/17 - Shame moto gp bikes aren't has hard to ride as they were. Scary fookin fings
29/03/17 - After rainey was paralized it needed to be calmed down a bit
29/03/17 - Less to do with the bikes and more to do with deep raked gravel traps sadly.
29/03/17 - Would've smoked the '92 championship if not for the awful TT Assen crash. Won back to back from 94-98 and only a brave man would've bet against him in '99 before the career ending Jerez wet white line crash. So, there were 8 back to backs in him - we got to see 5. The the GOAT of 500GP and then the bikes and tech made things easier.
29/03/17 - Loved watching him race, so spectacular and so damn intense ! Always remember watching footage of him walking to the podium to claim his first world title, he could hardly walk and I was thinking how the hell has I done this ! One of the toughest men to ever ride a bike !
30/03/17 - The Rainey / schwantz battles were epic , those were the days , must never forget the likes of Mamola or fast Freddie spencer ,
30/03/17 - Fast freddie absolute Legend.
31/03/17 - Retired to go and do something a bit safer ... Offshore power boat racing
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