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Until last Tuesday my main experience piloting a motorcycle was renting a Honda C90, the weapon of choice for pizza delivery riders worldwide, and wobbling my way around the Thai island of Koh Samui for an afternoon.
I did also once ride pillion through late night Beirut on a Vespa - although that sounds more hazardous than it actually was. So when I found myself donning protective gear at Britain’s famous Silverstone circuit, you might say I wasn’t exactly prepared.
The MotoGP circus has arrived in the UK, as Silverstone plays host to the all-conquering world champion Marc Marquez - as well as several British racers, eager for success at their home race. Last week I joined three of these British riders for a special track day at the circuit.
First off, I was tutored on the basics of riding a low-powered scooter. I weaved my way around some traffic cones, practiced stopping, and had a little drag race up and down the car park. Then I was unleashed on the circuit itself - doing half a lap of Silverstone and reaching extraordinary speeds of up to 35mph. So far, so easy; but this was a mere hors d’oeuvre for the main course.
My basic body armor was replaced by a full leather race suit, my shoes substituted for armored boots, and I climbed warily on to the back of a specially adapted Yamaha R1 (about the closest thing you’ll find to a road-legal MotoGP bike), behind Tech 3 Yamaha rider Bradley Smith.
After some initial confusion over which foot-pegs to put my boots on, Smith hit the starter button and the 185mph bike snarled into life. “You ready?” asked the 23-year-old rider. I offered a slightly wavering “Yes.” “Okay, visor down, let’s go,” he said.
I glanced over and could see Gresini Honda’s Scott Redding, carrying another nervous looking pillion passenger, shoot Smith a wry grin. I was about to get a taste of what it’s like to be a MotoGP racer.
I knew a fair bit about the physical training riders put themselves through - daily gym sessions alongside punishing cycling and running regimes - and within seconds I fully understood why.
Accelerating out of the pit lane, Smith drew alongside Redding and gunned the bike’s 1000cc engine. The machine catapulted forward, hurtling to the first bend, before a grab of the brakes wrenched it down to cornering speed. The Yamaha had a small set of handlebars for me to hold, mounted on the fuel tank, and beneath my armoured gloves I’m sure my knuckles were glowing white at this point.
Again the R1 lunged forwards, firing its way into the Wellington Straight. Squinting through my visor past Smith’s crash helmet the scenery around me blurred. Rounding the famous Brooklands Corner, on to the Luffield hairpin, Smith leaned the bike hard to the right, and I winced as the candy striped track kerb rushed up to greet my grimacing face.
When we blasted through the long, swift Woodcote Corner and back on to the Pits Straight I’m told we touched 150mph, before more gut-wrenching braking drew us back down to cornering velocity. Every muscle in my arms strained, and off we went again.
When we finally came to a stop in the pits, I eased myself out of the seat. “What did you think?” asked Smith. “Wow.” I said. “It’s not the acceleration, it’s the braking!” I exclaimed. “I know!” Smith answered, wide eyed, as if he’d just experienced it for the first time too.
MotoGP riders reach well over 200mph during a race, and this year’s Silverstone contest will take place over 20 laps - we’d had just a few circuits of half a lap.
Ducati’s Cal Crutchlow, also at the event, reminded us that he finished sixth in 2012 while riding with a broken ankle; an incredible, seemingly impossible achievement. I now know a little more about just how tough these two wheeled gladiators are.
CNN joined a track day organized by the UK’s MotoGP broadcaster BT Sport.
He says he never wanted to be famous; he just wanted a piece of the action.
He says he’s not a real criminal, yet he’s spent more than 10 years in jail.
He says football is a beautiful sport, but he represents the single-biggest threat to the integrity of the professional game.
Wilson Raj Perumal is known as the world’s most prolific match-fixer, and I’m sitting face-to-face with him in the capital of Hungary, Budapest. It’s the first time he’s ever been interviewed on television. FULL POST
As Red Bull Racing closed its doors on Friday for Formula One’s mandatory summer holiday, the team's rookie racer Daniel Ricciardo clocked off on a high.
The Australian with the grin as wide as the Sydney Harbor Bridge has plenty of reasons to smile after his surprise star turn in the first half of the 2014 season.
“With each spring-loaded step forward that Rory McIlroy takes, more belief is instilled right through the talent pool of golf in Ireland. His march to destiny will continue to inspire people to play the game and to strive for success.”
I often wonder what it is that makes someone good at what they do. Hard work, dedication, intelligence and strong communication skills are obvious necessary traits, but when it relates to a horse trainer it's even harder to put a finger on it.
Recently I spent a morning filming with Aidan O’Brien, Ireland’s No. 1 racehorse trainer. It was in the lead-up to the Irish Derby, which he had won a record 10 times, and afterwards he added to that tally with yet another success.
The 44-year-old has been the champion trainer in Ireland for an incredible 16 years and quite possibly many more to come.
With 170 horses in his care, at his Ballydoyle stables in County Tipperary, he is a busy man. FULL POST
For a fleeting moment it looked like the eagerly awaited, and long overdue, passing of the torch to the next generation of tennis stars was finally upon us.
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal had lost to the Australian teen sensation Nick Kyrgios, defending champion Andy Murray crashed out to 23-year-old Grigor Dimitrov, and both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic appeared on the verge of elimination in their respective quarterfinals.
And yet, when Sunday rolled around, it wasn’t a matchup between two fresh-faced up and comers, but two seasoned veterans of the big finale, with a combined 24 major titles and perhaps even more staggering 37 major final appearances between them. FULL POST
The America's Cup has existed since 1851 and not once has Britain won it in the intervening years. But is that about to change?
The British challenger for the event's next running in 2017 is certainly the strongest, the one that has all the right ingredients for success.
For one it has royal approval from Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. She's probably the most famous person on the planet right now, certainly the most photographed, and to have her present for the official Cup challenge launch of Ben Ainslie Racing was an unbelievable coup.
But her role doesn't stop there. She's a keen sailor herself and, rather than just being a face of the team, she wants to have a hands-on role as well. FULL POST
As an England football fan, I’m well used to the national mood swings that ebb and flow with the fortunes of my country’s team at major tournaments. For a youthful supporter in 1990 and 1996, glorious semi-final runs have defined my recollections of those entire summers.
Equally, the catastrophic capitulation to Germany in 2010 and numerous penalty shootout fiascos are recalled much less fondly.
Either way, something I had usually taken for granted was that every few years I could expect the England team to compete on a major international stage and - for a few weeks - it felt like the whole country was in it together.
Win or lose and whether the failure was triumphant or abject, there was always something comforting about the collective, patriotic experience.
Having moved to the United States a couple of years ago, it quickly struck me that American sports fans have never experienced anything like it. FULL POST
Austrian Red Bull tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz likes to do his talking - and his spending - on the track.
The billionaire made just one low-key public appearance during Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix. He was finally spotted by eagle-eyed TV cameras on lap 23 of the race, but by that point his Red Bull team’s chances of victory had fizzled out.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel was lagging a lap off the pace and would later retire. Canada race winner Daniel Ricciardo had to settle for eighth after being shunted out of position at the start.
It was probably not the homecoming Red Bull envisaged but for Mateschitz re-energising one of F1’s best-loved tracks may be reward enough. FULL POST