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GP Week : Issue 5
as well. Before the speech, there was a minute when JMB would stand in front of an FIA sign and pose, spectacles in hand, staring omnipotently into the distance. When the speech started you did not take pictures, you listened, whether you could understand French or not! Some people fell a little short in this diplomatic environment. In 1985 he began a long dissertation in the hot and airless auditorium at the Hotel President in Yamoussoukro, after the finish of the Ivory Coast Rally. Gradually a strange sound became noticeable. Juha Kankkunen, who had just won one of the most exhausting events in the calendar, was not only asleep but snoring heavily! In most dictatorships that would be a very bad, but Balestre, to his credit, made a comment about long speeches in airless rooms and came to a premature end. Few have brought Balestre to a premature silence, but another was Malcolm Wilson. JMB was the guest flag- waver at a restart in Ajaccio for the Tour de Corse, unaware that Wilson's Sierra had a broken gearbox which was stuck in reverse. When the M-Sport chief drove out of Parc Ferme to the ramp in reverse, Balestre was furious at the apparent insubordination, but eventually saw the funny side and the Englishman was forgiven! Everyone has a JMB story – even this writer. Every year I would give him a copy of the latest edition of the Pirelli World Rallying book which, traditionally, he always graciously accepted. Then one year he turned round and asked if a picture of him was in the book. Fortunately for me there was. He then went into a detailed eulogy about French drivers, signed the book and gave it back. “But Jean-Marie, the book is for you!” There was an unusual silence and then a smile … GPWEEK OPINION >> THINGS can change fast in motorcycle racing. Many readers are probably too young to remember Freddie Spencer, but for those who saw him at his best, he was unforgettable. For a couple of years in the 1980s he was just superb. Then, suddenly, it was over. Not that anyone’s quite suggesting the same about Casey Stoner after just one bad race result. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, nor does one 11th place mean the end of a champion’s career. But there were those at Jerez who pointed a finger at the defending World Champion, and were quick to suggest that his dominance last year was a passing phase. That may be so, and time will tell. But what I saw of Stoner’s weekend at Jerez was slightly different. Like everyone, I saw him save a near disaster on lap two, and shortly after run off the track into the gravel, clearly unable to stop his Ducati in time for the corner, rejoining last. He explained later he’d been taken by surprise, not pushing specially hard, when the front end let him down. From then on he was clearly struggling and, when he did finally catch Nakano and Vermeulen, he ran off again while trying to put a move on both of them at once. Didn’t look like a champion now, did he? I beg to differ. Cast your mind back just a little bit further, to 2006, and remember what Stoner was like then. When his front tyre let him down, he didn’t keep control and tour through the gravel to rejoin the race. He crashed. Over and over. You might say that he had the same response to pressure, both then and in his earlier years, in 125 and 250. Casey was always fast, but all too often ended up with his bike in the barrier. But his Jerez race was quite different. He had plenty of pressure, and clearly he had set-up and possibly tyre- choice problems that robbed him of his usual ability to race. The new Stoner responded quite differently from the man of just the year before last. He kept his head, kept the wheels down, and got to the finish line. And in the sort of close company and varied results that seem to be on the cards for 2008, the five points he earned may prove to be very valuable. Stoner got a bad result in the Spanish GP. But he rode a very good race. Michael Scott MotoGP editor o p in io n JMB (in thesuit) with, from left to right, Carlos Sainz, Miki Biasion and Michele Mouton at the Monte Carlo Rally in 1990. 23