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GP Week : Issue 51
>>Moto GPINSIGHT he famously growled, when someone dared to suggest that things were getting a bit boring). But Mick was no stranger to close last laps and exchanging paint, especially earlier in his career, fighting with the likes of Schwantz and Rainey. He took part in the other equal-closest finish, when (curiously enough) he was also beaten. The man two thousandths of a second ahead was Honda team-mate Alex Criville, but there’d been no great battle. Doohan was withering in his scorn for a rival who follows all race long, then pushes past at the last corner. For memorable final laps, the 1988 French GP at the sun- soaked and fragrant Paul Ricard took some beating. Four had been passing each other all race long, then Wayne Gardner pulled away to win … only for his Honda to burst an oil seal and slow dramatically on the final lap. Eddie Lawson, Christian Sarron and Kevin Schwantz kept on changing places until they all flashed past the flag within 0.46 of a second. The Schwantz-Rainey partnership was rightly renowned. The American pair had eyes only for each other, and specialised in taking it all the way to the finish. Japan in 1989 showed the way forward, banging fairings through Suzuka’s final chicane. Schwantz won, a mortified Rainey admitted he’d mis-read the signals, and thought there was still one lap to go. Their most famous last lap was another racing classic, with unforgettable images. Rainey seemed to have the German GP of 1991 won after his Yamaha and Schwantz’s Suzuki had battled for supremacy on the long straights of the Hockenheimring. Crucially, he led into the stadium section. Until Schwantz arrived, sideways on the brakes, back wheel in the air, to slip past inside. Kevin still led by 0.016 of a second when they got to the flag a couple of corners later. Later, he insisted to me it had all been by mistake: the brilliant and daring move had actually been pure accident avoidance. Further back in time, but remembered by the BBC as one of the 100 Great Sporting Moments of the last century, was the bitter fight between Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene at Silverstone in 1979. It was superstar home-boy Sheene’s chance to avenge himself on two title defeats, and he insisted he had the race in the bag. But he was baulked onto the last lap by a back- marker (none other than future Superbike multi-champion Carl Fogarty’s father George), and lost the tow. Roberts also explained later he had his own last-corner plan, and that it had worked. All the same, it was closer than last week in Catalunya, as a superhuman Sheene caught up and hurled himself alongside through the last turn. The margin was 0.03 of a second, in Kenny’s favour. Those above are the closest recorded finishes: meaning the timekeepers were able to measure a difference (electronically, and to three figures, since 1990). The real closest-ever finish was at Assen, scene of many epic last laps. In 1975 timekeepers mark down Barry Sheene and Giacomo Agostini as recording the same 48’01.00 for the race, but they awarded victory to the Briton. So can Catalunya really be called the greatest ever last lap? The temptation is strong: it was 2006 that we last saw a last- lap overtake, and at Catalunya they changed places four times. But history also deserves respect. Having just re-watched the video, I might nominate Rossi’s 99th win for another award – the greatest ever reminder of motorcycle grand prix racing at its very best. 37