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GP Week : Issue 79
VOLCANIC activity is by far the most dramatic reason for a grand prix to be scuppered. Usually (not that it a very usual occurrence) it is for more prosaic reasons. The weather. GP racing has always prided itself on the fact that races take place whatever the weather. America may have had the habit of staying in the pits when it rained ... but there were reasons for that: one being that US racing was rooted in dirt-track ovals and TT courses, which could become unusable when wet. And the weather was generally better, too. Nor were there set TV schedules and expensive broadcast-satellite slots to worry about. This last was true also of GP racing for its first 25 years or so, but no matter: real racing took place in real world conditions. Come rain come shine, the circus was in town, and would perform on schedule. TT races were sometimes postponed for a few days of there was fog on the mountain, but not often. It's still like that, but running races as scheduled is nowadays a lot harder to achieve. The first problem was slick tyres, coming into racing in the late 1970s: these rendered dry-shod bikes effectively unrideable if it suddenly rained. The second was TV. Where before a race might be delayed for 30 minutes or more to let a cloudburst pass, it was no longer possible. The struggle to find a formula to run flag- to-flag races took years and several blind alleys before today's bike-swap system was introduced. But that's another topic. What about the races that didn't happen at all, because of the weather. Surprisingly, a troll through history can find only one. The Austrian GP of 1980. This was at the Salzburgring, a blindingly fast track running up each side of a narrow Alpine valley. Scenically, it was spectacular, overlooked by the Knockstein (after a cam, for it is a mini-Matterhorn), and the upland meadows of the Sound of Music. The Salzburgring was (and still is) also terrifyingly dangerous. But it must have looked spectacularly peaceful when the GP circus rolled into town for the GP, in late April... for it was under a carpet of more than a metre of fresh snow, with more in the offing. One observer recalls future 250 superstar Carlos Lavado, in his first full season, gambolling around the paddock. The Venezuelan had never seen snow before. Anyway, the race was off and was not replaced. In fact it was the second cancellation, because round one in Venezuela had also been called off, although this time well in advance, after a general collapse of the already sketchy organisation. As in 2010, the season got off to a late start that year. The only other such last-minute actual cancellation, also because of the 28