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GP Week : Issue 93
VALENTINO Rossi has broken pretty much every record that matters in motorbike racing. Some will be forever out of reach ... like Hailwood's three wins in a day; another is tantalisingly close -- Agostini's total of 122 GP wins, just 18 races away. At the German GP at the Sachsenring, the nine-time World Champion broke another one: a record he had never anticipated and certainly would not have wanted -- the record for the fastest return to racing of a world champion with a seriously broken leg. Comparisons of the severity of broadly similar injuries are difficult, even if one did have medical qualifi- cations; but Valentino's leg break was bad enough: a double fracture to fibula and tibia, with the latter (the shin-bone) sticking out of the wound. Ouch! When he got back on his Fiat Yamaha for Friday afternoon's first practice, he had been recuperating for one day short of six weeks. The record he breaks will be Barry Sheene's (pictured, middle right). That superstar of his time took one week longer to get back on the race-track, after his own leg-breaking 170 mph crash at Daytona, before the start of the 1975 season. To put it into proportion, Sheene's injuries were a great deal more numerous, and therefore quantifiably worse. Here is the list, as the Englishman cheerfully reeled it off to the TV cameras, while puffing on a cigarette before going under the knife to have an 18- inch pin inserted into his leg: broken left femur and right arm, compression frac- tures to several vertebrae, broken ribs and the loss of enough skin "to cover a sofa. "Apart from that,"he added impishly, "I'm fine." Sheene's racing return was to a national British Superbike race: he led and then retired, barely able to stop the bike in the pits. His actual GP return was a few weeks later: it would have been earlier but for an unaccount- able decision by the Austrian GP offi- cials. He was unable to push-start his Suzuki RG500, as was required at the time, but he should have been allowed a pusher, from the back of the grid. This was refused. Sheene's career was punctuated and considerably promoted by his capacity for heroic returns. At the other end of it he comprehensively smashed both legs in a 1982 free-practice crash at Silverstone. That did take longer: it happened in August, and he returned only for the next season, for the first 1983 round at Kyalami in March. But he would never win another race. There are other rivals for heroic returns -- Kevin Schwantz (right) racing with his wrist in a plaster-cast just one, and countless unknown riders also full 38