22 April 2014
Aspar recalls dramatic Argentina ’94 victory
“That race, more than any other, it was a question of all or nothing. Winning was the only option.”
“It is twenty years ago now, but when I think about my races they feel like only yesterday. I can still remember which gear I took in which corner at every circuit. I even surprise myself.”
Those are the words of four time world champion Jorge Martinez 'Aspar', who took his final grand prix win as a rider in the 1994 125cc round in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
20 years later, and 15 years since the last Argentinean visit, Motorcycle grand prix returns to the country this weekend at the new Termas de Rio Hondo circuit.
Aspar's 1994 victory, the 37th of his career, was especially memorable since it was also the only time he stood on the top step of the podium that season.
For Aspar, it was, “a year I remember very fondly. We did a great job, enjoyed ourselves a lot and had some good results although the victory was very hard to come by.”
Now a team owner in the MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 grand prix classes, Aspar's 1994 Yamaha machinery shared a similar weakness to this year's Open class Production Honda in MotoGP – an almost 20km/h top speed deficit.
It was a handicap that would prove almost impossible to overcome, but 'Aspar' knew that the strength of his machine was in the chassis, perfect for the faster corners, and stable under heavy braking. If there was one thing he was good at it was braking and with certain limitations on engine performance it was clear that this would be his greatest weapon.
The 1994 GP of Argentina was the penultimate round of the season and Yamaha had no plans to bring any radical updates for the bike with the end of the year in sight. It was a case of getting the most out of what they had.
“Back then you didn't have the option to vary the angle of the front fork”. The only way to do it was to cut the shank that holds the front suspension and then weld it back together.
It was a drastic move that they had been considering all season - a terrible tactic according to the Japanese, a risky one worth making according to 'Aspar' and his crew of technicians.
Going against the advice of Yamaha, the week before departing for Argentina they took a saw, cut the chassis and opened the steering angle, welding it back together again.
'Aspar' was famed for the precision of his riding and it took him just a few laps to assess his 'new' chassis when practice got underway on the Friday. It was a hectic weekend, with just a few sessions to set up a new chassis and decide which tyre would work best on a track surface that was smooth but extremely slippery.
Whilst the majority of riders chose a soft option to gain grip, 'Aspar' went for a harder compound and used his skill and feel to control the machine as it slid through the corners.
On Sunday the race got underway and a group of five formed at the front (Aspar, Ueda, Perugini, Scalvini and Alzamora), battling throughout the race until with two laps to go Aspar and Noboru Ueda made a break from the pack.
Two of the most seasoned riders on the grid, the pair used all of their experience to pass each other twice, three, four or even five times on the final 4.350km of the race. Ueda used the extra power of his Honda engine to make up ground on the straights, whilst 'Aspar' used every bit of track to make it up on the brakes.
“He was passing me on the straights but I would get him back in the next corner. I was braking later and I had a better line than Noboru, but back then the Hondas were so fast, it was difficult to match them. It was a spectacular finish and neither of us had a clear plan.”
With two corners to go Ueda has one hand on the winner's trophy but 'Aspar' has a point to prove and with one last attempt on the brakes he made a final overtake in the final corner.
In his desperation to recover a victory he thought was his, Ueda made a desperate lunge, there was contact, but it was too late.
“That race, more than any other, it was a question of all or nothing. Winning was the only option.” As Aspar crossed the line, a smile of satisfaction etched on his face, a well-known Japanese engineer shed a tear back in the garage as his methodical, precisely engineered package was butchered and improved by a moment of improvised genius.
Japanese cordiality and Latin passion embraced in parc fermé, their contrasting styles and expertise having combined perfectly to turn a supposedly inferior 125cc Yamaha into a machine capable of toppling the all-powerful Honda.
Aspar's story is one of many victories in wet, dry and windy conditions on every kind of circuit imaginable. Twelve of them came with less than a second's winning advantage – including that fitting final victory in Argentina.
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