MotoGP » Mick Doohan


Mick Doohan

Career

In a ten year career, Mick Doohan would claim an amazing 54 500cc victories and five consecutive World Championships – all on Honda NSR's.

However his success came at a high price; he had to have a finger re-attached, almost lost a leg after a crash at Assen and it would be another almighty 'off' that eventually ended the career of the greatest motorcycle racer of modern times…

The Early years.

Mick was born into a motorcycle mad family on June 4, 1965 in Brisbane, Australia, the youngest of three brothers he soon found himself on two wheels and at age eight the wheels got motorised when he inherited a handed down 50cc minibike.

With three Doohans tearing around their home and the 'bush' nearby, Mick's parents decided the best place for them was on the race track and he was soon racing dirt bikes in local club competitions. The ever-improving Mick could rarely be separated from his bike, and by the early 70s was beginning to contend for local championships.

But Mick's world fell apart when his father died in 1977. Suddenly racing didn't seem so important to the 12 year old. Over the following years, Doohan became an 'occasional' off-road racer, but was never fully committed to it.

Introduction to Road Racing.

Doohan's introduction to road bikes came, once again, through his older brothers when Mick was around 18 year's old – and now living on the Gold Coast. After several near misses on the public roads he honed his substantial off road experience on a standard Yamaha 350 at the local Surfers Paradise Raceway.

Although looking like something of an unfit hippy, Mick finished second in his first ever race at the same track, despite his laid back ‘turn up and ride' attitude. More success followed and with it offers to ride bigger and better machinery – including his first 'team' ride [in the mid 80s] for a bunch of mates on a 500cc Yamaha painted fully in Camouflage colours!

However, Motorcycle racing turned serious for Doohan only when, after a season in 250cc production racing, he was offered a one-off ride in the Australian Superbike Championship by future Team Suzuki Engineer Warren Willing [KTM bound in 2003].

A superb fifth place saw Doohan offered a full factory Yamaha SBK ride by Willing for 1988.

Doohan guided the 750 four-stroke to numerous victories that year, but made an international name for himself as a wild-card in the Sugo round of the World Superbike Championship, finishing 3rd and 1st.

When Doohan destroyed the WSBK opposition at home with 1-1 victories soon after the motorcycling world was convinced and Mick was set for the GP big time – but who should he ride for?

Grand Prix stardom beckons.

Doohan faced a dilemma for the 1989 Grand Prix season: Yamaha wanted to keep him – but Suzuki and Honda wanted to have him.

Mick eventually made his decision to move to Honda, on a Rothmans liveried machine, as team-mate to experienced Aussie World Champion Wayne Gardner.

It had taken Doohan just a year and a half to move from a 250cc Production bike to a factory Honda 500cc Grand Prix rider, amazing.

1989 – Mick meets NSR.

Doohan's introduction to the NSR came as something of a shock. Throughout the 1988 season MotoGP fans had seen Gardner regularly thrown off the monstrous machine; the NSR had tons of horsepower – and the screaming two stroke would deliver it with an uncompromising kick that even world champions struggled to control.

The bike was made more rider friendly for the 89 season, but still caught Mick out repeatedly in pre-season testing – and when the racing started for real things didn't get better.

His GP debut at Suzuka ended in retirement after a mechanical failure and next time out – at home in Australia – he badly skinned his hand after a Phillip Island practice fall. Doohan raced, but a painful eighth place was his only reward.

Laguna Seca and Jerez followed, but Doohan would crash again in both as the NSR took advantage of his weakened grip, questionable fitness and wild sideways style. With Misano cancelled, Doohan's hand got a welcome chance to recover before the German GP at Hockenheim.

Mick didn't know it then, but the frighteningly fast forest circuit would be his best race of the year and good old Honda horsepower swept him to third behind Wayne Rainly and Eddie Lawson.

The Austrian GP followed, but another eighth place combined with finishes of 6th, 9th, 8th and 8th at the next four rounds proved to the 24 year old that GP's were a tough game – and it soon got tougher.

A collision with a backmarker while leading the Suzuka Eighth Hours took the end of Doohan's left little finger off and although reattached it meant he was sidelined from the following three GP's, but returned to race at the Brazil finale. There, Doohan took 4th – and began to show glimmers of what was to come as he trailed home Kevin Schwantz, Lawson and Rainey as top Honda.

1990 – Taming the beast and taking victory.

Having been left battered and bruised by his first year in GP's by the fearsome NSR 500, Mick had plenty to think about as he began pre-season testing with continuing team-mate Gardner.

If he'd thought Suzuka would herald a new start, Doohan was soon left disappointed – and in the gravel – after crashing when his brakes failed. Nevertheless, hope was on the horizon when he took a career best finish at Laguna Seca next time out with second in a race of attrition.

But Mick finally sat on top of the timing screens for the first time at the Spanish Grand Prix when he took pole, but dropped to fourth when it really mattered on race day. A chance for his first victory had slipped away.

Nevetheless, over the next ten rounds, Doohan proved that he was finally beginning to understand the fire breathing NSR and, in stark comparison with the previous year, he DNF'd just once on the way to a string of consistent top five finishes prior to the Hungarian Grand Prix.

It was here that Doohan's career took a steep rise and he firstly put his #9 Rothman's rocket onto pole around the tight, twisty and dust covered Budapest circuit, then followed that up with a convincing first ever GP victory after overcoming new world champion Wayne Rainey.

His confidence now restored, Doohan returned home to Australia for the season ending Grand Prix ready for battle – and that's just what the Phillip Island fans witnessed.

Gardner, for so long the top Australian, found himself battling not just Rainey and Schwantz but also his young team-mate – and although Doohan lost their personal battle for home pride as he took second by a whisker behind his team-mate, he'd proven he could go the distance with the best in the world.

1991 – Time to fight for the title.

Doohan started the 1991 season on a high after his strong finish to the previous years' campaign. He'd taken pole, he'd taken victory – now only the world title didn't belong to him, and he wanted it badly.

But his hopes were hit by Michelin's withdraw from GP's, amazingly Honda had decided to run them regardless, but the competition had taken rapidly developing alternatives and were soon benefiting from extra grip.

Nevertheless, Mick took his Rothman's machine to an average qualifying position of third – including two poles, and was even leading the championship heading to Assen, but then…

... while Doohan was attempting to chase down title rivals Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz he lost the front, skimmed quickly over the gravel and into the tyre barriers – hard.

Although he suffered no serious damage to himself, he wouldn't win another race that year – although his string of second and third places gave him second in the championship behind Rainey.

1992 – Big bang born, Assen attacks.

For the 1992 season, HRC knew they need to make fundamental machine changes if they were to challenge for the title – and these came in the form of the [then] ultra secret 'big bang' engine firing configuration.

'Big bang' meant that the four cylinders were grouped in pairs and fired at 180 degree intervals – it may have had less ultimate power, but it gave much better traction and was less determined to destroy its rider.

Doohan was once again teamed with Gardner – although their relationship was strictly a working one and they were far from friends. Nevertheless, the younger Aussie was now fitter than ever, and with Michelin back in GP racing everything looked to be in place for a year of Doohan vs Schwantz vs Rainey.

Mick started the year perfectly by winning at a very wet Suzuka, but for his team-mate the race was a disaster – he crashed and broke his leg, effectively ending his GP career.

However, the Aussie's soon had a new hero to cheer as Doohan went on a demoralising run of four race victories – indeed in the first seven races of the year he claimed five wins and two seconds, who could stop him now?

Fate would play the World Champion elect a cruel blow once again – and where else could it happen than the now hated Assen?

During qualifying for the famous Dutch TT his #2 blue and white Honda spat him off at over 100mph in a huge highside – his bike then proceeded to land on top of him and literally grind him – and in particular his leg - into the asphalt.

The leg was broken, not badly, but it would get much worse…

While the MotoGP world expected a relatively straightforward recovery, complications and questionable medical advice from the Dutch Doctors saw his leg deteriorate rapidly.

Indeed, when pictures emerged of his legs sewn together to try and breath life back to the broken limb it was clear Doohan was in real trouble – and nearly lost the leg.

Fortunately, Dr Costa [who still oversees the GP stars medical needs] was on hand to personally supervise Mick's recovery – but he would miss four rounds, and with just two left, Rainey had eaten Doohan's points lead.

Doohan would try desperately to salvage his first world crown with a worryingly early comeback, but it was all lost at the final round.

1993 – Riding with one leg.

Mick's leg would never be the same again after his Assen crash, and – being his right – he'd now lost use of the rear brake. The early races of 93 saw him struggle to regain fitness and ride – let alone race – the NSR.

It was only when the now famous thumb operated rear brake was fitted did he begin to threaten the front-runners once again.

Doohan took four brave pole positions and one victory [at Mugello] that year, but it will always be remembered for Wayne Rainey's paralysing crash at Misano.

With his friend never to ride a GP racer again, Mick faced Laguna Seca with a heavy heart – and it would do him now favours, he ran wide while exiting the cockscrew, hit the Armco and broke his collarbone.

Just how much punishment could one body take..?

Mick didn't even start the final race, he could still barely walk [from his Assen crash over a year before] let alone ride and needed time to recover.

1994 – Mick takes the title.

Following Rothmans departure to F1 with Williams, Doohan was teamed with up and coming Spaniard Alex Criville on the now unsponsored factory Hondas.

Mick – now approaching race fitness and more determined than ever – began the year with a solid 3rd at Eastern Creek, before taking the first of nine victories that season next time out at Malaysia.

Doohan also laid a ghost to rest when he took pole and victory at Assen – the circuit that had been his jinx for so long. He still didn't like it though.

Desperate not to repeat his '92 disaster, Doohan delayed all title discussions – despite his massive points lead – until he finally sealed his first championship, at round 11 [of 14] – the Czech Republic Grand Prix.

Finally, Mick had claimed his place in history.

1995 – Easy year?

1995 should have been easy for Doohan at the now Repsol backed factory Honda team. He'd destroyed everyone the year before and with many of his old adversaries having retired, it was now 'new boys' Criville, Barros and Capirossi who were his only real rivals, and no-one would put them anywhere near Doohan.

Unfortunately, the expectation put Mick in an unusual situation that he found hard to adapt to. Nevertheless, he took pole for the first six races in a row, and the records tumbled as he took a total of nine pole positions and seven victories on his way to title number two, but this had been 'expected' all along – it was more relief than elation when it was finally decided in Argentina [round 12 of 13].

1996 – Making a fight of it.

The European new boys finally stepped up their game in 1996 and Doohan now had a real fight on his hands. Luca Cadalora won the first race of the year, but Mick took pole and victory next time out at Indonesia.

However, the quiet Criville was now rising to the fore and – swept along on the Spanish patriotism – was eager to prove he could beat his esteemed team-mate at his home GP in Jerez.

Criville and Doohan battled spectacularly to the last lap, but then a track invasion and last corner crash by Criville handed Doohan an unpopular [in the local eyes] victory.

With Criville's confidence shaken, Doohan notched up another three victories in a row and was well in command of the title when he was surprisingly beaten by Criville at Austria. The dark eyed Spaniard finally claiming his first ever 500cc victory.

Although Doohan took the title – anything else would have been a shock – the latter part of the year was marred by 'tow truck' allegations directed towards Criville, who would follow until the last lap then attack.

Mick wanted a return to the 'straight' races of the past, Criville didn't care – it might not be pretty, but being 'towed' by Mick was his best chance of beating him. Just to add to the tension in the Honda camp, Criville rammed Doohan off at the last Grand Prix of the year.

1997 – 'Screaming' Doohan's greatest year.

1997 should have seen Criville raise himself further and take the fight to Doohan – but changes to Mick's NSR – and the Aussies enthusiasm to destroy the opposition put an end to anyone's thoughts of taking his #1 plate.

On the machinery side, Doohan had taken a gamble by opting for a return to the 'screamer' even order engine firing configuration – the one that had spat him off so regularly at the start of his GP career.

The bike was undoubtedly quicker on paper that way, the only trouble for his fellow Honda opposition was that they couldn't control it, and team-mates Criville and now Tady Okada chose to stick with the ‘big bang' after finding the spinning rear tyre from Doohan's back wheel shedding smoke out of every turn more than a little intimidating.

But the year would be Honda's as well as Doohan's: 15 out of 15 wins for HRC with Mick taking a record breaking 12 of them. He also took 12 [consecutive] pole positions and finished 2nd in the three races he didn't win – incredible.

Okada surprised by offering early season opposition, but faded into Doohan's shadow as the Aussie began his win streak that would see him crowned four times World Champion at Donington, with four races to go.

1998 – Doohan vs. Biaggi vs. Criville.

1998 saw a new rival appear on the 500cc scene in the shape of flamboyant 250cc ace Max Biaggi. The Italian was eager to prove he was truly one of the greats by adding a premier class title to his four quarter litre crowns.

It was hard to pick two more opposite people and he and Doohan were heading for a titanic clash – both on and off the track - from the start, but Biaggi backed up his pre-season claims by winning first time out at Suzuka.

Mick reset the order with victory at Malaysia, then Criville the joined the fight with a emotional home victory at Jerez – and that kick started the Spaniard to further success – he led the points standings by mid season, helped partially by two DNF's for Doohan.

However, victories for the Aussie at Assen and Germany put him back on top – just – with five rounds to go.

Then Mick made an unusual – and potentially costly - error when he fell from the Czech Grand Prix, allowing Brno ace Biaggi to take victory and the point's lead, while Criville moved into second.

Doohan fought back by robbing Biaggi of victory in his home GP at Imola, but he Biaggi and Criville were almost even on points as they entered the Catalan Grand Prix – another of Crivlle's home events in motorcycle mad Spain.

However, the pressure once again got to Criville and he fell early on – the consequence of this was that Biaggi ignored the yellow flags for the incident and then infamously ignored the black flag calling him in to serve a penalty.

The Roman was excluded from the race classification and race winner Doohan now had only to win at Phillip Island to take the title.

This Mick did in style, with pole position and a lights to flag victory to give him a fantastic fifth world title. As the Aussies cheered their hero on the podium they had no idea it would be his last GP on home soil.

1999 – End of an era.

1999 began poorly by Mick's standards, a fourth at the new Sepang circuit in the season opener [the race was won by Kenny Roberts Jr] and then a second at a soaking Motegi again behind the Suzuki mounted KR Jr. – but it would get much worse for Doohan when the circus moved to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix, and what would be his last race.

Having walked the tightrope that is riding a 500cc MotoGP machine for so many years and recovered [well partially] from so many accidents, Jerez would be the track at which the tightrope finally broke. There would be no coming back from this one.

The crash occurred during first qualifying; Doohan ran wide at high speed and touched a slippery white line. His NSR's rear wheel promptly ‘spun up' and he was highsided at over 200 km/h.

Mick slammed into an unprotected area of Armco, breaking his wrist, collarbone, foot, hand, leg and ribs to name but the main injuries.

Despite initial claims that he would stage yet another comeback, Doohan finally admitted he'd have to retire some eight months later. The legacy of the Jerez crash was a succession of operations that would continue for years after his retirement, his leg and foot now held together with complex metalwork.

In his absence, team-mate Criville finally took what would be his only 500cc World Championship.

After his retirement, Doohan took up the position of General Manager of Racing for HRC and has guided Valentino Rossi to two titles since he moved into the premier MotoGP class.

Mick Doohan – Main MotoGP achievements:
  • 500cc Grand Prix starts: 137
  • 500cc Grand Prix victories: 54
  • 500cc Grand Prix podiums: 95
  • 500cc Grand Prix Pole positions: 58
  • 500cc World Championships: 5 ['94, '95, '96, '97 and '98]

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