As MotoGP races into the 21st century, famous road circuits that were once graced by the early pioneers in the fifties and sixties are no longer on the grand prix schedule. The TT races in the Isle of Man and classic circuits such as Spa Francorchamps in Belgium and Imatra in Finland have fallen by the wayside.

Modern machinery and much improved safety demands have brought about the World Championship demise of such magnificent venues. However, others such as Brno have flourished after realising that a new era in motorcycle racing was approaching. For ex-GP stars Randy Mamola and Sito Pons, strong memories of the old track have become complimented by the 'fantastic' new Czech circuit - scene of this weekend's Grand Prix.

Brno was right up there with the very top road circuits in the world when it staged its first Czechoslovakian 500cc Grand Prix in 1965. The late great Mike Hailwood won the 13-lap race round the tortuous 13.940km road circuit. Riding the MV Agusta he defeated his team-mate Giacomo Agostini by over 1 minute in a race that took an incredible 1hour 11mins 23.2secs.

The track raced through the surrounding villages and fields of billowing corn before rising to its highest point through the woods before plunging down towards the start and finish. It was the ultimate test for man and machine. For some it came as quite a shock.

''I remember going out on my very first lap at Brno down the start and finish straight and into the village and seeing people sitting in their gardens or on the pavements eating their breakfasts,'' said 13 times 500cc Grand Prix winner, Californian Randy Mamola. ''I was just 16 years old and could not believe it. This was my first visit to Czechoslovakia and everything about it was very very different from home. It was a great circuit to race on and I remember that cobble like surface through the villages and then the down hill stretch towards the final bend and the start and finish. In many ways it was the ultimate test but like all the roads circuits it was always going to be dangerous.''

Mamola, who was runner-up four times in the World 500cc Championship, is one of the few riders to compete on the road circuit and the magnificent new permanent circuit that staged it's first grand prix in 1987. He finished fourth in the race won by Australian World Champion Wayne Gardner.

''What an incredible track and I don't think any of us could believe that such a circuit could be constructed at Brno when we returned in 1987,'' he recalled. ''The setting in the natural bowl is brilliant for spectators while the track still is a great test for both rider and machine but in a very different and safer way to the old circuit.''

The original road circuit was shortened to 10.920kms in 1975 and staged its last 500cc grand prix in 1977 and was won by Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto riding the Yamaha.

The smaller classes continued until 1982 when another Venezuelan Carlos Lavado won the last 250cc grand prix to be held on the road circuit. However, instead of bemoaning the demise of the grand prix at such a famous venue plans were already being formulated to bring Brno into the 21st century. Nobody was disappointed when those plans finally came to fruition in 1987 with the opening of the new permanent circuit in the wooded hills high above the ancient city.

The new 5.394km circuit wound its way around a natural wooded bowl embracing all the characteristics of the old road circuit while meeting all modern day aspects of safety. Mamola and those riders loved the medium speed corners, the long start and finish straight and the winding hilly contours while spectators, who turned up in their hundreds of thousands filled the grassy banks that surrounded the ribbon of tarmac. Brno 1987 was back on the grand prix calendar and everybody seemed delighted.

''The Czech people are great lovers and supporters of motorcycle racing and there is always a terrific atmosphere at the circuit during the grands prix,'' explained Sito Pons, the General Manager of West Honda Pons and who also has happy memories of the new circuit as a rider. ''I have particular fond memories of Brno because I scored a podium finish there in 1988 in my first championship-winning season.''

Pons is also President of The International Road Racing Teams Association who have nothing but praise for the way Brno has kept abreast with modern day safety requirements while also updating its facilities.

''Over the years many improvements have been made to the circuit and it's facilities and there has been a constant willingness by the organisers to raise the standards of comfort, safety and efficiency for the teams and spectators. A good example has been the building of the impressive new paddock area two years ago,'' said the former double World 250 Champion. ''The track is wide and fast which always makes for exciting racing. It is however, also one of the safest which is a very important factor for teams and riders.''

The people of Brno are proud of their motorsport heritage and so they should be. From those village cobbles and fields of billowing corn, echoing to the sounds of the MV Agusta to the weaving contours of the new circuit, embracing the two-stroke wail and four-stroke growl of 21st century MotoGP racing, they have always been ahead of the game.



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