Alan Carter "mighty mouse", between meteoric success and unfulfilled design!
Text: Luís Cardoso
Le Mans, 1983
Alan Carter, born in Halifax on August 19, 1964, was the surprising winner of the 1983 French GP, held at Le Mans, in the 250cc class. With this achievement, in the second GP in which he participated, Alan left an indelible mark in the history of motorcycling, he became the youngest (18 years and 227 days), until then, winner of a GP! For more than 20 years this feat remained in his possession, today, he still remains among the youngest to have achieved this feat, despite the minimum age to participate in the World Championship having dropped to 15 years. Alan Carter was hailed as the next Barry Sheene in the early 1980s, but the young Briton never got the factory bikes he deserved and his career was a tale of broken promises. Alan Carter was a GP rookie when he appeared at Le Mans in April 1983, the second World Championship race of that year. Two weeks before, he made his debut at the GP in Kyalami, classified in 18th, that is, nobody expected anything special from the young Briton in Le Mans.
Le Mans, 1983
Except for the Carter family – father Mal, Alan and older brother Kenny, who is twice British Speedway Champion. "Big" Mal Carter melted a lot of money into races and only allowed his boys to consider a result in any race or championship. So, despite Alan being a GP apprentice, he has looked back on his rookie season with outsized confidence: “I thought I would win the title for sure”, he says, “I didn't even think it would be difficult.” His arrogance had some basis: the weekend after the end of the 1982 GP season and a few weeks after his 18th birthday, Carter won an international race at Donington, defeating several GP drivers. That success was the corollary of a meteoric rise on the British sport motorcycle scene, during which he won his first national championship aged 16, at a time when that was the minimum age to participate. In 1983 Carter was on a new team, run by the then UK YAMAHA importer MITSUI.
Alan's autobiographical book cover: Light in the Darkness
Gained access to the TZ250 with some factory tricks, however, at Kyalami, he had a rude awakening: “The front riders’ bikes were phenomenal – everything was bespoke – we couldn’t get close to them.” Perhaps Le Mans would be better, the French track was tighter than Kyalami, a real haven for drivers like Carter. The weather was awful all weekend - freezing cold, lots of rain, even a few squalls of snow - but that didn't bother someone who had learned his trade at Cadwell and Oulton. However, Carter had serious problems with the bike during practice and qualified 31st: "We had some new ignition parts and the bike was seizing on the two cylinders, it was only in the last practice that we did some good laps." He wasn't the only one in trouble, the conditions were so cold that everyone was scrambling to try to warm up the tyres: "There were a lot of accidents because DUNLOP created new tires for 1983 and they were too hard for the conditions." Of course, Carter was in the same boat as every other DUNLOP equipped rider, at least he was until his mechanic Howard Gregory - who won three 500cc world titles with Wayne Rainey - discovered that the team's truck had a front tire from the previous year that had not been used.
"We happened to have that advantage from the year before, Dunlop knew and wanted the tire for one of their riders who qualified on the front row, but my dad basically told them to fuck off." When they lined up for the start, Carter couldn't even see the front line, led by local hero Christian Sarron: “It must have been a hundred meters from the front line to where I was. I remember thinking, shit, I don't have a chance.” The race started and Carter began passing his rivals one by one - passing some in the corners and sliding past others as they sped through the pits on the fast main straight and uphill, by the time the race was halfway through he was in eighth position, although not was aware of it. “I realized that everyone was doing the straight line leaning to the right of the white line, which was a few meters from the rails to the left of the track, I used the left of that line, between the other riders and the rails, so I couldn't see my pit-board ." “There are three things I remember clearly from that race: Sito Pons was leading and missed braking on one of the hairpins, the reigning world champion, Jean-Louis Tournadre, fell in front of me and I almost ran him over. At that time it started to rain or snow lightly. Thierry Rapicault who was immediately ahead of me slowed down, that's when I passed him." Carter still didn't have a clear idea of the position he was in or how many laps he had completed: “I had no idea what position I was in, but there was a moment when I became aware that I was on the podium. It was like: Shit, I'm in the top three."
Even on the slow-down lap he wasn't sure of the outcome – perhaps the winner was already out of sight: “When I pulled into the pits, the first person I saw was Norrie Whyte [legendary MCN reporter]. He was jumping. I asked him who had won and he looked at me stupefied and said: you won! I was like, what?!" “It was just like that. My adrenaline was pumping so I didn't think about it, but it was an incredible experience. I won from the back – it was a combination of incredible riding and the best preparation of the day, like all GP winners. There are still people who come up to me, look me in the eye and just say, I was there." After the race, Carter was in a daze, he can't even remember the podium celebrations. “But, I remember Kenny Roberts coming to my trailer to congratulate me. So we had a big party at a local hotel and were completely off the hook.” After the illusion, the setbacks... Carter's victory wasn't just surprising, it was historic! Carter remains the third youngest winner in the intermediate class, behind Marc Márquez (18 years and 87 days) and Dani Pedrosa (18 years and 202 days), who made their GP debuts aged 15 and who were trained by experienced mentors .
Alan Carter with Barry Sheene, 1983, Kyalami
Márquez is mentored by former 125 World Champion Emilio Alzamora, Pedrosa by former 500 GP winner Alberto Puig. Perhaps if Carter had his own guiding guru his GP career would have amounted to more than a single GP win, instead the Le Mans surge was followed by a dismal year of crashes, broken bones and bike problems. On several occasions he kept pace with the leaders, only to then throw it all away, often in spectacular fashion, in fact he didn't score a single point until the last race of the season. Barry Sheene, then nearing the end of his career, was so concerned about Carter wasting his talent that he asked that year's 250cc world champion Carlos Lavado to have a talk with the youngster. And, during this period, he always had to deal with the supervision of his authoritarian father, always with scathing criticism and often dubious performance bonuses. At Assen, Mal struck the following deal: "If you qualify on the front row, we'll go to town and you can 'play' for free in the red light district."
Before road racing, the Speedway Meanwhile, the injuries piled up: “I had a lot of big crashes, especially a huge one on Jarama that weakened me a lot. In Rijeka, I broke both ankles during training and my father still mistreated me, he always put a lot of pressure on me.” By the time he arrived at Spa in July, his confidence had suffered so badly that he didn't even qualify. In the following years, Carter had several victories and podiums within his reach, however, he accumulated technical problems and crashes. His career became the story of an unfulfilled promise. He had his best season in 1985, when he finished seventh in the championship, riding a Honda RS250 among the factory bikes. He completed his last GP in 1990.
“You have to remember that in 1983 I was 18 years old and very naive. I didn't have a chance, when we got to the European tracks because all the other riders were top, had more knowledge of the circuits and had all the paraphernalia of tricks: different carbs for different circuits, specific ignitions for each occasion, everything! If I had had a setup like Pons I think I would have gotten some world titles." “I'm not being funny, but for me not to become World Champion was unbelievable – I was so much better than anybody. It's hard to believe I only won one race, but that's how it happened and I'm not bitter. At least I gave it all I had.” Under the baton of "King" Kenny From the start, Alan Carter's rookie proved to the world that he had talent, although he spent more time behind than on the podium. At the end of the season, "king" Kenny Roberts retired and decided to form his own team. The three-time 500cc world champion has always said that you can teach a fast rider to slow down, but you can't teach a slow rider to go fast. Carter was therefore an obvious choice for the first Marlboro Team Roberts lineup in 1984.
“When Kenny called and asked me to race for him, I couldn't say no,” recalls Carter, “He said he wanted me to be on his team along with an American guy.” The American lad was a young Californian named Wayne Rainey, fresh off his first big success in sprint racing, the 1983 AMA Superbike title. “People ask me if I was intimidated by Wayne, I just laugh because I was the youngest GP winner and I had never heard of that guy. No disrespect, but in my head I was going to win the 250cc World Championship.” Team Roberts' first setup looked nothing like the massive 500cc frames the American had in the 1990s, when he had the biggest team in the paddock. “Wayne and I sleep in the same trailer, on bunk beds. He was a nice guy, I couldn't imagine a more suitable teammate. But I never thought he would get what he got – after 84 he came back to the States.” Inevitably, Roberts spent more time training Rainey, whom he has helped since he switched from dirt tracks to road racing.
1984, Alan Carter, Kenny Roberts and Wayne Rainey
“Kenny knew what he was talking about, he was incredibly knowledgeable and still very fast. Wayne and I were sad at Circuit Paul Ricard because our bikes were so slow, so Kenny said, what's wrong? We said the bikes are shit so he said he better go for a ride and identify the problem. He came out onto the track and was a second faster than me and Wayne!" “It really motivated me because in my previous experience, my father was always reinforcing a negative motivation: saying that I would never be able to do this or that. I ended up qualifying on the front row – we both needed a kick in the ass, we had gone into a downward spiral." "Big" Mal Carter The Carters were the UK's largest family of pilots during the early 1980s. Halifax tough man Mal Carter was the man who sponsored young Ron Haslam - through his PHARAOH car dealerships - spent a fortune on his sons' careers, leading Alan to GP glory and older brother Kenny to success in the English Speedway scene. Mal was the scariest man on the British motorcycling scene – handy with his fists and didn't like to be confronted. “When someone asked him to show his paddock pass, my dad would just point at his face and say, that's my fucking pass, don't you know who I am?” Carter wrote in his brilliant autobiography, Light in the Darness: “Sometimes he threatened them. Occasionally, I might even hit them."
“My father was a diamond in the rough: farmer, fighter, car dealer. I was scared to death of him. It was very, very verbally abusive and scary. It never hit me, although I was always afraid it would." Big Mal's main motivation in racing was to "beat the factories", so he wasn't too pleased when Haslam signed for Honda and he wasn't impressed when Alan signed for Team Roberts Yamaha either. Tragedy struck the family in 1986 when Kenny murdered his wife and then turned the gun on himself.
No período entre 1987 e 1990, Alan participou esporadicamente nalgumas provas de GP250 sem sucesso digno de nota.
Hoje é um reconhecido coach no Reino Unido.
Le Mans, 1983, at a stage of the race when Alan Carter was already in the front group!
JJ COBAS, 1986