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The eternal seconds

Text: Alex Ricci (

Pictures: MotoGP, WorldSBK, Lisa Daniel Photography e

“Second is the first of the losers” is a famous phrase by Enzo Ferrari that condemns with brutal irony all those who approach victory and that we have heard used over time as a provocation, probably after an overwhelming triumph of the winner of the day.

But what is ruthlessly true and what should not be taken seriously in such a statement?

Coming from a character like 'Dragon', always competing against everyone with his 'machines', it's not too surprising and has a peculiar touch, but the truth is that among the great runners-up there are a few as important as a real winner.

Randy Mamola, 15 years old, just arrived from the USA. Due to his age, he was prevented from taking part in the 1974 edition of the 100 Miles of Imola, in Italy Randy Mamola, the two-wheel funambulist The first to remember is certainly Randy Mamola, a rider who spent the best years of his career in MotoGP from 1979 to 1992 and especially in the 500cc class. A native of San José, Santa Clara County, California, he achieved a total of thirteen major class wins, a feat that would have been enough to win at least two world titles in the 1980s. Mamola (pronounced with the accent on the o), was a funambol on two wheels, capable of spectacular numbers on any track and at any stage of a race, which went down in history for finishing second four times and third twice, caressing the world championship without ever winning it.

Randy Mamola with the Rothmans Honda NSR500 at Assen in 1985 The first occasion was in the 1980 season, with a Suzuki, when he had to surrender to the 'Martian' Kenny Roberts, who was 'preparing' his third consecutive title, while in 1981, on the same bike, he finished in second place. behind Marco Lucchinelli, in his only triumph on the Suzuki for the Gallina team. His third second-place finish came in 1984, when on a Honda he was beaten in the final table by Eddie Lawson, to repeat three seasons later, this time on a Yamaha and behind Wayne Gardner.

Randy Mamola in a famous snowball battle with Jean-François Baldé. It was 1982 and it was snowing on the Salzburgring circuit in Austria The two third-place finishes came in the 1983 seasons, when he was beaten by Freddie Spencer and Roberts, and in 1986, behind Lawson and Gardner. In summary, it is quite clear that for Randy, meeting these riders was decisive for his results, but he remains one of the most acclaimed and remembered of the American school and the golden age of the premier class.

Aaron Slight designed by Castrol Honda's RVF750 RC45 during heat two of the Hockenheim round in 1997 Aaron Slight, the Maori warrior Aaron Slight is, in his own right, the best known New Zealand motorcycle racer of the last thirty years. Talent on the track and character on and off the paddock, he was one of the best performers in the early Superbike era, approaching the title twice and finishing third on four occasions (three of which were consecutive). A native of Masterton, he made his debut early, winning the Australian and Pan Pacific Championships in 1991 and the Suzuka 8 Hours three times between 1993 and 1995. In Superbike, he started with the Bimota, but it was with the Kawasaki that he achieved his first victory. Switched to Honda and once again finished third in triple way.

Slight with John Kocinski, who would become world champion, and Sinichi Itoh, on his right. On his left side is Yuichi Takeda, the fourth element that Honda Castrol fielded at the home round in Sugo, Japan. It was in 1996 that he fought for his first title and with just one victory and eleven podiums he had to give up the lead to Troy Corser. The following year he was third for the fourth time, while in 1998, with five wins and five second places, he could do nothing against the 'King' Carl Fogarty and finished second for the second time. Nicknamed the 'Maori warrior' due to his origins, or simply the 'Kiwi', Slight had a mohawk haircut with a crest of hair dyed green or red and sported a surfer physique.

His mohawk crest was Slight's trademark. It could change color from one test to the next. We were in 1996. Accustomed to wearing the number '3' on his helmet, after three third consecutive places he changed it to '111', almost as if to exorcise his three missed opportunities, not knowing that his years of eternal second place had only reached halfway. Interestingly, from 2007 to 2011 and in the Superbike category, Rubén Xaus also used '111' on his fairing, just like Luca Ottaviani currently does, in the Supersport class of the CIV, the Italian speed championship.

Tom Sykes with the Rizla Suzuki GSX-R1000 with which he competed for the first time in the World Superbike, when passing through Donington in 2008. Here 'wrapped' with Leon Haslam, in front of the spectator Cal Fogarty. Tom Sykes, it was almost an eternal second He could have been an eternal second, and in part he was, but Tom Sykes did it. The Huddersfield rider was the only rider to bring the Superbike title back to Kawasaki after a 20-year drought. He too would have been successful the year before, but a series of combinations and a halving score at the Silverstone round meant the Englishman lost the title to Italian Max Biaggi. Attention, the privateer in no way had a demerit, but it is curious how a pilot can finish in second place by only half a point of difference. His debut in the championship for motorcycles derived from the series dates back to 2008, when he participated in two races as a 'wild-card' with the Suzuki GSX-R1000 with which he raced in the British championship.

Tom Sykes already with the Kawasaki that would take him to the title in 2013. Here, the results were still somewhat painful, as in this visit to Assen, in 2010. In 2009 he became a permanent teammate of Ben Spies in the official Yamaha team. Next to the Texan, who devoured his rivals by winning the title, Tom was almost always among the top ten without ever reaching the podium. It seemed to be an opaque season, without too many pretensions, but the following year, when he switched to Kawasaki, the results dropped drastically and, despite having one victory, for two seasons he finished thirteenth and fourteenth respectively. The ZX-10R didn't look like a winning bike, instead in 2012 came four wins and nine podiums.

Tom Sykes' tenure at BMW Motorrad as an official driver had many ups and downs, such as the crash at the start of Sunday's race at Magny Cours, which put two official machines out of the race at the very first corner. With the highest number of podiums won, he did not win the championship, settling for second place, which seemed to be a curse. Fortunately, in 2013 Sykes won the Superbike World Championship with nine wins and nine podiums. The second laurel wreath for Kawasaki after Scott Russell in 1993 was the prelude to Jonathan Rea's cycle of six consecutive titles from 2015 to 2020. With the shortest lead ever in the 2012 Superbike standings, if he hadn't won the following year, Sykes would have been more likely to be remembered for that missed world championship by half a point than for his fine victories.

Cirillo 'Nello' Pagani with the Mondial 125 that took him to the world title in 1949. ‘Nello’ Pagani, best known for the championship he didn’t win… Let's conclude with a jump in time and go to 1949. The rules of the Motorcycle World Championship stated: “Pour le meilleur tour accompli par un concurrent classé: 1 point” and this rule was decisive in awarding the first historic title to Leslie Graham, in AJS, who at the end of the season had scored 28 points , one less than Nello Pagani, Gilera's top rider, who saw his historic first world championship in the 500 class slip away. Moving from the European Championships to the World Championships, the official language in which the regulations were written was French.

In the Italian translation, an error was made in which it was thought that the best overall lap of the race counted if the driver qualified. The difference between the two versions was not worth the appeal of the Italian Federation and, with 30 points, Graham became Class 500 champion. Thus ended the first year of the World Championship for Cirillo ‘Nello’ Pagani, from Milan and one of the greatest aces of Italian motorcycles, with a career spanning forty years, from 1927 to 1967 and a world war in between. He was among the most eclectic riders racing history has ever known.

His only title was in 1949, in a Mondial 125, but that lost championship is still famous.



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