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Undisputed champ of the nineties

Ask any road racing fan for the most recognizable color combination in MotoGP and he or she will definitely end up with Repsol Honda's. Repsol's very defining orange/ red circle has graced the bodywork of the Hondas since the mid-1990s. The oil giant stepped in at the most perfect time, because they immediately hitched a ride on the success of an Australian hero: Mick Doohan.

Mick Doohan, hero of yesteryear

For the 1995 season, Honda's factory team colors will change and Repsol will feature prominently on the fairings of Mick Doohan, Alex Crivillè and Sinichi Itoh. The timing is great, because at the same time a big “1” onto one of the Repsol Hondas, Doohan’s bike. A year before, he started rolling out his dominance in the Grand Prix paddock. In ྚ he won his first world title. Four races before the end of the season, Michael Sydney Doohan can no longer be overtaken by men like Cadalora, Kocinski and Schwantz. It may be called a miracle that the Australian can be crowned world champion, because two years before he experienced a horror crash at the Circuit of Assen, the Netherlands.

It was a close call if Doohan could ride a Grand Prix after the 1992 TT. Mick fell off his NSR500 and while his body turned, his leg hung under the engine. The Honda rider not only sustained fractures in his right calf and shin bone, he also had to contend with a serious infection. The surgeons at the local Wilhelmina hospital even see the need to amputate his lower leg, but Grand Prix doctor Claudio Costa intervenes. He operates Doohan in his own clinic and sews both parts together. The method turns out to work, Costa prevents an amputation.

Although Doohan’s right leg has been rescued, he still has a bunch of problems while riding. The Australian can barely use his rear break because he lacks strength in his leg. His chief mechanic Jeremy Burgess comes up with a solution, the thumb brake. It ensures that Mick Doohan can still get the most out of his Honda which leads to his first world championship in 1994. Doohan’s hegemony in the Grand Prix paddock lasted until 1998, when he managed to grab a world title for the fifth time. Despite his bad right leg, he knows how to impose his will on everyone in those years and wins. “A rock-hard rider”, former GP rider Jurgen van den Goorbergh recalls. The Dutchman is also on the starting grid of the 500 cc World Cup during Doohan’s last couple of seasons.

"He’s the greatest rider of the nineties without a doubt, Mick was just one level higher than all his competitors." According to Van den Goorbergh, the five-time world champion owes this to his pure riding talent, combined with an unprecedented mentality. “He always wants to win, at all costs. You actually only find that quality now in Marc Marquez. Physically he was also a special case. He was very strong, especially his upper body. That was of course to compensate for his bad leg.” That unprecedented drive ensures that Mick Doohan is not the most loved driver in the paddock. He is known as a not too easy person. Yet van den Goorbergh also got to see another side of the top racer. “We lived close to each other and I sometimes went for coffee with Mick. He had already stopped by that point, but I could always visit him to discuss various matters with him. I secretly learned a lot from that.”

Sputtering body

The fact that Mick Doohan ultimately has five world titles to his name is perhaps not very strange. The Australian already showed before his Grand Prix career that he knew how to get around fast on a motorcycle. In 1987 he managed to impress during guest appearances in the eight hours of Suzuka and Formula 1 TT (sort of predecessor of the World Superbike Championship, ed.). The following year he actually broke through when he won three races in the first World Championship Superbike season. The Japanese manufacturers line up for Mick's signature and eventually he chooses Honda. After a fine debut season, he won his very first Grand Prix in 1990, at the Hungaroring in Hungary. Doohan added another 53 wins. And that could have been even more.

In 1999, the Repsol Honda driver was looking for a sixth consecutive world title, but then things went wrong during the third GP of the year. At Circuito de Jerez, he crashed hard in a wet qualifying session and then underwent multiple operations on the leg, wrist and shoulder. The Australian would like to return, but the body is fighting too hard. At the age of 34, he has to throw in the towel and his GP career comes to an end after eleven seasons. The result is five world titles, the necessary records and one broken body. For a long time, Doohan remained associated with Honda, but after 2004 he focused more and more on his own companies. In recent years, 55-year-old Doohan can be found regularly on the track again, supporting his son Jack. He is trying to make a career in motorsport and has now entered Formula 3. Van den Goorbergh: “I hope for Jack that he has the same drive as his father. If that's the case, I expect we'll see him in Formula 1 in a while. There is hardly any other way.”

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