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Riding Honda’s factory 500s at Goodwood

Published: 08 July 2001

Updated: 19 November 2014

I’m about to ride my dream bike – Mick Doohan’s NSR500. The one that took Doohan on to his second title with seven wins in 1995. All 180bhp and more of its savage two-stroke power around a park in the middle of a country estate at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

I’m crapping myself and just to make things easier there are 100,000 people waiting for me to stall it off the line. The pressure is immense as the bike’s run up to temperature before it’s put out on display with a novice (in 500 terms) operating the throttle.

Because of commitments at the British GP, the man himself couldn’t make it to Chichester for the Goodwood Festival of Speed. So I was invited to ride his bike instead!

Freddie Spencer couldn’t get over from the U.S. to ride his 1984 three-cylinder NS500 either, so I got the nod. It’s the last Honda V3 Spencer raced in 1984. Just for good measure, Honda also let me loose on Eddie Lawson’s 1989 world championship-winning NSR500 – after Wayne Gardner had finished with it and decided he wanted a go on Doohan’s bike. Surreal? I still can’t believe it’s happening.

After the briefing on the NSR, which I got to ride first, the assembled bikes and heroes, including Gardner, Jim Redman, Luigi Taveri, Mick Grant, and, er, me, head down to the holding area where the Formula One teams have set-up for their demo run on the hillclimb.

I’m a complete bag of nerves. The fact that this bike – and all the others I’m due to ride – is insured for £1 million doesn’t help. But as soon as I climb on and crack the throttle to hear that two-stroke rasp, things seem a lot better.

Sitting in the holding, area I’m beginning to feel comfortable – even though I haven’t seen the one-mile hill climb and have never ridden this bike in my life.

Just as I’m starting to feel relaxed a certain Wayne Gardner pipes up with some advice: " That bike’s got carbon-fibre discs and pads so you really should be careful as one minute there’ll be no brakes, especially at a place like this where they won’t get a chance to get warm, and the next minute they’ll have you over the front. "

I laugh nervously and Gardner, also here to do some demo runs on the NSRs, takes it as meaning I think he’s joking. He says: " I’m serious, Marc, they could get you in real trouble. " Just to top it off he starts sniggering about how big I look on the tiny NSR!

This is from a man who rode during the period that some call the golden era of bike GPs, who manages the up-and-coming Broc Parkes in WSB and who races cars in the GT series in Australia and Japan.

We get the all-clear from the marshals and I jump start the NSR. Gearbox up, kill switch on and bang… clutch out and off she goes.

The assembled bikes and riders are led down to the start line and I’m sat in a cacophony of noise that money could not even begin to buy. Jostling for a place next to me is Paul Smart on his 1970s Ducati and behind him is Carl Fogarty on the bike he took to his last world title.

Next there’s Doug Polen’s mechanic on Polen’s Ducati 888 and John Reynolds on his Red Bull Ducati. On my left is Gardner, who seems to be the nicest man in the world, and just behind me is off-road god John Deacon on his monstrous BMW Dakar bike, who tells me: " I think I’m going to ride on the grass as I feel a lot safer that way. My tyres are half flat and they’ve still got the mousse in them I used in the Dakar! "

This is not right. I do not deserve to be in such high company. But hey, I’m here now and I’m going to milk it for all its worth. And I’m still scared.

Read more of Marc Potter’s experience at Goodwood in Wednesday’s MCN. We’ll be adding the full version of the feature to the News Features part of the site later this week, too.

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