SYDNEY (Reuters) – Mick Doohan dominated the top class of motorcycle racing for half a decade at the end of the last century, wiping the floor with the competition to win five consecutive 500cc world championships.
Ice cool, brave, ultra-aggressive, dismissive of pain and competitive to the point of mania, the Australian controlled the snorting, bucking power of the two-stroke 500cc machine like no one else.
“Doohan was a driven man, to the scariest of degrees, he used to go racing like there were demons chasing him, and if he ever slowed down, they’d have him,” respected motorcycling journalist Mat Oxley wrote of the Queenslander.
“There was a terrorised urgency to his riding, he forced the bike down into corners, hunched over the front like some kind of desperado…
“Who knows what drove him, but the inside of a racer’s head is a strange place: weird forces driving weird psyches to take weird risks.”
Doohan, who started riding dirt bikes at the age of nine, was working as a swimming pool concreter and hanging out with Britain’s twice world champion Barry Sheene on the Gold Coast when a breakout season in Superbikes caught the eye of Honda.
He joined the powerhouse team in 1989 and quickly found his feet, looking set to win his maiden world title in 1992 before a nasty crash during practice for the Dutch TT at Assen shattered his right leg.
A hospital infection would have cost him the limb had famed motorsports clinician Dr Claudio Costa not sewn it together with his left leg in a revolutionary procedure that had the Australian back on his bike four rounds later.
The right leg was permanently damaged, however, and Doohan struggled in the 1993 season until chief mechanic Jeremy Burgess rigged up rear brake control that could be triggered by his thumb rather than his foot.
The first world title came in 1994 on the back of nine wins in 14 rounds and he defended it in dominant fashion over the following two years.
He raised the standard even higher in 1997 when he won 12 of 15 races and finished second in two.
The one blemish was at his home Australian Grand Prix when he and team mate Alex Criville came together but he made amends the following year when he clinched the fifth straight world title at Phillip Island.
He called it quits at the age of 34 after another serious crash in qualifying for the third round of the 1999 season at Jerez left him with a broken leg, wrist and collarbone as well as muscle damage to his back.
Doohan has since built a successful business career selling corporate jets and the motorsport world has perhaps not heard the last of the Doohan family with his 17-year-old son Jack a promising driver in Formula 3.
His retirement would be followed by eras of dominance for Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez but, along with Giacomo Agostini, Doohan would still have to be part of any conversation about the greatest road racer of all time.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)