Among the ranks of Giacomo Agostini, Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez, Australian Mick Doohan is one of the most highly regarded riders in the history of the sport.
While he has several world titles to show for it, they came with a tale of one of the greatest comebacks to date. In June 1992, Mick Doohan’s right leg was due to be amputated following an accident at the Dutch TT. By September 1998, the Honda rider had won five consecutive world titles.
“I didn’t crash much, but when I did, I did it properly.”
Doohan was in his third year of Grand Prix racing at the time of the crash, after making a name for himself in the Superbike paddock. He had found adapting to the machines trickier than expected and had to “dig deep to not just give up and go back to superbikes.”
Yet his debut seasons at GP level saw him turn heads and resulted in him placing third and second consecutively. By season number three in 1992, the title looked to be his with 65 points in the lead.
But a crash during practise resulting in serious damage to his leg meant he couldn’t ride for eight weeks, as what should’ve been a simple operation was plagued with impatience and medical complications.
“I had a British neurosurgeon saying come to the UK and an American guy who was saying come to the US, but I said let’s just get it done, let’s just go here.”
Doohan was led to believe that the doctors were incompetent, and credits the determination of Grand Prix medical officer, Dr Claudio Costa, for getting him the right medical care and saving his leg at a critical time.
After this trauma, the recovery process was slow. The Honda racer struggled to compete at the same elite level he had been used to. But switching to a thumb-operated rear brake revolutionised the way he rode and has been used by injured riders, such as Rossi, since.
Doohan claimed that there is no “magic formula” to his distinct riding style. Fans often say they haven’t seen anyone push the front of the bike as hard, and revisiting old videos clearly depicts the lower half of his body completely off the bike, to “flick it from side to side.”
He simply attributes it to the oiled Australian dirt tracks that he used to ride on which made the bikes slide around.
Two years after his most successful season, Doohan suffered another broken leg at the Spanish GP in 1999 and retired injured, like rivals Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz. If he had made it to the 2000 season, he would have been teammates with Valentino Rossi.
“I would’ve liked Rossi as a teammate – it would’ve been a tough challenge.”
But he has proved that he can rise to a challenge, and an impressive 54 wins, 58 poles, 95 podiums and 137 starts has made Doohan the most successful 500 two-stroke rider of all time.
In fact, during his most successful season in 1997, the Australian won 12 out of 15 races and finished second in two. He says it was all about “persistence and understanding” and wouldn’t have changed a thing.
“I’ve got no regrets whatsoever. I knew I would have to exit the sport and achieved a lot while I was there.”