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Go hard or stay home? | Returning racers who got back on it and those who quickly backed out again

Who doesn't love a good comeback story?

A battle back from the brink, powering through against the odds, the vindication of never giving up... motorcycle racing has seen it all over the years.

But for every feel good fairytale result, such as Andrea Iannone's remarkable return straight onto the podium in WorldSBK after four years on the sidelines, there are those comeback stories that don't quite finish how they started...


The comeback kings

Andrea Iannone

2024 WorldSBK - Team Go Eleven Ducati

Come on, be honest now, is there anyone out there who would have been genuinely prepared to pop a few quid on Andrea Iannone scoring a podium in his first competitive race start in more than four years? Whatever, you’re lying…

After all, even the man himself seemed genuinely shocked by his achievement. While this is somewhat surprising for a rider whose unabashed self-belief (*cough* arrogance *cough*) ensured Andrea Iannone was always Andrea Iannone’s #1 fan in MotoGP, not only was Iannone fast, but he looked like he’d never been away.

However, four years - 53 months to be exact - between races is quite the motivation-sapping period, more so when you consider his strict suspension for doping offences prohibited him from throwing his leg over a race bike even privately.

Not that he spent four years fiddling with his co…nscience, Iannone seemingly uncovering a new recipe for success with a stint on Italy’s Strictly Come Dancing, taking sweaty, clothing optional selfies in the gym and building a successful case to persuade (a no doubt very glad) Ducati to give him another chance. 

Mike Hailwood

1978 Isle of Man TT - Manchester Ducati

Hailed as one of the great comebacks in motorsport history, the tale of Mike Hailwood’s race-winning performance at the 1978 Isle of Man TT will always be a crowd-pleaser.


The dominant force of grand prix motorcycle racing during the late-60’s, ‘Mike The Bike’ Hailwood was already a nine-time World Champion on two-wheels before swapping to four-wheels in an attempt to emulate John Surtees’ epic achievement of winning world titles in both 500GP and F1.

While F1 would prove a tougher nut to crack than MGP, Hailwood was still competitive among a quality field, picking up a pair of podiums along the way before a serious accident in 1974 led him to call it quits altogether and hang up his helmet.

Three years later, however, the racing itch returned and by 1977 it had Hailwood beating a path back into competition, this time on two-wheels. It was a path that led him all the way back to the Isle of Man TT the following year, more than a decade after his 12th and most recent victory on the Mountain.

Riding a privateer Ducati 900 SS donated by a Manchester dealership, few touted Hailwood and his unfancied, unmodified showroom model to mount a challenge. And yet, Hailwood would roll back the years in spectacular style with a legacy-stamping return to the top step.


Unfancied and iding an unfancied privateer Ducati 900 SS.

Against the odds, however, Hailwood rolled back the years with a spectacular return to the top step, a feat he’d repeat for his 14th and (this time) final TT victory the following year.

Ian Hutchinson, Milwaukee TAS Racing, BMW M 1000 RR, 2022 Isle of Man TT, portrait [IoM TT Media]

Ian Hutchinson

2015 Isle of Man TT - Paul Bird Motorsport Kawasaki

If one was to look up the word ‘determination’ in the dictionary, it is very possible you’ll find a photo of Ian Hutchinson printed next to it.

Indeed, to say Hutchinson has been dogged by injuries in the years after his era-defining, record-breaking turn at the 2010 Isle of Man TT would be an understatement of chihuahua proportions.

Instead, Hutchinson went from standing at the top of the world with his five 2010 TT wins to having it turned upside down just months later when his leg suffered multiple fractures in a British Supersport pile-up at Silverstone.

A second broken leg set an already complex recovery back yet further, but despite undergoing dozens of debilitating surgeries on a long and often painful road to recovery, it was a return to the top of the TT podium in 2015 that made for a very happy destination.

Marc Marquez

2021 MotoGP - Repsol Honda

Bouncing back has become something of a trademark for Marc Marquez over the years, whether he’s getting right back on it just minutes after being flung skywards or getting back into the swing of things after an extended period out through injury.

It means there have been quite a few ‘Marquez comeback’ events in recent years, but it was his welcome return to action at the 2021 Portuguese MotoGP - his first outing since the crash in Jerez that wiped out his entire 2020 campaign - that represented a huge landmark after months of rehabilitation.

While his results in Portimao were underwhelming on paper, given there were concerns at one stage that Marquez may never race again, it was a seminal moment.

Comeback and go…

Bayliss, Race 2, Thai WSBK 2015

Troy Bayliss

2015 WorldSBK - Aruba.it Racing Ducati

While each and every WorldSBK Champion will earn plenty of respect, few will be as universally revered as triple title-winner Troy Bayliss.

A classy, stylish and fearsomely fast racer in full flow, Bayliss set a very high benchmark in WorldSBK during a relatively brief six-season spell in the production-based series, which he concluded right at the top by retiring as the 2008 WorldSBK Champion.

It was where he would remain for a full seven years before a shock return to the grid at the start of the 2015 WorldSBK season after accepting Ducati's invite to step in for the injured Davide Giugliano at Phillip Island instead of tucking into the buffet in the teams' hospitality..

It certainly made for a good headline but those hoping for a fairytale result during his four-race stint (including Round 2 in Thailand) would be disappointed, even if a pair of top ten results against younger, more limber rivals with barely any preparation time was pretty good going.

McWilliams, Jerez MotoGP test, February 2007

Jeremy McWilliams

2017 MotoGP - Ilmor Engineering

Jeremy McWilliams might well be the world's greatest 'have a go' racer.

In a career spanning more than three decades now - and still going strong at 59-years old in the wild King of the Baggers series - McWilliams has probably thrown his leg over more race bikes than sofas over time.

Not only that, he's enjoyed a most diverse racing career across a variety of disciplines, not least MotoGP where in addition to competing with Aprilia and Proton KR, he also worked on the development of the BMW's stillborn MotoGP plans and (very) briefly represented the short-lived Ilmor project.

The latter was all set to be McWilliams' first MotoGP campaign in three years but wouldn't even last the length of the opening race weekend in Qatar when technical problems prevented him from starting before Ilmor canned the whole project days later.

Sete Gibernau, Grupo Francesco Hernando, Ducati GP9 [Gold & Goose]

Sete Gibernau

2009 MotoGP - Onde 2000 Ducati

One of Valentino Rossi's fiercest rivals during the early years of the modern MotoGP era, Sete Gibernau originally brought his successful Grand Prix career to an end at the conclusion of the 2006 MotoGP season after more than a decade on the international stage.

After three years in the slow lane, however, Gibernau came roaring back to MotoGP in 2009 after being enticed out of his loafers as part of the ambitious (albeit suspicious) new Grupo Francisco Hernando/Onde 2000 project.

After a bumpy start to his comeback campaign on his satellite Ducati, results appeared to be on the up as Gibernau gradually found his feet again. That was until the team folded very abruptly after eight rounds amid a storm of legal issues engulfing its owners and sponsors.

Gibernau promptly returned to retired life but did mount a second comeback a decade later with a single season competing in the inaugural MotoE World Cup.

Andrea Dovizioso, MotoGP, San Marino MotoGP, 3 September 2022

Andrea Dovizioso

2022 MotoGP - RNF Racing Yamaha

One could argue Andrea Dovizioso deserves some credit for sticking to his guns by walking away from the negotiating table with Ducati rather than settle for a deal that he felt didn't reflect his value as a triple MotoGP runner-up.

On the other hand, rejecting the only remaining seat still available on the 2021 MotoGP grid perhaps wasn't the wisest career move for one of the series' most experienced and reliably successful performers.

While he certainly made his sabbatical look like a retirement in the ensuing months after turning down Aprilia's advances after teasing it with a few test outings, Dovi would be back in action before 2021, this time aboard Yamaha machinery.

However, he'd struggle to gel with the Petronas SRT/RNF Yamaha M1 from the get-go, so after spending the majority of the 2022 MotoGP season muddling around towards the back, Dovizoso retired - officially this time - with six events still to go.

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