Starting from humble beginnings, Jorge Martínez – or Aspar, as his fans came to know him – was to become a true motorcycling sensation. His prowess on the bike made him a national sporting icon and a much-loved figure in the sport internationally, but his success story did not end there, for he was to prove as influential off the track as on it, leading his racing teams to multiple successes and playing a pivotal role in the development of a world-class circuit in his home region of Valencia.
Born in the little village of Alzira, in an area surrounded by orange orchards, few would have foreseen the rise of Jorge Martínez to international motorcycling star. Here, most people earned their living as farm or factory workers, and his hardworking father was no exception, toiling long hours throughout his life. From a young age on Jorge displayed a total fascination with and talent for anything fast and mechanical, yet it would take time and determination to break through.
Jorge would normally have got nowhere near a professional motorcycling team, but blessed with a natural ‘can-do’ attitude he started washing motorbikes in his free time, occasionally earning a chance to hop on and start learning to ride. It took this eager young talent no time at all to master bikes much older boys were still struggling with, and by the time he was 15 Jorge made his debut in competition – falsifying his dad’s signature to pass for a 16 year-old.
The birth of a champion
The enterprising youngster had arranged to ‘rent’ a Derbi for 2,000 Pesetas – equal to many months’ savings for the schoolboy. Any damage to the bike was to be paid for by him, though at the time he had no reserves to cover this eventuality. Unperturbed, and with the true hunger of a champion, he threw everything he had into the race, pitting his raw talent against far more experienced riders. In spite of this he led in his very first race and would very likely have won it had he not fallen.
The young Aspar picked himself up and stormed off again, eventually coming home in second place. His winnings, such as they were, went to cover the damage done to the Derbi when he fell, but for Jorge it was the beginning of so much more. Suitably ‘discovered’, he raced in junior competitions while working, until the two schedules became entangled and he had to make a choice. “For me it was no choice at all,” says the champ himself, “and I’m happy to say that I’ve never looked back.”
In his first competition year he finished runner-up in the Spanish junior 125cc category, later adding more titles in junior and local competitions before joining the motorcycling championships in 1982. It was here that he was to rise to international prominence, not only as one of the most successful riders in motorcycling history, but also as one of the few who won titles in both the 80cc and 125cc categories. The first two years saw him earn his stripes in 50cc, but after that the floodgates truly opened.
In 1984, his debut year in the 80cc class, Aspar claimed his first victory. It was at Assen, the Dutch venue which would hold many special memories for him and which ranks among his favourite circuits. More victories were claimed en route to his first title success in 1986, a feat he repeated in 1987 and bettered in 1988, when he became the first rider ever to simultaneously take the world championship in both the 80cc and 125cc categories.
That year he won a record 15 races in the two series, sweeping all before him and establishing himself as one of Spain’s greatest motor racing champions of all time. In 1992, while still very much at the head of the pack in 125cc, he had the foresight to realise that one day his career would come to an end. In a conscious decision to remain closely involved with the sport he so loved, Aspar created his own team, which rapidly became one of the most successful in the sport.
“I wanted to continue my association with motor racing,” says Aspar, “but I also felt I needed to give something back to a sport which had done so much for me personally, so I decided to dedicate the knowledge I had built up over the years to helping young talented riders maximise their potential.” His own career as a rider was coming to an end but Jorge Martínez’s focus was firmly set on the future.
His last win came in Argentina in 1994, but even in his final year, 1997, he still consistently scored points and eventually finished 6th overall. From now on, the focus was even more on the team, and the results have been impressive. Represented in both the 125cc (Bancaja Aspar Team) and 250cc (Mapfre Aspar Team) series, Aspar Team divided into separate outfits for the Spanish and World Championships, the fruits of which were reaped in 2006, when the 125cc world title was brought home in style.
That same year the stable’s riders Hector Faubel, Alvaro Bautista and Sergio Gadea scored an historic 1-2-3 in Turkey. Bautista became champion and the two teams fielded by Aspar secured a total of 13 victories. Aspar Team retained the 125cc title the following year through the Hungarian Gabor Talmacsi, to which they added the 2009 crown through Julian Simon. His teammates Bradley Smith and Sergio Gadea picked up 2nd and 5th place respectively.
It all adds up to impressive reading, with Aspar Team’s trophy cabinet containing in all three world titles, two European titles, six Spanish titles and 69 GP victories, making this one of the top outfits in world motor racing. And yet the man who raced alongside the likes of Rossi, Pedrosa and Capirossi had other ambitions as well. From early on, his dream was to create a centre of excellence in the Valencia area, something that would be more than a circuit alone.
Working on the future
It’s one thing to promote talented young riders through a professional local team, but Aspar also wanted to build a first-class circuit that would form the basis not only for international competition but also for the nurturing of local talent from grass roots level upwards. “It took many years of meetings and proposals before local government were convinced enough to back the project wholeheartedly,” says Aspar, “but in the end it was achieved.”
Showing the kind of determination that served him so well on the track, he convinced them to invest in something more than just a nice track. “In the end we were talking about a €75 million project, but what we have now is a facility of international standing that attracts top events and forms a point of pride and reference in the local area.” Indeed, the Circuit Ricardo Tormo – named after the first Valencian motor racing champion – is one of the finest of its kind.
From the first-rate design and facilities right to his insistence on naming the circuit not after himself but after another local motor racing hero, the project bears the stamp of Jorge Martínez. Thanks to his insistence there is also a youth programme in place that will feed young talents through to the sport. A firm believer in how sport can counter many of today’s negative influences and play a positive role in young people’s lives, Aspar sees a social side to this work as well.
Asked if there is anything left to achieve, the serial over-achiever smiles, “Well, it would be great to establish a motor racing museum at the circuit, but what I would really also like to get involved with is programmes that encourage people in my region to study and develop the one resource we – who have no oil, coal or other natural riches – can offer the world: our human resources.” It’s symbolic of a man whose drive serves as an inspiration to us all.