Monthly Archives: November 2016

Two Titans

With Christmas 2016 upon us here are two books which any motorcycle racing enthusiast would like to find under the Christmas tree.

They say a picture paints a thousand words and these two photo-autobiographies “GIACOMO AGOSTINI A LIFE IN PICTURES” and “JOHN SURTEES MY INCREDIBLE LIFE ON TWO WHEELS AND FOUR” certainly do that.  Both are primarily photographic accounts of the lives of these two motor racing giants, beautifully presented on high-quality glossy paper as hardback coffee table size publications.

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Agostini’s book is co-authored by Italian Mario Donnino, a long serving reporter for well-known motorsport magazine Autosprint,  Donino’s  almost poetic narrative is combined with quotes provided by Agostini that reveal his highly competitive nature and a search for perfection in his racing.  This is hardly surprising for a man who has won eight 500cc (MotoGP) and seven 350cc World Championships accumulating along the way 122 Grand Prix victories.

It is the photographs however, most of which are from Agostini’s own collection, that enrich this book so much,  allowing the reader to look back in time to the late 1950’s and mid 1970”s, to an era considered to be “Golden” in the sport of Grand Prix motorcycle racing and sometimes also deadly to its participants. The photographs, such as the MV Agusta mechanics working in the factory workshop, and those of Giacomo socialising with his racing rivals are priceless.

Highly recommended.

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John Surtees’ book is co-authored by well-known journalist Mike Nicks who has contributed to specialist magazines such as MCN, Classic Bike among many others. The format is very similar to Agostini’s tome with the photographs accompanied by Surtee’s own description that gives an intimate voice to the book.

Surtees, of course, is the only man to ever win both the 500cc (MotoGP) World Championship (four times) and the F1 World Championship with Ferrari in 1964.  Surtees also won the inaugural CAN-AM series in 1966 and later became an F1 car constructor in 1970 with his cars winning the European Formula 2 title with Mike Hailwood in 1972.  But these are just headlines of a long and enduring career and this book reveals so much more.

Highly recommended.

Royalties from “JOHN SURTEES MY INCREDIBLE LIFE ON TWO WHEELS AND FOUR” go to the  Henry Surtees Foundation which was set up to honour the memory of John’s son Henry, who was killed in a freak accident at Brands Hatch in 2009.

The above books are available from the Book Depository.

Review by Geoff Dawes (C) 2016

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2017 Ducati 1299 Superleggera

Casey Stoner and Claudio Domenicali introduce the 2017 Ducati 1299 Superleggra.

Casey Stoner and Claudio Domenicali introduce the 2017 Ducati 1299 Superleggera.

In 2014 Ducati introduced a very special version of its Panigale with the beautifully executed 1199 Superleggera (or Superlight). It was the logical progression from the World Superbike homologation special, the Panigale R, and it certainly lived up to its moniker with the liberal use of magnesium for the monocoque chassis and forged Marchesini wheels. There was also carbon fibre for the subframe and bodywork with a sprinkling of titanium for the exhaust system, the engines connecting rods and valves, plus various fasteners. The 1199 was enhanced even further with latest suite of electronic acronyms, and with over 200hp on tap, the Superleggera boasted an outrageous power to weight ratio reputed to be the best of any production motorcycle. Only 500 these works of art were made.

So how do you take the Superlight concept to the next level? Ducati revealed the answer just recently at the EICMA motorcycle show in Milan with the unveiling of the 1299 Superleggera. Understandably it is the search for even lighter weight and more power from the Superquadro engine that makes this motorcycle intriguing, especially with the extensive use of carbon fibre not only for the monocoque chassis and sub frame but also the wheels.

As a matter of point, when the Panigale was first released in 2011 its aluminium monocoque chassis could trace its DNA back to the Desmosedici MotoGP racers, starting with the 2009 GP9,  which used carbon fibre for the monocoque chassis and subframe (and at different times the swingarm). Like the Panigale, it also utilised the engine as a fully stressed member. Casey Stoner tasted a number of victories with the carbon fibre frame but it was scrapped after Valentino Rossi joined the Ducati MotoGP team in 2011, reverting to a more familiar aluminium twin spar configuration. Stoner still believes there were benefits with the carbon fibre chassis on the Desmosedici and with the release of the 1299 Superleggera it appears Ducati still have faith in the technology as well. As such, it was appropriate that the Ducati brand ambassador, and MotoGP test rider, rode the new model Superleggera onto the stage in Milan. Again only 500 units will be built.

Below is the Ducati press kit, which details this amazing motorcycle.

1299 Superleggera

With the 1299 Superleggera, Ducati takes the world of road Supersport bikes to levels that were unheard of until now: the Superleggera is the first ever factory bike to be equipped with a carbon fibre frame, swingarm, subframe and wheels. The 1299 Superleggera is a gem of engineering, technology and performance. No motorcycle manufacturer has ever produced a factory bike quite like it.

With the 1299 Superleggera, Ducati has achieved off-the-scale style, sophistication and performance. Frame and swingarm, made entirely of carbon fibre just like the high-spec wheels, are unique to the 1299 Superleggera. The fairing – also made of carbon fibre – is another key element: but only one of many in an astounding bike that could only ever have been built by Ducati – a manufacturer with racing DNA.

And underneath that carbon fibre skin lies the highest-performing version of the Superquadro. Thanks to its 215 hp, the desmodromic engine on the 1299 Superleggera is the most powerful factory twin-cylinder ever built; it incorporates the ultimate levels of Ducati technology.

What makes the 1299 Superleggera even more exclusive is the new electronics package which uses a 6-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (6D IMU) to manage the incomparable array of electronic controls. This system has allowed us to improve the Ducati Traction Control EVO (DTC EVO) presented on the 1299 Panigale S Anniversario thanks to the introduction of Ducati Slide Control (DSC), which ensures even higher out-of-the-corner performance. The 1299 Superleggera is also the first ever Ducati Superbike to be equipped with Ducati Power Launch (DPL) and also features the Engine Brake Control (EBC) seen on previous versions.

Keeping the explosive performance of the 1299 Superleggera under control is also a newly calibrated Bosch Cornering ABS system that ensures matchless braking in complete safety.

The 1299 Superleggera has the word ‘exclusive’ written all over it, even when it comes to the number being made: only 500 such bikes are to be built. Together with the motorcycle, purchasers get a track kit which includes a complete Akrapovič titanium racing exhaust, a racing screen, plate holder removal kit, kickstand removal kit, machined-from-solid mirror replacement plugs, front and rear paddock stands and a bike cover.

Carbon fibre monocoque chassis uses the engine as a stressed member.

Carbon fibre monocoque chassis uses the engine as a stressed member.

Ducati 1299 Superleggera: unique features

Frame

 Carbon fibre monocoque

 Carbon fibre single-sided swingarm

 Carbon fibre wheels with aluminium hubs

 Carbon fibre rear subframe

 Aluminium tank

 Carbon fibre fairing

 Multi-adjustable Öhlins FL936 upside down 43 mm fork

 Multi-adjustable Öhlins TTX36 shock absorber with titanium spring

 Brembo MCS 19.21 radial front pump

 Brembo TT29OP1 brake pads with increased friction coefficient

 ID number on top yoke: 1/500

Engine

 Superquadro engine with 215 hp at 11,000 rpm and 14.9 kgm at 9,000 rpm

 2-segment pistons with a diameter of 116 mm to boost the compression ratio    and aluminium cylinder liners to reduce weight

 Lighter crankshaft with tungsten balancing pads

 Titanium con rods

 Sand-cast crankcase

 Increased-diameter titanium intake and exhaust valves

 Cylinder head with specially developed intake and exhaust ducts

 Camshafts with increased lift

 Complete all-titanium Akrapovič exhaust with high-mount dual silencer*

Superleggra looks great for any angle.

Superleggera looks great for any angle.

Electronics

 6D Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) by Bosch

 Ducati Traction Control EVO (DTC EVO)

 Ducati Slide Control (DSC)

 Ducati Wheelie Control EVO (DWC EVO)

 Engine Brake Control (EBC)

 Bosch Cornering ABS

 Ducati Power Launch (DPL)

 Ducati Quick Shift (DQS) up/down

 Dedicated switchgear controls to adjust DTC, DSC, DWC and EBC during on-track use ad DPL activation

 Ducati Data Analyser + (DDA+)

 Lithium-ion battery

Race Kit

 Complete titanium Akrapovič racing exhaust with high dual silencer*

 Bike cover

 Front and rear paddock stand

 Plate holder removal kit

 Racing screen

 Kickstand removal kit

 Machined-from solid mirror replacement plugs

*Country specific

The lightness of carbon fibre

Every step of the design of the frame and swingarm was handled internally by Ducati, making full use of Ducati Corse experience in terms of calculation methods, material selection and test methods. During development, components underwent stringent final tests to ensure integrity under all possible conditions and each item underwent a quality control process similar to that used in MotoGP.

The Monocoque chassis double as the airbox.

The Monocoque chassis doubles as the airbox.

Carbon fibre component structural quality is ensured by three different NDI (Non-Destructive Inspection) methods used in the aerospace industry:

 Active Transient Thermography is a leading edge NDI (Non-Destructive Inspection) technology commonly used in Aerospace. It allows for continuous inspection of a given area ensuring 100% inspection coverage and is used especially along complex shapes and edges

 Ultrasonic Phased Array is based on Pulse Echo technique that has the advantage of bi-dimensional visualisation. It is more detailed than standard testing procedures thanks to higher coverage and higher sensitivity

 Computed Axial Tomography is the most reliable NDI technique and consists of X-ray 3D inspection that ensures 100% volumetric analysis

These checks are made on every single manufactured part to verify their constructive quality.

The monocoque frame, made of high-strength carbon fibre and a resin system resistant to high temperatures, also has 7075 aluminium alloy inserts that are co-laminated into the composite structure. This construction technology has resulted in weight savings of 40% (-1.7 kg / -3.7 lbs) compared to the monocoque frame on the 1299 Panigale.

The single-sided swingarm – again made of high-strength carbon fibre and a resin system resistant to high temperatures with 7075 aluminium alloy inserts co-laminated into the composite structure – provides an 18% weight saving (-0.9 kg / -2 lbs) compared to its aluminium counterpart on the 1299 Panigale.

Moreover, the 1299 Superleggera features a carbon fibre rear subframe, similar to the one used on the 1199 Superleggera, plus carbon fibre fairing, front mudguard, rear mudguard and exhaust heat guard.

The cutting-edge wheels of the 1299 Superleggera are also made of high-strength carbon fibre, with aluminium hubs screwed into the composite structure. Compared to their forged aluminium counterparts, these wheels lighten the bike by a total of 1.4 kg (3.1 lbs) and offer 26% less rolling resistance at the front and 44% less at the rear, resulting in nimbler handling. The 1299 Superleggera wheels mount Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tyres.

 Superbike suspension and brakes

The refined chassis set-up of the 1299 Superleggera is completed by Öhlins suspension and true Superbike-calibre Brembo brakes. The multi-adjustable 43 mm Öhlins FL936 upside-down fork on the 1299 Superleggera weighs 1.35 kg (3 lbs) less than the Öhlins fork on the Panigale R. At the rear, instead, the multi-adjustable Öhlins TTX36 shock absorber has a titanium spring that shaves off another 0.5 kg (1.1 lb) with respect to the steel unit fitted on the Panigale R.

A look at the braking system reveals two 330 mm Brembo discs up front, gripped by Brembo M50 monobloc calipers, with new TT29OP1 brake pads, controlled by a Brembo MCS 19.21 radial pump. At the back, instead, is a single 245 mm disc.

Light lithe and radical.

Light lithe and radical.

 The most powerful Superquadro ever

A whopping 215 hp at 11,000 rpm and 14.9 kgm at 9,000 rpm. These are the incredible power and torque values delivered by the Superquadro twin cylinder engine that powers the 1299 Superleggera. To achieve such performance Ducati engineers have made profound changes to some of the main engine components, starting with the lightened crankshaft which has a larger crank pin and tungsten balancing pads. The con-rods, in titanium, are new, as are the 116 mm diameter pistons – now with just two segments as on Superbike engines – with machined crowns that raise the compression ratio to 13:1. Another important new development concerns the cylinder liners, in aluminium as opposed to steel as seen on the 1299 Panigale. With the addition of a lighter flywheel, the “engine core” (crankshaft, con-rods, pistons, cylinder liner, flywheel) is about 2.4 kg (5.3 lbs) lighter than its counterpart assembly on the 1299 Panigale (-21.5%).

The cylinder heads have also been given an overhaul. The diameters of the valves, both in titanium, have been increased; they are now even wider than those used on Superbike competition bikes. The intake valves have a diameter of 48 mm as opposed to the 46.8 mm on the 1299 Panigale; the exhaust valves have a diameter of 39.5 mm (against 38.2 mm on the 1299 Panigale). Consequently, intake and exhaust ducts have also undergone development, improving fluid dynamics thanks also to new camshafts that offer both improved profiles and increased valve lift. This model has been the focus of intense performance and weight reduction research and the cylinder heads are no exceptions: their weight has been cut by about 0.4 kg (0.9 lbs).

The 1299 Superleggera features a clutch with a new slipper and self-servo system, giving heightened ‘feel’ and ride stability thanks also to the use of a new forged aluminium clutch basket.

Increased performance has, naturally, required the adoption of technical solutions to ensure reliability and compliance with noise emissions standards. Numerous parts of the twin-cylinder engine have been modified: for example, the crankcase is now sand-cast and the new timing system features a “silent” chain.

Overall, then, in terms of weight, the Superquadro, is 2.1 kg (4.6 lbs) lighter than the engine on the 1299 Panigale.

The intake system on the 1299 Superleggera has also been revised. It mounts a high-permeability, larger-surface P08 Sprint Filter of SBK derivation. The throttle body features new aerodynamic throttle openings with a profile designed to improve airflow while intake horn heights have been optimised for each cylinder head, unlike the 1299 Panigale which has horns of the same length.

Lastly, the 1299 Superleggera has a complete all-titanium Akrapovič exhaust with a high dual silencer, just like the one on the official Panigale that competes in the World Superbike championship*.

The Superquadro that powers the 1299 Superleggera is not just the most powerful twin-cylinder road engine built by Ducati in its entire history: it’s also perfectly EURO 4 compliant and delivers 10 hp (+ 4.9%) and 0.2 kgm (+ 1.5%) more than the engine on the 1299 Panigale.

Moreover, the ultra-light lithium battery on the 1299 Superleggera saves 1.7 kg (3.7 lbs) compared to the unit on the 1299 Panigale.

For those aiming to use the bike only on the track, the 1299 Superleggera comes with a track kit that, as regards the engine, includes a complete Akrapovič titanium exhaust. This exhaust is 4 kg** (8.8 lbs) lighter than its road counterpart and boosts power by 5 hp.

*Country specific

**2 kg (4.4 lbs) for the OEM USA version

MotoGP electronics

The 1299 Superleggera is the first Bologna-built bike to be equipped with the new electronic package, which makes full use of the 6-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (6D IMU). This electronic package includes DTC EVO, DSC, DWC and EVO and provides the rider with a bike control experience that comes extremely close to that of a MotoGP bike.HyperFocal: 0

 Ducati Traction Control EVO (DTC EVO)

The DTC EVO on the 1299 Superleggera derives from the system already presented on the 1299 Panigale S Anniversario and is based on an all-new algorithm that ensures faster, more precise intervention. The DTC EVO interfaces with the Bosch Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), constantly measuring the motorcycle’s lean angle and using it to accurately calculate the degree of intervention needed to ensure suitable rear wheel spin (according to the DTC EVO level setting) and so provide better handling.

Moreover, the DTC EVO also acts on the throttle body valves and controls spark and injection advance. In all situations in which fast intervention of the DTC EVO is not required, use of the throttle body valves ensures maintenance of optimal combustion parameters, ensuring more fluid engine response and intervention.

With simpler types of traction control, detection of rear wheelspin sees the system intervene to hold it in check. When optimal grip is re-established the system reduces intervention until spin reoccurs, and the cycle repeats. This produces a graph that shows intervention oscillating around a theoretical “ideal intervention line” that represents the traction limit. DTC EVO reduces the magnitude of those oscillations, making the system operate closer to the perfect intervention line. This is particularly advantageous in situations where grip changes, such as when the rear tyre becomes worn.

In addition to this enhanced intervention precision, when set to “1” or “2”, the DTC EVO adds a new function that lets the user ride the motorcycle at a level that would previously only have been possible for experts or pros. Now, when the bike is leant over, the rider can use the throttle to request more wheel spin than that obtained with the normal intervention level, allowing the motorcycle to pivot around its front wheel and complete the cornering line. DTC EVO allows riders to do this while keeping safety parameters under control, effectively letting then ‘close’ the taken line with the rear wheel.

Ducati Slide Control (DSC)

The introduction of the 6D IMU has allowed Ducati Slide Control (DSC) – developed jointly with Ducati Corse – to be added to Ducati Traction Control EVO (DTC EVO). This new system provides the rider with further support by controlling the torque delivered by the engine as a function of the slide angle; its goal is to improve out-of-the-corner performance by preventing slide angles that might otherwise be difficult to handle. The DSC relies on the 6D IMU that provides the vehicle control unit with crucial information about motorcycle dynamics (such as lean angle, acceleration and much more). Thanks to this data – and depending on the user-selected level – the DSC extends the performance range of the bike for everyone, providing improved assistance under extreme riding conditions.

Like the DTC EVO, the DSC controls torque reduction by acting on the throttle body valves, decreasing spark advance and reducing injection. In every situation in which fast intervention of the DSC is not required, use of the throttle body valves ensures maintenance of optimal combustion parameters, ensuring more fluid engine response and intervention.

DSC has three different settings: switching from level 1 to level 3 results in easier control of slide angles that would otherwise be difficult to handle. DSC intervention levels can be changed by going to the menu, from where you can also set the DTC EVO and DWC EVO values. It’s also possible to set direct DSC control via the Up and Down keys on the left handlebar. The DSC setting is always shown on the display.

 Ducati Wheelie Control EVO (DWC EVO)

The 1299 Superleggera also comes equipped with the latest version of Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC). This system – again with the EVO tag – has been overhauled in terms of both controller structure and algorithm, providing a closer link with the rider’s needs. This is an evolution of the system that equips the 1299 Anniversario.

 Ducati Power Launch (DPL)

Another new feature on the 1299 Superleggera is Ducati Power Launch (DPL), the first time it has appeared on a Panigale. This 3-level system ensures lightning-fast starts, letting the rider focus on releasing the clutch. Once set, the rider simply engages first gear and opens the throttle. During the first stage of moving off, while the rider is modulating clutch release, the DPL stabilises the engine at optimal revs as a function of the selected level. In the second phase, when the clutch has been fully released, the DPL controls torque delivery to give acceleration that matches the chosen level. The DPL makes use of the DWC functions and always keeps DTC active to ensure complete safety at all times.

Automatic disengagement of the system occurs above the end-of-start speed, or once third gear is selected. To protect the clutch, a specially developed algorithm allows only a limited number of consecutive starts. The number of ‘launches left’ returns to its normal status once the user rides the bike normally.

The DPL has three different levels, set by simultaneously pressing the Up and Down keys on the left handlebar. Level 1 favours high-performance starts, level 3 is safer and more stable.

Bosch Cornering ABS

The 1299 Superleggera also features a revised Bosch Cornering ABS system. First of all, it has been recalibrated to take into account the new revolving mass represented by the ultra-light carbon fibre wheels; secondly, it has been equipped with a new operating logic that ensures safer, more effective braking when cornering. This latest system version offers improved ABS control when the motorcycle is leant over, ensuring better performance in terms of both attainable deceleration and safety.

 Engine Brake Control (EBC)

The EBC (Engine Brake Control) system has been developed to help riders optimise vehicle stability under extreme turn-in conditions in MotoGP and Superbike championship races by balancing the forces applied to the rear tyre under severe engine-braking conditions. The EBC monitors the throttle position, selected gear and crankshaft deceleration rate under heavy braking and administers precise Ride-by-Wire throttle openings to balance the torque forces acting on the tyre. There are three EBC levels. Set via the 1299 Superleggera control panel, they are automatically integrated into its three Riding Modes to provide riders with even more incredibly efficient assistance.

 Ducati Data Analyser+ GPS (DDA+ GPS)

Lastly, the 1299 Superleggera is equipped with the Ducati Data Analyser+ GPS (DDA+ GPS) as a standard feature. This system, which includes software (also for Mac users) and a USB-ready data retrieval card, allows assessment of both motorcycle and rider performance by showing specific info channels in graph form. The DDA+ GPS is a latest-generation Ducati Data Analyser system with a GPS function that automatically records lap times when the bike crosses a circuit start/finish line. As the rider crosses the finish line he presses the beam flasher button and the highly innovative system logs the coordinates of that position and then automatically logs each lap time as the motorcycle completes the lap.

An essential piece of equipment for track use, the DDA+ records numerous channels of data including throttle opening, vehicle speed, engine rpm, gear selection, engine temperature, distance travelled, laps and lap times. There is also a dedicated channel to record the torque reduction – depicted in graph form – requested by the systems that make up the new electronics package. At the end of a ride or track session, the data can be downloaded for comparison and in-depth analysis of rider and motorcycle performance.

2017 Ducati 1299 Superleggera vital statistics.

Dry weight
156 kg (343.9 lb)

Kerb weight
167 kg (368.2 lb)

Power
158.1 kW (215 hp) @ 11,000 rpm

Torque
146.5 Nm (108,0 lb-ft) @ 9,000 rpm

Words Geoff Dawes and Ducati Motor Holdings spa © 2016. Images and Video courtesy Ducati Motor Holdings spa.

 

Honda Celebrates 50 Years Of MotoGP

Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez pose with the 1966 Honda RC181 and the 2016 RC213V.

Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez pose with the 1966 Honda RC181 and the 2016 RC213V at Motegi in Japan.

It was perhaps fitting that Marc Marquez collected his third MotoGP World Championship at Honda’s own circuit at Motegi in Japan, as 2016 celebrates 50 years since Honda first entered the premier class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

What is also appropriate is the fact that Marquez achieved this on the recalcitrant 2016 RC213V. Although an improvement over the 2015 edition, a change to the new Michelin control tyres as well as the new control software, tossed in, even more, variables for the Repsol Honda team to equate. But the key this year to Marquez’s success has been his determination to finish every race and has shown the kind of maturity, at just 23 years of age, that no doubt is worrying to his rivals. Honda’s first foray into the 500cc (MotoGP) class with the RC181, coincidentally suffered handling issues as well.

Honda's weapon of choice to enter the 500cc war.

Honda’s weapon of choice to enter the 500cc war.

Honda, of course, were the first Japanese motorcycle manufacturer to enter into the Grands Prix in 1959 at the Isle of Man TT in the 125cc category. After considerable success in the lower capacity classes, Honda then took the plunge by entering a 500cc machine in the premier class for 1966. Although rumours in the paddock suggested that like the multi-cylinder four-strokes Honda had produced in the smaller capacity classes, the 500cc machine could potentially have a six-cylinder or even a V-8 power plant.

However, it was a more conventional transverse air-cooled four-cylinder engine, with twin overhead camshafts and four-valves per cylinder, that fronted the grid. The RC181 boasted a very competitive 85hp at 12,000rpm and weighed in at 154kg using the engine as a stressed member. It was entrusted to Rhodesian, Jim Redman, Honda’s six times world champion (two 250cc and four 350cc class titles) to take on the might of MV Agusta and the talents of its rising star Giacomo Agostini.

Honda used the engine as a stressed member for the chassis of the RC181.

Honda used the engine as a stressed member for the chassis of the RC181.

Redman took the RC181 to a stunning victory on debut at the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim and followed that up with a win at the next round in Holland at the Dutch TT. Honda had also enticed its former 250cc World Champion, Mike Hailwood, back to the fold, and although his priority was to be the 250cc and 350cc categories, Hailwood rode the new machine for the first time in Holland and was leading the race when a false neutral caused him to crash. Nonetheless, it appeared MV Agusta’s monopoly on the class was about to end.

The RC181 though flattered to deceive and Redman crashed in atrocious conditions during the next round at Spa in Belgium. He badly broke his arm and promptly retired from racing, leaving Hailwood to try and retrieve the championship challenge. Although Hailwood notched up three wins in Czechoslovakia, Ulster and the Isle of Man and a second place in Finland, mechanical problems at the other four rounds handed the riders title to Agostini and the new three cylinder MV Agusta. Honda was left with the consolation of winning the manufacturer’s trophy with a motorcycle that Hailwood could only describe the handling as, “Bloody awful!”

Hailwood's Honda wore the number 1 plate in 1966 after winning the 500cc crown for MV Agusta in 1965.

Hailwood’s Honda wore the number 1 plate in 1966 after winning the 500cc crown for MV Agusta in 1965.

Both Honda and Hailwood returned for the 1967 season with an updated RC181. The off-season saw the Honda now developing a healthy 93bhp at 12,650rpm with its weight reduced 13kg to 141kg with the extensive use of magnesium in the engine. Mike had flown to Japan during the off-season to test the 1967 machines and was horrified to discover the promised new chassis for the RC181 was non-existent and demanded to take an engine back to England to have a chassis built in Europe that might solve the severe handling problems.

The Japanese though refused to let Hailwood race the new chassis in the Grands Prix, but instead “beefed up” the existing RC181 frame which used the engine as a stressed member. Mike did enter the HRS (Hailwood Racing Special) at some non-championship races and even practiced on it for the first Grand Prix of the season at Hockenheim but reverted to the factory RC181 for the race and was leading when the crankshaft broke handing Agostini the win.

Hailwood (left) and "Ago" prepare to do battle on the starting grid.

Hailwood (left) and “Ago”on the starting grid as they prepare to do battle.

The next race was the TT at the Isle Of Man, a race that became one of the all time classics in Grand Prix racing history. During the course of their titanic struggle, the lead swapped back and forth for five of the six laps of the 37.5mile course (60.3km) until the chain broke on Agostini’s MV. Hailwood cruised to victory and had set a new outright lap record of 108.77mph (175kph), which stood for almost a decade.

The next weekend Agostini and the improving MV outpaced Hailwood and the Honda at Spa in Belgium, and at the Sachsenring in East Germany, gearbox problems forced Mike to retire with Agostini claiming victory. The Brno circuit in Czechoslovakia was next with Hailwood finishing 17.8 seconds ahead of his nemesis on the MV Agusta triple. But a fall at Imatra in Finland on a soaked track shifted momentum once more to Agostini.

The roles were reversed again at the Dundrod circuit in Ulster with ‘Ago” retiring and Hailwood winning. The whole season now pivoted on the penultimate race of the season at the Nations Grand Prix in MV Agusta’s own backyard at Monza in Italy. At last, it looked like Honda would achieve their ambition as Hailwood led Agostini by 16 seconds with three laps to go only to have a certain victory stolen from him by a gearbox that became stuck in top gear. Agostini flashed by to win by 13.2 seconds and take the title a second year in a row.

Although Hailwood won again at the final round at Mosport in Canada, beating “Ago” home by a massive 37.7 seconds it was of no avail. Both riders had accumulated five wins apiece but “Ago” took the title due to three second place finishes to Hailwood’s two. There was no consolation prize for Honda either as MV Agusta also took home the manufacturers title.

Hailwood chases "Ago" in 1967.

Hailwood chases “Ago” at the Dutch TT in 1967.

Honda withdrew from the Grands Prix at the end of 1967, but this was just a prelude of what was to come. The Japanese company returned to the premier class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in 1979 with the ill-fated NR500 four-stroke racer and won the first of their many rider’s titles in 1983 with Freddie Spencer and the NS500 two-stroke.

Those frustrating seasons of 1966 and 1967 for Honda, must now seem a lifetime away. As this is written, the Japanese manufacturer has now accrued a staggering 279 race victories and 39 riders and constructors World Championships.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2016.Images courtesy of Honda and http://www.formulamoto.es.

YouTube Video courtesy of Pathe.