Author Archives: Geoff Dawes

Archives: The Classic Adelaide Rally

The1997 Classic Adelaide winning 1969 Ford GT HO of Hogarth and Walters.

The1997 Classic Adelaide winning 1969 Ford GT HO of Hogarth and Walters.

For eleven years, from 1985 to 1995, the city of Adelaide in South Australia was host to the Australian Formula One Grand Prix. Held in early November, it was, for the most part, the last race of the season and the teams and drivers enjoyed its “end of school year” atmosphere and many would holiday in Australia before returning to Europe. The race was a popular one with the Formula One “circus” and three times won the Formula One Promoters’ Trophy as the best run Grand Prix of the season.

The momentum started to gather for Australia to host a Grand Prix when Australian Alan Jones won the 1980 Formula One driver’s championship. The races were being televised, and the ratings were good. Rumours started emanating from the eastern states of Australia of a willingness to hold a Grand Prix event. But it was the South Australian Labor Premier, John Bannon that took the trouble to fly to London and meet with Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone and secure the race for Adelaide.

The State Bank collapse in 1991 and Bannon’s resignation in 1992, plus the political infighting over the cost of staging the Grand Prix, saw Ecclestone award the race to Victoria and it has been held at Melbourne’s Albert Park since 1996.

The loss of the Formula One Grand Prix left a large vacuum in the major events calendar for Adelaide causing the State Government to support a number of other events in an effort to fill the void. One such event was the Classic Adelaide Rally, a competitive meeting on closed country bitumen roads that showcased different regions around Adelaide and attracted competitors from Australia and overseas and also some extremely rare and exotic machinery. It also catered for non-competitive entries that could take part in the touring category to enjoy a uniquely South Australian experience.

The first event took place in 1997 and ran until 2009 although it was revived briefly as part of the Targa Australia series. The rally though is about to be resurrected once more as an essential part of the Adelaide Motorsport Festival. The festival was first staged in 2014 at the home of Adelaide’s Formula One racetrack Victoria Park. The event was a great success showcasing Australia’s motor racing heritage including some significant Formula One cars.

The Sporting Car Club of South Australia, with the help of the State Government, is responsible for putting this exciting event together and this year the Adelaide Motorsport Festival and Classic Adelaide Rally will be held over four days from Thursday, October 15th to Sunday, October 18th, 2015.

In 1997 I covered the inaugural Classic Adelaide Rally for English publication Classic and Sports Car, and its revival has prompted me to delve into the archives and publish my article and photos for MotoVue below.

The Ferrari 246GT of Angliss and Mcmahon tackle the Paris Creek hairpin.

The Ferrari 246GT of Angliss and Mcmahon tackle the Paris Creek hairpin.

*                        *                         *

Bruce Hogarth and co-driver Bruce Walter have won the inaugural Classic Adelaide Rally held over the 6th to 9th of November in South Australia.

The FIA sanctioned event attracted nearly 100 entries and covered some 1000km of bitumen road with 300km of closed special stages over four days. Competitors left race headquarters at Adelaide’s Hilton Hotel each morning before completing a loop of some of South Australia’s most demanding hills roads. This included visits to the sites of former road circuits that have held an Australian Grand Prix such as Victor Harbor (1937), Lobethal (1939) and Nuriootpa (1950) before returning to Adelaide’s Victoria Park Racecourse to complete a Super Special Stage on the remains of the Formula One Grand Prix circuit.

It was Hogarth though who drove his hairy-chested 1969 351 cubic inch V8 XW Ford Falcon GT HO to victory on the last day of the event to beat overnight leaders and Panama to Alaska winners Rick Bates and Jenny Brittan who crashed their 1971 Porsche 911 out of contention on the final Paris Creek stage. Hogarth and Walter, however, had been strong contenders for outright honours during the four days of the event consistently running in the top three. Chris Stephen and Adrian Mortimer claimed second place outright 27 seconds behind the leaders in their 1964 Iso Rivolta with Tom Barr-Smith and Mark Barr-Smith third 1 min and 05 seconds adrift in their 1964 BJ8 Austin Healey Rally.

Ritter and Ruess tackle the special stage in their 1952 Pan Americana winning Mercedes 300SL prototype.

Ritter and Ruess tackle the special stage in their 1952 Pan Americana winning Mercedes 300SL prototype.

But the event was marred by a number of accidents one of which claimed the life of former F1 Grand Prix Board Chairman Ian Cocks who was 5.7km into the 22nd stage and holding third place overall when he failed to take a corner on the Mt. Bold road. Mr Cocks’ 1967 Porsche 911S hit a tree and rolled over before catching fire. His 19-year-old daughter and co-driver Chantel Cocks were pulled from the wreck by spectators and taken to hospital suffering from severe burns. It was her first competition event.

Mr Cocks was an experienced rally driver and had recently completed the Panama to Alaska Rally. He was also an advisor to the directors of the Adelaide Classic Rally, an event that many had hoped would fill the void left by the loss of the Adelaide Formula One Grand Prix which was also held in early November.

Sherman and Walkley attack the Paris Creek hairpin.

Sherman and Walkley attack the Paris Creek hairpin in their 1964 Aston  Martin DB4.

Although the event had secured naming rights sponsorship from Ansett Air Freight and had captured television coverage by German Sports TV Network DSF, most of the support for the rally has come from the State Government through the Major Events Corporation via the South Australian Tourism Commission. The Premier Mr Olsen would not comment whether the Government would continue to support the event until a full investigation had been completed into the accident.

Chairman of the organising body, Rally and Motorsport S.A. and well-known rally driver, Dean Rainsford, described the tragedy as “our worst nightmare.” However three international teams of Tony Brooks and Baron Otto Reedz-Thott driving the 1957 Le Mans-winning D-type Jaguar, Ditter Ritter and and Micheal Ruess competing in the 1952 Pan Americana winning Mercedes 300SL Proto and Paul Vestey and Doug Nye in the Le Mans class winning 1966 Ferrari 365GTB, had nothing but praise for the event, comparing the organisation as the best they had encountered anywhere.

Vestey, who has competed in similar events in Europe and America commented, “ This is the first time we have encountered the use of Grand Prix type Medical Intervention Vehicles anywhere for this type of event.” Well-known motoring historian Doug Nye summed up their feelings by describing the Adelaide Classic Rally as, “Mind-blowingly fantastic.”

Words Geoff Dawes © 1997/2015. Photographs by Geoff Dawes © 1997. Published in the February 1998 issue of Classic and Sports Car

Here is a link to the 2015 Classic Adelaide Rally: http://www.classicadelaide.com.au

The Peterborough Motorcycle and Antique Museum

Museum Hall

There is something reassuring about museums, be they public or private collections, as they offer an open window into another time that can be shared by all. The curators and private collectors are the gatekeepers of worlds past, and this is never more true when it comes to motorcycle collections.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Peterborough Motorcycle and Antique Museum recently, which is situated in the mid-north of South Australia. Peterborough is approximately 260km north of the city of Adelaide and a pleasant three-hour drive on the A32, which is part of the Barrier Hwy to Broken Hill.

1962 50cc Malanca made in Italy.

1962 50cc Malanca made in Italy.

Located on the comer of Kitchener and Jervois street, just off the main road, the museum is housed in a former historic Baptist Church and offers bed and breakfast accommodation in the separate Tennyson Hall, which was built in 1913 as a men’s prayer room.

Ian and Belinda Spooner opened the museum in 2008, and as well as housing numerous interesting antiques, the majority of space is taken up by Ian’s collection of motorcycles, many of which have never been seen or heard of in Australia.

Ian started buying motorcycles in his teens, and although the word “collector” was not mentioned, he simply admitted that he “couldn’t get rid of anything”. And Ian continues to add to his inventory to the point where the church hall is putting some constraint on how much can be displayed.

The 1927 France GP racer.

The 1927 France GP racer.

The first thing that is noticeable about the exhibits is the large number of impressive small capacity European made two-strokes from the 50’s, 60’s, and 1970’s. This is offset, to a degree, by machines like the 1981 1000cc Laverda Jota triple and a 1971 Honda 750 automatic, which was sold in the U.S. but never made its way to Australia. Ian also has on display several French vintage racing motorcycles in the shape of a very rare 1921 Yvels with a 250cc Villiers racing engine and a France which used a 350cc Jap engine.

Another fascinating machine is a recreation of a 1939 water-cooled and supercharged 250cc Benelli Grand Prix racer. The replica was literally hand built by a nautical engineer over 15 years, using a four-cylinder 250cc Yamaha engine as the basis for the powerplant.

1939 Supercharged 250cc Benelli GP replica.

1939 Supercharged 250cc Benelli GP replica.

Also on display is a collection of motorcycle memorabilia in the shape of photo’s, posters and signs. But one item that did catch my eye was a set of white leathers hanging on the wall. I recognised these as belonging to 5 times 500c Grand Prix winner Dutch rider Wil Hartog.

Hartog came to Australia for the Swan International Series in the late 1970’s bringing with him the daunting Suzuki RG680cc racer. A round of the series was held at the Adelaide International Raceway, and during unofficial practice I witnessed Hartog lose the front on the approach to the speedbowl, which unfortunately broke his collarbone and ended his series campaign. Hartog gave the leathers to a friend of Ian’s with whom Hartog had stayed while in Adelaide.

Grand Prix star Wil Hartog's leathers, complete with scuff marks on the left shoulder.

Grand Prix star Wil Hartog’s
leathers, complete with scuff marks on the left shoulder.

Ian’s enthusiasm for his motorcycles and displays is contagious, and he takes the time to talk to his visitors about the many exhibits on show.   For me, the museum was well worth the trip alone, but the town and surrounding area also have a lot to offer.

Peterborough was once an important regional railway hub and the Steamtown Heritage Museum displays steam trains and carriages of this bygone era with the added attraction of a sound and light show. At Hallet on the A32, there is the opportunity to visit Sir Hubert Wilkins birthplace. The Famous South Australian was a celebrated war photographer, aviator and polar explorer and there is, of course, the historic former copper mining town of Burra to explore while just thirty minutes away is Clare with its world-class wineries and excellent food.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2015. Photographs Geoff Dawes © 2015.

Below is a link to the Peterborough Motorcycle and Antique Museum website and to google maps for the Adelaide to Peterborough route.

http://www.pbmcm.com.

https://www.google.com.au/maps/dir/Adelaide+SA/Peterborough+SA/@-33.9337835,137.6770105,8z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x6ab735c7c526b33f:0x4033654628ec640!2m2!1d138.5999594!2d-34.9286212!1m5!1m1!1s0x6abe88d93d6470cb:0x4033654628edc10!2m2!1d138.8375877!2d-32.9733335!3e0

Ewald Kluge, DKW and the Lobethal TT

I’ve published this article from February 2014 again as I recently found an excellent documentary on the Lobethal races by Tony Parkinson produced in 2008. Tony has been kind enough to allow me to embed the video at the bottom of the page. Many thanks, Tony. 

In August 2013 that most famous of road racing circuits, the Isle of Man, celebrated its first Classic TT as part of the Festival of Motorcycling. With a burgeoning number of classic events around Europe, it was perhaps a long time coming to this historic racing venue. The event featured racing machinery from the 1950’s to the 1990’s, but perhaps more interesting was the presence of a pre World War Two German DKW SS 250 supercharged two-stroke, that was ridden on a parade lap by former 250cc Grand Prix winner Ralph Waldmann.

Two time European Champion Elwad Kluge.

Two time European Champion Ewald Kluge.

Brought to the Island by Audi Heritage to celebrate its historic victory in 1938, it was a recreation of the machine that Ewald Kluge used to become the first German, and only the second foreigner, to win a TT.  DKW was the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world during the 1930’s with a research and development department that boasted 150 employees.  DKW also produced cars and in 1932 merged with three other German car manufacturers Audi, Horch and Wanderer to become part of Auto Union, which was represented by the four linked circle insignia that the Audi brand still uses today.

DKW’s only produced two-stroke motorcycles at that time, and in the 1930’s the technology was still in its infancy. But thanks to the innovative genius of Ing Zoller, DKW came up with a unique design that used a split single layout with tandem piston bores that utilised a common combustion chamber and articulated connecting rods. A third piston was housed in a pumping chamber or ladepumpe (supercharger) mounted horizontally to the front of the engine crankcases.  This forced the air and fuel from the Amal TT carburettors, which was inducted via a rotary valve, to be pressurised in the main crankcases. The end result was a big jump in power and also fuel consumption. With the megaphone style exhaust fitted it also had a reputation as one of the loudest racers of its era.

Engine diagram of the DKW SS 250 two-stroke engine.

Engine diagram of the DKW SS 250 ladepumpe (supercharged) two-stroke engine.

There is no doubt about the Nazi influence on the German Automotive industry prior to the Second World War.  Hitler bankrolled the racing efforts of the Silver Arrows, supporting Mercedes and Auto Unions dominance of Grand Prix motor racing.  It was all part of Hitler’s plan to show the world the technological superiority of Nazi Germany. The Nazi’s had infiltrated most aspects of German life and in 1932 set up the N.S.K.K. or the Nationalist Socialist Drivers Corps which “Nazified” the driving associations and clubs. It made it almost impossible for the national racing heroes of the era not to be associated with the Nazi’s.

Ewald Kluge was a member of the N.S.K.K. and became the Lightweight (250cc) European Champion in both 1938 and 1939 (which was the forerunner of the Moto2 world championship). From 1936 to 1939 Kluge was also a four-time German National Champion. But 1938 was his most successful year taking the European crown and the German road racing and Hillclimb titles. Out of fourteen events he entered, he won 12 and was second twice attaining the “Champion of Champions “ accolade that was only granted to those who achieved the highest possible number of points.

Kluge in action at the Isle of Man Lightweight TT.

Kluge in action at the Isle of Man Lightweight TT.

But Europe was not the only place that Kluge and DKW were to compete.   In 1937 the sleepy Adelaide Hills town of Lobethal in South Australia hosted the inaugural South Australian TT on a road circuit that compared favourably with those in Europe.  Enticed by the Lobethal Carnival Committee the DKW team was to tour Australia taking in events in other States as well. Officially it was called a cultural and sporting exchange. It may also have helped that there was a strong German influence in the area with immigrants settling in Lobethal and nearby Handorf in the mid-1800’s.

The circuit itself was on sealed public roads and eight and three-quarter miles in length (14.082 km) running in a clockwise direction and took in the towns of both Lobethal and Charleston. It was almost triangular in shape and featured hairpins, s-bends, fast sweepers and flat out straights with changes in elevation that ranked it as one of the best road courses of the time anywhere in the world.

Les Friedrichs is re-united with the works DKW in 1988.

Les Friedrichs is re-united with the works DKW in 1988 at the  Lobethal  TT recreation.

Baron Claus Von Oertzen managed the DKW team and his vivacious wife Baroness Irene Von Oertzen also accompanied him to Australia.  It was quite a shock to the locals when the teams van, plastered in swastikas, arrived in the township.  There were also rumours that a British Special Intelligence Service agent was shadowing the team as pre-war tensions began to rise.

The Baron had chosen a local rider, Les Friedrichs, to be Kluge’s co-rider and although this would be Friedrichs first road race he had outstanding credentials in other motorcycle sports. The choice was a good one and in the Lightweight (250cc) TT, Friedrichs followed home his team leader Kluge for a stunning 1-2 victory.  Kluge then went on to win the Junior TT (350cc) with his 250cc machine; such was the technical advantage of the German racer.

The grid lines up for the start of the 1988 Lobethal TT recreation.

The grid lines up in the main street of Lobethal for the start of the 1988 TT recreation.

Because of the success of the races, the following year the Auto Cycle Council of Australia endorsed the Lobethal event to be run as the Australian TT.  Racing car events were also held on the circuit, and the popular road course hosted the Australian Grand Prix in 1939. The Lobethal TT was held on the December Boxing Day holiday and the DKW team, as part of their tour, contested several interstate events in early 1938.

The team had planned to return again at the end of 1938 and Kluge left behind his practice bike. This was a 1936 model works URe 250, which was left in the care of the Victorian DKW importer who was waiting for the arrival of a 1938 SS 250 production version of the factory machines. DKW was the first manufacturer to sell a production version of their “works” racers to the public.  However, the team did not return due to the onset of the Second World War.

Kluge was called up for military service in 1940 and was captured by the Russians and not released until 1949 due to his association with the Nazi’s.  At the age of 44, he returned to competition but suffered a serious high-speed accident at the 1953 Eifelrennen at the Nurburgring, which ended his career.  Ewald Kluge was only 55 years old when he passed away in 1964, leaving a remarkable racing legacy.

The 1936 works racer left behind by Kluge in 1938.

The 1936 works racer left behind by Kluge in 1938.

After the war road races were held at nearby Woodside and in 1948 racing returned once more to Lobethal until the South Australian State Government banned racing on public roads and brought to an end any thoughts of resurrecting the Lobethal TT.

The ex Kluge machine was discovered again by Eric Williams in 1960 who retrieved it from the side of a house in St. Peters in Adelaide where it was found lying and slowly rusting away. The engine had blown up in a big way at the Sellicks Beach races.

Williams then spent 17 years restoring the machine, and it made an appearance in 1988 at TT88, which recreated the Lobethal TT as part of South Australia’s sesquicentennial. The TT reunited the DKW racer with a 78-year-old Les Friedrichs who performed a parade lap of the circuit stunning the onlookers with a cacophony of ear-shattering sound emitted by the exotic little racer.

Jewel like high tech two-stroke engineering in 1936 from DKW.

Jewel-like high tech two-stroke engineering in 1936 from DKW.

Williams sold the DKW in 1992 for $50,000 (Aus), a record for a vintage machine in Australia. Steve Hazelton outbid the American Barber Museum to keep the rare works racer in Australia, but 20 years later decided to put the DKW up for sale again.  Hazelton was extremely disappointed to receive very little interest from within Australia for this exotic ex-works racer.

It would no doubt be reassuring to Kluge, that Audi Tradition continues to honour his racing achievements and that of the DKW works team.  And although the roads around Lobethal are no longer used as a racing circuit, motorcyclist from all over Adelaide ride the course regularly to enjoy what was once one of the worlds great road racing circuits.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014. Photographs Geoff Dawes (C) 1988. Images courtesy of http://www.audimediaservices.com. Diagram www.motorradonline.de.

Below is a link to a map of the Lobethal TT course. https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msa=0&msid=201984503616328999196.0004d09b2905e2b5ca5e4

A Motorcycling Legacy

Rex Tilbrook 's stand at the 1947 Royal Adelaide Exhibition.

Rex Tilbrook ‘s stand at the 1947 Royal Adelaide Exhibition.

Over one hundred years ago, on the 2nd of May 1915, Rex Patterson Tilbrook was born in Prospect South Australia. He would grow up to become an innovative engineer, designer and fabricator, who produced high-quality motorcycle accessories, motorcycle sidecars and eventually his own pioneering range of motorcycles and racing machines.

But surprisingly it was the motorcar that played a significant role in his early life. After leaving school at the age of 16, Rex found work at a local garage where he made a close study of his customer’s vehicles. Being mechanically gifted, he decided to build a car of his own from an old G.N. cyclecar chassis fitted with an 8h.p. air-cooled V-twin engine that he bought for $6. When the car was completed Tilbrook decided it was time to further his mechanical education. The then 19-year old put the G.N. up for sale to help fund a ticket to sail to England. In 1935 Rex arrived at the world famous Brooklands motor racing circuit in Surrey and quickly established himself as a skilled engine tuner and fabricator. It didn’t take long for his services to be so much in demand that he was able to open his own workshop where his specialist exhaust systems were highly sort after.

In November 1938 after four successful years at Brooklands, Tilbrook returned home to Australia. The papers described him at the time as an “experimental engineer and driver”, and he had brought something rather special back with him from the UK. It was Maserati 6CM 1.5 supercharged monoposto which he intended to use at the Australian Grand Prix to be held at Lobethal in South Australia on January the 2nd 1939. Unfortunately, he was unable to have the car released from customs in time, although Tilbrook did plan to return to race the car in the European Grands Prix. In the meantime, the storm clouds of World War 2 gathered.

One of the Tilbrook sidecar designs outside the Kensington factory.

One of the Tilbrook sidecar designs outside the Kensington factory.

When war broke out later that year Tilbrook became involved in the munitions industry, but his creative mind did not rest, and he built an electric scooter in 1941 which could travel at over 40kph and recharge the batteries when free-wheeling down hills. Rex also came up with the first of his innovative motorcycle accessories, a universal pillion footpeg. By 1947 Tilbrook had moved into a new workshop at Bridge Street in Kensington where he produced a greater range of accessories and spare parts often sought after to restore war-damaged army surplus motorcycles and the first of his beautifully made sidecars.

It was also in 1947 that Tilbrook took up a stand at the Royal Adelaide Exhibition, held by the South Australian Chamber of Manufacturers to encourage a post-war business recovery. Rex had come up with the novel idea of building a complete running 250cc motorcycle, of his own design, on the stand inside the 54 days the exhibition was open. Starting with the engine, which was based on a pre-war two-stroke Zundapp design, Tilbrook had the engine castings made locally and machined them on his stand. The engine was completed in 28 days. Only a handful of items, such as primary chains, tyres and spark plugs, were not manufactured on the spot. The bike featured a 20amp generator that enabled starting with a flat battery, while other innovations included hydraulically damped telescopic front forks with air caps.

The 250cc machine though was never put into production, with Rex turning later to the more readily available British Villiers 125cc and 197cc two-stroke engine units. Tilbrook would also first try out his many futuristic ideas in competition by building several 125cc racing machines in 1949.

The 125cc racing bikes were loosely based on the Villiers engine with the bore and stroke being changed to 52x58mm. Methanol fuel was used and delivered through a two-stage system utilising Amal TT carburettors. A smaller 1inch carby was fully opened at half throttle with a 1 3/16inch unit taking over until full throttle was reached. The cylinder head was designed and cast by Tilbrook and a heavily revised barrel sporting two inlet, two exhaust and four transfer ports brought about combustion with the help of a BTH magneto running at half engine speed to provide the spark. The original three-speed gearbox was replaced with a four-speed unit also developed by Rex. Useful power was made between 5,500 and 8,400rpm, which was sufficient for a top speed of around 90mph (145kph).

Alan Wallis, the Tilbrook mechanics and Rex Tilbrook with 125cc racers.

Alan Wallis, the Tilbrook mechanics and Rex Tilbrook with the 125cc racers.

The well-presented Tilbrook race team consisted of Rex and Alan Wallis as riders with two mechanics suitably dressed in blue overalls that gave an air of professionalism. Over the ten years, the racers were developed, they accrued numerous race victories in South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and NSW, with many of the ideas and innovations developed being carried over to the road going models.

When the Tilbrook roadsters finally started to trickle into production in 1952, what set them apart from other Australian produced machines was (with the exception of the engine/gearbox and Lucas lighting set) that everything else was made in South Australia. Also, the Tilbrook had a unique appearance utilising a combination of features that were best suited to Australian conditions. This in many ways made the Tilbrook radically different.

A key feature was an 18lt fuel tank for extended distance Australian touring, a large flared front mudguard and a combined rear mudguard and seat assembly to protect a rider from mud and dust of the many unsealed roads. At a time when few motorcycles had rear suspension, and lightweight machines had primitive, limited travel telescopic front forks, Rex used a rear cantilever swingarm with twin underhung springs below the gearbox and a radial front suspension that provided superior handling to a comparable imported model.

But the innovation didn’t stop there; the front and rear wheels were interchangeable and sported full width finned aluminium hubs with 37mm wide brake shoes working against shrunk in cast iron linings. This provided a superior coefficient of friction when braking and the finned hubs made brake cooling more efficient without a hint of brake fade that plagued the more commonly used steel drums of other manufacturers. All models had steering dampers as standard, which generally was an option on larger machines of the day. A useful chrome tank rack was also provided, and the Tilbrook used a round 80mph (128.7kph) speedometer with odometer and trip meter mounted above the headlight compared to the more common D shaped gauge of other lightweights.

The beautifully made Tilbrook roadster.

The beautifully made Tilbrook roadster.

A comprehensive tool roll was provided in a large compartment under the press-stud fixed seat and was extensive enough to totally disassemble the whole motorcycle. There was also a puncture repair kit with plenty of room for any other spares an owner might feel necessary. A tyre pump was also provided and this fit under the seat mudguard assembly. At a time when black was a predominant colour, the Tilbrook was a striking red with lashings of cadmium and chrome plating presenting a high-quality standard of finish.

It’s believed that around sixty of the 125cc and 197cc roadsters were produced before motorcycle production stopped in the late 1950’s. The market was shrinking with cars becoming cheaper, and motorcycle production became the least profitable part of the business. The accessory, spare parts and sidecars continued although in later years Tilbrook survived by concentrating on contract work, making special manufacturing machines and general engineering. The factory finally closed its doors in 1976. Rex Patterson Tilbrook passed away in 1997 leaving behind a quite remarkable motorcycling legacy.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2015 Images courtesy http://www.therisingsun.com.au, http://www.dropbears.com, http://www.ma.org.au

60 Shades Of Black, will the passion last?

IMG_2531

There are only two other pursuits that a motorcyclist enjoys almost as much as riding motorcycles, and that is modifying them and talking about them. So I hope to now combine the latter two pursuits with an update on my 2006 Suzuki SV1000S.

Having owned a number of heavy air-cooled Japanese four-cylinder motorcycles (Kawasaki Z1A, Honda 750 F1, Honda 900 Bol d’Or, Honda CB1100RC), it was a conscious decision to go for something more compact and light that handled well. It was also important that it was easy to ride in my renewed acquaintance with large capacity motorcycles. Price was also a factor, so after scanning the bike adds the SV looked like it fulfilled all the criteria. The clincher though was I had never owned a big V-twin before.

In the two and a half years and 10,000km I’ve owned the Suzuki I haven’t been disappointed. The previous owner had embellished the SV with some tasteful modifications and also retained all the original parts, which also came with the Suzuki. I’ve also added on to this, and I’m pretty pleased with the results.

BLING.

Machined billet clutch and brake reservoir with SV logo.

Machined billet clutch and brake reservoir with SV logo.

The previous owner had cleaned up the rear of the bike with a tail tidy, which gives the rear end a much neater look. He also fitted a chrome radiator guard, and oil-cooler guard with an SV logo cut into each. A Puig carbon fibre looks double bubble windscreen replaced the clear original, which not only looks good but also gives quite effective protection for the rider. The black paint of the SV has a small blue metal flake in it, and a blue Keiti SV Series tank pad enhances this, which is something I’ve carried over to other mods on the bike. I changed the petrol cap bolts to blue anodised replacements from Pro-bolt, and I also replaced the clutch and front brake reservoir with machined billet ones with an SV logo. These were procured from eBay. Reflective blue rim tape was attached to the wheels and is available at most motorcycle shops. The air caps on the wheels were replaced with blue anodised units from Cheap as Chips ($4 for a pack of four). To carry the carbon fibre look a bit further a pair of Bestem side covers were purchased from the States and fitted. Another small touch was the fitment of a pair of chrome Suzuki “S” logo rear number plate bolts also bought on eBay.

PRACTICALITY.

Blue anodised Pro Bolt.s

Blue anodised Pro-Bolt’s

The original SV clip-on handlebars put a lot of pressure on the rider’s wrists, lower back and neck, so I replaced these with a pair of American HeliBars which make the riding position much more comfortable. Doing minor maintenance on the motorcycle was made easier with the purchase of a Suzuki rear paddock stand which came with blue anodised spindles for the swing-arm (Kessner Suzuki) and an Alchemy front stand (Third Gear).

PERFORMANCE.

The previous owner had also fitted Hel blue braided steel brake lines, which not only look good but also increase initial brake bite and also “feel”. Australian made Staintune polished stainless steel slip-on mufflers had been fitted, and apart from being lighter than stock, they bring some horsepower gains and fantastic exhaust note. I replaced the standard paper air filter with a K&N hi-flow unit, which should also help the engine breath better giving some small power/torque gains. A timing retard eliminator was bought from R rated parts which stop the bikes ECU from retarding the ignition in the first four gears until 4500rpm is reached. Suzuki (and other Japanese manufacturers) use this as a safety feature in case too much throttle is applied in the lower gears. The T.R.E. has made acceleration crisper and the engine smoother at lower revs. I can now comfortably use the lower revs in, the lower gears instead trying to keep the engine feeling more responsive by staying above 4,500rpm.

SUSPENSION.

Blue Hel braided steel brake lines.

Blue Hel braided steel brake lines.

The suspension settings on the SV were too soft at the front and also firm on the rear when I took ownership. I returned the fully adjustable front and rear suspension to the manufacturer’s settings, which I found for my weight, was spot on. The bike feels planted on the road and tracks beautifully through fast sweeping bends and handles the tight stuff pretty well. My only reservation is the oversized 190/50/17 rear tyre, which was fitted to the bike. It does look great, exposed in all its glory by the tail tidy, but a standard size 180/55/17 should enhance the low-speed handling in the tight stuff.

WHAT NEXT?

The consensus is the standard SV1000S puts out about 105-106 rear wheel horsepower. Taking into account the slip on Staintune mufflers and the hi-flow air filter, I guestimate the SV is making 107 to 108bhp. I hope to have the bike put on the dyno later this year and have a power commander fitted to take any minor wrinkles out of the powerband. I’m hoping to see around 110bhp, which for the type of riding I do, should be more than adequate. There is still the removal of the airbox snorkel to experiment with which could also help engine breathing.

DOWNSIDES?

Keiti SV Series tank pad.

Keiti SV Series tank pad.

Some earlier models in the SV’s lifespan (2003 to 2007) suffered from a green electric connector failure, which did cause, naturally enough, electrical problems. All models do suffer from a clutch noise affectionately known as “chudder” which pervades itself while riding with low revs at low speed and is also noticeable with the SV in neutral at traffic lights. Its severity varies from bike to bike and to be honest I hardly notice it as I ride mostly on country roads. There is a fix, which involves a modified clutch basket and spring retainers but at the moment it really is not an issue. The SV1000S is suited to sports touring with its effective half fairing but is limited to a degree by its fuel capacity of 17lt. This translates to around 225km-230km before the fuel light comes on, so forward planning is needed to ensure the availability of service stations on long interstate rides.

THE LAST WORD.

Although its predecessors, the notorious TL1000s and the more desirable TL1000R have overshadowed the SV1000, during its time, it was probably a superior package to the Ducati’s of the day and more reliable. It was also more than a match for the Honda Firestorm. I have been told by a Suzuki technician that valve adjustment is rarely called for at major service interval’s (every 24,0000km) and I was informed by a fellow owner whose SV had covered 75,00km that he was yet to need a valve adjustment. This was backed up by the first major service performed on my own SV at 24,000km. Pretty remarkable for a V-twin that pulls an 11,000rpm redline.

And although I will not rule out buying another motorcycle, I know for sure I will not part with my SV1000S.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2015. Images Geoff Dawes © 2015.

Vale Geoffrey Ernest Duke, 29th of March 1923 to the 1st of May 2015.

In this modern world of instant access to 24-hour news services and an almost inescapable saturation of the latest events from around the globe, it’s not unusual for those in the public eye to quickly achieve the status of celebrity or even “Superstar”. But to accomplish this level of fame during the 1950’s, in what could only be described at that time as a minority sport, is truly extraordinary.

Born in St. Helens, Lancashire on the 29th of March 1923, Geoff Duke OBE became a household name during this period in Britain, Europe and the Commonwealth. A four times World Champion in the 500cc (MotoGP) class and twice in the 350cc category of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, Duke also became the first rider to win three consecutive 500cc (MotoGP) World Championships between1953 and1955. Geoff would have been in contention for a fourth title had the FIM not imposed a six-month ban for supporting a privateers strike for more start money at the 1955 Dutch TT. Duke also became the first rider to win two World Championships in the same year, taking the 350cc and 500cc titles in 1951.

Duke on the Norton.

Duke on the Norton single.

Duke’s background in motorcycling had started at the age of 10, when unbeknown to his parents he bought a belt drive Raleigh of the same vintage. While still a teenager at the start of the Second World War, Duke trained dispatch riders in the Royal Signals Corps. He subsequently competed for the first time in military trials events and also achieved the status of Team Sergeant in the Royal Signals Motorcycle Team, the famous “White Helmets”.

An exceptional trials rider, Duke was employed in Norton’s trials department after the war. However, he already had his sights set on something faster. With Norton’s backing, he made his road-racing debut in 1948, starting out on the most dangerous racetrack of them all, the Isle of Man TT course.

World Champion Geoff Duke at Hesketh1 - Copy

Duke on the technically advanced Gilera.

His initial World Championship titles in 1951 had come on Norton singles but a reluctance by Norton management to pay Duke what he was worth led him to change to the technically advanced, but unruly, Italian four-cylinder Gilera. Duke helped develop the advanced machines to take a hat-trick of 500cc titles. He also became the first rider to win 500cc world titles on two different brands of motorcycles, a feat that has only been emulated by a handful of riders. Geoff also set new standards off the motorcycle, with a polite manner, good looks and smart clothes.

Another first for Duke was the use of a close-fitting one-piece leather racing suit, which no doubt came about by trying to reduce wind resistance on the underpowered Norton singles. Duke also dabbled in car racing and became an Aston Martin “works driver” during in 1952 and 1953.

Another win for .Duke

Another win for Duke.

After 33 Grand Prix wins from 89 starts and 50 podiums, which included 6 wins at the Isle of Man TT, Duke retired from GP motorcycle racing, ending an illustrious 10-year road racing career. A short-lived and unsuccessful return to car racing resulted in a major crash in Sweden after which Geoff became a Hotelier in the Isle of Man, which by then was his home.

As well as receiving an Order of the British Empire in 1953, Duke was voted BBC Sportsman of the year and awarded the prestigious RAC Seagrave Trophy, both in 1951.

Duke passed away at his home on the Isle Of Man on the 1st of May 2015. He was 92 years old.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2015. Images courtesy http://www.theguardian.com, http://www.members.boardhost.com. Video courtesy http://www.dukevideo.com.

The NR500 Honda

There is an age-old adage that “necessity is the mother of invention”, which is an apt description of the challenge that the Honda Motor Company faced on its return to the 500cc class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in 1979.

Honda had withdrawn from motorcycle Grands Prix at the end of 1967 for a variety of reasons. The Japanese company had prioritised the R&D department to concentrate on its venture into road cars, while also supplying racing engines to the Brabham Formula 2 team and entering its own car into Formula 1 with a former motorcycle and F1 world champion John Surtees at the wheel. The company’s resources were being stretched to the very limit.

And there were also changes in the wind for Grand Pix motorcycle racing with new regulations being introduced by the F.I.M. at the end 1969 season. These would limit the number of cylinders and gears for the different Grand Prix classes, in an attempt to reduce costs, which also played a part in the decision by Honda to withdraw.

During the mid-sixties Honda, a stoic champion of the four-stroke engine, had been fighting a rearguard action against the ever-improving two-stroke engines of its Japanese and European rivals, particularly in the smaller capacity classes. To overcome the more frequent power strokes the two-stroke engine design, Honda could only improve the four-stroke engines volumetric efficiency with more cylinders, higher engine rev’s and more gears, which were effectively to be outlawed by the FIM in 1969.

How could Honda respond to this technical conundrum? The answer is one of the most technically innovative motorcycle engine designs of all time.

The NR500's revolutionary engine.

The NR500’s innovative engine.

The decision to return to the Grand’s Prix was officially announced in December 1977 by the President of Honda, Koyoshi Kawashima. In true Honda tradition, the group of young engineers brought together to develop a winning machine had little if any racing experience. This “clean sheet” approach was indeed a risky one. No four-stroke had competed in the 500cc class since 1976 when the mighty MV Agusta team withdrew, conceding to the supremacy of the two-stroke engine.

With the official title of “New Racing”, the development team came together in 1978 at the Asaka R&D Center. Takeo Fukui, who would later become director of R&D and president of Honda Racing Corporation, would lead the team, while Soichiro Irimajiri, the man who was the father of the CBX road bike and the legendary RC166 250cc six-cylinder GP racer would help guide the group. It soon became apparent to the young engineers that, within the limitation of four cylinders, to get on a competitive footing with the two-strokes they needed to double the number of engine revs and improve intake efficiency by increasing the number of inlet valves and exhaust valves from four to eight. To accommodate eight valves, the team decided to free themselves from the traditional round piston and use a revolutionary oval design. In effect, a V8 with 4 sets of two cylinders fused together. According to their calculations, an estimated output of 130hp at 23,000rpm was possible.

Cylinder head for the Honda NR500.

A cylinder head for the Honda NR500.

To prove the potential of this design a single cylinder “slave” engine was built, initially with two valves, which showed the engine would rev. The number of valves was then increased step by step from two to eight. This was not without teething problems with the engine self destructing at anything over 10,000rpm. The problem was with the two connecting rods the oval piston design required, which distorted and pulled the piston pins out of position. Sealing of the piston rings, not unexpectedly, was also a significant problem.

However, it was the persistence of the team that one by one identified and found solutions to these problems. The achievement of effectively sealing of the piston ring, in particular, was a considerable boost to the feasibility of the overall design. With that, the test target moved from the single-cylinder ‘slave” engines to a full four-cylinder engine.

Toshimitsu Yoshimura was responsible for designing the 100-degree V-four, and bench testing of the revolutionary engine began in April 1979. The Grand Prix season was already well underway. But the 0X engine was still giving the team problems, from a damaged gear train to broken valves. Nevertheless, the engine was producing around 110 horsepower, and the engineers knew that to understand its real-world potential it needed to be assessed in the white heat of competition. “We wanted to identify the weaknesses in our new engine by seeing how it performed in an actual race,” remembered Yoshimura.

Oval piston from the NR750 Honda.

The oval piston from the NR750 Honda.

However, it was not just the engine of the NR500 that was innovative, the chassis was as well. Designed by research engineer, Tadahashi Kamiya, it was constructed as a true monocoque. The engine, with swingarm, attached, slotted into the stressed skin of the fairing, tank and seat unit. Radiators for the liquid cooled engine were mounted on the sides of the fairing, utilising the air funnelling through the front of the “fairing” to flow onto the engine and out the sides of the fairing through the cooling radiators. Although the rear suspension was a more conventional monoshock system, the front forks were unusual by using an “upside down” design in which the triple clamps held the fork tubes and the stanchions held the front wheel axle. The Honda design used external fork springs to enable quick changes of spring rates and a higher volume of fork oil and larger damping components in the fork tube.

Oddly the disk calipers where mounted in front of the forks, which to a degree was offset by an unusual trailing front axle. Again the team of engineers pushed the envelope by opting to use 16inch Comstar wheels with tyres developed by Dunlop as opposed to the commonly used 18inch rims with Michelin tyres in search of lower unsprung weight and a smaller frontal area for the NR500.

The revolutionary NR500 Honda of 1979.

The ground breaking NR500 Honda of 1979.

It was at the 1979 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the 11th World Championship race of the season that the NR500 made its debut. Veteran English rider Mick Grant, an Isle of Man Senior TT and 250cc Grand Prix winner, along with Takazumi Katayama, a Korean born Japanese rider and 1977 350cc World Champion, had been recruited to race the groundbreaking machine. Both had tested the bike in Japan, and Grant, in particular, understood the frustration of developing the avant-garde Honda.

“By that time I knew what to expect.” Commented Grant. “They had open practice, and on the straight, a 250cc Yamaha was pulling away from me – not a lot, but pulling away and that was enough to show me the scale of the problem. I had never ridden harder.”

Even with Grant and Katayama’s best efforts, they qualified on the last row of the grid. Grand Prix racing in those days required a push start by the rider to fire up the engine when the starter’s flag was dropped. The Honda at that stage would only idle at 7000rpm and making the engine fire up was a hit and miss affair. Katayama caught his engine but waited for Grant’s engine to fire so they could circulate together around the circuit. It took several embarrassing seconds before Grant could get away. With his weight too far back on the saddle the Honda pulled wheelies through the gears. As he approached the first corner, the NR500 slid out beneath him and started to catch fire. The wheelie had caused oil to spill out the carburettors and onto the rear tyre. Katayama retired several laps later with engine problems.

The revolutionary oval piston technology.

The revolutionary oval piston technology.

The next race was the French Grand Prix at Le Mans where the Honda team suffered the humiliation of not even qualifying for the race. It was the last race of the year, and Yoshimura was moved to tears, “I felt miserable, just miserable,” he said. “Tears welled up in my eyes. Except for ours, all the bikes were using two-stroke engines. To be honest, I’d been hoping they would go to the final race and give us a really good run, even if it meant trailing at the very end. After the race, they asked me to watch the video, but I couldn’t bring myself to see it.” If anything it underlined how long the road would be for the NR500.

In fact, the plan documents for the “New Racing” team had stipulated, “Become World Champion within three years.” Time was of the essence, and the vast amount of new technology and innovation would take to long to perfect.

At the beginning of the 1980 season, the team had returned to a conventional tube type frame and 18inch wheels. The focus could then be put into developing the engine, which in many ways was the fundamental problem. Due to the V4’s extreme engine breaking which caused the rear wheel to hop on downshifts in the lower gears, a back torque-limiting clutch was developed to cure the problem. By now the 1X engine was producing 115ps, but acceleration and throttle response in corners was still a problem. And as reliability improved so did the engines weight by around 20kg requiring the use of exotic materials such as magnesium and titanium to maintain the status quo.

The tube frame for the 1980 NR500.

The tube frame for the 1980 NR500.

The 1980 Grand Prix season, however, did not see much reward for a lot of hard work. Although Katayama had managed, take a third place podium at an international meeting in Italy, in the World Championship his best results were fifteenth place at the British Grand Prix (the first finish for the NR500 in a GP), and twelfth place at the German Grand Prix. This did not stop the motorcycle media from harshly criticising the NR500 Honda, tagging it as “Never Ready”.

The oval piston engine was further refined for the 1981 season in order to reduce weight, improve durability and increase power. The 100-degree V of the engine was narrowed to 90 creating a more compact unit, but just as importantly it was now producing 130ps at 19,000rpm in its 2X configuration.

Freddie Spencer on the NR500 Honda at Silverstone.

Freddie Spencer on the NR500 Honda at Silverstone.

Honda had decided it would enter machines in the All-Japan Championship to help speed up development of the NR500. A fifth place at the second round of the championship saw the NR500 starting to compete on more equal terms with two-strokes. This was backed up with the NR500’s first win at the Suzuka 200 kilometre race where the four-strokes better fuel consumption was pivotal to the victory. Then in July Honda’s new rider signing, Freddie Spencer, scored a victory over 500cc Grand Prix World Champion “King” Kenny Roberts in a heat race for the final in an international meeting at Laguna Seca.

The NR500 (2X) machine that helped Kengo Kiyama to win the 1981 Suzuka 500-Kilometer Race, giving Honda its first victory with the oval piston engine

The NR500 (2X) machine that helped Kengo Kiyama to win the 1981 Suzuka 200-Kilometer Race, giving Honda its first victory with the oval piston engine

The competitiveness did not follow the Honda to Europe. Katayama managed a thirteenth place in the first round of the 500cc World Championship in Austria, but retirement from the subsequent races resulted in no points for the team that season.

For the 1982 season, after finally accepting that the rules favoured the two-stroke engine, Honda introduced the NS500 two-stroke Grand Prix racer. Although race appearances became fewer for the NR500, bench testing of the remarkable engine continued.

The technology continued to be developed resulting with the gestation of the NR750 to race at the 1987 Le Mans endurance race in France. Although not expected to win, (that was the job of the more “conventional “ Honda RVF’s of Honda France) and with two of rider line-up who were motorcycle journalists, it was up to two times Australian Superbike Champion, Malcolm “Wally” Campbell, to qualify for the race. Someone forgot to tell Campbell that for Honda it was more about publicity than racing and he put NR750 in second place on the grid behind the factory Honda RVF. Unreliability again put the NR out at the 22hour mark, but it did emphasise how far the technology had come. Campbell would give the NR750 its first win in a heat of the Swan Insurance International Series at Calder Park in December that year.

The 1992 NR750 Honda.

The 1992 NR750 Honda.

In 1992, thirteen years after the NR500’s debut in the World Championship Grands Prix, Honda unveiled a production version of the NR750. Around 300 of these machines are believed to have been made with an extremely high price tag of around US$50,000. Recently an example was placed on eBay with an asking price of approximately US$100,000.

There is also a certain amount of irony that Formula 1 banned both oval piston and two-stroke technology for use in an F1 engine.

Perhaps a quote by an unnamed engineer that worked on the project best sums up the NR.        “ The true value of the engine lay in its remarkable potential”.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2015. Images courtesy of Honda Worldwide. Video courtesy Honda Worldwide, MCN and Youtube.

A Legendary Champion

Marq03

Perhaps the only surprise surrounding World Champion Marc Marquez securing his second MotoGP championship was the fact that he did not accomplish it with a win at Honda’s own circuit of Motegi. After dominating the class from the opening round in Qatar to notch up ten consecutive wins by Indianapolis, which equalled the great Giacomo Agostini, it was quite clear that the 2014 championship trophy already had his name partially engraved upon it.

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Marquez celebrates his back to back MotoGP World Championships.

The 21-year-old became the youngest rider to win back-to-back Premier class championships since Mike Hailwood achieved it as a 23-year-old in1964. Marquez is also the first Spaniard to accomplish this feat. After finishing fourth in Czechoslovakia to the winner and Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa, Marquez won again in England at the British Grand Prix. But mistakes at Mugello in Italy and Aragon in Spain kept the title tantalisingly out of reach until a tactical 2nd place to Jorge Lorenzo in Motegi secured the crown.

After a crash in Australia, Marquez still has two more races, in Malaysia and Valencia, to equal or beat Australian Mick Doohan’s record of 12 victories in a premier class season.

But although Marquez continues to set and break records, there is, maybe, one record he will be unable to achieve.

Fifty years ago on the 25th of October this year, John Surtees O.B.E. secured the Formula One World Championship for Ferrari, becoming the first and only man to win a Grand Prix World Championships on two wheels and four. Surtees had already won the premier 500cc Grand Prix crown on four occasions (1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960) and the 350cc G.P. title on three times (1958, 1959 and 1960) for a total of seven World Championships on two wheels. Surtees then clinched the Formula One title at the last race in Mexico in 1964.

John Surtees rides his MV Agusta to victory at the 1958 Isle of Man TT.

John Surtees rides his MV Agusta to victory at the 1958 Isle of Man TT.

It’s interesting to note that Surtees won his World Championships on two wheels and four with Italian racing royalty, Ferrari and MV Agusta. But remarkably Surtees had never raced a car until a non-championship meeting at Goodwood in 1960. Surtees put his F2 Cooper-Climax on pole and finished an incredible second to Jim Clark in a Lotus. In only his second F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone Surtees, driving a Lotus finished second to World Champion Jack Brabham. It was just his eighth car race.

At the Portuguese F1 Grand Prix, he put the Lotus on pole giving the team their very first pole position. This was all in 1960 while he was on his way to winning both the 500cc and 350cc World Championship on two wheels with MV Agusta.

Other examples of John’s versatility was to win the inaugural 1966 Can-Am Sports Car Championship in America driving a Lola T70 while another was taking Honda’s second F1 win in 1967 by driving the Honda Racing RA 300 to a fantastic victory on its debut at Monza in Italy.

Surtees pushes the Ferrari 158 to second place behind Jim Clark’s Lotus at Zandvoort in Holland 1964.

Surtees pushes the Ferrari 158 to second place behind Jim Clark’s Lotus at Zandvoort in Holland 1964.

In today’s world of specialisation in Motorsport this type of versatility is unheard of. Surtees, like most riders in the 1950’s and 1960’s, also rode in more than one Grand Prix class during a championship meeting: a concept that would be alien to today’s MotoGP heroes. Yet there is still even more to Surtees’ accomplishments.

Surtees also became a racing car manufacturer in 1970 forming the Surtees Racing Organisation with his cars competing in Formula 5000, Formula 2 and Formula 1. Surtees most significant success as a manufacturer came with another former motorcycle multi-world champion, Mike Hailwood, who won the European F2 championship for Surtees in 1972.

Surtees in discussion with "Il commendatore" Enzo Ferrari.

Surtees in discussion with “Il Commendatore” Enzo Ferrari.

The prodigious talents of John Surtees have created a unique chapter in the history of Motorsport and one that is unlikely to be repeated. Although Surtees has already been awarded an M.B.E. and an O.B.E. in the Queen’s honours list, many feel that a Knighthood would be a more appropriate recognition of this great man and his ongoing contribution to Motorsport. Surtees turned 80 this year.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014. Images http://www.commons.wikimedia.org, http://www.ilpost.it, http://www.performanceforums.com and the Repsol Honda Team.

50 Years of Grand Prix Legacy

Left to right: Masahiko Nakajima (President of Yamaha Motor Racing) Phil Read and Marco Riva (General Manager of Yamaha Motor Racing)

Left to right: Masahiko Nakajima President of Yamaha Motor Racing, Phil Read and Marco Riva General Manager of Yamaha Motor Racing.

Saturday the 13th of September represented a significant milestone for Yamaha Factory Racing. Precisely fifty years had passed since the Iwata based company attained its first world championship with the two-stroke 250cc RD56 when English motorcycle legend Phil Read won the Nations Grand Prix at Monza.

Read was on hand at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli to present Masahiko Nakajima (President of Yamaha Motor Racing) and Marco Riva (General Manager of Yamaha Motor Racing) with his original 1964 F.I.M. World Championship certificate. The certificate will now take pride of place at Yamaha’s Hall Of Fame in Japan. A copy of the document has been made that will be signed by all those present to mark the occasion and in return will be presented to Read.

Phil Read went on to win a total of eight world titles across four classes, 125GP, 250GP, 500GP and TTF1. His career is littered with impressive achievements, including eight IOM TT race, wins, 121 Grand Prix podiums and four 250cc world titles which have only ever been equalled by Max Biaggi. Alongside Mike Hailwood and fellow Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, Phil is one of only three riders to have won road-racing world championships in three or more classes.

Read receives the trophies and takes the 1964 250cc World Championship.

Read receives the trophies and takes the 1964 250cc World Championship.

Read was quoted as saying, “This special evening to celebrate my bringing Yamaha’s first world title to them after 50 years is like coming home to the happy team, the reception has been fantastic, it’s overwhelming for me to see I get this recognition. I’m lucky to be here after fifty years of racing! It’s also thrilling to be here in Misano with Jorge on pole and Valentino so close on the front row too. It’s a little different now, from 1964; I came to Monza with two factory 250 Yamaha RD56s in the back of my car with one English mechanic and a Japanese mechanic who came over for the race in Monza. I think we had our carburettor settings written on a postcard! I still feel as much part of the Yamaha family today as I did then, and feel privileged to have started a run of world championship success that has continued to this day.”

Marco Riva, Yamaha Motor Racing, General Manager responded, “Our success with the RD56 wrote a page in motorcycle history. It was very competitive for many years and is still, in my opinion, the best race bike. Our aim has always been to have the rider at the centre of our racing project, Phil and other Yamaha icons such as Giacomo Agostini, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo are all still the most important factor. We are the only manufacturer that raced from the beginning of the world championship to now, we’ve never stopped, and this is something very special. We are honoured to have Phil here with us to celebrate this anniversary. He is an icon in motorcycle racing, fourth in the all-time world rankings with eight world titles. We hold riders such as Phil in a special place in our hearts over these years for allowing us to win these titles together.”

Yamaha followed Japanese rivals Honda and Suzuki into the World Championship Motorcycle Road Racing Grands Prix in 1961. Since the inception of the F.I.M. World Championship Grands Prix in 1949, Yamaha has won 38 manufacturers titles and 37 riders titles that cover 125cc, 250cc, 350cc, 500cc and MotoGP.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014. Images courtesy Movistar Yamaha Factory Racing.

Superhuman

In a recent interview with U.K. newspaper The Telegraph, the most successful design engineer in F1 history made quite a thought-provoking statement. Adrian Newey commented, “If you watch a sport – it doesn’t matter what sport – you want to come away with a feeling those guys are special. If you watch MotoGP, you think those guys are just superhuman. You just don’t get that with the current breed of F1 cars.”

The most successful design engineer in F1 history.

Adrian Newey, the most successful design engineer in F1 history.

Newey who is unenamoured with the tightly controlled regulations currently in force in F1, believes they are so constrictive that, “the regulations design the cars.” Even as recently as two races ago in Germany the FIA outlawed FRICS, a front and rear interconnected hydraulic/mechanical suspension system which some teams had been using since 2010.

So disappointed is Newey with F1 he is stepping back from hands-on involvement at the end of the season with the Red Bull Racing F1 team. He has signed a new deal, where from next year he will be involved in Red Bull Technologies special projects, one of which is believed to be Britain’s America’s Cup challenger.

Newey, of course, has always had an uncanny ability to exploit the “grey” areas of the regulations on his way to designing F1 cars for the Red Bull team that have won four constructors and four drivers world championships between 2010-2113.

Four time World Champion Sebastian Vettel in the RB10.

Four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel in the RB10.

But as justified as the analogy between F1 and MotoGP is, the ongoing homogeny in technical terms for Grand Prix motorcycle racing is to a degree mimicking F1 and is of great concern for the “purity” of the sport. Let’s not forget that F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone created Two Wheeled Promotions to form a joint venture with Dorna Sports in the early 1990’s to acquire the commercial rights to the motorcycle Grand Prix from the FIM. Ecclestone sold his companies interest to Dorna and its CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta has often looked to F1 for inspiration, “to improve the spectacle.”

We now have a situation in MotoGP where, just as in F1, there are colour coded control tyres, a freeze on engine development for the “factory” machines during the season and a limit on the number engines available. Which for 2014 can only consume a meagre 20 litres of fuel per Grand Prix. In 2016 it will also be mandatory for all the MotoGP teams to use a Dorna supplied ECU and software.

One significant difference, however, is the use of traction control in MotoGP. Banned initially in F1 in 1994 and backed up with the introduction of a standard FIA ECU in 2008, some MotoGP riders and a proportion of the fans are against these electronics as well, as it’s seen as an artificial enhancement of a rider’s ability. But it is also a concession by Dorna to maintain motorcycle manufacturer involvement, who have to justify the enormous expenditure required to go Grand Prix motorcycle racing and who have traditionally seen MotoGP as part of their research and development programs that filters new technology down to their road bikes.

F1 like colour coding of MotoGp tyres.

F1 like colour coding of MotoGP tyres.

The same is true of the new regulations in F1 with the return of a smaller capacity 1.6litre fuel-efficient turbocharged V6 engine that use a more complex hybrid energy recovery systems. Again, if the changes had not happened Renault and Mercedes may have withdrawn from F1, as they too have to justify the massive expenditure to go racing to their respective boards and shareholders by developing technology that is relevant to the road cars they build and sell. Nonetheless, the real racing person that Newey is, he describes F1 as becoming an “an engine formula.”

However, regardless of electronic rider aids and constrictive regulations, MotoGP racers by the very nature of motorcycle design are themselves “part of the machine”. Where they place their body weight under braking or going around a corner and accelerating out of a corner has a significant impact on lap times. Indeed MotoGP racers use everything available to them to go as fast as they can, carving angles of lean through bends that defy the laws of physics, and dragging not just their knees but also their elbows on the tarmac.

They also, thankfully, have no radio hookups with the pits and a team of technicians reading telemetry telling them what to do, only pit boards and their own judgment for tactical use of their fuel and tyre consumption over the course of a race.

Jorge Lorenzo becomes airborne trying to avoid backmarker James Ellison.

Jorge Lorenzo becomes airborne trying to avoid backmarker James Ellison.

Also, these racers are not strapped tightly into a safety cell with only a low percentile chance of serious injury should they crash, as is the case in F1. And regardless of the current technology MotoGP riders do crash regularly, and often spectacularly, suffering abrasions and broken bones. Ask Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow to name a few. No matter what the technical regulators do to the sport of MotoGP, that innate, spectacular and highly dangerous involvement of the motorcycle racer themselves does indeed make them “superhuman.”

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014.  Images courtesy http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk, http://www.nhatnet.com, http://www.vroom-magazine.com, and http://www.zigwheels.com