Tag Archives: Mike Hailwood

From Russia With Love – The Vostok Racers

Endel Kiisa aboard the 500cc Vostok four-cylinder S-565.

At the end of the Second World War former allies, the United States of America and the communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics entered into a period that was aptly described as “the cold war”. Both superpowers, armed with ideological distrust and a large arsenal of atomic weapons, knew that a direct confrontation would only bring about mutually assured destruction.

Each side fought the other indirectly by trying to influence foreign countries politically and economically while also aspiring to claim global prestige on the high ground of advanced technology – in particular, what became known in the 1960’s as the “Space Race”.

It was no doubt a rude shock to America when in 1961 the Soviets put the first man into space to orbit the earth in the spacecraft Vostok 1. Vostok (meaning Orient or East) became a household name around the world and one that was adopted by the communists for a little-known foray into World Championship Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

Although the former eastern block countries of Czechoslovakia and East Germany are better recognised for their motorcycle production and Grand Prix prowess, thanks to CZ, Jawa and MZ, it was in the town of Serpukhov 99km south of Moscow that these not so widely known Russian racers were built.

In 1942 the Central Construction and Experimental Bureau were established in Serpukhov with the aim of providing research and development for the numerous mass production motorcycle factories dotted around the USSR, in a bid to help the Soviet war effort during the Second World War.

Single cylinder engine of a 125cc S-157 racer.

At the end of the conflict German motorcycle manufacturer, DKW fell into the hands of the Soviets. In the1930’s DKW had been the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. The Russians plundered the Zschopau factory confiscating its technology and taking it to the Serpukhov Bureau,

Unsurprisingly this spawned blatant copies of the two-stroke DKW racers. The S1B, the S2B and the S3B were all reproductions of pre-war DKW’s with capacities of 125cc, 250cc and 350cc while the “S” (sometimes referred to as “C” which translated from the Russian Cyrillic alphabet stands for “S”) in the acronym stood for the town of Serpukhov.

Motorcycle competition and record-breaking took place post-war in the USSR but there was no participation in international events. The Soviet motorsport governing body the URSS was not affiliated with the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) but by 1954 the communists became interested in competing on the international stage. The Central Automobile and Motor Cycle Club of Moscow joined the FIM two years later on the 1st of January 1956.

But in 1954, in preparation for entry into international road racing, the Serpukhov Bureau designed (believed to be by Evgenij Mathiushin) a new series of four-stroke racers simply designated “S” for Serpukhov. The classification of these racers was quite simple. The S-154 had a 125cc capacity represented by the “1” and “54” was merely the year it was designed.

Its architecture was double overhead camshaft driven by shaft and gears on the right-hand side. The single cylinder was slightly inclined with a “square” bore and stroke of 54 x 54mm giving a capacity of 123cc and an output of 12.5hp. The chassis resembled a smaller version of the Norton Featherbed frame while the overall weight was approximately 80kgs with a top speed around 140kph.

S-254 was designed as a 250cc twin cylinder four-stroke racer with the same “square” dimensions of 54 x 54mm as the S-154 and also used double overhead camshafts, this time driven by an inclined shaft on the right hand side of the engine to the inlet camshaft which in turn on its left hand end used gears and a pinion to turn the exhaust camshaft. Ignition was by coil while twin carburettors supplied the fuel and final drive was by a five-speed gearbox. Weight was 126kg and with 23bhp available, at 8,200rpm it boasted a top speed of 150kmh. For the chassis, a Featherbed type frame with earls type front forks was utilised and initially, a dustbin fairing was supplied.

Serpukhov’s 350cc machine was the S-354 and of the same design as the S-254 but with the bore and stroke taken out to 60 x 61mm for 348cc. Power was initially 33bhp at 8,200rpm and with a weight of 144kg was capable of 165kph. It used a duplex cradle frame was best described as a cross between a Manx Norton and a BSA Gold Star design and utilised earls type fork. A “bikini” fairing provided the aerodynamics.

The twin cylinder engine of the S-254 250cc racer.

Then came the S-555, a 500cc version basically a bored out version of the 350cc S-354. With a bore and stroke of 72 x 61mm giving short stroke engine a capacity of 498cc with a claimed power output of 47bhp at 7,400rpm and a top speed of 190kph.

There was also a 175cc machine simply designated the S-175. This was not a bored out S-154 or half of the 350 twin and had a bore and stroke of 64 x 54mm for 174cc. It utilised a vertical cylinder like the later version of S-154, the S-157, and also boasted a twin-plug cylinder head, which became a feature of the S range in 1960. Although it was not an eligible capacity for international racing, a 175cc category was introduced into Soviet national competition.

With no official factory based team running on a permanent basis the Bureau loaned the “S” racers to preferred motorcycle clubs in the major cities. These machines were made accessible to promising road racers as they were well in advance of the out-dated two-strokes and altered road bikes that were available to the majority of competitors in national events.

Although these machines competed with a certain amount of success in race meetings mainly in the USSR, it was the Czechoslovakian manufacturer Jawa that in 1957 appeared to have a machine capable of competing at an international level bringing a halt to the development of the Serpukhov factories middleweight DOHC racers the S-257 and S-358. Czech racer Franta Stastny had ridden a Jawa 250cc racer to 12th place in the 1957 Lightweight TT on the demanding Isle of Man Mountain Course. This brought about a closer collaboration between the Serpukhov Bureau and Jawa. It effectively saw replicas of the Jawa 250cc, and 350cc racers re-badged as S-259 and S-360 Serpukhov machines, although a number of components were made in Russia.

These two “S” racers used twin overhead camshafts driven by a vertical bevel shaft positioned behind the two cylinders, driving the inlet camshaft and a horizontal shaft across the top of the engine to drive the exhaust camshaft. The cylinders were inclined at 10 degrees and a heavily finned wet sump held the engine oil. The cylinder head sported two valves per cylinder and twin spark plugs with a battery and coil ignition. A pair of Amal carburettors provided the fuel and final drive was via a six-speed gearbox.

The frame for the two racers was conventional tubular construction either diamond or Featherbed with 19-inch wheels. The 248cc version had a bore and stroke of 55 x 52 mm and produced 38bhp at 11,000rpm. With a weight of 128kgs, a top speed of 190 km/h could be reached. It’s thought the 350cc version had a bore and stroke of 62 x 57.6mm and approximately 46bhp 10,300 rpm with a weight of 130kgs. 210 km/h was thought to be the top speed.

Endel Kiisa aboard the S-360 350cc racer.

The Jawa replicas were a step in the right direction for the Serpukhov Bureau. Russian rider Nikolai Sevostianov on the S-360 claimed third place in May 1961 at the Djurgardslopper international race meeting held at Helsinki in Finland.

It should be noted that the Jawa 350cc “version” did considerably well over the course of the 1961 Grand Prix season with factory riders Franta Statsny and Gustav Havel claiming a double 1st and 2nd places in the German and Swedish Grand Prix’ eventually finishing 2nd and 3rd in the 350cc World Championship

More progress came when the Soviet team made their debut in the World Championships at the East German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring in August 1962. By now the “S” racers were sometimes entered as CKB or on occasion as CKEB in reference to the Central Construction and Experimental Bureau in Serpukhov. Again it was Russian rider Sevostianov that provided the results finishing fifth in the 250cc class and in the 350cc category a fine sixth place.

The team returned again in 1963 to the East German Grand Prix taking fifth place for Sevostianov riding the S-360 in the 350cc class. Sevostianov accomplished an even better result at the Finnish G.P. held at the Tampere circuit coming home in fourth in the 350cc category, although there is a side story to this result as the outcome may have been a Podium. The following is the doyen of motorcycle journalists Chris Carter’s recollection of the event published in his book “Chris Carter at Large.”

Carter, “Mike Hailwood was there on his 350cc and 500cc MV Agusta’s, and there was a Russian guy on one of these Russian four-cylinder Vostoks (authors note: in fact a twin cylinder S-360). Down the straight, he kept looking across at Hailwood, and he wouldn’t brake for the first-right hander until Hailwood did. Hailwood became furious with this man, so in the end, quite deliberately, he didn’t brake at all. They both shot up the slip road, and then Hailwood … put his foot on this man’s petrol tank and shoved. The poor Russian and his Vostok went crashing to the ground.” Hailwood went on to win the race. Sevostianov was also entered in the 500cc class and took sixth place on a bored out S -360 twin.

Cutaway drawing of the Vostok S-364 350cc four.

As the results of the “S” racers in the World Championship improved the head of the Serpukhov Bureau, Ing. Ivanitsky, and the Deputy Director of Laboratories at the Vniimotopram Institute, V Kuznetsov, decided it was time to take on the European and Japanese factories at their own game with a completely new design. The 1964 S-364 was a 350cc four-cylinder four stroke and the first from the Serpukhov Bureau to be entered as a Vostok. The ambitious project also included a 500cc version to challenge for the blue riband class but was still on the drawing board.

The Vostok’s engine architecture took its design cues from the Italian multi’s and the Honda’s with double overhead camshafts being driven by a central gear train. Bore and stroke were oversquare with dimensions of 49 x 46mm for a capacity of 347cc. Ignition was by magneto and coil while four 30mm carburettors supplied the fuel and the final drive was via a dry clutch and six-speed gearbox. The first Vostoks used the frame and suspension units of the Jawa/CKB racers. Weight was around 130Kgs with a top speed of 230km/h.

It was at the East German Grand Prix in July 1964 that the Vostok S-364 made its international debut. causing a flurry of interest, as these were the most technically advanced Grand Prix racers to come out of the Soviet Union. It was not to be the introduction though that the Serpukhov Bureau would have hoped for as both the entries of Sevostianov and Estonian rider Endel Kiisa retired with mechanical problems after holding third and fourth place behind Jim Redman on a Honda and Gustav Havel on a Jawa. Sevostianov also raced in the 500cc class on a bored out version of the CKB S-360 twin and managed a fourth-place finish.

In August at the Finnish Grand Prix Endel Kiisa recorded the Surpokhov racers best result in the World Championship so far with a podium third place behind Redman and Beale on Honda’s. But it was not on the Vostok four but the CKB S-360 twin cylinder.

However, the Vostok four did appear again in September at Monza in the Nation’s Grand Prix. Unfortunately Sevostianov and Kiisa both retired with mechanical problems, which was said to be with the ignition, but in reality, the S-364 was destroying its pistons as it had done on debut in East Germany.

Cutaway drawing of the Vostok S-364 crank conrod pistons and overhead camshafts.

The four-cylinder reappeared again in 1965 at the first round of the championship, the West German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. The Soviet team arrived a day late and Endel Kiisa could only manage one practice session. On the starting grid for the mandatory push start the Vostok refused to fire, but once he got on his way, Kiisa managed to fight his way through a pack of privateers to finish in fifth place. In a field that included riders of the calibre of Agostini and Hailwood on factory MV Agusta’s, it was a promising result. Only a week later at the non-championship Austrian Grand Prix, he very nearly gave the Vostok its maiden international triumph only to retire a just a kilometre short of victory.

Before the East German Grand Prix later that year major changes were made to the Vostok S-364. A new frame based on the Norton Featherbed design was employed and the power unit was modified with a new cylinder head and an oil cooler mounted in front of the engine.

Unfortunately, both Vostoks retired from the East German race but only a week later, at the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix in Brno, Sevostianov took the honour of a 3rd place podium behind Jim Redman on a works Honda and Derek Woodman on an MZ. This was the best result so far for a Russian rider on a Russian designed and built racer in the classics.

The Vostok did compete at the Nations Grand Prix at Monza in Italy in September with Kiisa finishing in eight spot, and again later that month for a meeting organised by the Automobile Club of Milan as an Italy vs USSR match race series. Italian riders filled the first six places of both races, and sadly this was also the last international event for the Vostok S-364.

Endel Kiisa at the 1965 Austrian Grand Prix on the Vostok S-364 four.

There was to be however one last hurrah for the Vostok racers. A 500cc version of the four-cylinder machine had been built with the designation S-565 presumably making it a1965 design although it was based on the 350cc model. With a bore and stroke 55 x 52mm for a capacity of 494cc the engine produced a reputed 80bhp at 12,400 rpm. Weighing in at 155kgs it was good for 250 km/h. There were some minor visual differences to the 350cc version with more fins to the cylinders a deeper sump and more fins on the front of the crankcases.

In 1968 the Vostok team turned up for the Finnish Grand Prix just over the Soviet border at Imatra. With Honda and Mike Hailwwod’s withdrawal from the World Championship, it was assumed the race would be a cakewalk for Agostini and the MV Agusta triple. As expected “Ago” took the lead with Kiisa and the Vostok glued to the back wheel of the MV. Three laps in, and to the amazement of the crowd, the Vostok accelerated past the 500cc World Champions out of a slow corner. This was the first time a Soviet machine had led a 500cc Grand Prix. It was not to last with Kiisa experiencing ignition problems and retiring from the race. Sevostianov saved some face for the Vostok team by finishing in fourth place.

For 1969 some improvements were made to the S-565 Vostok, with a new four-valve head and huge drum brakes fitted that were developed originally for the Jawa V-four 350cc two-stroke.

Jewel like Russian engineering on Vostok S-365 four.

The upgraded machines were entered in the East German Grand Prix at the Saschenring. It was not to be a good meeting for the Vostoks. During the wet race, Kiisa returned to the pits to change a spark plug finally managing tenth place, while his teammate fellow Estonian Juri Randla had held third place but a misfire and carburettor problems forced him to retire. Seven days later at the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix, both Vostoks retired on the second lap. It was a humiliating conclusion to an endeavour that held so much promise but was defeated by lack of an adequate budget to fully develop these fascinating Grand Prix racers.

Words © Geoff Dawes 2018. Images courtesy http://www.b-cozz.com, http://www.cold-war-racers.com, http://www.fim-live.com, Twitter.

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Mike Hailwood’s Isle of Man TT return

A triumphant return. Mike heading for victory in the 1978 F1 TT.

It was acclaimed as one of the greatest comebacks in motor racing history. After more than a decade away from the most deadly of all motorcycle road racing circuits, the Isle of Man TT, former 9 times motorcycle World Champion, Mike Hailwood, returned to the Island riding an NCR Ducati, to win the 1978 Formula 1 TT. As if to underline he had lost none of his skill and versatility, Hailwood competed the following year again to win the Senior TT on a works Suzuki RG500 two-stroke Grand Prix racer. After his fairy-tale comeback, the 39-year-old then hung up his helmet for good.

2018 will be the fortieth anniversary of Hailwood’s remarkable return to the Island, but it was in 1977, forty years ago in Australia, that a chain of events put in motion Mike’s reunion with motorcycle racing and the TT.

After limited success in car racing, a crash at the 1974 German Grand Prix ended Hailwood’s Formula One car racing career. The collision caused compound fractures of Mike’s left knee, but the right leg sustained a shattered heel, and the ankle was pushed down and compacted. It became clear that the doctors couldn’t repair his right foot even after extensive surgery and rehabilitation. Mike and his family decided to move to New Zealand where he went into a partnership with Mclaren Marine.

Hailwood quickly became restless in his adopted country, and when in 1977 he was invited to be the guest of honour at a historic race meeting “over the ditch” in Australia, it was just the medicine Mike needed.

The All-Historic meeting was held at Amaroo Park in New South Wales, a circuit well known around the globe for its annual 6 Hour production motorcycle race. It was at this meeting Hailwood met and raced against Australian Jim Scaysbrook. Jim had competed successfully in dirt track, reliability trials, desert racing and speedway, and was the first Australian to race in the AMA Motocross series in 1973.

The main event for motorcycles was the Keith Campbell Memorial unlimited race. Scaysbrook won the race on Alan Puckett’s 7R AJS fitted with a Seeley 630cc G50 engine with Hailwood in second place on the ex Kel Carruthers 500cc Manx Norton owned by motorcycle dealer Barry Ryan. Over the course of the Australia Day weekend, the two men became good friends.

Mike was also mates with Sydney radio broadcaster, Owen Delaney, whom he had met in New Zealand. Delaney offered to sponsor Hailwood to come back for the historic race at the Easter Bathurst meeting. Mike would ride Barry Ryan’s ex-Kel Carruthers Manx Norton again and Jim the Alan Puckett 7R AJS. The event had previously been referred to as a historic machine demonstration but was officially upgraded to full race status for the 70 odd entrants. Scaysbrook won again at Mount Panorama, with Hailwood in second.

Jim Scaysbrook left, and Mike Hailwood prepare for the 1977 Castrol 6 Hour production race.

Hailwood returned to Australia once more for a historic meeting at Winton to pilot Charles Edmonds Manx Norton and was enjoying racing again so much that Delaney started to put together a deal to have Hailwood and Scaysbrook team up for the October Castrol 6 Hour production endurance race.

It was again a turn of events and a casual conversation that contrived to bring Hailwood back to the Isle of Man. In August 1977 a couple of months before his Castrol 6 Hour debut Mike attended the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. It was the first year the British Grand Prix was held on the mainland due to the top GP rider’s boycott of the Isle of Man TT because of the deadly nature of the street course. In the paddock at Silverstone for an F1 TT support race was Steve Wynne, owner of Sports Motorcycles in Manchester. Wynne had entered his rider, Roger Nicholls, several months earlier at the Isle of Man TT on an NCR (the unofficial factory race shop) Ducati 860cc endurance racer.

Wynne was still seething over Roger Nicholls loss to Phil Read in the first-ever F1 TT, which was in effect a single race World Championship. Read, a seven-time World Champion was making a comeback to the Isle of Man and Honda Britain, wanting to cash in on the publicity, provided a special “works” endurance 820cc racer. The F1 TT race was to be held over five laps but was run in wet wintery conditions. Although Read led for most of the race, Nicholls needed only one fuel stop on the Ducati to the Honda’s two. At the halfway stage the race officials decided to shorten the five lap race to four, which Honda got wind of, but the officials did not inform the other competitors. This threw race tactics out the window and allowed Honda to dispense with the last lap fuel stop handing Read and Honda the win from Nicholls by under forty seconds.

Hailwood was introduced to Wynne in the paddock, and according to Steve, it was a coming together of two upset parties. Wynne because he felt cheated out of the F1 TT title, while Hailwood had been snubbed by Honda when he’d approached them for a ride in the 1978 season. A short conversation and a handshake were all it took for the wheels to be set in motion for Hailwood’s come back to the Island on a Wynne prepared NCR Ducati. Although Mike had initially offered to ride for free under an assumed name, his longtime friend and manager, journalist Ted Mcauley, convinced Hailwood to “go public” on his comeback. A formal single page agreement was typed by Wynne to make it official, and Hailwood was to be paid the princely sum of one thousand pounds.

Back in Australia preparations were also being made for Hailwood and Scaysbrook’s appointment with the Castrol 6 Hour production race. Owen Delaney, through a friend by the name of Malcolm Bailey who owned a motorcycle wrecker called Moreparts, not surprisingly, arranged the purchase of a Ducati, and Scaysbrook, through his contacts in advertising, found sponsorship in the shape of Snack Potato Chips.

Unfortunately, the 1976 model Ducati 900SS purchased used a right foot gear shift, which was not ideal because of Hailwood’s injured right ankle from his Formula One car crash. The 900SS was sold and replaced with a 1977 square case 750SS, which had a left foot shift. The main weakness with the Ducati was its ground clearance around the mainly right-hand corners of Amaroo Park that caused the front header pipe to continually drag on the ground.

The Moreparts team qualified well but were handicapped by the Le Mans style start because the Ducati had to be kick-started, while the competition just pushed a button. Jim and Mike though managed to pick their way through the field finishing sixth outright and second in the 750cc class. A pretty good achievement considering Hailwood insisted he would only compete in the race “just for fun”.

The Moreparts team sponsors, Snack foods, had South Australia targeted next as part of a national campaign to launch their new potato chips brand, so in March 1978 the team were entered in the Adelaide 3 Hour production race at Adelaide International Raceway. This would be only Mike’s second event on the V-twin Ducati. A practice crash by Scaysbrook saw an all-nighter to rebuild the Ducati for the race using parts offered by the Ducati Owners Club from their own bikes.

Hailwood on the Ducati 750ss at the 1978 Castrol 6 Hour production race.

During the race, Jim and Mike almost ran out of fuel during their stints, both times somehow managing to get back to the pits. Unfortunately during the rebuild oil had only been replaced in one of the damaged fork legs, which bottomed out under heavy braking locking up the front wheel. A top ten finish in the race was quite an achievement for the duo.

The Easter Bathurst meeting was next on the calendar with Jim riding the Ducati in the 750cc production class while Mike was entered on the Milledge TZ750 Yamaha in the unlimited category. Jim had arranged the ride for Hailwood after Bob Rosenthal, the bike’s usual rider, elected to miss the Bathurst meeting. It would be timely preparation for the TT as Mike had also secured, thanks to Mcauley, Martini sponsored Yamaha’s for his TT return.

Bathurst was of mixed fortunes for the pair, with Scaysbrook winning the 750cc production race on the Ducati and setting a new lap record for the class, while, in atrocious weather, Mike finished 9th in the unlimited race having had to pit twice with fouling spark plugs.

Now it was the TT that beckoned. Wynne had successfully secured three of the NCR 860cc Ducati endurance racers. One each for Hailwood, Nicholls and Scaysbrook but received them from the factory in the third week of April with little time to prepare for the TT, although they were able to test at Oulton Park and Donnington Park before shipping the bikes to the Isle of Man.

Pat Slinn, who was the service and technical manager for the UK Ducati importer Coburn and Hughes, was also acting as a technical liaison for Sports Motorcycles with the Ducati experimental department and NCR. Pat knew first hand how much hard work Ducati had put into Hailwood’s F1 racer. Slinn, “Franco Farne’s experimental department at the Ducati factory in Bologna completely rebuilt the F1 rolling chassis after it was initially built by NCR, this was because they wanted everything to be absolutely spot on. Mike’s engines were built by (senior engine technician) Guiliano Pedretti, where I saw one engine being built and I watched it being power tested.” Pedretti prepared three engines for Mike’s F1 TT machine one of which was earmarked for the race and produced more power than the other two. Farne and Pedretti were then sent by Ducati to the TT to look after and prepare Hailwood’s bike for the F1 race.

Mike also had the Martini sponsored Yamaha’s at his disposal. Known as Team Hailwood Martini, Mike had a production TZ 250 for the Junior TT, an ex-Agostini OW20 for the 500cc Senior TT and a production TZ750 for the 1000cc Classic TT. Turning the spanners for the Martini Team were Mike’s former mechanic Nobby Clark and respected technician Trevor Tilbury.

The first event of the TT meeting was the F1 race which was increased to six laps that year. The crowds of spectators had swollen thanks to Hailwood’s comeback, although there was some trepidation in the minds of the fans. Could Hailwood still do it? What if he got hurt or even worse? The spectators knew Mike was putting the substance of legend on the line. And it wasn’t just Read riding a factory Honda, TT regular and a winner of two 1000cc Classic TT’s John Williams was on a second factory Honda, while Tom Herron, Tony Rutter and Helmut Dahne were on works supported dealer entries.

Read led the 63 competitors away for the six-lap 226.38 mile (364.32km) race. But all eyes were on the number 12 Ducati starting from the fifth row (Mcauley had requested the number 12 from the A.C.U. as it represented the number of Hailwood’s TT victories). The grandstand crowd rose and applauded as Mike set off in pursuit of Read.

From a standing start, he logged a new lap record of 109.87mph (176.8kph) taking 90 seconds of Read’s existing record. Hailwood, who was ahead on time, chipped away at Read’s lead until they were on the road together going over the Mountain. Hailwood was 100 metres ahead as they came down the Mountain and headed for a fuel stop. They pitted together with Read getting away first and Hailwood in close pursuit. Soon Mike was on Read’s wheel tracks pushing the Honda along. Blue smoke started to appear from the Honda’s exhaust on the down changes and with 64 miles (103km) to go the Honda expired, and Read’s race was run. To the roar of the crowd, Hailwood took the checkered flag and another TT victory. On his way to the token TT F1 World Championship, Hailwood had also set a new lap record of 110.627mph (178.037kph) for the class.

Read later admitted he had over-revved the Honda to try and stay ahead of Hailwood, but unbeknown to Mike when he shut the Ducati’s throttle before crossing the line a bevel gear failed. A couple of hundred metres earlier and it would have been John Williams on the other factory Honda that could have won the race. It was a fairytale come true for Hailwood, Wynne, and the Ducati factory.

Hailwood hunts down Read in the 1978 F1 TT.

Unfortunately, the other three TT races Team Hailwood Martini had entered weren’t to be so successful. In the Senior TT, a steering damper on the OW20 TZ500cc Yamaha broke causing Hailwood to stop at Ramsay to try and effect repairs before returning to the pits and putting himself out of contention. In the Junior TT Mike finished in 12th place on the production TZ250 and in the 1000cc Classic TT, a faulty crankshaft failed on the TZ750 ending his race. Such is the fickleness of the TT.

Mike had agreed to do some TT F1 races in England, as part of the MR TOPPS/ACU TT F1 British Championship series and the British Grand Prix TT F1 support race. Post TT was Mallory Park a tight short circuit not suited to the Ducati. Showing skill and patience, Mike eventually romped home to victory beating again many of his TT rivals and in Wynne’s opinion a more significant triumph than the TT win. Donnington Park was next, but Hailwood crashed out of the race while in the lead, although he set an identical lap record to the eventual winner Roger Marshall on a Honda. At the British Grand Prix TT F1 support race, the Ducati was out powered on Silverstone’s high-speed straights.

John Cowie on a Kawasaki won the race, but Mike still managed a third place podium. However, Hailwood still had unfinished business in Australia

With new sponsorship from Australian clothing manufacturer Golden Breed, the now outclassed Ducati 750cc SS was entered in the October 1978 Castrol 6 Hour production race. Teamed once again with Jim Scaysbrook things didn’t start well when Mike crashed during Thursday practice. A rebuild was required, and once more it was local Ducati owners that helped out with spare parts. A new rule that year required a nominated reserve rider. Stu Avant was the rider, and he was obliged to practice on the Ducati. Unfortunately, Stu crashed the bike again, which necessitated another rebuild. On Saturday during qualifying, Mike put in one lap, and the engine blew a big end bearing.

Another rebuild, but by race day they still hadn’t qualified to compete in the race, but the officials wisely decided to turn a blind eye and allowed them to start. Mike did the first stint and was practically last away at the Le Man’s start because of his injured ankle and having to kick-start the Ducati. Hailwood had them into the lead of the 750cc class when he handed over to Scaysbrook. Ten laps later, after such a promising start, the Ducati slid out from underneath Jim in The Loop, and their race was over.

This wasn’t the end of Mike’s production racing adventures in Australia though. He teamed with Scaysbrook again for the Adelaide 3 Hour in early 1979 on Jim’s own Honda CB900FZ. But fate was against them once more; a loose number plate had the duo black-flagged, but they managed to resume the race after repairs had been made and finished a creditable 10th place.

However, Mike was not done with the Isle of Man TT yet and entered again in 1979 on a Sports Motorcycle supplied factory NCR Ducati’s in both the TT F1 race and the 1000cc Classic TT. He was also entered in the 500cc Senior TT on a Suzuki GB RG500. But the alarm bells started ringing for the Sports Motorcycles team at a test session and press conference at Misano in Italy for the NCR Endurance Racing Team. Mike’s TT F1 machine was unprepared and sported a gear-shift the reverse of what Ducati knew Hailwood required. The problem was Ducati’s ongoing financial situation, which was controlled by an Italian Government holding body EFIM who would only supply a budget for the Endurance Team.

Mike went out and tested the cobbled together machine only to select a false neutral and instinctively hit second gear instead of fourth. The resulting high side crash gave Hailwood three broken ribs and a badly bruised arm only two months out from the TT. In the meantime, a financial compromise was found with Ducati to pay for the racers by invoicing the British importer Coburn and Hughes who would then invoice Sports Motorcycles for the machines.

Hailwood on his way to victory during the 1978 F1 TT.

During practice for the F1 TT, it became clearly apparent that the NCR Ducati handled woefully. It no longer used the Daspa frame of the 1978 machine, and the FIM had tightened the TT F1 regulations, which now required the use of production crankcases instead of the special sand cast ones of the previous year. Hailwood also told the team the engine was less potent than the ’78 unit. Something needed to be done. The Sports Motorcycles team decided to send for Roger Nicholls 1978 TT F1 Ducati racer, which was masquerading as Hailwoods TTF1 winning bike on display in the Luton showroom of the Ducati importer Coburn and Hughes. The idea was to transplant the 1979 engine into the 1978 chassis.

The bike arrived midday Thursday of practice week, and the engine was installed into the frame, but there were problems with fitting the exhaust system of the ‘78 bike plus numerous ancillary parts that needed new brackets made. Finding enough steel in the early hours of the morning was a problem, but fortunately, a supply was found at the back of the workshop which was the generator room of the Palace Hotel where old furniture was stored, including some steel bed frames. After a mammoth effort, Hailwood had something that represented a competitive motorcycle to defend his and Ducati’s title on. It was aptly nicknamed the “Bedstead Special” by MCN journalist Peter Howdle who knew how much work had gone into preparing Mike’s bike.

It has gone down history that Hailwood finished fifth in Saturday’s F1 TT, although he had somehow managed to claw his way up to third on the recalcitrant Ducati at the halfway mark. On the final lap of six, plunging down Bray Hill, Mike lost fifth gear. The over-revving engine then cut out. Hailwood stopped at Hillberry to find vibration had broken the bracket holding the battery, which came adrift disconnecting the wires. Mike reattached the battery, shoved it back into the bike to limp home fifth.

But Hailwood’s big moment was to come in Monday’s Senior TT. Riding a Suzuki RG500, he became only the third man to lap the Island in under 20 minutes on his way to victory setting a new lap record of 19m 51.2s at an average speed of 114.02mph (183.497kmh). It was a victory that confirmed what everybody knew, Hailwood was still master of the Island.

In preference to the NCR Ducati that was supplied for Friday’s 1000cc Classic TT, Hailwood decided to use the Suzuki RG500. It became a race that many would compare to the epic battle between Mike and “Ago” in the 1967 500cc TT. His main opponent was Glaswegian Alex George aboard the “works” 998cc Honda, and it would become a two horse race with the other riders becoming extras as the drama played out.

Mike’s Suzuki had been rebuilt overnight after a minor fault was discovered, but it was George who led by 9.2 seconds after lap one of the six-lap race. Hailwood closed the gap to 4 seconds on the next. After posting identical lap times at the halfway stage, it was Honda works team efficiency and the advantage of a quick filler that sorted out the pit stops. It was also the first time at midpoint a TT had taken under an hour. George led by 4.2 seconds, but by lap 5 Hailwood had taken the lead by a mere four-fifths of a second and still held an advantage on the last lap at Ballacraine, but at Ramsey, he was behind again. George had come back from behind and maintained his lead to take the win by just 3.4 seconds. Hailwood had announced that it would be his last TT and although he did so without achieving another victory, the fans were not disappointed.

Mike on the Suzuki RG500 during the 1979 Senior TT.

Hailwood was pencilled in once more to take in the post TT races at Mallory Park, which was part of the Forward Trust/MCW TT Formula 1 Championship but decided to look for more competitive machinery than the NCR Ducati. A Paul Dunstall Suzuki was his choice, but brake issues saw Mike withdraw from the running. Donnington Park was the next round and Mike’s last race. A crash in practice saw him heading for the hospital with a broken collarbone. After having pins inserted he checked himself out against Doctors orders on race day and returned to the track to be driven around the circuit to say goodbye to the thousands of fans who had come to see him.

By then Hailwood had moved back to England and had opened a motorcycle dealership in Birmingham with friend and former 250cc World Champion Rod Gould. Only two years later in 1981, the sad epitaph to this colossus of motorcycle racing was written. A tragic road accident claimed Mike and his 9-year-old daughter Michelle’s lives. His son, 7-year-old David, was also in the car but survived with minor injuries.

In 1968 Hailwood was awarded an M.B.E. in the Queens Honours List for his services to motorcycling, and he also was awarded the Seagrave Trophy in 1979 in recognition of his two TT wins in 1978 and 1979. Mike became a Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme “official legend” in 2000 and was inducted into the American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame that same year. 2001 saw Mike’s induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Hailwood had also been awarded the George Medal for bravery after pulling Clay Regazonni from his burning F1 car at the 1973 South African Formula One Grand Prix.

During a Grand Prix career that spanned 10 years from 1958 to 1967, Hailwood won 76 Grand Prix and claimed 112 podiums from 152 starts.  He was World Champion 9 times scoring three  250cc World Championships, two 350cc World Championships and four 500cc World Championships. He was also the first rider to win four consecutive 500cc World Championships. Mike won a total of 14 Isle of Man TT’s before retiring permanently from the sport.

“Mike the bike” M.B.E. G.M.; to many the greatest motorcycle racer of all time.

Words © Geoff Dawes 2017. Images courtesy of http://www.ducati.com http://www.motorycleclassics.com, http://www.pinterest.com,www.rezbikes.com, http://www.roadtrackanddriver.blogspot.com.au. Videos courtesy Youtube and Vimeo.

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, was 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 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 wet 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 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 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.

 

A Legendary Champion

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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.