Tag Archives: Phil Read

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 again the following year 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 crash 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 as a historic machine demonstration but was officially upgraded to full race status for the 70 odd entrants. Scaysbrook took the win 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 six 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 race, which Honda got wind of, but the officials did not inform the other competitors 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 and Hailwood, who 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 had a friend called Malcolm Bailey who owned a motorcycle wreckers called Moreparts. Not surprisingly they 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 race 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 class. Jim had arranged the ride for Hailwood after Bob Rosenthal, the bike’s usual rider, elected to miss the Bathurst meeting. It would be good 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 and received them from the factory with plenty of time to prepare the racers for the F1 TT. 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. 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 in 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 off crossing the line a bevel gear failed. A hundred metres earlier and it would have been John Williams on the other factory Honda that would have won the race. It was a fairytale come true for Hailwood, Wynne, and Ducati.

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 greater triumph than the TT win. Donnington Park was next but Hailwood crashed out of the race while in the lead, although he set an equal 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 again 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 again and 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 Vaspa 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 powerful 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 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 specifically 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 taking another win 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.

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A Herd Of Goats

Valentino Rossi on his way to pole position at Jerez.

Valentino Rossi about to claim pole position at Jerez.

The recent return to form by Valentino Rossi since re-joining his former team at Yamaha has been quite extraordinary. After two seasons in the wilderness with Ducati (2012-2013) and a change of crew chief from Jeremy Burgess to fellow Italian Silvan Galbusera, Rossi is back once more to his winning ways. A single win and four third-place podiums helped Valentino clinch fourth place in the 2014 MotoGP World Championship, which by anyone’s standards was a great achievement. The momentum continued into the 2015 season with four wins and Rossi finishing off the podium only three times to take second place in the championship by a mere 5 points, in what became a contentious world title win for Jorge Lorenzo.

What makes Rossi’s performance even more remarkable is his age. Valentino turned 37 years old earlier this year showing his hunger for victory and love of the sport has not waned.   Yamaha must think so as they have agreed to a two-year extension of Rossi’s contract keeping him with the factory team until 2018.

Nonetheless, Rossi’s renewed competitiveness has swung the spotlight of public attention once more onto the subject of who is the greatest of all time (G.O.A.T.) in the sport of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

Giacomo Agostini on his way to winning German GP at the Nurburgring.

Giacomo Agostini on his way to winning German GP at the Nurburgring.

There are of course the cold facts that statistics tend to present. The great Giacomo Agostini is still the most prolific Grand Prix winner with 122 wins to his credit while Rossi is still chipping away on 114 with the potential to equal or beat this record. Agostini has also won 8 MotoGP (formerly 500cc) world titles to Rossi’s 7 so far. “Ago” has also won 7 350cc world championships giving him a total of 15 world titles to Valentino’s 9 (a 125cc title in 1997 and 250cc title in 1999 with Aprilia). Agostini has also won 10 Isle of Mann TT’s, the only non-British rider to do so. Rossi though has won world titles in three capacity classes to ‘”Ago’s” two.

Detractors of Agostini’s accomplishments like to point out that during his domination of the Grand Prix that he had superior multi-cylinder four-stroke machinery of the MV Agusta factory team at his disposal with mainly outdated British four-stroke singles to contend with. That is to a degree is true but ‘Ago” still had to deal with the likes of Mike Hailwood, Jim Redman and Phil Read as either teammates or factory supported Honda riders along the way as well as the ever-improving Japanese two-strokes that were gaining traction in both the 350cc and 500cc class during his career. And indeed it was Agostini in 1974 that won the first MotoGP (500cc) riders title on a four-cylinder two-stroke; a first also for Yamaha and Japan. Interestingly it was Rossi that won the last two-stroke World Championship and the first for the new 990cc four-strokes with Honda in 2001 and 2002.

Both “Ago” and Valentino have similarly won championships in the premier class with two different manufacturers and are part of an elite group of five that has done so in the sixty-seven-year history of the championship. The others are Geoff Duke, Eddie Lawson and Casey Stoner.

Five times World Champion Geoff Duke on the Gilera.

Five times World Champion Geoff Duke on the Gilera.

It should also be pointed out that Giacomo’s 122 Grand Prix wins were accrued over thirteen years from 186 starts, while Rossi has been in the Grand Prix for twenty years and accumulated his 114 (as this is written) wins from 341 starts.

Another relevant point is the danger factor. Grand Prix motorcycle racing has always been a hazardous sport and even this year the paddock grieved another fatality when Luis Salom suffered a fatal crash in free practice for the Moto2 race in Catalunya. But during Agostini’s career in the 1960’s and early 1970’s fatalities were commonplace and many of the circuits were considered deadly. Surprisingly “Ago” was quoted as saying that his favourite tracks were the Isle of Man TT, the old Nurburgring, the old Spa, Opatija and the old Brno circuit, the five most deadly tracks in Grand Prix motorcycle racing history. Remember too, that it was during this period that the “pudding basin” helmet was considered standard “safety equipment”.

Greatness though is not necessarily statistics but perhaps the perception of the groups of fans who love the sport and have lived through different eras. Take Geoff Duke, for example, a six-time World Champion (two 350cc and four 500cc titles) during the sports infancy in the 1950’s, notching up a number of firsts. He was the first man to win two titles (350cc and 500cc) in the same season (1951), the first to win 3 consecutive 500cc titles (1953, 1954 and 1955) and also the first to win MotoGP (500c) titles with two different manufacturers (Norton and Gilera).

And what of John Surtees? Surtees won the premier 500cc Grand Prix crown on four occasions (1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960) and the 350cc G.P. title on three occasions (1958, 1959 and 1960) for a total of seven championships on two wheels, before he clinched the Formula One car title at the last race in Mexico in 1964, the only person ever to win the premier class on two wheels and four.

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

Surtees rides his MV Augusta to victory at the Isle of Man.

But to many Mike Hailwood remains a true icon of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Equal to Rossi with 9 world championships in three different classes (three 250cc, two 350cc and four 500cc) during a ten-year career with 76 wins from 152 starts in the late 1950’s and 1960’s that included 14 Isle of Man TT victories. Remarkably after an 11-year break from motorcycle racing, Hailwood returned to the Island and won the F1 TT in 1978 and the Senior TT in 1979.

The list goes on with names like Phil Read. A 7 times world champion in three classes (the 125cc in 1968, the 250cc in 1964, 65, 68 and 1971, and the 500cc 1973 and 1974) he accumulated 52 wins from 152 starts, again during the hazardous days of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

But if dominance was the criteria for being a G.O.A.T. then one needs to look no further than Mick Doohan. During a 10-year career between 1989 and 1999, Doohan won 54 500cc Grand Prix and achieved 95 podiums from 137 starts with five consecutive World Championships (equalled only by Rossi).  In 1997 Doohan amassed an amazing 12 wins and 2 second places from 15 races. This has only been surpassed by the youngest rider to win a MotoGP World Championship, Marq Marquez, with 13 wins, but from 18 races, on the way to his second World title in 2014. Add to this the fact that Doohan’s superiority occurred after he had sustained debilitating injuries to his left leg during practice for the Dutch TT at Assen during what should have been a dominant season and a convincing first world title.

So indeed the argument for the greatest of all time will continue between fans and journalists alike, on the Internet, in pubs and at racetracks around the world, revealing the genuine passion we all have for what is the greatest of all motorsports.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2016 Images courtesy http://www.crash.net, http://www.metzeler.com, http://www.theguardian.com.

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. Exactly 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 certificate 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.