Wednesday, 14 March 2012

1978 Castrol 6 hour video

This was the second year Mike Hailwood raced a 750SS in the Castrol 6 hours, just a couple of months before his TT comeback - full story in issue 7 of Benzina. Thanks to Andrew Gray for reminding me about this video

Sunday, 11 March 2012

When BMW twins weren't flat

This great shot of Cook Neilson chasing Reg Pridmore at Riverside in 1976 might have a whiff of Photoshop about it to Ducati fans, but Reg and the Beemer could really fly. Up until the R90S (in Daytona smoked orange, please) BMWs were seen as fuddy old bikes for flat capped old men. Once ex-pat Brit Pridmore showed that the flat twins were anything but, folk realised the R90S was more than a fancy paint job and was the only bike that could be seriously considered as an alternative to the Italian superbikes of the era. More of this motor art at the MotoJones Gallery

Saturday, 10 March 2012

RIP Mick Walker

Mick Walker, famed lover, importer and racer of Italian motorcycles has passed away after a long battle with cancer. Rest in peace, Mick, you'll be missed.

All who knew Mick will remember an ever-helpful, ever-smiling man who was always willing to help fellow enthusiasts. One time Ducati and Cagiva importer, he actually tried to buy the old Aermacchi factory when Harley wanted out (for the first time!): after Cagiva stepped in to buy it, Mick supported them and helped develop their products.

His knowledge and memory was legendary. When Ducati had a shuffle about in their factory and realised their usual lack of records meant nobody knew what all the old spares amounted to, it was Mick who went to Italy to sort out the mess and tell them what they had. No wonder he was far and away the most prolific motorcycling author the world has ever seen. Thankfully he finished his biography a little while ago; I last spoke to him in January, asking what he knew of the little Aguzzi featured at the back of Benzina #7. As always he was happy to chat and help out, even though he was obviously exhausted and very poorly. Didn't stop him talking positively about his next book, a definitive listing of every Italian marque ever built. Sadly that will never see the printing presses, but luckily we can all enjoy his autobiography, "The ride of my life" published by Redline books

Friday, 9 March 2012

Mike Hailwood's real comeback

Parochial fans too often talk about the 1978 TT as Mike Hailwood’s comeback. The familiar story goes that he returned after years away from racing, his Isle of Man victory made even sweeter by unexpectedly choosing to ride a Ducati rather than returning to Honda. Some people even gild the lily with tales of Hailwood arriving on the Island and having to come to terms with a left-foot gear change and a big Desmo twin when he’d last raced a right foot-changing 500 multi. Yet like so much of the received wisdom on Mike’s comeback, it’s all wrong. After the Nürburgring crash that mangled his right leg and ended his F1 career, Mike might have moved to New Zealand, but he certainly didn’t give up on bikes. The story of his real comeback to racing, and his journey to the Isle of Man was via the race tracks of Australia. The truth involved racing a Ducati 750SS in the Castrol Six Hour Race at Amaroo Park, a properly scary, knarled little race track where rock faces and concrete walls count as run off. Spookily prescient of Mike's return to the TT, his first attempt in 1977 went very well; third in the 750 class, and sixth overall. But like Mike's 1979 TT with Ducati, the following year just about everything went against him. Didn't stop him trying though.Mike followed this up by racing a Yamaha TZ750 at the legendary Bathurst circuit months before his 1978 TT win.

But how could the history books have such a huge gap in them? Simple: Australia’s a long way from Europe and the US, and racing there’s easy to overlook when you discover the way news was reported by even the mainstream press back then. Think: no internet, faxes or even reliable international telephone lines. A journalist would have to fly there and back, writing copy on the flight home. Once back in his home country that copy needs typing up, typically by calling into the office from a public telephone at your home airport. For the big US races that were seen as important to Europeans budgets would get busted, but the Australian market was seen as self-contained: you win in Australia, you tell the Australians. The rest of the world doesn’t need to know. Until now. In researching it I’m indebted to many Australians and particularly ace snapper Phil Aynsley who took the photograph and Mike's fellow Ducati racer (at both Amaroo park and the 1978 TT) Jim Scaysbrook, who went on to be a famed writer and these days edits Old Bike Australasia The full story's in issue #007 of Benzina

Monday, 5 March 2012

Trending in Top Gear

Funny how more and more petrolheads claim to hate Top Gear, and watching last night's latest Top Gear I can understand why - it ceased to be a car show years ago. But so what? Dr Girlie Nice-Smile and the kids laughed out loud, and it's one of the few TV experiences the teenagers will share with Mum and Dad. So perfect Sunday evening family viewing, despite leaving most 40 and 50-something blokes as grumpy as presenters Clarkson's stage personae.

But I do understand this; after years of being left alone with my love of Italian bikes in general and Ducati in particular in 1995 I succumbed to the urge to buy a 916. Fantastic bike (as long as you could take the riding position. And grumpiness in traffic...Or town. And the services costs.) except for one major failing - both the usual sportsbike brigade AND their detractors assumed I'd bought it because some magazine said it was the latest hot-shot must-have. Oddly enough if I was to buy a race-rep Ducati today, I'd get a 999 just to climb back into a hole to hide in while enjoying a bike nobody else appreciates. Like the Manic Street Preachers sang, there's a certain joy in Motorcycle Emptiness