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The great rulers of the queen class (I): The British Empire

25 mayo, 2021

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For a long time, the success of a country in any competition was highly dependent on the success of its national industry. It is not surprising therefore that Britain, Italy Y Germany It was in the 1930s – which marked the greatest period of expansion of motorcycling competitions – the dominant countries, both in the European GP (1924-1937) and in the European Championship (1938-1939). World War II interrupted the evolution of competitions and technological development, even causing a setback in this regard. In the last editions of the European Championship, it was already competing with supercharged engines: BMW, AJS, Gilera or Benelli They worked with these advanced mechanics, some with multi-cylinder engines, but once the contest was over, in the resumption of competitions, the compressor engines were eliminated, forcing them to adapt to the new regulations.

The only manufacturer that was able to continue the evolution of its motorcycles without alterations was Norton, whose popular and effective Manx 500 it was a guarantee of reliability and effectiveness. In the thirties, Norton had won numerous titles, enjoying his best moment when he formed an almost unbeatable pairing with Jimmy Guthrie, consecutively achieving the 500 title of the European GP from 1935 to 1937, and six victories in the Tourist trophy between 1931 and 1937. But Guthrie he killed himself in Sachsenring in September 1937, Norton he was left without his best supporter and could not stand up to BMW Y Gilera, which with its most advanced motorcycles won the 500 European Championship titles, the first event with several scoring events. Geoff meier was champion in 1938 with the BMW boxer with compressor, and Donino Serafini the following year with the supercharged four-cylinder Gilera.

The World Cup came to life in 1949, and the first 500 world champion was a Briton, Leslie graham, on the back of the also British AJS, which was also forced to park its sophisticated supercharged 500 V4 to create a regulation-compliant twin. NortonDespite filling the grills with his Manxes, he would only win one title in 500, in 1951. The heyday of British industry at the start of the World Cup was a mere mirage, and although the old trend of dominance-based success remained of the national industry, confirmed by the titles of Umberto Masetti with Gilera (1950-1952) and Geoff duke with Norton (1951), from 1953 the weight of nationalism is diluted with the signing from Duke by Gilera, giving way to the great period of domination of the British pilots.

Gilera experienced a moment of some convulsion in 1949 when Piero remor, designer of his four-cylinder, left the brand to join the competition, MV Agusta, for which he designed a 500 four-cylinder virtually identical to the Gilera, causing both brands to become staunch enemies. The point is that Duke, which came to Gilera having won two titles in 350 and one in 500 with Norton, found in Italian mechanics the perfect tool to take advantage of all his talent. Duke went from driving a light and efficient 40 hp motorcycle as was the Norton, to meet a real racing prototype like the Gilera, which in the final phase of its evolution reached almost 70 hp. Duke He won half of the races between 1953 and 1955, and all three titles, and the end of his period of dominance had to do with extra-sporting reasons rather than lack of capacity, because in 1956 It was sanctioned by the FIM, along with fifteen other pilots, for supporting a boycott in the Dutch GP from the previous year.

The FIM imposed a six-month suspension which, in practice, meant losing any option to renew his crown. Subsequently, an injury in early 1957 marked the beginning of his decline, and in 1958, Duke became a private driver, driving Norton and BMW racing-client.

Beyond Duke
Britain was by no means just Duke, but a whole roster of first-rate pilots. The list of drivers who could have been possible world champions is extensive: John hartle, Bob McIntyre, Dickie dale… not to mention other members of the Commonwealth, such as the Irish Reg Armstrong, The Australians Ken kavanagh Y John ahearn, or the Rhodesian Ray amm. But it was a young man of only 22 years old, John surtees, who inherited the throne of Duke, by again extending the dominance of the British Empire. Surtees became a pilot of MV Agusta in 1956, and although it benefited from the absence of a good number of stars sanctioned by the Assen boycott (Duke, Masetti, Armstrong, Colnago, Amm, Ahearn, Brown, Campbell…), Surtees He impressed with his records, breaking all records in the TT, Assen and Spa, until he was injured on the fourth round, Solitude (Germany), suffering a complicated arm fracture that kept him out of action for the rest of the races. But his advantage was so great that it was enough to win his first title.

The domain of Surtees in the championship it was not immediate, because in 1957 the one who triumphed with absolute resounding was Libero Liberati, which gave to Gilera his last triumph in the category, because at the end of the season the Arcore brand, in the company of Mondial Y Moto Guzzi, decided to withdraw from competitions. Liberati won four of the six races of the season, and Surtees he only beat him at Assen. The Italian’s title became a kind of toll, a fee that British motorcycling seemed obliged to pay with each change of crown. Because after the dominance of Duke the hegemony of Surtees, with this year of Liberati, and when Surtees gave way to Mike hailwood, in between the Rhodesian was crowned champion Gary Hocking.

If at the time of Duke this was his clear dominator, with Surtees the situation was especially clamorous. Between 1958 and 1960 Surtees He played 21 GGPP out of 500 and won 18, being, logically, the champion the three seasons, in addition to adding three more crowns in 350 with such authority. Then, Surtees He had already begun to combine the Motorcycle World Championship with that of Formula 1, which caused many discussions with the count Agusta about its contractual commitments and what it could or could not do. While earning relatively comfortably at 500, Surtees was capable of podium finishes in F-1, so in 1960, he won his seventh world title and faced the prospect of a strategic withdrawal from MV Agusta in 1961, he chose to leave the bikes to race in F-1. Four years later he would be champion with Ferrari. So far no one has managed to match his feat.

On 1961, MV Agusta withdrew his team from the World Cup to see how far Honda could go in its first serious round of the championship. Hocking, which in 1960 had been runner-up of 125, 250 and 350 with MV Agusta, persuaded the count Agusta to give him a motorcycle to run as a private. Agusta agreed, and Hocking raced with the champion motorcycles of Surtees with the denomination MV Privat, with which he won the titles of 350 and 500. At the end of the season, Count Agusta had decided to return to the World Cup officially in 1962, but focused exclusively on 350 and 500, and hired Mike hailwood that, throughout 1961, on the back of a Norton Manx, had become a serious harassment for Hocking.

Mike the bike
Everything pointed to the fact that in 1962 the MV Agusta garage would become a hectic chicken coop, but in the first race there was a tragic event that marked the denouement of the championship. Hocking easily beat Ellis boyce (It took almost ten minutes!) In the Tourist trophy, a painful race for the Rhodesian, who had lost his best friend two days earlier, Tom phillis, killed in an accident at the Junior TT, the 350 race. Hocking he could not bear the pain and decided to leave motorcycle racing, the danger of which was beginning to be questioned due to the high cost that each season dragged. Hocking He returned to Rhodesia and dedicated himself to motorsport, with excellent prospects. But doom followed him, dying at the Durban GP (South Africa) when testing an F-1 on the eve of the race.

Without Hocking on the track and without any other competitive bike that could stand up to him, Hailwood he reigned at ease in the World 500, while allowing dabbling in the other categories. As he ran with the MV Agusta in 500 and 350, Hailwood he was fluent enough to make podiums in the EMC 125 or MZ 250. For four seasons, few victories escaped him in the premier class. It ends earlier by saying the races that he did not win than listing his numerous triumphs, and with each passing race the legend of the legendary Mike the bike, although its best pages were yet to be written.

It might seem easy. But as it happened with Surtees before, or as would happen with Agostini years later, the combination of an exceptionally talented rider paired with a superior motorcycle resulted in a massive advantage on the part of Hailwood. Only in 1965 things began to change. Italy had been looking for an Italian rider for years who could exploit the potential of the MV Agusta, and in 1964 that much sought-after rough diamond seemed to have been found. He was a young man from Modena who had excelled in the hill climbs and who had made himself noticed with some good results in the 250 World Cup with a Morini. With that single cylinder with which the previous year Tarquinio Provini had put in check the four-cylinder Honda RC 162 of Jim Redman, the young man Agostini he again fought for the podium against the official Yamaha and Honda at Solitude and Monza. Agostini won the earl’s trust Agusta and a well-deserved contract for 1965.

The one who was meant to be the dolphin of Hailwood he became his most serious rival. Throughout 1965, Hailwood he always managed to keep his teammate on the run, starring in six epic doubles to the satisfaction of the Italian manufacturer. The memory of that season and that of the following years speaks of epic confrontations between the two, but the closest they finished to each other was eleven seconds. It was in Monza where Agostini was revealed as the first rival in years for Hailwood. And the English understood that Aug was ready to aspire to more in 1966. Italy had found – perhaps as it has now with the arrival of Valentino rossi Ducati- what he was looking for: a symbol of national motorcyclist exaltation that would restore wounded Italian pride.

So Hailwood, with great intelligence and many political and financial resources, he contacted again …

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