Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Sheene versus Roberts at Silverstone: 40 years on

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


Sheene versus Roberts at Silverstone: 40 years on

Barry Sheene and ‘King’ Kenny Roberts fought a breath-taking duel for victory at the 1979 British GP, notorious for Sheene’s cheeky hand signal

On August 12 1979, Barry Sheene and ‘King’ Kenny Roberts fought one of the greatest and most important Grand Prix duels of all time. Their battle for British GP victory was unforgettable for all kinds of reasons.

First, the pair were two of motorcycle racing’s all-time greats. Roberts was the prototype Marc Márquez, who changed bike racing with a new way of riding that left everyone struggling to catch up. Sheene was the prototype Valentino Rossi, whose rock-star persona broke him into the mainstream.

Second, Grand Prix racing was in a state of revolution in the 1970s. For decades the riders had been treated like performing animals by the FIM, promoters and circuits. They were ripped off, had to race on lethal circuits and housed in paddocks that were barely fit for human habitation.

Just weeks before the British GP the top riders had gone on strike at Spa-Francorchamps. By the time they got to Silverstone, Sheene and Roberts were well on their way to establishing a breakaway world championship – World Series – that would get them out of the clutches of the FIM and allow them to race on safer tracks for better money.

Third, the race was broadcast live on the BBC – a rare event in those days – which brought motorcycle racing to a whole new audience in Britain. Fourth, their duel was a superb example of bike racing as an art form. And finally, Sheene created one of the sport’s funniest moments when he gave Roberts a V-sign at the height of their duel.

The Briton and the American were the greatest riders of that era. Sheene had won the 1976 and 1977 500cc world championships, while Roberts took the 1978 crown in his rookie season and had pretty much wrapped up the 1979 title by the time the Grand Prix circus rolled into Silverstone.

With no real chance of regaining the title, Sheene threw all his energy into pleasing his adoring fans at Silverstone, where already he had been twice cruelly denied.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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