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.
The MotoGP spannerman’s tale: part 1
Stuart Shenton was a race mechanic when he was still at school. Jobs with Kork Ballington, Freddie Spencer, Wayne Gardner, Kevin Schwantz, Anthony Gobert and Loris Capirossi followed, as did world titles with Kawasaki, Honda and Suzuki. He’s a man with plenty of tales to tell…
Stuart Shenton’s first experiences as a teenage factory race mechanic quickly taught him that racing isn’t all about spinning spanners and twisting throttles.
In 1975, Kawasaki unleashed its water-cooled KR750 on the F750 World Championship, originally created for bikes with streetbike engines. Only one problem, the factory hadn’t built enough bikes for homologation.
“We had a lot of riders at the Ontario F750 round – Mick Grant, Miguel Duhamel, Art Baumann, Gregg Hansford, Murray Sayle and so on – so we had 17 or 18 bikes, but we needed 24 for homologation,” Shenton recalls. “So we put all the bikes in one place and the FIM guy was brought along to look at them. We told him the other bikes were somewhere else, so why don’t we have lunch on the way to see them? By the time lunch was finished, the bikes had been moved and were duly shown to the FIM guy, all over again. It was all a bit of smoke and mirrors.”
That’s what Kawasaki was prepared to do to win, but it’s nothing compared to the skulduggery attempted by a rival brand three years later. In March 1978 the Kawasaki crew arrived in Caracas for the season-opening Venezuelan Grand Prix with new signing Kork Ballington and their brilliant new KR250 and KR350 twins. At least, Shenton thought the bikes had arrived.
“We went to the customs warehouse with our carnets, only to be told, ‘very sorry, your motorcycles aren’t here. We don’t think they ever arrived’. We made phone calls, sent telexes and, yes, the bikes had been on the plane over. We had a local guide from Kawasaki who was driving us around. He said if they’re not here, someone’s taken them and I know who.
“We got back in his car, the guy reached under the seat, pulled out a gun, checked it was loaded, put it on the dash and said, let’s go and get the bikes. We said, is there going to be any shooting? He said, well, there might be.
“It was a bit like a film scene. He drove us down the back streets of Caracas and into this compound with the horn going, waving the gun out of the window. I guess we were lucky he had more front than the others. This was the yard of Ippolitos, the local Yamaha importers, and sure enough, hidden away in a corner were our crates…”
Once Ballington got his bikes back he dominated the 250 and 350 classes, winning a back-to-back title double in 1978 and 1979. That’s four world titles and 22 GP wins in two years, not bad going.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.