Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - ‘Anthony Gobert wanted a dancing girl in the pit!’

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.


‘Anthony Gobert wanted a dancing girl in the pit!’

More gripping racing yarns from Stuart Shenton, the man who helped Kork Ballington, Freddie Spencer, Wayne Gardner and Kevin Schwantz to world title glory. And he might’ve done the same with Anthony Gobert…

In 1984 Stuart Shenton had been with Honda for 18 months when HRC engineer (and later HRC president) Satoru Horiike wandered up and asked a question.

“He said, if Honda were to build a 250, what should it be like?” says Shenton, who had already played a crucial role in Kawasaki’s domination of the 250 and 350 classes during the late 1970s and early 1980s. “So I asked him straight: are you building a 250? No, no, he said, this is just a casual question. Going back to my experience with Kawasaki, I told him a 250 must be on the minimum weight limit, it will need this much horsepower and it will need twin front discs. So at the end of 1984 I went to Japan and there was this 250, a fabulous piece of kit.”

Having lost the 500 title to Yamaha in 1984, HRC boss Youichi Oguma wanted to make amends to Soichiro Honda. So he asked Freddie Spencer to do something that had never been done before: win the 250/500 world title double.

“Oguma never took the easy path,” Shenton adds. “So I can imagine him saying to Mr Honda: sorry, we’ve messed up, so next year we will win both world championships.

“We did some winter testing with Freddie and we knew the 250 would be competitive. The first event of 1985 was Daytona, where the race was run under AMA rules, so the bikes had to be five kilos heavier than in GPs, and you weren’t allowed to obtain that weight with ballast. The AMA scrutineers knew our 250 would be at the GP limit, so they knew we must have some weight hidden on the bike. After every practice they took off the seat, the tank, the airbox, everything, trying to find the ballast, but they didn’t find any.”

Spencer duly won the 100-mile 250 race, but still the scrutineers weren’t happy.

“After the race they said they wanted to look inside the forks. The forks had magnesium bottoms, carbon-fibre fork legs and all that stuff. So I opened the forks, took out the spacers, held them in my hand and shone a torch so they could see inside. They couldn’t see anything and the bike was passed. What they never knew was that the fork spacers weighed about three kilos …”

Shenton’s job during 1985 was to look after Spencer’s NSR250s, while team leader Erv Kanemoto focused on his NSR500s.

“Freddie was amazing and we had a good little team: JB [Jeremy Burgess] and George working on the 500 and me and Giles [Duides] on the 250. Erv was the overseer but there were times when he was battling to keep Freddie on the straight and narrow, to keep him focused, because obviously the important thing was always the 500.”

Although Spencer did win the 250/500 title double there were times when he was running at the very limit of his capabilities, swapping back and forth between very different bikes, trying to give his engineers useful feedback.

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

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