Motocourse Feature: 1978 - Mike Hailwood, the man behind the TT legend

MotoMatters.com is delighted to announce that we will be partnering with Motocourse, the bible of world championship motorcycle racing, to bring readers some highlights from the history of the sport. We will be regularly posting features from the early editions of Motocourse, to help bring some insight into the history of motorcycle racing, and how we got where we are today. There are some fascinating parallels to events in the present, and much to be learned from the past. If you enjoy these articles, Motocourse have editions available in their electronic archive and via their free iPad app.

Today's article is a background piece on the legendary Mike Hailwood, written after his legendary return to the Isle of Man TT in 1978, winning the TT Formula One race on a Ducati. As the article consists of a series of scans, click on the image to expand it to full size, then navigate through the pages by clicking on the right or left hand side of the images.

About Motocourse: Motocourse is the journal of record for motorcycle racing, and an essential part of any racing fan's library. Written, compiled and edited by Michael Scott, arguably the world's most respected Grand Prix journalist, the Motocourse annual contains race-by-race coverage from the MotoGP and World Superbike series, comprehensive chapters on the British and American Superbike championships, as well as reports from the Isle of Man TT, Northwest 200 and other road racing events. The annual also has a team-by-team review of MotoGP, together with reviews of the technology and political background of the sport of motorcycle racing. 

Motocourse annuals can be ordered through the publisher's website. There is also a selection of previous editions available as ebooks and in the electronic archive, or via the free iPad app.

Back to top

Comments

In the Castrol 6-hour race at Amaroo Park in 1977 - his return to motorcycle racing.

He was, quite simply, magic to watch - reducing a crowd of many, many (drunk and stoned - this was the 70's after all) thousands who had never seen him but knew the name, to stunned silence. In one memorable quote, from the wife of a competitor who asked her pit crew chief how their rider was doing: 'Don't have a clue, I'm too busy watching Hailwood'.

Mike would have been considered a 'dour, un-media-savvy' competitor by the standards of today's shallow, celebrity-obsessed fans. He preferred the company of his crew to the media scrum.

Agostini, Mike's greatest competitor, recently admitted that he needed the perfect bike to be competitive whereas Mike could ride anything to victory. He (Agostini) drew the comparison to Stoner. I've seen them both and that comparison is valid.

In the pantheon of motorcycle racers, Hailwood is supreme in my view. Joey Dunlop is so close as to be almost a Siamese twin. Kenny Roberts.. Mick Doohan, Eddie Lawson, and yes, Stoner. In fact, the ONLY 'celebrity personality' at the top level was Barry Sheene.

Read Hailwood's achievements and realise that is is what these people accomplished rather than the persona they projected that is the enduring gift of genius.

I was fortunate enough to be on the Island to see Mike's return and win on the Ducati. Like many others, I had tears of joy streaming down my face as he came past me on Lap 1 at Glentramman. When he reeled Phil Read in and passed him, everyone knew that barring a cruel twist of fate, the win was his. It was pretty much the perfect fairy story, and it couldn't have happened to a better bloke or a finer racer. In my personal pantheon of motorcycle racers, Mike still sits at the top, even after all these years.

Jarno Saarinen, had he lived longer, might have equalled or surpassed Mike's exploits, but we were sadly denied that possibility. Joey Dunlop, for longevity alone also figures highly, as does Eddie Lawson, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner. Marc Marquez looks like he has the Right Stuff, as well. But Mike is still the King.

As a relative newcomer to bike racing, but a longstanding motorsports fan, Hailwood passed me by in terms of his bike exploits. He retired just as I was getting interested as a boy and his return didn't register. Reading about his return it struck me as an exceptional thing to do, then or in the context of today. But his preparation was sensible and he clearly had the support of those necessary to be competitive.
One thing stood out for me - his comment about how frightening the 'new' bikes were because of their speed and acceleration, and how quickly the circuit 'came at' him.
To my knowledge, you do not hear anyone from that era or even the 80's/90's, saying anything comparable about when the 200+bhp bike became the norm in the premier classes (TT or MGP type).
The more recent world-class riders are very different people to the Hailwood's or Joey's ( I am hoping that Michael Dunlop can blend the two successfully!) but it has made me think that their 'professionalism' is on two quite different levels for many reasons, but one very good one : If you turned up today after 'getting to bed at 4 a.m.' and your reaction times were just slightly off-peak, or your brain a bit fuzzy, you might not return to the paddock with the bike.
It also reminded me of a recent historic bike race held at a BSB event. I'm not a fan of old bikes; the current machinery is what really interests me. When this race started my immediate thought was 'gosh, aren't they slow' (or words to that effect). However, as I watched I realised that what I was seeing was very much what the circuit (Oulton Park) was designed for. There were things happening along each straight/series of bends that modern machinery simply obliterate in a second or three that made the whole thing a completely different and engaging entertainment. These guys had (relatively) plenty of time to to think and act, not just repeat a rapidly-metronomic complex rhythm (which seems to me to be the only way to progress as fast as these bikes do at somewhere like the TT).
It was good fun to watch and it also means that, for me, if racing slows down a bit to help preserve these tracks and keep racing sufficiently affordable for good grids then we will adapt and the 'good old days' of ever-faster laps and records will be a thing a of the past, and racing will still be racing.