THE EYE-WITNESS AT THE CENTRE OF THE STORM
Robin Miller was a 27-year-old local newspaper reporter who scored a dream job in the late 1960s – he became Grand Prix reporter for Motor Cycle News during the era of the first Japanese technical wars. He worked among and socialised with the great figures of the period, including Hailwood, Agostini, Bill Ivy and Phil Read.
“It was an amazing time, because the engines of the factory bikes were very sophisticated, and ahead of Formula One at that time in terms of bhp per litre (Denny Hulme won the 1967 F1 title in a three-litre Repco Brabham V8).
“There were five-cylinder 125s and twin-cylinder 50s. Formula One wasn’t there. The TT was still a world championship race, and every rider had to be there. I remember after one early morning practice coming back into the Castle Mona hotel in Douglas and seeing Mike there at 8am playing the piano – he loved music. He was obviously recovering as he’d had a narrow escape that morning. He was saying: ‘F*** me, that was near’.
“The morning practice sessions then started at about 6am, so the riders would be out of bed by 5.30am. There might be mist on the course, and the problem of the sun right in their faces approaching Sulby Bridge and other places, where they could barely see. Evening practice started at 5 or 6pm. Riders would get to bed at 11pm and get up at about five. Six hours sleep is quite enough for most people.
“Wrestling that big Honda around was physically extraordinarily demanding for Mike. It was a notoriously bad handler. They went through all sorts of iterations with frames by Ken Sprayson and Colin Lyster, but they never did get it right.
“It had so much power that it was a wrestling match that entire season, and Mike was very unhappy with the bike at many of the circuits. At the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, which was another highly dangerous track, he almost threw the bike at the pit wall and said: ‘F***ing useless thing.’
“It was especially bad in the rain. They didn’t have wet and dry tyres then – they rode with the same tyre compound in wet or dry conditions, and at the TT the tyres had to last for six laps because there were no changes at pit stops.
“Did the riders love the TT? In some ways they did. But I remember Mike in his low moments saying: ‘I wish they’d pull the plug on this place and let it sink into the Irish Sea’. It was so dangerous and so difficult. But he loved it really.
“He and Ago were the greatest of friends, but it was also a very confrontational situation. It was always Hailwood v Agostini in the big race. No one else would get near them – there was a race for the multis between those two, and another one for the singles.
“I’d take copies of MCN out to the Grands Prix, and when I knocked on Mike’s caravan he’d say: ‘Oh Miller, have you got a copy?’ I’d put the paper through the window and go and talk to him. I enjoyed going to the after-race parties and getting drunk with the rest of them.
“I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly what we did on the night of the 1967 Senior TT. I think I drove out to someone’s party that was being held at a house somewhere outside Douglas with Mike and some others in a hire car. There was plenty of boozing going on. Then they flew to Mallory Park on the Saturday for the Posttt races on the Sunday.”
Hfsadfdas fasf da fdasf dsafsadf asdf ds sd fdas