Fiery, impetuous, dedicated, determined, relaxed and fun are allwords used to describethe late Hakan Carlqvist.
The world of MX lost a legend recently, when Swede Hakan Carlqvist passed away suddenly. Here’s our tribute to the legendary world champ.
The world of motocross was saddened to learn of the sudden passing of former double world MX champion Hakan Carlqvist at the beginning of July. According to reports, ‘Carla’ suffered a stroke at his home in the South of France and died two days later. The term legend really doesn’t go far enough to describe this giant of a man, a tenacious competitor who overcame such adversity, as injury after injury plagued him throughout his motocross career. Never one to allow such minor things to deter him from giving his utmost, he ignored the pain and went on to beat the world’s best to claim two world championship crowns. Carla hailed from the Järfälla Municipality near Stockholm and was always a keen sportsman who didn’t actually start racing motocross until he was 17. His first successes came in the world of football and ice hockey and these could easily have been his career rather than MX.
Despite this comparatively late start compared to his contemporaries, Carlqvist’s steely determination saw him claim victory in his first race and qualify into the top ten in the Swedish national championships within three years. Such early successes caught the eye of the Husqvarna factory and in 1977 a works ride came his way. However, whilst competing at the Belgian GP in that same year he suffered a serious knee injury which threatened to end his relatively short career. This injury would plague him for the rest of his career and he was told by doctors it would be best to stop racing completely or risk being in a wheelchair by the time he was 50.
That, however, was never an option for Hakan and he made plans for his comeback during his six months’ recovery period. With such a lengthy lay off, Husqvarna withdrew their factory support, so once back racing Carla’s only option was to acquire production Husqvarnas and spares to make his comeback.
Those who knew him weren’t surprised that his comeback was successful and following an impressive 1978 season Carla was again recruited into the factory Husqvarna ranks for 1979. He repaid the renewed support in great style in the 250cc class where he dominated the field to clinch
the quarter-litre title very convincingly.
This victory caught the eye of the Japanese Yamaha factory, looking to replace their Finnish champion Heikki Mikkola who was intending to retire. Carlqvist was approached, a deal agreed, which enabled Carla to fulfil a long held ambition to switch to the more prestigious 500cc championship. With talent such as Englishman Graham Noyce and Belgian Andre Malherbe on factory Hondas, plus American Brad Lackey on works Kawasakis, Carlqvist would not have an easy time in the Blue Ribband class. But typically and despite having to acclimatise to his new mount, plus a couple of DNFS, Carla proved up to the task and finished the season in third spot behind the epic and often bad tempered Malherbe/lackey battle.
Carla repeated this feat the following season, claiming another third spot with four GP victories. But the 1982 season was marred by injury, although he bounced back with a double victory at the final round at Ettlebruck in Luxembourg. What would turn out to be his championship year didn’t exactly start well as in the opening race of the 1983 season at Payerne in Switzerland, Carlqvist managed a fourth and a DNF.
The world took its eyes off the Swede and concentrated on others, however, he bounced back with victory on the steep hillside circuit at the following round at Sittendorf in Austria.
Against the might of a formidable Honda factory team and on vastly inferior machinery, Carla dug deep to claim further GP victories at his home round in Sweden as well as Italy, UK, Belgium and San Marino.
Going into the final round at St Anthonis in Holland, Carla held a healthy 17-point advantage over Malherbe. Watched by thousands of his home fans, Carla trailed home in sixth spot in the opening leg, two places behind his rival, as Britain’s Graham Noyce took the opening race win.
With a 14-point cushion going into the final race of the year, Carla only had to keep his head to take his first premiership crown. Malherbe produced what was necessary by taking the win but King Carla nursed his ailing Yamaha home to fourth spot to secure the crown. Mobbed by thousands of Swedish fans as he crossed the finish line, the big Swede was hoisted aloft.
All looked well for the defence of his title in 1984, unfortunately a badly broken wrist incurred at the infamous Hants Grand International at Hamer Warren at the beginning of the season denied Carla the chance of defending his crown.
A run of injuries over the next couple of seasons meant works support was withdrawn by Yamaha at the end of the 1986 season. Carla felt he was not finished with racing yet and had much more to give, so, at the age of 32 he switched to a production Kawasaki, a machine he found much more forgiving than his Yamaha. If confirmation of this was needed it came in the form of two race wins in the 1987 season on a production machine.
However, most MX fans will agree it is his 1988 season exploits which confirm him as a legendary Mxer. Picture the scene, Namur’s Citadel MX track – one of the great GP
circuits of the world – success here stamps a rider’s authority on the MX world… Hakan Carlqvist had already won the first of two motos and had a 50 second lead – to put that into perspective imagine how far you can go on foot in 50 seconds; in the second moto, the crowd were sensing something special, when the Swede pulled to the side of the track… right next to the Chalet du Monument café at the bottom of the circuit… a bottle of beer was acquired, Carla swigged it down, calmly kicked his bike into life and sped off to win the final moto! The crowd’s reaction – they went wild!
This stunning display of calm mastery has gone down in the annals of MX alongside the ‘Jobe Double’ when Georges Jobe cleared a double jump at Hawkstone Park in 1984.
Neither motorcycling nor injury was finished with Hakan Carlqvist after his race career ended, as another accident whilst testing a Husaberg for Swedish TV in 1997 sidelined him with a broken pelvis. Another accident whilst working on a roof saw him slip off and fall into an empty swimming pool. There is a limit to what a body can take though and this was all too much for even a giant of a man such as Carlqvist. When added to the multiple injuries he suffered during his MX career he needed medication and strong painkillers to help.
In his latter years, Carla shunned the public eye and became a virtual recluse, opting to stay at his secluded home in the South of France.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have met the man and covered the world motocross GPS during that period when he was at the top. There are some images of him which will remain with those that saw them forever, for instance seeing him hanging upside down by his ankles in his awning between races was eye-opening, as was his partying after a GP. The stories of him digging a hole to bury his new Yamaha at a test and stepping off his bike at speed and sending it crashing it into his awning were all indications of the man’s fiery temperament and his ultimate desire to be the best. Yet with his helmet off he was relaxed and fun to be around.
His work ethic was inspirational and second to none as Kenth Ohlin of Ohlins Racing is quoted as saying of Carlqvist: “without him possibly Ohlins would not be as well known today as they are”. He further added that in Hakan they had a top racer who was keen to help develop new technology and was dedicated to testing the results no matter what the conditions. Carlqvist himself dismissed his injuries and always gave 100%. His attitude being: “If it’s not going well, try harder, never give up.” Our sympathy goes out to long term partner Anneli. Goodnight and God bless champ and thanks for the memories. )
There are few things more satisfying for a super competitor like Carla than to take the chequered flag as he did here at Farleigh Castle in 1983. Indoor, outdoor, made little difference to Hakan, here he is at Amsterdamstadium. Hakan Carlqvist leads Andre Malherbe at Namur in 1983.
Happy man, looks like a win then. Grabbing the hole- shot at Luxembourg in 1981... a clear field in front. The Hants Grand National was not a good race meet for the Swede.
Been there, done that, got the T- shirt... Sorry, couldn't resist! At the Citadel, Namur... a sadly missed track. 1978 was a comeback year for Carla... injured in 1977, his performance in 1978 ensured a team place for 1979 and he was world 250 champ. The championship was to come... first meet at Sittendorf.