Match Races: Part 4

Classic Racer - - NEWS -

In to the 1980s and the last events of the GB v USA se­ries. Fu­ture and cur­rent GP stars from both sides of the pond, up­com­ing young guns look­ing to es­tab­lish them­selves and in­cred­i­ble races from start to fin­ish were a fine epi­taph for the TT races.

As the world moved into a new decade in 1980, the Transatlantic Tro­phy (or the An­glo-amer­i­can Match Races as the se­ries was also known) was about to cel­e­brate its own first decade in ex­is­tence when the Easter week­end came around.

Dur­ing the pre­vi­ous nine years it had be­come it ob­vi­ous that, as proved by a wins-to-date tally of six for the UK against three for the USA, it was al­ways go­ing to be dif­fi­cult for the vis­it­ing Amer­i­can team to match the lo­cal knowl­edge and points scor­ing po­ten­tial of the Bri­tish. How­ever, the Amer­i­cans had, at least, proved that the USA and Canada could pro­duce su­per­star rid­ers that, whether they had ever seen the tracks be­fore or not, could sim­ply turn up and top the in­di­vid­ual points ta­ble! Cal Ray­born and Yvon Duhamel had done so in 1972 and 1973. Then came Kenny Roberts in 1974, 1975 and again in 1977, Steve Baker in 1976, Pat Hen­nen in 1978 and Mike Bald­win in 1979. Just where did these su­per­stars keep com­ing from won­dered the Bri­tish press and pub­lic – and were there any more to come? That ques­tion was an­swered at the very first race of the 1980 se­ries at Brands Hatch. The early-sea­son Day­tona 200 was al­ways a good in­di­ca­tor of US form and 18-year-old new­comer Fred­die Spencer had more than a minute’s lead in the 1980 race be­fore the en­gine of his Yamaha let go at the 150-mile mark. He was on the match race US squad and ev­ery­one was won­der­ing how he would cope with the shorter, tighter Bri­tish tracks. The pre­vi­ous year’s Day­tona win­ner, Dale Sin­gle­ton, had fin­ished sec­ond to Pa­trick Pons at Day­tona 1980 and would be back on the match race team, as would Kenny Roberts (who had missed the 1979 se­ries through in­jury) and Randy Mamola, who had been the sec­ond-high­est points-scorer on his 1979 match race de­but. Prom­i­nent in the home team were Barry Sheene (hav­ing switched from Suzuki to Yamaha), then Mick Grant, Dave Pot­ter, Ron Haslam and Gra­ham Crosby – al­lowed in be­cause he was a Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth rider com­pet­ing in the UK. The Brands Hatch races were on the chal­leng­ing Grand Prix cir­cuit that was more than two-and-a-half miles long, up and down through the Ken­tish wood­lands. But Fred­die Spencer had amazed ev­ery­one with his pace when he first set eyes on it in Thurs­day prac­tice and he con­firmed his speed by dom­i­nat­ing both races on Good Fri­day! The first of these saw Fred­die three sec­onds ahead of Gra­ham Crosby, with Kenny Roberts a com­fort­able third af­ter an ini­tial tus­sle with Barry. They had in­creased this slim mar­gin to a much more com­fort­able 32 sec­onds af­ter the sen­sa­tional Spencer won again, this time from Kenny Roberts and Randy Mamola, all well ahead of the first Brit, Ron Haslam. Kenny Roberts won both races as the cir­cus moved on to Mal­lory Park, tak­ing the first one from Fred­die Spencer and Ron Haslam. Randy Mamola was fourth af­ter a big dice with Gra­ham Crosby, his Suzuki GB team-mate (al­though his op­po­si­tion in the match race se­ries, of course). Roberts led Race Two with Randy Mamola close be­hind and even tak­ing the lead at one point af­ter the race got back into its stride fol­low­ing a lengthy ses­sion un­der waved cau­tion flags for a big crash by Gra­ham Crosby at the Devil’s El­bow. Croz hit the Armco feet first and was lucky in the cir­cum­stances to es­cape with a bad gash to his lower leg.

Kenny soon got back in com­mand from Mamola, with Spencer third and only three sec­onds cov­er­ing the lead­ing trio at the flag. Fourth, but not in touch, was Ron Haslam for the UK. This saw ev­ery­one off to Oul­ton Park with the Yanks hold­ing a colos­sal 55pt lead… but still 50,000 fans turned up! By now the match races were an­nu­ally draw­ing to­tal crowds of well over 100,000 to the three cir­cuits and gos­sip had it that in ev­ery re­cent sea­son they had funded all the other racing at the Mo­tor Cir­cuits De­vel­op­ments tracks! Race One at Oul­ton Park was no­table for a big scrap be­tween Kenny Roberts and Fred­die Spencer. Fred­die got by on a fast left-han­der dur­ing the fi­nal laps, but KR re-passed and won by a bike length. A re­ju­ve­nated Barry Sheene had been hold­ing third, but the crank­shaft of his Yamaha broke and Randy Mamola took over the spot. Fourth, and best Brit, was Keith Huewen. Fred­die Spencer des­per­ately wanted to win Race Two and thus tie with Kenny Roberts as top in­di­vid­ual scorer. In pur­suit of this he set a new lap record but then slid off, leav­ing Kenny Roberts and Randy Mamola to fight it out. The re­sult went in favour of Randy, with Roberts sec­ond. Next up was Ron Haslam, giv­ing the Bri­tish fans some­thing to cheer about, as he was less than a sec­ond be­hind Kenny. Team USA won by 443 points to 369 and for the first time in the 10-year his­tory of the se­ries, rid­ers from one coun­try (the USA, of course) had won ev­ery round. Kenny Roberts again topped the in­di­vid­ual points with 92 (from a pos­si­ble 96) from Spencer on 76 and Randy Mamola. The fans’ ques­tions about whether there were more Amer­i­can su­per­stars to come had been em­phat­i­cally an­swered and the home team ad­van­tage had been nar­rowed to 6-4 in terms of over­all se­ries wins. Even be­fore the 1981 se­ries started, how­ever, it looked as though Team USA would be at a dis­ad­van­tage. Kenny Roberts was un­avail­able be­cause he was test­ing his Grand Prix bike in Aus­tralia, while Dave Al­dana and Mike Bald­win were com­pet­ing in the Le Mans 24 Hours race in France for the Honda En­durance World Cham­pi­onship team. But at least Amer­i­can Honda re­leased Fred­die Spencer, by now the leader of its US Su­per­bike ef­fort, and even al­lowed him to ride a dif­fer­ent make of ma­chine! A deal had been bro­kered by Bel-ray Oil for him to ride a Suzuki square four built by well-known Aus­trian tuner Har­ald Bar­tol and des­tined for a Bel­gian rider af­ter the match race se­ries. Un­for­tu­nately, Fred­die spent most of the se­ries sort­ing out the teething trou­bles for the owner-to-be… a far cry from the pre­vi­ous year when his Erv Kanemoto-tuned Yamaha was the class of the field. So where was Erv when Fred­die needed him in 1981? Work­ing on the fac­tory Yamaha team for Barry Sheene… In the open­ing round at Brands Hatch the US team fared quite well, even though Fred­die Spencer failed to fin­ish ei­ther race. Randy Mamola won them both with Rich Sch­lac­ter sec­ond each time on his pri­va­teer TZ

750. Third in the first heat was Dale Sin­gle­ton (fresh from his sec­ond Day­tona 200 win). In the sec­ond heat, Dave Pot­ter fol­lowed Sch­lac­ter home for third, so when the se­ries moved on to a bit­terly cold Mal­lory Park two days later, the Amer­i­cans trailed the home team by just five points. At Mal­lory, a freak in­ci­dent stopped Randy Mamola from scor­ing in the first race when he broke off his front brake lever af­ter brush­ing against John New­bold’s bike at the start. The first he knew about it was when he went to grab for the non-ex­is­tent lever at the first cor­ner! Nat­u­rally, the re­sult was a DNF for Randy, al­low­ing Ron Haslam to win from John New­bold and Rich Sch­lac­ter. Fourth, with his Suzuki fi­nally run­ning rea­son­ably well, was Fred­die Spencer from Dave Pot­ter and Barry Sheene. In the sec­ond leg, Randy Mamola proved that on a bike with a front brake he was un­stop­pable – so to speak! He won his third race of the se­ries from Fred­die Spencer, who tucked in be­hind, not re­ally threat­en­ing Randy’s lead, but now at least with the Bar­tol Suzuki go­ing prop­erly. Barry Sheene was a dis­tant third, ahead of John New­bold and Rich Sch­lac­ter. Rich had been the USA’S na­tional road racing cham­pion in both 1979 and 1980. And as the teams left for Oul­ton Park in 1981, he was lead­ing the in­di­vid­ual points-scor­ers with 55 points com­pared to the 48 racked up by Randy Mamola and John New­bold. Un­for­tu­nately, nei­ther Rich nor Randy made it fur­ther than the sec­ond lap of the first race at Oul­ton. Un­fa­mil­iar with the course, a fast-start­ing US team­ster John Long braked ear­lier than ex­pected for the down­hill left-han­der at Cas­cades and this caused pan­de­mo­nium be­hind him. Dale Sin­gle­ton and Sch­lac­ter had to take avoid­ing ac­tion and this took out Mamola. Dale did stay aboard to fin­ish a good third, de­spite suf­fer­ing a sprained wrist, but Rich and Randy each crashed hard, putting them both out of the fi­nal race – Rich with an in­jured hand and Randy with cracked and badly bruised ribs. Add to that an­other DNF for Fred­die Spencer on the tem­per­a­men­tal Suzuki and the se­ries was al­ready over be­fore the last race had started. That race saw a pop­u­lar win by Dave Pot­ter, his first in the se­ries af­ter hav­ing been a con­sis­tent UK points-scorer since he first rode in the se­ries in 1973. Sadly, Dave was to lose his life at this same Oul­ton Park cir­cuit only four months later. Fred­die Spencer’s Suzuki once again ran for a whole race dis­tance and he was close be­hind Dave and ahead of fel­low team­ster, Dale Sin­gle­ton, now rid­ing with his sprained wrist strapped up and still scor­ing top-end points. Not that these high-scor­ing po­si­tions by Fred­die and Dale could do much about the ac­tual re­sult, how­ever. Not while Randy Mamola and Rich Sch­lac­ter were sit­ting wounded in the pits and the Bri­tish were pick­ing up the main points avail­able from fourth place down­wards. Team GB 466 – Team USA 345 was the fi­nal score, with John New­bold scor­ing 72 points to be­come the first clear in­di­vid­ual top scorer for the UK since the first run­ning of the match race se­ries 11 years ear­lier. Sec­ond in the stand­ings was Dave Pot­ter with 68, then Dale Sin­gle­ton as the first Amer­i­can with a cred­itable 65. The 1982 se­ries also looked like be­ing a strug­gle for Team USA when it was an­nounced that nei­ther Roberts nor Mamola would be avail­able, as they would be away test­ing their GP bikes. On the other hand, there was good news for the Amer­i­cans when it was an­nounced that at least the Honda fac­tory would again al­low Fred­die Spencer to ride – not on the mon­ster FWS 1125cc V4 four-stroke with which he had fin­ished sec­ond to Gra­ham Crosby at Day­tona, but on the com­pact NS500 two-stroke triple on which he had placed third in his Grand Prix de­but in Ar­gentina. And Amer­i­can Honda was equally as gen­er­ous as the Ja­panese fac­tory in al­low­ing both of its team rid­ers, Mike Bald­win and Roberto Pi­etri, to com­pete. Roberto would, in fact, ride his own new Suzuki RG500, on which he hoped to com­pete in se­lected Grands Prix, when his Amer­i­can com­mit­ments al­lowed. In turn, Mike would ride the Mori­waki-framed Honda F1 in-line four-stroke four-cylin­der that Roberto had rid­den to third place at Day­tona. Like Spencer, Mike felt that the FWS, on which he had

placed fourth at Day­tona, would be just too big and clumsy for the tight UK tracks. Dale Sin­gle­ton would be back and he had scored yet an­other top plac­ing at Day­tona – fifth this time – to add to his tally of two wins and a sec­ond place in the pre­vi­ous three years. Lead­ing the Bri­tish team was Barry Sheene, right back on form af­ter a sec­ond place ahead of Fred­die Spencer in the Ar­gen­tine Grand Prix. He was now equipped with a full fac­tory OW60 square four and en­joy­ing big-money spon­sor­ship from the John Player cig­a­rette com­pany. Suzuki’s ris­ing GP star, Keith Huewen, was mounted on the square four with which Randy Mamola had won three races in the pre­vi­ous year’s se­ries, while his Suzuki GB team-mates, Roger Mar­shall and John New­bold, were on the com­pany’s big 1000cc four-strokes. Un­for­tu­nately, a huge crash was to elim­i­nate Fred­die Spencer and the GP Honda triple from the rest of the se­ries in the very first race at Brands Hatch. Fred­die was chas­ing Barry Sheene hard for the lead at the time and baled off the Honda just be­fore it mo­tored straight into the earth bank at the Druids hairpin with the throt­tles stuck wide open and en­gine howl­ing at max­i­mum rpm! The NS500 was to­tally de­stroyed and there was no spare bike on hand. Fred­die, luck­ily not se­ri­ously in­jured, flew back home to Louisiana the next day. Spencer’s crash let Roger Mar­shall into sec­ond spot, which he held onto af­ter a fiercely-chal­leng­ing Mike Bald­win had over-revved his Honda F1 en­gine and bent its valves. Roberto Pi­etri bat­tled hard with Keith Huewen for third, even­tu­ally giv­ing best to the Brit by just half a bike’s length at the fin­ish. Barry Sheene was the star of the show and came so close to be­ing the first rider to win all six races in the se­ries week­end. He won five of them (two at Brands Hatch, two at Oul­ton Park and one at Mal­lory). Only a slow-speed, last-lap tum­ble at Mal­lory’s hairpin let Roger Mar­shall through to win and to de­prive Barry of the $40,000 bonus on of­fer for a ‘clean sweep’… Dave Al­dana was the top-scorer for the USA with 56pts but that was only good enough for fifth over­all. It pretty much summed up a week­end in which the Bri­tish dev­as­tated Team USA by 491 points to 318. For 1983 there were some big changes in re­spect of the se­ries. Fi­nan­cial cut-backs by the Mo­tor Cir­cuits Devel­op­ment group had been forced on it by its own­ers, the gi­ant Ea­gle Star In­sur­ance com­pany and this had led to the sale of Mal­lory Park. To over­come the loss of this mas­sively pop­u­lar Transatlantic se­ries venue, MCD switched the se­ries from its tra­di­tional Easter date to the later May Bank Hol­i­day week­end so that the Snet­ter­ton track it owned in Nor­folk could be brought in to re­place Mal­lory. The se­ries would now be­gin, rather than fin­ish, at Oul­ton Park be­fore mov­ing on to Snet­ter­ton on the Sun­day and Brands Hatch on the Bank Hol­i­day Mon­day. The old four-day Easter week­end sched­ule had been pun­ish­ing and this new one was, at a day less, a cut too far – es­pe­cially as the weather was un­ex­pect­edly bad for just about the whole week­end. One would have thought that the later date would have, at least, de­liv­ered bet­ter weather, but it was pretty much rain, rain… and more rain. The later date also meant that the GP sea­son had al­ready started and Honda would not re­lease Fred­die Spencer (pre­sum­ably with his 1982 crash in mind). On the other hand, the fans did have the bonus of see­ing Kenny Roberts back… this time with his new team part­ner, Ed­die Law­son. Not only that, theyamaha men would be rid­ing the fear­some 680cc OW69 square fours on which they had scored a onetwo (Kenny from Ed­die) in the Day­tona 200. Join­ing them would be the Suzuki pair­ing of Randy Mamola on the fac­tory team GP bike and Dave Al­dana on a pri­vately-owned ver­sion. Com­plet­ing the US team line-up were Wes Coo­ley, rid­ing for Kawasaki for the first time on a 1000cc four-stroke four and Mike Bald­win on the RS500 pri­va­teer Honda triple, with which he had won the non-cham­pi­onship Malaysian Grand Prix a week ear­lier. Lin­ing up for the UK were Ron Haslam and Roger Mar­shall for Honda Bri­tain, Barry Sheene and Keith Huewen on the Suzuki GB bikes, plus pri­va­teers Mark Salle (Suzuki) and Gra­ham Wood on his faith­ful Yamaha TZ500, now in its third year in the se­ries. In the­ory the US had the stronger squad but, as so of­ten hap­pens, things didn’t work out that way in prac­tice. Right from the open­ing lap of the first race the US team was dealt a ma­jor blow – a blow in­flicted by one of its own mem­bers, the no­to­ri­ously hard-charg­ing Mike Bald­win. On the first lap at Oul­ton Park Ron Haslam led Mamola and Bald­win un­til Mike crashed at the very fast Knicker­brook cor­ner. He was caught out, he said, when the lead­ing pair slowed more than he thought and he had to go wide. He crashed hard and man­gled his right foot, break­ing three toes, as well as other small bones. “I may have tried to go too hard and win the race on the first lap,” he later ad­mit­ted. Right be­hind Bald­win, Kenny Roberts got an up-close view – too close, in fact and he re­mem­bered that, “Mike al­most hit the back of Randy, which would have punted him into Haslam. It was may­hem and we were lucky that we only lost one team mem­ber in­stead of three… be­cause for sure if all of them in front had gone down, I would have been mixed up in it as well!” Mike ban­daged up his foot and tried to race at Snet­ter­ton, but in the end it was im­pos­si­ble and af­ter go­ing to hos­pi­tal with the badly swollen foot, he was out. Log­i­cally,

his ab­sence from five races could have cost US the se­ries, as that year there were six-man teams and bud­get­ing cuts had pre­cluded the US from bring­ing a re­serve. So, los­ing a rider of Bald­win’s cal­i­bre in the very first race was a ma­jor blow in­deed. Mamola did get ahead to win for the USA in front of Ron Haslam and Kenny Roberts fin­ished third ahead of Roger Mar­shall. That fin­ish­ing or­der was re­peated in the sec­ond race. In aw­ful con­di­tions on the fol­low­ing day at Snet­ter­ton, some hard rid­ing by Ron Haslam saw him win the first race from Kenny Roberts, who just edged ahead of Roger Mar­shall to win their drag race to the line for sec­ond. This time Roger was us­ing the Honda 1125cc F1 four-stroke rather than the RS500 two-stroke triple that he had raced at Oul­ton, feel­ing that the big four’s smoother power de­liv­ery would help in the wet. Which it ob­vi­ously did. Next up came Sheene, hav­ing his best ride of the se­ries, but still 22 sec­onds be­hind the lead­ing trio, and then came a cau­tious Law­son a fur­ther 12 sec­onds be­hind. Es­sen­tially, the re­sult was the same in the sec­ond race ex­cept for Randy Mamola tak­ing fourth and Law­son this time get­ting the bet­ter of Sheene for fifth. Af­ter wrestling his 680cc square four in the East Anglian rain, Ed­die com­mented, “These bikes were meant for Day­tona and weren’t the right ones for these tracks. Es­pe­cially not in these con­di­tions. I think I would have liked this track in the dry but I’ve only ever rid­den three wet races so de­cided to be smart and ride within my lim­its to­day”. The teams left for Brands Hatch with the US trail­ing by 28 points and the last two races were es­sen­tially the same mix­ture as be­fore. The same lead­ing rid­ers mixed it up in the wet, though only in a grey drizzle rather than the pre­vi­ous day’s down­pours. In the end Ron Haslam was the man of the week­end with four wins from six races and 70 points. Then came Randy Mamola with 60, Roberts on 57, Roger Mar­shall close be­hind with 55, then Ed­die Law­son with 43 and Barry Sheene with 40. The to­tal points saw the UK scor­ing 245 to 199 for the USA, giv­ing the home side nine wins to four for the USA in the 13-year his­tory of the se­ries. The weather con­di­tions through­out the May Day Bank Hol­i­day week­end were mis­er­able for all con­cerned – and not least for the race or­gan­is­ers. The crowds were way down at all three cir­cuits – 10,000 at Oul­ton Park, 15,000 at Snet­ter­ton and 20,000 at Brands Hatch – a to­tal of 45,000 for a se­ries that had of­ten drawn crowds of well over 100,000 dur­ing the past decade. Chris Lowe, who had been re­spon­si­ble for run­ning the match race se­ries since its in­cep­tion, had moved on and his role was filled by MCD man­ag­ing di­rec­tor John Webb. In 1978, Webb had staged a sim­i­lar Transatlantic se­ries for Indy­cars and it had ap­par­ently cost MCD a great deal of money. This, and the dras­ti­cally re­duced at­ten­dance fig­ures for the mo­tor­cy­cle se­ries in 1983, may well have given Webb a jaded view of the gen­eral ‘two na­tions’ match racing con­cept and its fu­ture po­ten­tial for ei­ther car or bike racing. But it was still a bomb­shell to both the press and mo­tor­cy­cle racing fans on both sides of the At­lantic when he an­nounced early in 1984 that the mo­tor­cy­cle match race se­ries, which had been so suc­cess­ful for a dozen years pre­vi­ously, was a dead duck as far as he was con­cerned. This led di­rectly to an op­por­tu­nity for me, as Gavin Trippe and I had di­vided our busi­ness in­ter­ests a cou­ple of years ear­lier. He re­mained in the USA con­cen­trat­ing on race pro­mo­tions, while I had moved back to Europe to con­tinue with the pub­lish­ing and PR com­pany that we had also es­tab­lished there. A long-term con­tract with Yamaha

Europe in­cluded pro­mot­ing the RD350 Pro-am se­ries that had im­me­di­ately proved very suc­cess­ful and which had led to a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween my­self and Robert Fear­nall, the track man­ager at Donington Park. As soon as Robert read the state­ment by John Webb in the UK mo­tor­cy­cle press, he called me to ask whether, in the light of my in­volve­ment in the se­ries dur­ing its ear­li­est days, we could get a new deal to switch the se­ries to Donington Park. One phone call to the Amer­i­can Mo­tor­cy­cle As­so­ci­a­tion (which li­censed Amer­i­can rid­ers for par­tic­i­pa­tion in over­seas races) and a cou­ple of faxes later, I had a deal with Donington and a three-year AMA con­tract giv­ing me the ex­clu­sive right to pro­vide the US rid­ers for the se­ries. Now the job in hand was to put to­gether the best pos­si­ble team in the short time we had left. Robert Fear­nall and I de­ter­mined that my first pri­or­ity was to tempt newly-re­tired Kenny Roberts back for one last race in Europe and a call to his man­ager, Gary Howard, con­firmed that King Kenny was ready to make one last state visit to the UK… but at a very sub­stan­tial price. Speak­ing with Robert, I in­ti­mated that I was sure that the deal would be ne­go­tiable to some de­gree… but his re­sponse was im­me­di­ate and un­equiv­o­cal: “If you can get his name on a con­tract,” said Robert, “give him what he wants.” Which is what we did im­me­di­ately. Right away the cor­ner­stone of the new-look Transatlantic Chal­lenge was in place and the rest of the build­ing blocks fol­lowed in very short or­der thanks to Robert’s at­ti­tude and the pretty much open cheque­book of Donington Park’s owner Tom Wheatcroft. Well be­fore Easter we had con­tracts with Kenny Roberts, Ed­die Law­son, Fred­die Spencer, Randy Mamola, Mike Bald­win, Richard Sch­lac­ter, Wes Coo­ley and Dave Al­dana. All were fit and on top form, as ev­i­denced by the re­sults of the Day­tona races at the start of the sea­son. Kenny had won his third (and last) 200, Fred­die Spencer had been sec­ond in that race and won the Su­per­bike race. Ed­die Law­son was fourth in the 200 (be­hind Bri­tain’s Ron Haslam in third), and Rich Sch­lac­ter was sixth. Also on the US Transatlantic team was a young Cal­i­for­nian by the name of Wayne Rainey, who had won the 250cc race at Day­tona ahead of GP reg­u­lars Martin Wim­mer and Graeme Mcgre­gor. Like Kenny and Ed­die, Wayne had cut his teeth and been a win­ner on Cal­i­for­nia dirt tracks and had then switched suc­cess­fully to the hard stuff, win­ning the 1983 US Su­per­bike Cham­pi­onship for Kawasaki. For 1984 he would be rid­ing for the new Kenny Roberts Yamaha team in 250cc Grands Prix, so for the Donington Transatlantic races we had been able to ar­range that Yamaha USA would pro­vide him with the TZ500 four that had been used in oc­ca­sional road races by its dirt-track rider, Jim Fil­ice. Un­for­tu­nately, Wayne’s first trip out­side the USA was short and none-too-sweet. In pre-race prac­tice a cou­ple of days be­fore the event he crashed the TZ500 and was head­ing home early with an in­jured foot and shoul­der. De­spite Wayne’s de­par­ture this was still with­out doubt the best US team ever as­sem­bled and the same went for the UK squad. Join­ing Barry Sheene were Gra­ham Crosby and Wayne Gard­ner (al­lowed in as Com­mon­wealth but Uk-based rid­ers) plus Ron Haslam, Roger Mar­shall, Keith Huewen and Rob Mcel­nea. Thus, the stage was set for the ‘new look’ Transatlantic Chal­lenge and the huge fi­nan­cial gamble taken by the Donington Park man­age­ment paid off to the tune of some 85,000 spec­ta­tors over the week­end. That record crowd saw some great ac­tion, with the best rid­ers in the world bat­tling through­out the three races on each of the two days. Con­sid­er­ing the strength of the best-ever US team in the his­tory of the se­ries, it was not sur­pris­ing to see Amer­i­can rid­ers scrap­ping mainly with each other for the top spots, es­pe­cially as Kenny Roberts and Law­son were on the Team Marl­boro Yamaha vee-fours and Fred­die Spencer was on the new NSR500 V4 Honda that he had de­buted ear­lier in the year with a sec­ond place to Kenny at Day­tona. Also on top form was Randy Mamola, no longer with the Suzuki team and now rid­ing a fac­tory-loaned Honda NS500 triple. Ron Haslam was on a sim­i­lar ma­chine and it was he and Mamola who slugged it out for top spot in the first race. Ron led for the first nine laps and con­tin­ued to put the pres­sure on with some de­ter­mined hard-brak­ing ma­noeu­vres at the chi­cane af­ter Randy had gone past. But it was Mamola who took the win and US rid­ers Spencer, Law­son and Roberts next up. Haslam again got the hole-shot from the start of Race Two but again, by the ninth lap, both Mamola and Spencer were in his slip­stream and they went by two laps later. Fred­die was hav­ing a par­tic­u­larly good ride af­ter bog­ging down the en­gine of the Honda V4 at the start and charg­ing up through the field from last place. But Randy hung on to take his sec­ond win from two races with Haslam third be­hind Spencer and Law­son and Roberts again fourth and fifth. In Race Three, Haslam was again the lead­ing Brit but he was high-sided off his Honda triple when ex­it­ing the chi­cane in fifth place ahead of Mike Bald­win. Up ahead, Fred­die Spencer was in hot pur­suit of the lead­ing group that con­sisted of Ed­die Law­son, ahead of Randy Mamola and Kenny Roberts. Af­ter break­ing the lap record he fi­nally swept by that trio to take the win. Aussie Wayne Gard­ner, in fifth, was the top non-amer­i­can. On the Easter Mon­day, in per­fect weather, the fourth race fol­lowed a sim­i­lar pat­tern with Spencer win­ning from Mamola, Law­son, Roberts, Haslam and Gard­ner. The fifth race later that day turned out to be one of the most sig­nif­i­cant in the his­tory of the se­ries, as Fred­die Spencer went over the high side of his slid­ing Honda and crashed hard, ag­gra­vat­ing an ear­lier foot

in­jury sus­tained when he had crashed in the open­ing GP of the year in South Africa and break­ing the other foot as well. This led di­rectly to the fac­to­ries pre­clud­ing their Grand Prix rid­ers from rid­ing such non-cham­pi­onship events in the fu­ture. De­spite a hard charge and a last-lap ef­fort at the chi­cane by Ed­die Law­son, Randy Mamola took the win. Third and close be­hind them was Kenny Roberts, from Ron Haslam, Wayne Gard­ner and Rob Mcel­nea. The sixth and fi­nal event was a crack­ing end to the pro­ceed­ings, as in­spired rides by Wayne Gard­ner and Ron Haslam chal­lenged the Yama­has of Roberts and Law­son through­out the race af­ter Randy Mamola had re­tired early. Gard­ner’s was a truly tough and tena­cious ef­fort, sev­eral times tak­ing the lead through Donington’s up­hill curves be­fore be­ing over­pow­ered on the fol­low­ing long straight by the Team Marl­boro duo. When the che­quered flag was waved, it was waved most ap­pro­pri­ately for Kenny Roberts – a uni­ver­sally pop­u­lar win, as it al­lowed the crowd to pay a proper trib­ute to King Kenny on his fi­nal ride in Bri­tain… a coun­try where he had so won­der­fully en­ter­tained the fans for a full 10 years. In the places be­hind Kenny were Ed­die Law­son, Wayne Gard­ner, Ron Haslam, Mike Bald­win and Rob Mcel­nea to make the fi­nal score­line Team USA 259 – Team UK & Com­mon­wealth 136. To be bru­tally hon­est, even half­way through the first day it had been ob­vi­ous that this wasn’t go­ing to be a match race se­ries in any mean­ing­ful sense. In­stead, the fans were to be treated to some daz­zling rid­ing by world su­per­stars, most of them Amer­i­can. And the lead­ing in­di­vid­ual points scores for those su­per­stars were shared out as fol­lows: Randy Mamola 67, Ed­die Law­son 62, Kenny Roberts 53, Fred­die Spencer 52, Ron Haslam 44, and Wayne Gard­ner 32. It is fair to say that, in terms of com­pet­ing stars, the Transatlantic Tro­phy reached its peak that year at Donington in 1984. Af­ter all, you sim­ply couldn’t get any bet­ter than lin­ing up all the top rid­ers from both sides of the At­lantic! Oth­er­wise, the only way was down – and that was the case as far as 1985 was con­cerned. First off, the Honda fac­tory re­fused to al­low Fred­die Spencer to com­pete. His crash the pre­vi­ous year had caused him to miss the fol­low­ing Span­ish GP and Honda didn’t want to take that chance again. Next, Yamaha de­clined to send Ed­die Law­son and, of course, the peren­nial crowd favourite Kenny Roberts, now re­tired from racing, had run a Marl­boro-spon­sored 250GP team in 1984 and was busy putting to­gether a team in the 500cc Grands Prix with sup­port from the Lucky Strike cig­a­rette com­pany. That left Randy Mamola and Mike Bald­win as the star rid­ers to lead a team of US pri­va­teers against Ron Haslam and Wayne Gard­ner, on sim­i­lar Roth­mans Hon­das to Randy, as front run­ners for the UK squad. With all the races tele­vised once again, the liv­ery of the Roth­mans to­bacco com­pany some­what con­tro­ver­sially dom­i­nated the TV screens as the Honda GB bikes of Roger Mar­shall and Roger Bur­nett were also spon­sored by the same cig­a­rette brand. Un­sur­pris­ingly, it was the blue and white bikes that did most of the win­ning, with Wayne Gard­ner tak­ing three vic­to­ries to the two wins of Randy Mamola and, at last, a win for Mike Bald­win. As far back as 1979 he had been top in­di­vid­ual scorer and a fron­trun­ner on very ap­pear­ance since… but it took un­til the last race and one of his last ap­pear­ances in the se­ries for him to stand on the top step of the podium! In fact, the re­duced qual­ity of en­try com­pared to the 1984 field had done very lit­tle, if any­thing, to re­duce the qual­ity of the racing and there were some su­perb bat­tles in­volv­ing the five Roth­mans Honda rid­ers, Mike Bald­win on his own Honda RS500 and the Skoal Ban­dit (an­other to­bacco com­pany) spon­sored Suzuki of Bri­tain’s Rob Mcel­nea. The UK team took a com­fort­able win over­all but the in­di­vid­ual top-scorer was an Amer­i­can once again. Randy Mamola fin­ished in the top three of each of the six races – two wins, two sec­onds and two thirds. He led Wayne Gard­ner, Mike Bald­win, Ron Haslam, Rob Mcel­nea and Roger Mar­shall. Al­though the racing was great in 1985, the se­ries had un­der­lined a grow­ing prob­lem. It was no­table that there were far fewer US rid­ers with gen­uine two-stroke GP ma­chin­ery now that the main em­pha­sis in Amer­i­can racing had switched to the Su­per­bike class. This was for ‘silhouette’ bikes that looked like pro­duc­tion ma­chines but which, in fact, were true rac­ers with more pow­er­ful en­gines and up­graded sus­pen­sion and brakes. There was plenty of this type of ma­chine avail­able in the UK, as I had cre­ated the sim­i­lar UK Su­per­stock class in 1985, so for what was to be the 16th and last year of the Transatlantic se­ries, we took the big de­ci­sion to make it a four-strokes only ‘Su­per­bike’ race. Once again, we were faced with the fact that the top Amer­i­can rid­ers were tied ex­clu­sively to their Grand Prix con­tracts. Ed­die Law­son for Marl­boro Yamaha, Fred­die Spencer and Randy Mamola for Honda and Mike Bald­win, now signed to the new Lucky Strike Yamaha team run by Kenny Roberts. There­fore, it was a team of rid­ers al­most un­known out­side the USA that faced the Bri­tish ‘usual sus­pects’ for the fi­nal Transatlantic se­ries, al­though it was at least headed by the two guys who had chased Ed­die Law­son into Vic­tory Lane in that year’s Day­tona 200 – namely Kevin Sch­wantz and Fred Merkel. In 1984 – the year that ‘money talked’ – it


had been easy to sign the best rid­ers in the world and 1985 had also been rel­a­tively sim­ple. But find­ing a team for 1986 was a bit of a night­mare. For ex­am­ple, we couldn’t even per­suade Amer­i­can Honda or US Yoshimura Suzuki to send bikes over for their Day­tona stars. Win­ning the US Su­per­bike se­ries was just too im­por­tant to them and be­cause of this sit­u­a­tion both Sch­wantz and Merkel would be on year-old bor­rowed ma­chin­ery for the match races. For Sch­wantz, Steve Grif­fiths pro­vided the Suzuki GSXR750 that Tony Rut­ter had rid­den in the pre­vi­ous year’s Isle of Man TT, while for Merkel, we man­aged to bor­row the Honda V4 In­ter­cep­tor on which Jeff Haney had placed third in the 1985 Day­tona 200. Its owner was Mac Archer, a Cal­i­for­nian doc­tor who was, by then, us­ing it to en­joy him­self on the roads around his home! Nei­ther the facts that the bikes were bor­rowed or sec­ond-hand fazed ei­ther Sch­wantz or Merkel in the slight­est. Mak­ing the right tyre choice was vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble on a mis­er­able week­end that saw rain, sleet and snow through­out – some­times even in the same race! And this led to some lurid ac­tion… es­pe­cially courtesy of Kevin and Fred. In one race, the crowd and the mas­sive TV au­di­ence were treated to the sight of them both hit­ting trou­ble while bat­tling for the lead at 100mph-plus. First Fred got into a slide and headed off onto the in­field grass. Al­most im­me­di­ately be­hind him Kevin also got side­ways, to the ex­tent that he slipped off the bike and was only hang­ing on by his hands and one foot hooked over the seat! In­cred­i­bly, he some­how got back into the sad­dle and car­ried on, still in the lead! Mean­while, Merkel was still dirt-track­ing and as Cy­cle News reporter Peter Clif­ford, wrote, “the sight of Merkel slid­ing the 130-horse­power su­per­bike across wet grass was some­thing that the Bri­tish fans won’t for­get in a hurry!” Said Merkel: “I just stayed on the gas and headed back for the track…” He re-joined the race in sixth place but by the last lap he and Sch­wantz were back in their cus­tom­ary one-two po­si­tions. That was un­til Fred over­did things and spun the Honda out while try­ing to catch Kevin in the fi­nal chi­cane. They were the ab­so­lute stars of the show, Kevin win­ning four of the eight races and Fred two. The oth­ers were won by Rob Mcel­nea and Roger Bur­nett for the UK to help give the home team a clear win by 314 points to 214. Top in­di­vid­ual scorer, Kevin Sch­wantz, went on in later years to win the 1988 Day­tona 200 be­fore join­ing the Lucky Strike Suzuki fac­tory Grand Prix team and win­ning the World 500cc Cham­pi­onship in 1994. Run­ner-up, Fred Merkel, who had pre­vi­ously been US Su­per­bike Cham­pion in 1984 and 1985, went on to win the na­tional ti­tle again in 1986 and then the World Su­per­bike Cham­pi­onship in 1988 and 1989. With these two World Cham­pi­ons-in-wait­ing well clear at the top of the 1986 Transatlantic rider stand­ings, this was an apt con­clu­sion to the se­ries. Over 16 years, the Amer­i­cans had, on 11 oc­ca­sions, pro­vided the in­di­vid­ual star of the show, com­pared to three for the UK and two years in which the honours were shared. The team re­sults, how­ever, were al­most the op­po­site: 11 wins for Bri­tain against five for the USA. This last race in the se­ries might have seen a big 100-point beat­ing for the US team, none of whom had ever even seen Donington be­fore their first damp and gloomy day of prac­tice. but they re­mained res­o­lutely up­beat de­spite the foul weather con­di­tions and by the end of the pro­ceed­ings they had at least de­liv­ered the fi­nal pair in the long list of Amer­i­can su­per­stars who had made their UK de­buts in ‘the Transatlantic’.

Words: Bruce Cox Pho­to­graphs: Mor­tons Archive and Bruce Cox Col­lec­tion

Above: Kenny Roberts and the Ow76yamaha in per­fect har­mony (if a wide line) on a slip­pery Donington Park in 1984.

Above left: John Ash­mead at Brands Hatch, the year is 1987 and the Honda VFR In­ter­cep­tor makes a hand­some race­bike. Above: Fa­mil­iar style? This is Fred­die Spencer at Brands 1980 on the Yamaha 750. Be­low: 1989 at Brands Hatch and Michel Mercier (36) on a Suzuki GSX-R750 leads Honda’s pair­ing of Dan Chiv­ing­ton (53) and Ron Haslam (9).

Above left: In 1987 Trevor Na­tion looked an im­pos­ing fig­ure on the back of the bulky Loc­tite Yamaha. Above: (12) Ron Haslam on the Yamaha 750 leans on the out­side of (10) Dave Al­dana who is man­fully muscling the Yoshimura Suzuki around Druids. It’s 1980. Be­low: Dan Chiv­ing­ton, Honda (53) takes the out-wide-in-tight line at Druids whilst Keith Huewen (16) Yamaha and John Ash­mead (37) Honda try to get in the way.

Above: Michel Mercier barely needed to tuck in be­hind the tall GSX-R750 fair­ing to get out of the wind­blast. It made cor­ner­ing a non-com­pact but ef­fec­tive af­fair. Be­low: Up­right body, stick­ing his neck out but find­ing a fast way around Brands Hatch in 1987, this is James Whitham on the Suzuki GSX-R750.

Top: Gary Good­fel­low is al­most ob­scured by the Suzuki’s GSX-R big fair­ing at Brands Hatch. Above mid­dle: Brands Hatch 1980 and Barry Sheene leads Kenny Roberts at Druids, both men on Yama­has. Above: Dave Pot­ter doesn’t waste an ounce of body po­si­tion lin­ing up for Surtees at Brands.

Top: With­out a bike to ride Ge­orge Beale came to the res­cue and pro­vided Wes Coo­ley with a TZ750. Above: Keith Huewen. Right: It’s 1980 and Skip Ak­sland leads John New­bold in a close-up for­ma­tion of Yamaha 750s on song.

April 1984 and a cold Donington wit­nesses Ed­die Law­son (4) pitch­ing into Cop­pice ahead of Randy Mamola (3).Yamaha OW76 leads Honda NS500.

Main im­age: Not to be out­done by the likes of Mamola (3), Wes Coo­ley adopted a more pro­gres­sive style into the tricky Cop­pice dou­ble-apex cor­ner at Donington in 1984. Right: Brands Hatch, 1981. Haslam looks to make a big­ger name for him­self on home turf on the Honda.

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