LAZZARINI Small bore assassin
In the ultra-lightweight classes Eugenio Lazzarini was a force majeure, with 27 GP victories, two 50cc titles and another in the 125cc class. He was runner-up eight times and won four Italian crowns. As if that’s not quite enough, it is worth adding that this tiny track master was one of the last of the breed to race home-brewed specials to the top step of the podium.
Born on March 26, 1945 in Urbino, at the age of 14 Lazzarini started work in Pesaro on Benelli’s assembly floor but he soon found himself promoted by Mimo Benelli himself to the dizzy heights of the race shop, where he worked on the 250cc singles campaigned by Dale, Spaggiari and Grassetti. He discovered that the relationships between the mechanics and the riders were often fraught. “The riders were convinced that they made the difference when they won, but the defeats were down to the bikes’ inadequacies," recalled Lazzarini. “And, of course, the mechanics held the opposite view. In about 1964, my colleagues talked me into racing, partly thinking that, as a decent mechanic, I would be able to diagnose the defects and improve the bikes.” However, the Benelli racers were pukka GP jobs, not suitable for the ‘Junior’ (or national) category, and the factory’s sister company Motobi had already allocated its race bikes, so Lazzarini went to Bologna to buy a tired 125cc Ducati Marianna from Franco Farne. “It was really a museum piece which Franco kept in a cellar; it was all I could afford. But, when I was fourth in my first race at Modena, Motobi realised that I was more than just a good mechanic and instantly gave me a bike for the rest of the season. I won a round at Pescara but then fell at Vallelunga and my season was over.” In 1965, back on his modest Ducati, Lazzarini took a victory at Modena but lost the title to Motobi’s chosen rider, Lombardi. Despite the fact that he was one of the group of mechanics making parts for the Motobi racers, Lazzarini was never an official Motobi pilot but, in 1968, came his Junior 125cc crown aboard a Motobi provided by Scuderia Imperiali (a substantial private team based in Rome). Lazzarini thereby graduated into the ranks of the ‘Senior’ (or international) class of riders for 1969, which marked a turning point in his career, both on and off the track. “I was not yet a full-time racer but I just took one race at a time. And as I had been working on frame conversions, I decided to leave Benelli and set up my own workshop in Pesaro.” Then came his GP debut, aboard the factory 250cc Benelli quattro. Renzo Pasolini was injured and could not ride in the French GP at Le Mans. Benelli needed somebody to ride as back-up to Kel Carruthers and hopefully take points off other title contenders. Lazzarini took seventh place and impressed sufficiently to be given the bike for some Italian championship races. But the Lazzarini family was about to suffer a devastating blow.
Brother Enzo was born on November 13, 1949 and, inspired by Eugenio’s exploits, his racing career began in 1968 astride a 60cc Morbidelli. Moving up to the 175cc class on a Motobi, Enzo won his first two races of 1969 and was deprived of victory in his next two races only by a flat battery and a fall in heavy rain. A second place at Imola, after another fall, enabled him to take third place in the Italian title. But then tragedy struck. In testing at Vallelunga on November 12, Enzo was the victim of a terrible accident. He was flung along a guardrail which, acting as a lethal blade, amputated an arm and, once in hospital, the doctors were unable to save the other arm. Just short of his 20th birthday, Enzo faced months of treatment, not to mention immense physical and mental pain. He did not surrender; he joined Eugenio in opening their workshop, initially with a Moto Guzzi agency, and was instrumental in the success that was just around the corner. In 1970, with Enzo undergoing treatment and his Morbidelli machinery proving to be less than reliable, Eugenio had a frustrating season, at the end of which the brothers decided to build their own racer, which meant devoting their evenings and holidays to the project, as they had their fledgling business to run during the day. The chosen powerplant was a 125cc Maico motocross engine; the German factory promised them a one-off engine with a few more bhp and so Eugenio and a mate drove to Germany in February 1970 to pick it up, sleeping in the car as funds were tight. The Maico was to sit in a homemade frame with the rest of the bike either bought in or madem in the Lazzarini workshop. In haste, t he bike was ready for the first race of the 19711 season, at Modena. The result: the socalledc special engine was in fact absolutely standard,s producing no more than 14bhp and EugenioE failed to register a qualifying time. However, from this devastating start, the li ittle Maico was developed (albeit slowly, t hanks to the lack of funds) enabling Eugenio t o challenge in Italian title races and to sample a number of GPS, primarily to familiarise himselfh with the circuits in anticipation of f uture campaigns. Things began to look up in 1972 when EgidioE Piovaticci, a fan from Pesaro, entered t he scene as a sponsor; not that he was offeringo tobacco company-type loot but it wasw sufficient to buy spares, which enabled
Eugenio to undertake more testing. The real breakthrough into the big time came with the victory in the Dutch TT at Assen in 1973. Enzo wrote of it: “When I heard the news on the radio, I could not believe it. It seemed impossible, too good to be true. I kept switching channels to check on the result, in case it was a mistake.” From 1973, the Maico-lazzarini was re-badged Piovaticci, as the Lazzarini brothers convinced their sponsor to create a dedicated race shop within his furniture factory. Eugenio subsequently sweet-talked Jan Thiel and Martin Mijwaart, the Dutch creators of the 50cc Jamathi, to collaborate with him in the construction of a 250cc twin-cylinder racer, based on two Maico engines and a Yamaha gearbox. The 250cc bike, suffering from vibration, was soon abandoned but its 50cc little brother took Eugenio to runner-
LAZZARINI IMPRESSED SUFFICIENTLY TO BE GIVEN THE BIKE BUT HIS FAMILY WAS ABOUT TO SUFFER A DEVASTATING BLOW.
up spot in the world title stakes in 1975. Sadly, Piovaticci’s business foundered; the bikes were sold to Bultaco, where they later achieved world title success, and it meant Lazzarini was back on customer bikes. He pretty much drew a blank in 1976 (using private Morbidelli 50cc and 125cc machinery), only to be re-born in the following year when he was runner-up in the 50cc and 125cc title stakes aboard a works Kreidler and MBA steeds respectively. But he was not satisfied; the MBA’S frame was a limiting factor so, over the 1977/78 winter, he built a replacement in his workshop, the Lazzarini frame. “It changed my life, by giving me the greatest satisfaction, first as a racer, by winning the 125cc title in 1978, but also from the technician’s point of view, as I ended up building 40 of them and nearly every top MBA runner used one. Giacomo Agostini telephoned me to make sure that his brother Felice would jump the queue to get one.” However, the title success proved to be a double-edged sword, as Lazzarini’s relationship with MBA drew to a close. Reading between the lines, the MBA factory (just a stone’s throw from Pesaro) and, in particular, Innocenzo Nardi Dei (the former Benelli race manager who was, by then, in charge of a Benelli-related company that built the official factory frames) were disenchanted that Eugenio had raced and won with his home-crafted frame. Waiting in vain for a telephone call from MBA, Lazzarini instead signed for van Veen, the Dutch outfit that ran the official Kreidler team, for the 1979
THE MAICO WAS TO SIT IN A HOMEMADE FRAME WITH THE REST OF THE BIKE EITHER BOUGHT IN OR MADE IN THE LAZZARINI WORKSHOP.
campaign. After three runner-up spots, Lazzarini finally won a 50cc world crown, thanks to van Veen. But life was not getting easier, as sponsorship took hold in a big way. “My van Veen contract was not renewed for 1980; instead it went to the 1978 champion, Riccardo Tormo. I was not surprised; whereas I needed a salary to race, Tormo brought cash with him, from the Spanish federation. So once again I had to sort myself out.” Yet again, a local sponsor came to his aid; Iprem of Pesaro manufactured woodworking machinery (echoes of Morbidelli? - Ed) and provided Lazzarini with sufficient budget to acquire Kreidler engines, to build a new frame and to race throughout the forthcoming season. The result – he retained his 50cc title in 1980 on his Iprem-kreidler. Lazzarini then signed for Garelli, which had decided to enter the 50cc fray. Alas, 1981 was a washout, as the new 50cc engine proved to be down in power and it never raced, restricting Lazzarini to the occasional outing on his own machines. But, when Minarelli pulled out after the death of its boss Vittorio Minarelli, Garelli supremo Daniele Agrati saw a shortcut and bought the 125cc Minarelli bikes and race shop, lock, stock and barrel, together with the services of Jan Thiel. Three successful years followed for Eugenio astride the ex-minarelli 125cc racers and a new 50cc model that had been designed by Thiel, with a Lazzarini-inspired frame. In 1982, he was runner-up behind his team-mate Nieto in the 125cc category and lost out to Dorflinger in the baby class by a whisker. In 1983, he was again runner-up in the 50cc class and third (behind Nieto and Kneubuhler) in the eight-litre category. For 1984, the 50cc class gave way to an 80cc category, in which Lazzarini did not compete, and he concluded his career with yet another runner-up spot in the 125cc class. Despite his success, he stuck to his decision to retire from the tracks and to enter team management. He took in hand Team Italia, thereby continuing an association with Garelli (which no longer ran a works team but made its bikes available to the newly-formed squad financed by the Italian federation, the FMI). More success came Lazzarini’s way as a manager; in three years, the team won three 125cc world titles – two with Fausto Gresini and one with Luca Cadalora. But when twin cylinder engines were outlawed in the 125cc class, the Garelli’s days were numbered and Lazzarini returned to full-time service in his Pesaro agency and workshop. Today, Eugenio and Enzo can still be found working there, literally just across the road from Giancarlo Morbidelli’s museum, or at a revival meeting, which they grace with the 125cc Piovaticci that usually lives in the reception area of their shop.
JUST SHORT OF HIS 20TH BIRTHDAY, ENZO FACED MONTHS OF TREATMENT, NOT TO MENTION IMMENSE PHYSICAL AND MENTAL PAIN.
Left:L The exquisite 125cc Piovaticci in action withw Eugenino in 1973.The location is unknown, couldc this be one of the tighter right hand cornersc at Brno in the Czech Republic.
Middle right: Serving the publicity needs for Garelli. These cards for the fans were signed by the riders and handed out at meetings.talk about effective marketing.
Right: 1982 at the British GP, Silverstone and time to stop the periphary of marketing and get down to the business of racing.
Above left and above: The orange and blue bike is the 125cc Piovaticci. These pictures were taken in Spa in 2008.
Top right: Silverstone and the British GP in 1981. Just leaving Parc Ferme on the 125cc Iprem.
Left: 1980, haed down, throttle pinned back and giving the little 125cc Iprem everything it’s got.
Top: When Eugenio retired from racing he took up the only slightly less competitve passtime of parading. This photo is of him, number 3, at the Cattolica Motor Meeting in 1991 surrounded by a 125cc Rumi Junior, a 1968 500cc Benelli 4 (number 2) and a 1951 Moto Guzzi 500 twin, number 1.
Above: The Garelli and Lazzarini were synonymous as an effective partnership in the early 1980s.