Back in the day: 1975’s GP season gets underway
Important for many reasons – not least of all the huge grids of the time, but also because this year marked the end of the fourstrokes for a long period in the premier class.
o put some context to the following year, Teuvo (Tepi) Länsivuori left Yamaha and joined Barry Sheene in the Suzuki works team. The experienced Yamaha test rider Hideo Kanaya came back to Europe to support Giacomo Agostini in the 500 and 750 class. Frenchman Michel Rougerie was competing with a special four-carburettor twin Harley-davidson. The already pretty-full grid was completed with a hoard of twin and four-cylinder private Yamahas and some remaining König fourcylinder bikes. Sheene’s 1975 season started in possibly the worst possible way. Actually, it began in possibly the world’s most famous ‘bad day’ way when Bazza’s mighty works 750cc Suzuki-3 locked up and pitched everyone’s favourite racer into the world’s most famous uncontrollable slide along the Daytona banking during practice for the Daytona 200. Sheene was lucky to escape with his life and might have sustained more serious injuries had he not been wearing a back protector (an unusual attribute for a rider’s kit at the time). In terms of the greater racing world’s expectations about the year to come, the injury list was about to get a bit more crowded when MV Agusta rider Gianfranco Bonera hit a knee on a straw bale and broke his thigh bone at high speed during the early spring meeting at Modena in Italy. He was out for a long time while the mangled leg healed slowly. Bonera was replaced by the talented Italian Armando Toracca. Toracca’s teammate, reigning world champion Phil Read, had an unlucky season start also when he suffered an almighty 120mph fall during practice for the first 500cc race of the year. That tumble – which could have been so much more serious than it ended up being – happened at the end of the Mistral Straight at Paul Ricard. The quick tumble mangled the little finger of Read’s right hand in a bad way and hampered the Brit for the rest of the meeting. Fastest in that practice was Flying Finn Länsivuori racing the Suzuki-4 for the first time in a GP, while the Yamaha pair of Agostini and Kanaya were second and third. From the start of the race Länsivuori led the action but came in after four laps with gearbox problems. Agostini won the race just half a second ahead of his team-mate Kanaya. Phil Read who wasn’t given the No.1 plate being the world champion pig-headedly raced with No.0... yet still managed to trouble the podium even though he was carrying his hand injury, eventually ending up third ahead of Toracca. Overall, the new bikes and eager starters to the year got things moving at a brisk pace right from the off with Kanaya setting the race record lap mid-way through the race, his best was a full second faster than Jaarno Saarinen’s best set some two years earlier.
In the 1974 500cc championship, the MV Agustas finished in the perfect team order, under the steadying hands of Phil Read and Gianfranco Bonera. However, race fans knew that it could be the last time for some considerable period that a four-stroke would find its way to the crown.
Words and photography: Jan Burgers