For­mula 750. When the big guns came out

Classic Racer - - WHAT’SINSIDE - Words: Phil Wain Pho­to­graphs: Don Mor­ley

Part two of Phil Wain’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the big class in the 1970s that drew big crowds, big names and big money. Noth­ing small about the For­mula 750s or the su­per­stars who en­joyed them.

In the pre­vi­ous issue we told you the story of how the 750 class be­gan and evolved into a class that drew big names, big races and big out­comes. Here’s the con­tin­u­ing story of the 3/4litre class and how the 750s got its first world cham­pion.

1977 – Baker be­comes the first 750 world cham­pion

The rules come un­der scru­tiny once again at the FIM’S an­nual con­fer­ence with the 750s deemed too pow­er­ful for both the rid­ers and the ac­ces­sories, pri­mar­ily the tyres. Var­i­ous ideas were floated around but in the end no changes were made, with the ex­cep­tion that the For­mula 750 was up­graded, gain­ing full World Cham­pi­onship sta­tus from the 1977 sea­son on­wards. The sea­son again got un­der­way at Day­tona, where the dura­bil­ity of the tyres and the weather were of ma­jor con­cern to ev­ery­one. A de­ci­sion was made to run the event as two 100-mile heats and the three clear favourites were all Yamaha mounted – Steve Baker, Johnny Ce­cotto and Kenny Roberts. The first 100-mile heat saw Ce­cotto drop out with an oil leak af­ter just four laps and it was Baker who romped to vic­tory some 28sec clear of Roberts, with Takazumi Katayama giv­ing Yamaha a clean sweep of the top three. The ex­pected bad weather then ap­peared and the sec­ond heat was can­celled. Yama­has dom­i­nated the field at Imola, with 36 of the 39 en­tries on the TZ750, the re­main­ing three on Kawasakis and Roberts was the star per­former, win­ning both heats ahead of Baker, Agos­tini and the young French­man Chris­tian Sar­ron. Baker then claimed his sec­ond win of the sea­son at Jarama, with Sar­ron again im­press­ing in sec­ond place and the Amer­i­can was mak­ing a real charge for the ti­tle. He had to set­tle for third place at Di­jon-prenois though, as Estrosi grabbed the vic­tory once more. Round five saw the rid­ers head to Brands Hatch in July, where Baker dom­i­nated the event, joined on the podium by Bri­tish rid­ers Ron Haslam and New­bold, and round six saw a sim­i­lar out­come at the fast Salzbur­gring, vis­ited by the 750cc cal­en­dar for the first time. Baker got his fourth win, this time from Agos­tini and Sar­ron. Zolder in Bel­gium was the next venue and Baker again dom­i­nated pro­ceed­ings ahead of Marco Lucchinelli and Sar­ron and a week later at Assen, ris­ing star Lucchinelli clinched his first 750cc vic­tory ahead of Baker, Sar­ron and Agos­tini. A sec­ond United States round was run in Cal­i­for­nia, at La­guna Seca, but few Euro­pean rid­ers at­tended the event, and only one, Sar­ron (eighth), scored any points. The vic­tory

went to Skip Ak­sland in front of Baker and Gregg Hans­ford on a rapid Kawasaki and the Aus­tralian went on to take vic­tory a week later at Mosport in Canada, with the sim­i­larly-mounted Yvon Duhamel in sec­ond. Baker con­tin­ued to rack up the points in third place and his dom­i­nance of the sea­son could be seen in the fi­nal points stand­ings, as he ended some 76 points clear of Sar­ron, the run­ner-up. Agos­tini won the fi­nal round at Hock­en­heim and the 15 points saw him clinch third place over­all. A lot of top rid­ers had com­peted in the first 750cc World Cham­pi­onship, but many of them only com­peted in se­lected rounds and at the next FIM Congress a dis­cus­sion took place as to whether or not to in­clude the 750cc races at the Grand Prix events. Opin­ions were very much di­vided among the mem­bers, with con­cerns about the cal­en­dar and the num­ber of events, re­sult­ing in time­con­sum­ing and ex­pen­sive travel for the rid­ers. At the next Spring Meet­ing in Geneva, in March 1978, opin­ions were still di­vided, with some del­e­gates in favour of stop­ping the 750cc Cham­pi­onship, ar­gu­ing it was a fail­ure, while oth­ers de­fended it, claim­ing that it de­served an­other chance. Some also ar­gued that the cre­ation of the F-750 Se­ries was pre­ma­ture, while oth­ers said that it was the FIM’S best ini­tia­tive in re­cent years.

Cham­pi­onship po­si­tions 1 Steve Baker (Yamaha) 131pts 2 Chris­tian Sar­ron (Yamaha) 55 3 Gi­a­como Agos­tini (Yamaha) 45

1978 – Ce­cotto and Roberts do battle on Yama­has

Roberts ar­rived in Europe full-time in 1978 and while the 500cc World Cham­pi­onship was his pri­or­ity, he was de­ter­mined to have a good go at the 750cc and 250cc ti­tles as well. With fel­low Yamaha rider Ce­cotto sac­ri­fic­ing the 350cc class for the 500cc and 750cc Cham­pi­onships, the scene was set. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the FIM and Day­tona man­age­ment had bro­ken down and so it was Imola that hosted the first round of the sea­son, with Ce­cotto tak­ing the win from Baker, Sar­ron and Hans­ford and the Venezue­lan made it two from two with vic­tory at Paul Ri­card as well. Roberts got his first points on the board in sec­ond place, with Baker in third. Roberts stopped Ce­cotto’s win­ning run at Brands Hatch but a sec­ond place for the lat­ter, this time ahead of Pons, ex­tended his ti­tle lead. Kenny was mak­ing a charge though and he was vic­to­ri­ous at both Öster­re­ichring and Jarama and al­though Ce­cotto was sec­ond at each race, his lead was cut down to nine points. Gian­franco Bon­era and Sar­ron took third in Aus­tria and Spain re­spec­tively, but Baker’s ti­tle de­fence was evap­o­rat­ing rapidly. De­spite win­ning the ti­tle the year be­fore, he had lost full fac­tory sup­port from Yamaha. Ce­cotto’s first DNF of the sea­son came next time out at a wet Hock­en­heim when a stick­ing throt­tle forced him out early on and Sar­ron took his first win of the sea­son from an im­pres­sive Bon­era, Hans­ford and Roberts, who closed to within one point of Ce­cotto. How­ever, the Amer­i­can’s chal­lenge fal­tered at Zolder when he re­tired on the first lap with a bro­ken chain ten­sioner and Ce­cotto took full advantage, claim­ing max­i­mum points ahead of French­man Herve Moineau and Bon­era, his lead now back up to 16 points. This lead in­creased to 26 af­ter the Dutch round at Assen when Roberts again failed to score, this time due to a bro­ken steer­ing damper with third place for Ce­cotto, be­hind Bon­era and Katayama, putting him firmly in the driv­ing seat. The last two events were held in the US and Canada re­spec­tively and at La­guna Seca, Roberts won, ahead of Baker and Mike Bald­win, to show it wasn’t over just yet and with Ce­cotto’s gear lever snap­ping, he man­aged to bring the gap back down to 11 points. Bald­win demon­strated his po­ten­tial at Mosport with a win ahead of Roberts and Duhamel but sixth place was enough for Ce­cotto to be­come world cham­pion, five points ahead of Roberts. It had been an ex­cel­lent year for the 750cc World Cham­pi­onship with full grids, top class rid­ers and close rac­ing through­out the sea­son.

Cham­pi­onship po­si­tions 1 Johnny Ce­cotto (Yamaha) 97pts 2 Kenny Roberts (Yamaha) 92 3 Chris­tian Sar­ron (Yamaha) 55

1979 – the fi­nal year and a French world cham­pion

1979 would prove to the fi­nal year of the 750cc World Cham­pi­onship and the FIM fi­nally de­cided to award cham­pi­onship points for each heat held and not for the ag­gre­gate re­sult. It was a log­i­cal move but one that cer­tainly should have hap­pened a lot ear­lier. The ho­molo­ga­tion rules were fi­nally aban­doned too, but with the FIM an­nounc­ing that the se­ries was to be stopped, many rid­ers de­cided not to con­test the cham­pi­onship, Roberts be­ing one of them. It was still a su­perb year of rac­ing though, and Mugello in Italy got the sea­son un­der­way, where Sar­ron won the first race from Vir­ginio Fer­rari on an XR23 Suzuki, Ce­cotto, Hans­ford and Pons. Fer­rari got the verdict in the sec­ond race ahead of Ce­cotto, Ja­panese rider Sadao Asami and Switzer­land’s Michel Frutschi to take 27 points, but he didn’t score a point again all sea­son, pre­fer­ring in­stead to focus on the 500cc Cham­pi­onship. The sec­ond event was held at Brands Hatch where Ce­cotto was on top form, win­ning both races, the first from the sur­prise pack­age of Fin­nish rider Markku Matikainen and the sec­ond from Bald­win and the im­pres­sive Asami. It gave him an early 24-point lead over Sar­ron as the se­ries headed to France, a late switch see­ing the ac­tion take place at Nog­aro in­stead of Rouen. Ce­cotto was ab­sent af­ter be­ing in­jured at the Aus­trian Grand Prix while Sar­ron was strug­gling with a back in­jury sus­tained in the sec­ond race at Brands. The end re­sult was that Pons took first and sec­ond to move up to third over­all in the ti­tle chase as Hans­ford, the vic­tor in the sec­ond race, jumped up to third. France also played host to round four, the

Paul Ri­card cir­cuit the venue for the Swiss round and Frutschi fi­nally got his first race win ahead of a fit-again Ce­cotto and Asami. The reign­ing cham­pion won the sec­ond heat in front of Asami and Pons, and was still in over­all lead of the cham­pi­onship de­spite his ab­sence from Nog­aro, his advantage over new sec­ond-placed rider Frutschi now 36 points. Onto the Öster­re­ichring and lo­cal rider Werner Nen­ning up­set the es­tab­lished guard by win­ning both heats, the first in front of Swiss rider Jac­ques Cornu and Pons, the sec­ond in front of Pons and Aus­tralian rider Greg John­son. The re­sults raised ques­tions about the level of rid­ers in the cham­pi­onship, but also of about the points sys­tem it­self. The fact that top rid­ers took part in only a few events but scored big points ahead of most reg­u­lar rid­ers also asked an­other ques­tion about the suit­abil­ity of some of the, ar­guably, less pres­ti­gious cir­cuits that were be­ing used. The rid­ers then left Europe for the North Amer­i­can rounds and Mosport saw a win by Pons in the first heat and Frutschi in the sec­ond, re­sults that saw the French­man move into the cham­pi­onship lead for the first time. A week later in La­guna Seca, US rid­ers dom­i­nated the re­sults, headed by Roberts (two wins), Richard Sch­lachter (sec­ond and fourth) and Dave Al­dana (third and fifth). Frutschi was the best of the Euro­peans, scor­ing a to­tal of 15 points. The se­ries re­turned to Europe for the last three rounds and at Assen, lo­cal hero Boet van Dul­men ob­tained the best re­sults, win­ning the first heat and end­ing sec­ond in the other, which was won by Ce­cotto. Pons was out of luck, his gear­box break­ing in the first heat and then crash­ing in the sec­ond and it was Ce­cotto who now led the way once more on 99 points, 10 ahead of Frutschi. Pons was a point fur­ther back in third. Pons ral­lied at the penul­ti­mate round at Hock­en­heim, win­ning both heats to claim the max­i­mum 30 points and the meet­ing ul­ti­mately de­ter­mined the out­come of the ti­tle as both Frutschi and Ce­cotto were stopped by the fail­ure of ex­per­i­men­tal Miche­lin tyres, the duo scor­ing just one point be­tween them. Pons only needed one point at the fi­nal round at Ri­jeka, Yu­goslavia and while Ce­cotto and Frutschi shared the race wins, a brace of thirds meant the French­man won the fi­nal 750cc World Cham­pi­onship by 22 points with Frutschi in sec­ond.

Cham­pi­onship po­si­tions 1 Pa­trick Pons (Yamaha) 154pts 2 Michel Frutschi (Yamaha) 132 3 Johnny Ce­cotto (Yamaha) 126

The end

By the late 1970s, four-stroke rac­ing was be­gin­ning to come to the fore in some coun­tries and the FIM was clearly look­ing to enhance both the En­durance and For­mula One/two world cham­pi­onships, al­though whether these were bet­ter than the For­mula 750 cham­pi­onship was a dif­fer­ent mat­ter al­to­gether. There ap­pear to be two main rea­sons for the lack of a clear def­i­ni­tion of the phi­los­o­phy be­hind the For­mula 750 Se­ries. Was it sup­posed to be a Grand Prix, a ‘true’ road rac­ing com­pe­ti­tion for pro­to­types, or a com­pe­ti­tion based on the large-pro­duc­tion street mo­tor­cy­cle? This ques­tion is di­rectly aimed at the Yamaha OW 31, which was ob­vi­ously a rac­ing mo­tor­cy­cle pro­duced on a large scale. Yamaha’s phi­los­o­phy of pro­vid­ing rac­ing bikes for pri­va­teers was ap­plied to F750, but cu­ri­ously what worked in the 250cc and 350cc se­ries failed when it came to the 750cc class. None of the other man­u­fac­tur­ers fol­lowed the trend. Kawasaki con­cen­trated on the 250cc and 350cc classes, which would be­come so suc­cess­ful be­tween 1978 and 1982, and Suzuki built up its fa­mous square-four 500cc, their XR23 be­ing quite a way short of perfection, ac­cord­ing to the rid­ers who raced it, even with Fer­rari’s win. The fact is, at that time, two-stroke tech­nol­ogy was be­ing de­vel­oped for smaller ca­pac­ity mo­tor­cy­cles and it was now ob­vi­ous that the 750cc class and any­thing larger was des­tined to be four-stroke classes. Maybe the nat­u­ral life­span of the F750 could only co­in­cide with that short pe­riod (from 1972 to 1979) when big two-stroke en­gines were dom­i­nant? In 1976, the AMA Su­per­bike started its ca­reer with four-stroke en­gine mo­tor­cy­cles, and af­ter the World For­mula One Cham­pi­onship had ap­peared, the FIM went on to cre­ate the Su­per­bike World Cham­pi­onship in 1988.

Steve Baker, Yamaha, 1977.

The 750s get un­der­way at La­guna Seca. Ak­sland wins from Baker and Hans­ford. Bounc­ing Bob does his bounc­ing. Stylish.

Johnny Ce­cotto o, 1978. Chris­tian Sar­ron.

Roberts, Ak­sland, Baker, Sin­gle­ton etc, at Day­tona.

Vir­ginio Fer­rari wins in 1979.

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