1981 FIM WTC Spain

Classic Trial - - CONTENTS - Words: John Hulme and Toon Van De Vliet • Pic­tures: Toon Van De Vliet, Mauri/Fontsere Col­lec­tion and the Gi­ulio Mauri Copy­right

Can you imag­ine go­ing to Spain in Fe­bru­ary for the open­ing round of the 1981 FIM World Tri­als Cham­pi­onship and wak­ing up to a snow-cov­ered event? Well, that’s what ex­actly hap­pened, caus­ing many prob­lems for the or­gan­is­ing club of­fi­cials not to men­tion the as­sem­bled teams and rid­ers. With a new breed of rider com­ing through the ranks on some new man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ma­chin­ery mak­ing in-roads to the old-school of past cham­pi­ons and a new di­rec­tion in the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the rules, new names ap­peared in the top po­si­tions. The snow did not stop play but the adop­tion of the ‘Stop al­lowed’ was com­ing into force, leav­ing many rid­ers con­fused as to what was and what was not a stop for the dreaded five-mark penalty.

Three ex-FIM World Cham­pi­ons would be in the top ten. These con­sisted of Ulf Karlsson (Mon­te­saSWE) 1980, Bernie Schreiber (Bul­taco-USA) 1979 and Yrjo Ves­ter­i­nen (Bul­taco-FIN) 1978/1977/1976, with Martin Lamp­kin (Bul­taco-GBR) from 1975 – when the World Cham­pi­onship was first awarded full FIM sta­tus – fin­ish­ing just out­side the top twenty. With the well-doc­u­mented prob­lems in the once mighty tri­als, Span­ish man­u­fac­tur­ers com­ing to light other Euro­pean man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Ital­jet, Fan­tic and SWM had taken rid­ers such as Schreiber to Ital­jet and Lamp­kin to SWM as Spain’s Jamie Su­bira moved to Fan­tic to de­velop a new 240 model.

A New Breed

Times change in any sport, and in the world of tri­als the old guard were wit­ness­ing a new breed of rid­ers on ma­chines de­signed to ac­com­mo­date the ex­cit­ing new style in­sti­gated by Amer­i­can Bernie Schreiber. He had a new style of rid­ing, which in­cluded ‘bunny hops’ where he picked up the ma­chine within a novel use of the body, brakes and clutch. On tight turns, he used his body strength in the ‘pivot turn’ to al­low for a nar­rower arc to be taken on tight cor­ners. The Bul­taco he had rid­den was be­com­ing out of date to this style of rid­ing, and in 1980 he had jumped ship to the Ital­ian Ital­jet man­u­fac­turer who had built a new ma­chine around his rad­i­cal new style as the Bul­taco brand con­tin­ued into de­cline. Belgium’s Eddy Le­je­une had watched Schreiber’s style of rid­ing and adapted well to it on the 360cc four-stroke Honda, as we will see.

In 1980, on his way to win­ning the world ti­tle, Swede Ulf Karlsson had won only one round, as had the three-time world cham­pion Ves­ter­i­nen and vet­eran Mick An­drews on the Majesty. At the other nine world rounds, Schreiber had won six and Le­je­une the other three. Schreiber’s move to Ital­jet saw a rapid de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme de­velop, with vic­to­ries in the last four rounds, as Le­je­une also now knew what he had to do to take the ti­tle hav­ing tasted vic­tory in 1981. Fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of many-times French Na­tional Cham­pion Charles Coutard was another new name in Gilles Bur­gat on the well-de­vel­oped SWM.

The Pen­du­lum Swings

The new breed of rider had been prac­tis­ing the tri­als tech­nique de­vel­oped by Schreiber, and with it, the pen­du­lum would swing on the heads of many of the old guards who sim­ply could not be­lieve what they were wit­ness­ing.

Pirelli tyres had long ruled the world of tri­als, along with Dun­lop, but Miche­lin was about to in­tro­duce a new range of su­per-soft com­pound tyres in line with the new rid­ers’ re­quire­ments. The French com­pany had be­come heav­ily in­volved with both Schreiber and Bur­gat who had been help­ing de­velop the new rub­ber. Span­ish rid­ers Manuel Soler, who had moved to Mon­tesa from Bul­taco, and Toni Gor­got, who had also moved from Bul­taco to Ossa, were also aid­ing de­vel­op­ment. Miche­lin had tyre tech­ni­cians at the event with a wide choice of tyres to suit the chang­ing con­di­tions ready-fit­ted on spare wheels from its sup­ported rid­ers.

With three laps of fif­teen sec­tions to be rid­den the or­gan­is­ers were con­cerned that the haz­ards would be cov­ered in ice un­til the con­ti­nen­tal sun­shine would warm up the area. Club of­fi­cials dis­pensed salt to melt the snow on the haz­ards which would help to get the event un­der­way. As it hap­pened, the sun would shine through even­tu­ally, turn­ing the event into quite a muddy af­fair! The mud would carry onto the dry rocks mak­ing for chang­ing haz­ards for the new tyres to cope with.

The venue at Mura is a mu­nic­i­pal­ity in the prov­ince of Barcelona and au­ton­o­mous com­mu­nity of Cat­alo­nia, Spain, with an abun­dance of small streams, rocks and steep climbs in the area mak­ing it an ideal world cham­pi­onship round lo­ca­tion.

What’s a Five?

The ex­pected bat­tle be­tween the two fan­cied rid­ers Bernie Schreiber and Eddy Le­je­une would not dis­ap­point the en­thu­si­as­tic spec­ta­tors who, de­spite the cold con­di­tions, turned out to wit­ness the world’s best rid­ers in ac­tion. The con­tin­gent from Great Bri­tain had a huge shock at the new style of ob­serv­ing which played right into the hands of the for­eign rid­ers. They were ap­plauded by the spec­ta­tors at ev­ery move as they loved this new style of ex­cit­ing ‘trick’ rid­ing.

The old and well-ad­hered-to rule of award­ing a five mark penalty if the front wheel ceased for­ward move­ment had gone straight out of the win­dow. Had this been im­ple­mented the top ten fin­ish­ing po­si­tions would have looked to­tally dif­fer­ent.

The two Span­ish rid­ers in the top ten, Manuel Soler and Toni Gor­got, cer­tainly looked well at home with the new rul­ing, as the re­sults would even­tu­ally prove. The main prob­lem in Spain was the fact the rid­ers were be­ing al­lowed to roll back pretty much as far as they liked, with both feet on the footrests, as they re­aligned them­selves to at­tempt var­i­ous parts of the haz­ards. For ex­am­ple, many rid­ers would have ar­rived at the foot of a rock step and come to a dead stop to take a well-placed sin­gle mark with a foot down while they de­cided their next move. Many at­tempted to adapt to the new style, with tem­pers run­ning pretty hot at times as the rid­ers dis­puted how they were marked by ob­servers. De­spite many protests to­wards the ob­servers and of­fi­cials, they stood by their de­ci­sions time af­ter time, much to the amuse­ment of the spec­ta­tors who were en­joy­ing the ac­tion and en­ter­tain­ment.

Soler’s Suc­cess

When the re­sults were cal­cu­lated af­ter the two laps of ac­tion, Manuel Soler us­ing the Miche­lins would be an­nounced the win­ner on the most cleans rule, in front of Eddy Le­je­une who was on Dun­lop rub­ber. Amer­i­can Schreiber would take the fi­nal step on the podium for Ital­jet to open his points ac­count for the year, just in front of a strong show­ing from Toni Gor­got on the yel­low Ossa.

With points only awarded to the top ten, the po­si­tions from fifth with Gilles Bur­gat to ninth with fel­low French rider Chris­tian Des­noy­ers were very close and in­cluded Coutard in sixth fol­lowed by the reign­ing world cham­pion Ulf Karlsson, and Bul­taco mounted Yrjo Ves­ter­i­nen, who had moved back to Bul­taco from Mon­tesa in the closed sea­son.

In his last full sea­son on the Beamish Suzuki, John Reynolds was the high­est placed rider from Great Bri­tain. ‘JR’ soon had the sit­u­a­tion of the new ‘rules’ un­der con­trol, rolled up his sleeves, and was elated with his sin­gle world cham­pi­onship point in the Span­ish event. Both Mal­colm Rath­mell and 1975 world cham­pion Martin Lamp­kin would fin­ish out of the points. For John Lamp­kin, who is the Beta UK im­porter in 2017, it was a tough de­but into the world tri­als cham­pi­onship on the SWM. Imag­ine part­ing with 170 marks in your first world round — yes it was that tough! John worked hard all year on the SWM and started to make his way into the top twenty and, based on this com­mit­ment, at the end of the year his re­ward was a works con­tract with a Bri­tish man­u­fac­turer, Arm­strong, for a full sea­son of world cham­pi­onship ac­tion in 1982.

Manuel Soler (349 Mon­tesa-ESP) Salt was thrown on the haz­ards to try and help re­move the ice and snow. The Pad­dock at a Tri­als World Cham­pi­onship has changed so much from Mura in Spain in 1981.

The or­gan­is­ing club was very shocked at the sight of snow! Bernie Schreiber (350 Ital­jet-USA): Mov­ing from the Span­ish Bul­taco brand in 1980, af­ter the well doc­u­mented prob­lems at the fac­tory, to Ital­jet for the 1981 sea­son would be the first time...

Danilo Galeazzi (280 SWM-ITA): One week later in Belgium this very pop­u­lar Ital­ian rider would fin­ish 2nd in Belgium, los­ing out in a tie break with Eddy Le­je­une as they both lost the same amount of marks: a mas­sive 92! Al­berto Ju­van­teny...

Felix Krahn­stover (Mon­tesa-GER): A many-time Ger­man cham­pion, Felix is pos­si­bly the tallest rider to ever com­pete in the WTC. Fred Michaud (France-SWM): The brother of the fu­ture world cham­pion Thierry, he was a reg­u­lar world round rider mind­ing for...

Bernard Cor­don­nier (Bul­ta­coBEL): Another very tall rider, Bernard had re­mained loyal to the Bul­taco brand. Nigel Birkett (200 Fan­tic GBR): Af­ter his suc­cess on the Mon­tesa Cota 200 Birkett had moved to Fan­tic. The lack of power from the 156cc Fan­tic...

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