1981 FIM WTC Spain
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 The Bultaco he had ridden was becoming out of date to this style of riding, and in 1980 he had jumped ship to the Italian Italjet manufacturer who had built a new machine around his radical new style as the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.
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...