Back to the fu­ture (Scot­land take the spoils)

Back in the good old days when tele­vi­sion con­sisted of three chan­nels and blan­ket sports cov­er­age on Satur­day af­ter­noons pre­vailed on two of them, it’s lit­tle won­der that when ITV de­cided to beam the Yamaha RD350 Pro-Am Chal­lenge into mil­lions of liv­ing r

Motorcycle Monthly - - Yamaha Rd350 Pro-am Challenge -

Renowned for its all-ac­tion, fair­ing-bang­ing style that pitched es­tab­lished pro­fes­sional rid­ers (the ‘Pros’) against ris­ing stars (the ‘Ams’) on iden­ti­cal RD350LC Yama­has, with keys drawn out of a hat, the sim­ple yet bril­liant con­cept of the Pro-Am Chal­lenge is still talked about 30-odd years later.

The idea was rein­tro­duced in 2015 to pro­vide a new, al­beit clas­sic an­gle to the sup­port pack­age at the Bri­tish Grand Prix at Sil­ver­stone, whereby the nos­tal­gic el­e­ment proved hugely suc­cess­ful with fans as ma­chines and orig­i­nal rid­ers from 30 years ago re­turned to the track.

Chris Her­ring, long-time en­thu­si­ast who, at the time, was work­ing for the Cir­cuit of Wales, the owner of the rights to the Bri­tish GP (that’s another story…!), fondly re­mem­bered the orig­i­nal se­ries and came up with a plan to add some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent. Daryl Young, of IDP Moto, was given the un­en­vi­able task of track­ing down and restor­ing 30 RD250LCs in just eight weeks.

“Chris came up with the idea af­ter a few beers and a curry on a Fri­day night,” says Daryl. “We were in the process of build­ing a 2015 ver­sion of the LC, so we started on that and Chris thought it’d be great if we could get a few orig­i­nals on the grid. Be­fore I knew it, we were sourc­ing bikes and the Sil­ver­stone race was tak­ing shape.

“We thought the big­gest chal­lenge would be find­ing 30 RD250LCs, but in fact that was prob­a­bly the eas­i­est bit. Turn­ing them from pieces of crap to some­thing that looked pretty much brand-new was the hard bit. We’re a bit anal about it, with great at­ten­tion to de­tail, but we wanted to keep ev­ery­thing authen­tic.”

Fast for­ward a few weeks and run­ning iden­ti­cal Yamaha RD250LCs, as op­posed to the orig­i­nal 350cc ver­sion, the orig­i­nal event was won by Niall Macken­zie ahead of Andy Mug­gle­ton and Char­lie Cor­ner in a strung-out af­fair that saw a num­ber of rid­ers fail to see the che­quered flag.

The ex­er­cise was re­peated at the Bri­tish Grand Prix of 2016, with vic­tory go­ing the way of Mug­gle­ton, who led home Cor­ner with Dale Robin­son claim­ing the fi­nal podium place af­ter red-hot favourite Macken­zie was forced out on the warm-up lap in dis­mal con­di­tions.

The weather meant a lap of the 3.66-mile Sil­ver­stone GP track saw the age­ing ma­chines and even older jockeys take over three­and-a-half min­utes to com­plete a lap with the short­ened six-lap race tak­ing over 21 min­utes to com­plete and three min­utes cov­er­ing the 15 rid­ers who fin­ished. Many peo­ple thought that might be it for the project, un­til the idea of an in­au­gu­ral An­glo-Scot­tish Chal­lenge was mooted as part of the MCE BSB pro­gramme at Knock­hill, again the brain­child of ex- MCN re­porter and HRC em­ployee Her­ring.

Covertly work­ing with Bri­tish Su­per­bike boss Stu­art Higgs, a plan was hatched on a slightly smaller scale than the Sil­ver­stone races but just as ex­cit­ing. A slot was found in the busy timetable and with the sup­port of Knock­hill events di­rec­tor Stu­art Gray, a plan was for­mu­lated to pitch eight Scots against eight English rid­ers in a one-off race.

El­i­gi­bil­ity was sim­ple – if you’d raced in the orig­i­nal Pro-Am se­ries, it was a bonus, but more im­por­tantly if you’d been fa­mous in a for­mer life, or per­haps even knew some­one who was, you were in.

Her­ring set about ap­point­ing two cap­tains, both of whom were orig­i­nal Pro-Am com­peti­tors. Al­though domi­ciled in Eng­land for the past cou­ple of decades, for­mer GP ace and triple BSB champ Niall ‘Spuds’ Macken­zie was or­dered to dig out his kilt and lead the Jocks, while for­mer teenage prodigy and French 250cc GP win­ner Alan ‘Mighty Mouse’ Carter was to front the Sasse­nach invasion. Macken­zie rounded up his bunch of Brave­hearts, which in­cluded for­mer Pro-Am men Don­nie McLeod and Joe Toner, bol­stered by a num­ber of aces who had no ex­pe­ri­ence of the orig­i­nal se­ries at all. World En­durance cham­pion and TT win­ner Brian Mor­ri­son, dou­ble Bri­tish Su­per­sport cham­pion John Craw­ford, Bri­tish Pro­duc­tion champ and TT win­ner Iain Duf­fus, Thun­der­bike and BSB race win­ner Iain MacPher­son, as well as Scot­tish cham­pion Sandy Christie, went into the Scot­tish team.

Carter, mean­while, drew on his ex­pe­ri­ence of the 2016 en­counter at Sil­ver­stone whereby he was de­ter­mined not to fall off on the open­ing lap again. Pro-Am orig­i­nals Cor­ner, Ge­off Fowler and Curt Lan­gan gave the English team some cred­i­bil­ity, bol­stered by Marl­boro proddy rac­ers Mug­gle­ton, Dave Cramp­ton and Robin­son while Graeme Mitchell was co­erced into bat­tle, mainly be­cause his elder brother Kevin was one of the stars of the orig­i­nal show.

With a com­bined age con­ser­va­tively es­ti­mated at 870 years, giv­ing an av­er­age age of just over 54, the age­ing ju­ve­niles gath­ered on the Scot­tish moun­tain­side be­fore the es­tab­lished Pro-Am rit­ual of the key draw took place. All bikes looked iden­ti­cal, but some were faster than oth­ers and poor McLeod, as much re­moved from his Dal­mac Rac­ing and Sil­ver­stone Arm­strong days as he could ever be, drew a duf­fer.

Testos­terone lev­els suit­ably topped up as the smell of lin­i­ment wafted around the pad­dock and out wob­bled the glad­i­a­tors, some in ill-fit­ting leathers, for Fri­day’s free prac­tice. It saw ‘Fear­less’ MacPher­son top the time sheets with a best of 66.404sec, only 18sec a lap slower than Shakey Byrne’s BSB lap record he set last year around the 1.3-mile Fife track over­look­ing the Firth of Forth.

Macken­zie, in youngest son Taz’s McAMS leathers and fit­ting him like a glove, was sec­ond quick­est ahead of lanky York­shire­man Cor­ner with Mor­peth prop­erty de­vel­oper Robin­son and for­mer Don­caster miner Lan­gan inside the top five, just ahead of part-time rally driver and

builder Craw­ford, mak­ing it three from each na­tion inside the top six.

Mean­while, McLeod, on his duf­fer, was 16th and last, nearly nine sec­onds back of MacPher­son, and lap­ping at an av­er­age speed of a smidgeon over 60mph. Carter and his hench­men de­nied any skul­dug­gery in loos­en­ing the plug caps of the #62 ma­chine (to cor­re­spond with McLeod’s age, in­ci­den­tally), al­though this wouldn’t be the last of the ac­cu­sa­tions of foul play as it turned out.

Qual­i­fy­ing fol­lowed a sim­i­lar pat­tern late on the Satur­day af­ter a day of de­lays with re­tained fire­fighter MacPher­son (his day­time job post rac­ing) once again top of the sheets some half a sec­ond quicker than he’d gone in prac­tice. Cor­ner set the sec­ond fastest time, just over a 10th be­hind his Scot­tish ri­val, with Macken­zie third.

Craw­ford, Mug­gle­ton and Robin­son were on row two with Lan­gan, Carter and Christie on row three. Mitchell, Mor­ri­son and Duf­fus qual­i­fied on row four ahead of Toner, Cramp­ton and Fowler, with Don­nie, hav­ing swapped to one of the spare bikes, pulling the keys out of yet another duf­fer as he was last again, four sec­onds adrift of Fowler in front of him as he splut­tered some 8.6sec be­hind the pole-set­ter.

Race day brought glo­ri­ous sun­shine and with it, a mas­sive crowd to wit­ness the clash of the ti­tans, not to men­tion that there were a cou­ple of BSB races on the card too. With three races un­der the or­gan­is­ers’ belts on Sun­day, the pit walk cleared in time for the in­au­gu­ral An­glo-Scot­tish Pro-Am Chal­lenge to take cen­tre stage. The clock ticked on to­wards the 12.20 start time and slowly but surely the rid­ers made their way to the grid, or not as the case may be. Cor­ner, Mug­gle­ton and Lan­gan all took their du­ti­ful places on the grid but Macken­zie had a cun­ning plan. He and most of the Scots hung a left through the pit lane to get an ex­tra sight­ing lap in to warm their tyres up and they ar­rived out on the grid just in time for the warm-up laps.

Off the field went on two warm-up laps when it was noted that Carter was tak­ing this part a bit se­ri­ously. Mighty Mouse had puffed out his chest and seemed in­tent on break­ing the lap record, only to look sur­prised as he ar­rived back on the grid first, to see the starter hold­ing the red flag aloft. He’d only thought the race had started and he was lead­ing it when it had now been stopped. He was so con­vinced of it, he ar­gued he should have gone onto pole po­si­tion for the restart be­fore re­al­is­ing his mis­take… With the race un­der way, Macken­zie shot into the lead and en­joyed a race-long dice with Cor­ner and MacPher­son, while down the or­der, and not that far away, the var­i­ous troops mus­tered points for their coun­tries. McLeod was the sec­ond to re­tire on his duf­fer af­ter fel­low Scot Christie went a lap ear­lier. At half dis­tance, a snap­shot of the points had it Scot­land 70-70 Eng­land, be­fore Robin­son crashed out and Lan­gan went grass-track­ing, al­low­ing Macken­zie to take the spoils af­ter 12 laps, a third of a sec­ond in front of Cor­ner with MacPher­son less than a 10th of a sec­ond back in third. Mug­gle­ton, Craw­ford and a red-faced Carter com­peted the top six, mak­ing it a fi­nal score of Scot­land 71-66 Eng­land. As a de­lighted Macken­zie, who’d hardly bro­ken sweat, pulled up into Parc Ferme, he pointed to his dash, which proudly dis­played the smil­ing face of Scot­tish politi­cian Ni­cola Stur­geon, which one of the English team had can­didly placed just be­fore the start.

“I’m not sure whether that spurred me on or put me off to be hon­est,” he quipped as he headed up onto yet another Knock­hill podium. Cor­ner and lap record set­ter MacPher­son ex­changed pleas­antries as the tro­phies were handed out and the sound of Flower of Scot­land rang out around Knock­hill, ac­knowl­edg­ing a fa­mous Scot­tish vic­tory.

In keep­ing with the spirit of the event, race di­rec­tor Higgs and event pro­moter Her­ring were seen in con­ver­sa­tion soon af­ter­wards. “We must do this again some­time soon,” they both agreed. And so say all of us.

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