THE REAL PHIL READ

What is the con­tro­ver­sial eight­times world cham­pion re­ally like?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Alan See­ley MCN GUEST WRITER

Great rac­ing suc­cess is no guar­an­tee of a win in the pop­u­lar­ity stakes. Just ask Casey Stoner. Or for that mat­ter, Phil Read. The UK’S great­est liv­ing Grand Prix cham­pion still di­vides opin­ion among race fans and com­men­ta­tors.

Even 43 years af­ter his last world ti­tle – the 500 cham­pi­onship he won for MV Agusta in 1974 – his name still ranks in the top 10 of grand prix win­ners, with our most widely cel­e­brated GP cham­pion, Barry Sheene, 31st in the list of all-time greats with 23 wins.

Read’s Grand Prix record spanned 15 years, from 1961 to 1976, his first win com­ing in the 350 GP on the Isle of Man in ’61, the last ever Ju­nior TT win on a Bri­tish bike (Nor­ton) and ended with his vic­tory on an MV Agusta in the 1975 Cze­choslo­vakian 500 GP.

In that time he gave Yamaha their first world cham­pi­onship, the 1964 250 ti­tle, re­peat­ing the feat the fol­low­ing year and tak­ing both the 125 and 250 ti­tles for the firm in 1968. He won the 250 se­ries in 1971 on a pri­va­teer Yamaha and took back-to-back 500 ti­tles for MV Agusta in 1973 and 1974. Those achieve­ments made him the first rider to win world ti­tles in three ca­pac­ity classes and it was widely reck­oned that his record would never be matched, given the grow­ing spe­cial­i­sa­tion of rid­ers and ma­chin­ery. How­ever, it was even­tu­ally equalled by a cer­tain Valentino Rossi in 2001.

His Lord­ship

There would be one more world ti­tle, tak­ing Read’s tally to eight. In 1977 he won the TT For­mula One ti­tle on the Isle of Man rid­ing a Honda.

It’s an in­cred­i­ble record and one that should see Read lauded as a great cham­pion. How­ever he’s al­ways been a con­tentious fig­ure. There are many rea­sons for that.

Read has al­ways been a forth­right character. The sin­gle-mind­ed­ness

PHIL READ

that let him achieve so much makes it hard for him to keep his opin­ions to him­self. There is no-one in Phil’s or­bit who hasn’t ex­pe­ri­enced this, from the rac­ing au­thor­i­ties to team mem­bers and fel­low com­peti­tors.

Ed­die Carter, who was Phil’s me- chanic for his first world ti­tle, al­ways raised an eye­brow and grinned wryly at the men­tion of the man he re­ferred to as ‘His Lord­ship’. “We had to drive straight back to Eng­land af­ter the Monza round where Phil clinched the ti­tle. The glitz and glam­our came later. But even in those early days, Phil was very much his own man,” he says.

Read’s re­fusal to fol­low Yamaha team or­ders in 1968 left an in­deli­ble stain on his rep­u­ta­tion for many. Phil was to take the 125 ti­tle and team-mate Bill Ivy, whom Read had in­tro­duced to Yamaha was to take the 250. Ivy fol­lowed the party line but as the sea­son pro­gressed Read didn’t, the two ty­ing on points and the ti­tle go­ing to Read on ag­gre­gate race times. Yamaha with­drew from GP rac­ing at the end of 1968 and Ivy an­nounced a move to car rac­ing. How­ever, he was lured back to bikes for 1969 by Jawa. An un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dent at the Sach­sen­ring killed Ivy when his un­se­cured hel­met flew off when he fell from his 350 when it seized. Some blame Ivy’s de­ci­sion to go to Jawa on Read.

Nasty re­marks

“Bill was my friend yet I be­came his en­emy. Peo­ple still make nasty re­marks al­though many of them are too young to have even seen Bill race,” says Phil. “I did feel ag­grieved with Yamaha. I’d

“Bill Ivy was my friend yet he be­came my en­emy”

given them their first world cham­pi­onship on the 250 and de­spite re­peated re­quests they wouldn’t con­firm their in­ten­tions for the fol­low­ing sea­son. I didn’t want the 125 ti­tle, I wanted the 250. I’d helped de­velop the bike and if Yamaha knew they were pulling out of rac­ing I think they should have let me have a fair crack at the ti­tle. They didn’t so I took the chance my­self.”

A con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion

Be­fore join­ing MV Agusta for 1973, Read rode Benel­lis, pri­vate Yama­has – win­ning the 250 ti­tle in 1971, the first time a pri­vate team had won a world ti­tle – and even a Du­cati 500 V-twin. He also joined Peter Wil­liams in the John Player Nor­ton team in 1972. Wil­liams of­fers a bal­anced as­sess­ment of Read, recog­nis­ing his ta­lent as well as his abil­ity to play the game: “He could be at­tracted by money. At the same time Phil was able to de­liver. Not only did his name bring the de­sired cred­i­bil­ity to the team for the big spon­sor but, above all, he was a very fast racer. He al­ways pulled his weight and, al­though the 1972 JPN was far from the fastest rac­ing bike in the world, he al­ways rode it as fast as he could make it go.”

Al­ready 34 years old by the time he joined MV, there was a new gen­er­a­tion snap­ping at his heels and two-strokes were set­ting the race pace. None­the­less Read took back-to-back 500 ti­tles on the Ital­ian four-strokes.

Read an­nounced his re­tire­ment from world cham­pi­onship rac­ing in 1976. But there was still one more ti­tle to come and a highly con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to race for it – the 1977 TT For­mula One.

The temer­ity to re­turn

Through­out the 1970s, the Isle of Man TT’S rank­ing as a world cham­pi­onship round at­tracted ever-more vo­cal crit­i­cism. Read de­cided to stop rac­ing there for GP points af­ter Gil­berto Par­lotti’s 1972 fa­tal ac­ci­dent. Par­lotti died when he hit a con­crete post on the Veran­dah. “Where was the con­cern for rider safety there? Over the years I lost three friends and a num­ber of ac­quain­tances at the TT – killed rac­ing for cham­pi­onship points,” says Read, who was also crit­i­cal at the lack of money on of­fer to com­peti­tors. He wasn’t the only Is­land critic – Gi­a­como Agostini and his boss Count Agusta were just two of many.

Barry Sheene raced there once, in 1971, fell off and never went back. But Phil Read is the one ev­ery­one re­mem- bers be­cause he had the temer­ity to re­turn. Mar­shals threat­ened to strike and fill­ing sta­tion staff re­fused to fill up his car.

In 1977 the Bri­tish Grand Prix moved to Sil­ver­stone and the FIM and ACU sanc­tioned three TT For­mula pro­duc­tion races on the Isle of Man as world ti­tles. While the Moun­tain Course might still have been dan­ger­ous, the ap­pear­ance and prize money on of­fer went some way to bal­anc­ing the risk. Read won the For­mula One on an 810cckit­ted Honda CB750 to make him an eight-time world cham­pion and also added the Se­nior on a Suzuki RG500 for good mea­sure. He would race on the Is­land sev­eral times af­ter that, too.

Read set the mould for the mod­ern racer, court­ing spon­sor­ship, de­cent start money and push­ing for rider safety. He was as fo­cused and as ruth­less as a cham­pion has to be. Look at Valentino Rossi and his psy­cho­log­i­cal de­struc­tion of ri­vals like Bi­aggi and Giber­nau. Barry Sheene al­ways knew ex­actly what he wanted and how to get it. Per­haps if Read had, like those two and his 1960s con­tem­po­rary Mike Hail­wood, a lit­tle more of the cheeky chappy about his per­sona, the fans and his­tory it­self would be a lit­tle more for­giv­ing.

‘Phil was at­tracted by money… but he could de­liver’ PETER WIL­LIAMS

Phil Read is 78 years old but is as feisty and con­tro­ver­sial now as he was in his hey­day Phil Read (8) chases team-mate Bill Iv y (9) at the 1966 Dutch TT

Read (left) and Ivy (right) were good friends... un­til 1968

Read won two world ti­tles with MV in 1973 and 1974

Agostini and Read both had great suc­cess with MV

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