SPAIN’S FIRST GRAND PRIX WIN
Fifty years ago Salvador Canellas became the first Spaniard to win a Grand Prix race. It was the start of something big – there have been almost 600 such victories by his countrymen since that day
Salvador Canellas: the first Spanish GP hero
On the weekend of May 4-5, 1968, the main interest in the paddock encamped outside Barcelona’s Olympic stadium in Montjuic Park were the Yamaha and MV Agusta camps, where Phil Read, Bill Ivy and Giacomo Agostini held court as kings of the Continental Circus.
But there was also lots of hustle and bustle in the corner of the paddock claimed by the local Bultaco team, where Irishman Tommy Robb, New Zealander Ginger Molloy and locals Salvador Canellas, Pedro Alvarez and others helped their Catalan mechanics fettle the 125cc, 250cc and 360cc two-stroke singles they’d entered in the 125, 250 and 500 Spanish Grands Prix.
Molloy had won Bultaco’s first world championship race, the 250cc Ulster Grand Prix, two years earlier, but this time it was the turn of Canellas to make history. On the Saturday afternoon he rode his factory-tuned, pistonported, single-cylinder TSS125 to victory in the 125 GP, beating Molloy by 29 secs. The Bultaco duo was joined on the podium by MZ’S Heinz Rosner. Robb and Alvarez finish fifth and sixth. Modern reports of that day suggest that the 24-year-old’s victory was greeted by a ‘nearhysterical crowd’, but Canellas remembers his only Grand Prix success somewhat differently. “It was all very quiet – very different from today,” says the Barcelona-born rider, who won £55 in prize money, plus a £15 bonus from Bultaco.
The Spanish crowd and press weren’t hysterical because they were waiting for the big races, the following day’s 250cc and 500cc events. But Canellas had certainly started something big.
As I write this, Spanish riders have won a further 587 victories across all GP classes, making Spain the second most successful nation in bike racing, after Italy. Spanish riders have also won all but one of the last eight Motogp world titles and more than half the intermediate (Moto2/250cc) and
‘HE WON £55 IN PRIZE MONEY, PLUS A £15 BONUS FROM BULTACO’
junior (Moto3/125cc) championships over the past 15 years. It all started with Canellas, although Spain’s obsession with motorcycle racing didn’t start until the following year when Angel Nieto won the 50cc world title with Derbi. Canellas started racing in 1961, piloting a Vespa sidecar in the numerous hill-climbs staged in the hills around his home city of Barcelona. Canellas got his big break in ’63, riding his Montesa Impala road bike in another Barcelona hill climb, where he beat the official Ducati entry. Montesa gave him factory-prepared bikes for Spanish championship races, held on street circuits in towns throughout the country, then Derbi took him on. However, Derbi’s race bikes were notoriously unreliable, so he gratefully accepted a job offer from Bultaco for 1968, his first GP season. He scored points only twice, at Montjuic and at Assen, where he finished fourth. Canellas enjoyed more success in endurance racing than in GPS. He won the 24 hours of Montjuic for the first time in 1969, when he completed 684 laps (1611 miles) of the lethal street circuit aboard a Bultaco 360 single, which he shared with Carlos Rocamora. The following year he quit full-time bike racing and turned to cars. But the lure of Montjuic remained – he returned to the Barcelona street circuit every July for a decade. He won the 24-hour race in 1973 aboard a factoryentered Ducati 860SS and again in 1975 on a factory Ducati 900SS. Even in 1981 Canellas was still going strong, qualifying second fastest. However, this time he crashed badly, breaking a vertebra. And that was that, as far as bike racing was concerned.
A few days before this year’s Catalan Motogp round, at the Barcelona-catalunya circuit a special event was held in Montjuic Park to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Spain’s first GP victory. Canellas, dressed in his old leathers and puddingbasin helmet, sat on his Bultaco TSS125 alongside Spain’s seven current factory Motogp riders. All but one are Catalans, born and raised in or around Barcelona, yet none of them had ridden or driven the Montjuic racetrack, which is a public road now, as it was way back then.
“I was so surprised that none of them had taken a tour of the circuit because to me Montjuic is like a temple,” says Canellas, now 74. “The track seems very dangerous to them, but was safer than many of the street circuits on which we competed. It is a great honour for me to be the first Spaniard to win a Grand Prix, but in 1968 I had no idea that things would turn out as they have done.”
ABOVE: Canellas on his way to winning the 1968 Spanish GP on a Bultaco 125. But the rewards were nowhere near what the likes of Marquez get today...
Derbi’s race bikes proved unreliable, so Canellas moved to Bultaco
Winning the Monjuic 24 Hours on a Ducati 860SS in 1975
Modern Spanish GP hero Marc Marquez with Canellas at Montjuic Park
Canellas (4) leads Angel Nieto on a Derbi in 1970