Car­los Lavado

Classic Racer - - WHAT’S INSIDE - Words: Jef­frey Zani Pho­tographs: Car­los Lavado Ar­chive & Don Mor­ley

Venezuela pro­duced two amaz­ing rac­ers in the most for­ma­tive years of in­ter­na­tional racing on track and Lavado was one them. He won two world cham­pi­onships and came close to a third. We tell his story.

C“Who the hell is this guy?” they asked af­ter his first-ever prac­tice day in a 250cc GP round. The an­swer: a young rider from Caracas with a point to prove, so don’t get in his way.

ara­cas, Venezuela’s cap­i­tal, is a good 250 kilo­me­tres from the San Car­los cir­cuit that hosted the Grand Prix in ques­tion and in 1978 Car­los Lavado made his pres­ence felt there dur­ing a dar­ing de­but on a stan­dard Yamaha TZ. He re­mem­bers: “It was my fifth ever race on a GP bike. It’s fair to say that I didn’t have much ex­pe­ri­ence...” The Venezue­lan was 21 years old, fresh faced and full of am­bi­tion. He took a sec­ond place fin­ish (this was in the very com­pet­i­tive 250cc class, re­mem­ber), al­most 15 sec­onds be­hind Yamaha’s fac­tory rider Kenny Roberts who took the top step of the podium. Be­hind Lavado in that first GP out­ing proper was the French duo of Pa­trick Fer­nan­dez and Olivier Che­val­lier. Im­pres­sive for Yamaha (a top four) and Venezuela. One year later, Lavado tried again as a wild card in the 350 and won that race, fin­ish­ing a whole 15 sec­onds ahead of Ital­ian Walter Villa. As you might ex­pect, a fac­tory of­fer came fast: ‘Would you like to race the whole cham­pi­onship?’ But it wasn’t quite as sim­ple as a straight­for­ward yes, as Car­los ex­plains: “I had to ask my mum, be­cause I had a deep re­spect for her and she was the only per­son who had re­ally helped me in my racing ca­reer un­til that point.

“I was a stu­dent in the me­chan­i­cal engineering de­part­ment of the Caracas Univer­sity. The truth was that I wanted to be­come an air­plane pi­lot like my fa­ther, but I had to wait one year af­ter high school to ac­cess that school, so I de­cided to give col­lege a try. “Any­way, my mother said ‘yes’, so one year later, in 1980, I was able to race in Europe thanks to the Bi­effe hel­mets fac­tory and Ven­emo­tos, who was Yamaha’s im­porter in my coun­try and had been be­hind the suc­cess of my idol, Johnny Ce­cotto, who was also from Venezuela, and beat king Gi­a­como Agostini at his de­but, in 1975, in the 350cc class. “He was 19, he didn’t know the tracks, any­thing. But he did it.” In his first proper sea­son, Lavado won in Assen on the 250, but that was a learn­ing year and the fol­low­ing sea­son he knew which way the tracks went, pulling in eight podi­ums in the 250 and 350 classes. Onto 1982 and he found the top step of the podium with three wins. That was the last year of the 350 cat­e­gory, so for the fol­low­ing sea­son Lavado fo­cused only on the 250. With the room and abil­ity to con­cen­trate on one class it was a sin­gu­lar push for the ti­tle which came af­ter four strong wins and two more podi­ums. “That year I re­mem­ber very close races, you could pass from first to sev­enth in the blink of an eye, it was sim­i­lar to to­day’s Moto3.”

Yamaha’s fac­tory team, run by Gi­a­como Agostini, noted his tal­ent and for the last round of the 500cc cham­pi­onship asked Lavado to run as traf­fic for Honda’s Fred­die Spencer, help­ing King Kenny in the top class. “We were in Imola and they handed me the 500, which was a beast with a lot of power that I had never rid­den be­fore. Nowa­days, it seems that the first laps of a rider on a new bike are done with no pres­sure, the team tells him to take it easy, to re­lax and un­der­stand the power de­liv­ery, the tyres and things like that. “That was not the case in 1983. The team told me im­me­di­ately to go fast and that’s what I tried to do. I had to be sec­ond af­ter Kenny and ahead of Fred­die. But I crashed, so I wasn’t able to put my­self be­tween the two.” Spencer took the crown, Roberts and Yamaha lost the ti­tle. When Lavado won his first world cham­pi­onship he was rid­ing a bike with a tubu­lar chas­sis, the most com­mon lay­out used at the time. But in the mid-eight­ies he was a much-favoured son of Yamaha, so much so that he was given a first, an at-the-time rev­o­lu­tion­ary frame that used the same con­cept adopted to­day in mo­tor­cy­cle racing by most man­u­fac­tur­ers. “I still re­mem­ber when my team got the bike, the first thing we did was change some parts in or­der to make it lighter, be­cause it ini­tially weighed a lot more than 100 kilo­grams.

“We re­placed rim wheels with Cam­pag­nolo al­loy wheels, iron bolts with ti­ta­nium bolts, and sim­i­lar things. Speak­ing about how it worked, I can’t say that the twin-spar frame al­lowed me to en­ter with more speed into the cor­ners. “It was more sta­ble, es­pe­cially in the fast turns. But I was not in­ter­ested in hav­ing a bike that didn’t move too much. I wanted horse­power, and that’s what I kept say­ing to Yamaha. “The thing is that I wanted to win, that was my boost. I didn’t care about any­thing else and frankly I don’t un­der­stand the rid­ers that to­day race in Moto3 and Moto2 and have the goal of reach­ing Mo­togp even if they don’t win in the small cat­e­gories. It doesn’t make any sense to me. They want to be in the top class, and if they’re last there, it’s okay. I was dif­fer­ent, I wanted to be first.” That was proved many times on the track, es­pe­cially in 1986, one of his years as a Yamaha fac­tory rider, bring­ing on track the iconic yel­low and white HB liv­ery. “At the Ri­jeka cir­cuit, for ex­am­ple, I started badly and dur­ing the first lap I went in the gravel while try­ing to pass a ri­val on the out­side. I started to re­cover, but in the mid­dle of an­other cor­ner I found parts of an­other rider’s bike who had just crashed and I had to go out again in or­der to avoid them. “Af­ter 15 laps I was first, but I soon crashed. “Five weeks later, in the French GP, I started so poorly that at the first cor­ner I was maybe 20th. I won that race by two sec­onds.” The re­la­tion­ship with Yamaha lasted un­til 1988, fol­lowed by four more sea­sons that saw him on Ital­ian bikes like Aprilia and Gil­era. To­day, Lavado lives in Italy, in a small town close to the Imola cir­cuit. He of­ten trav­els to Venezuela and at­tends clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cle events, bring­ing with him the unique per­son­al­ity of some­one who grew up in South Amer­ica and ex­pressed him­self in Europe. The mous­tache is the same, the hair is not as wild as it was and the ac­cent is a cu­ri­ous mix of Ital­ian and Span­ish in­flu­ences. “What I do miss the most about racing is the thrill of do­ing what you love. When you ded­i­cate your­self 100% to a goal, when you put all your ef­fort into it. And, of course, the buzz of the win. “I lived for it.”

Main im­age:the eyes have it. Car­los looks small on the Yamaha at the French GP in 1981. Right: If a pic­ture truly does paint a thou­sand words then what we have here is a prime ex­am­ple of ten­sion be­fore the off.


Lavado wins the 1986 Ger­man GP from Martin Win­ner and An­ton Mang.

Lavado #1, chas­ing down Juan Gar­riga #12, at the 1987 Ital­ian GP.


1984 Span­ish GP. Neat and tidy.

A long slide on the knees whilst crash­ing did this.


A ti­tle lost in a mo­ment. Car­los was set to win the 1984 crown at Yu­goslavia. All he had to do was fin­ish the race. But the bike cried ‘enough’. Game over.

Left: The man on the far left looks wor­ried as he no­tices the dam­age to Car­los’ lower legs and feet fol­low­ing a spill. Walk­ing wounded.


Mo­tor­cy­cle lan­guage is a uni­ver­sal lan­guage. We all know what Car­los is say­ing here.

1981 350 podium with Mang and Jean-françois Baldé.

Ex­cuse me, guv’nor, can we have a mo­ment for a se­ri­ous pre-race pho­to­graph? Ta very much. That’ll do us nicely.

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