Photos & Musings: Grands Prix

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Sittendorf 1986

The 1986 Austrian GP at Sittendorf was probably my finest day. I came into the race as a true outsider and left lying second in the world championship.

Sittendorf wasn't scheduled as the first GP of the 1986 season. The first GP was at Payerne, Switzerland, the week before but was cancelled on Sunday morning after a heavy snow storm on Saturday night left the track covered.

So, one week later we rolled into the picturesque Austrian circuit for what had become the opening GP.

The previous season I had started off as a Maico privateer. I had improved through the first part of the year, nearly scoring my first points in Italy when I was holding tenth for much of the race before my front tyre rolled off the rim causing me to DNF. My efforts had been followed closely by Alec Wright, the factory Kawasaki team manager, who offered me a deal with production KX500s. I switched to Kawasaki after the British GP, and with only a couple of GPs remaining I scored my first points at the final round in Luxembourg, finishing in tenth. This left me as the 39th ranked rider in the 500cc world championship at the end of 1985.

For 1986 Kawasaki rewarded me with a couple of full factory KX500SRs. This move was seen by some as surprising, not least Johnny Ponjee, who was a Dutch Kawasaki rider skirting the top ten in '85. Johnny was a little upset that he hadn't been offered factory support!

Coming into Sittendorf I was fairly confident, despite the fact that the previous year I hadn't even qualified. The bike was working well and I had qualified well at the cancelled Swiss round the previous Saturday.

In Saturday qualifying at Sittendorf I set the fastest time in my session, before being overhauled by Hakan Carlqvist. I can't tell you how good that felt. Hakan was world champion three years earlier, in '83, and I had just finished one place behind him!

My good qualifying position had impressed a few people, and Jean-Pierre Labaye from Dunlop brought over some factory tyres. Factory tyres? What are they? I wondered. I had assumed that tyres were tyres, with only the tread pattern being different. These things looked exactly like the Dunlop K990s I had been using on Saturday but boy, did they hook up on the sheet rock sections that littered Sittendorf! I couldn't believe that two identical looking tyres could perform so differently.

In the first race on Sunday I got a good start, coming out of the first turn in fourth. However, a couple of laps in I crashed and was back to tenth. Riding smoothly I worked my way back up to seventh at the end of the 45 minute plus race.

Seventh was a terrific result for me. The 500GP field was stacked that year. I think there were something like 8 world champions racing that day. Thorpe, Malherbe, Geboers (factory Honda), Jobe (factory Kawasaki), Carlqvist (factory Yamaha), Heinz Kinigadner (factory KTM), Graham Noyce, and Harry Everts. Add to those a list of legends like Corrado Madii, Gerard Rond, Kees Van der Ven, Kurt Nicoll and Leif Persson and you have a tough field. I was ecstatic with seventh.

However, better was to come. In race two I again got a good start and found myself in fourth. Everyone seemed to be riding so slowly. I followed Jobe for a long time and wondered what was up with him. Obviously I was just riding well and it seemed very easy.

At one point I hit Jobe's back wheel and stalled but fortunately it was just at the top of a steep downhill so I just bumped the bike and kept chasing.

At the end of the race I held my fourth place, just 9 seconds behind race winner Andre Malherbe. As I raced up the finish straight my mechanic Ken Baulf was standing out in the track, pit board held high, with the words '2nd O'ALL!!l' written in big letters.

It was surreal. I had come into that race as the 39th place guy from the previous year, who hadn't qualified for the race 12 months earlier, and I came away lying second in the world championship.

As the points were totalled up I had actually tied for second with Leif Persson, and George Jobe. However, as they had both beaten me in race two I lost out on the podium place by vitue of the tie breaker ruling, so unfortunately I never got to stand on the podium.

Nonetheless, for 7 days in April 1986 I lay in second place in the 500cc world motocross championship and that is something I will always be proud of.

Spectacular coverage in Motor Cycle News! Enlarge image

Myself, 43, Nicoll, 5, World Champion Thorpe, 1, Kees Van der Ven, 61, with Georges Jobe over his right shoulder Enlarge image

An ecstatic finish to the second moto and joint second overall! Enlarge image

Second moto results sheet Enlarge image