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GP Week : Issue 15
5 Minutes with ... GIACOMO AGOSTINI What happens to bike racing legends when they retire? If they are like Giacomo Agostini, they segue smoothly into a gentlemanly life, dividing their time between a native Italy and Spain, home of his titled wife. ‘Ago’ turns up only now and then at a GP, as an unobtrusive though obviously honoured guest. He won a record 15 World Championships between 1966 and 1975 in the 350 and 500 classes, mainly with MV Agusta, but including the first 500 two-stroke title for Yamaha. While he wonders at the luxury of it all today, compared with his era, the racing, he says, while much safer, is just as hard as ever it was. GPWEEK: Giacomo, what do you see different about racing now from your era? AGOSTINI: I follow racing now. Today we have a good competition, a good show. Of course there have been so many changes, when you see all these facilities. But I think the race is always the race. To win is always difficult. Now it is much easier. The riders have their own motorhomes, and all the hospitality units and catering. I remember that sometimes my leathers would be wet, and I would put them on again still wet. Now they put them on a drier, and in 10 minutes you have dry leather! The riders have a man to clean their visor. I had a potato – I cleaned my visor with a potato. Of course the tracks are much safer now. Today, at a GP you see many crashes – maybe 30 or 40 at a GP, in all classes. In my time, if 40 people crashed, maybe two died. We had to be careful. The Isle of Man, for a rider, is the best circuit in the world. The emotion is more than any other circuit. But you have to think about the safety, because it is very dangerous. Many people died there, too many friends. So I never wanted to race there again. We must have the chance when we crash to stand up again. If you took the riders of MotoGP to the Isle of Man today, nobody would start the engine. Did you ever have a bad injury? No. I hurt my legs and broke my shoulder, but never anything very very bad. I was careful. You started riding small bikes, but then came into big bikes very quickly. Was the transition hard? My first year as a professional was 1964 on a 250 Morini. The next year I was with MV Agusta, with 350 and 500. The old four- cylinder MV was very heavy for me, but I was lucky. MV made a three-cylinder that was smaller and lighter, and it was easier to be confident. It was less powerful, but light and good to ride. There were years when in the 500 class you had no real opposition. How did you stay interested? Some times it was not so difficult. Then I would try to beat the race record, or the lap record. I had some hard races in the 350 class, against the Benelli and then Phil Read on the Yamaha. I also had the chance to race many fast riders later on – from Read and Bill Ivy to Sheene, Hailwood and Kenny Roberts. There were plenty of world champions, and sometimes they beat me, but at some time I beat all of these people. When you left MV Agusta at the end of 1973, was it because of trouble with your team-mate Phil Read, or other reasons? Because I understood that the two-strokes were coming. I had an offer from Yamaha two years before, but at that time the engines were seizing many times. But I could see the progress of the two-stroke, and no progress in the four-stroke. I said okay, now is the time to change. Was it difficult to change your technique, after so many years on the MV? I stayed in Japan for two weeks, and every day I rode at the test track from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon. In two weeks, I learned. And then I won my first race on the Yamaha, at Daytona in 1974. You use the engine differently from a four-stroke, but the power was much better. The big difference was in braking … the engine didn’t help you at all. But by 1975 we had better brakes anyway. Looking back, who was your greatest rival? I raced against many great riders, but I think Mike Hailwood was the hardest. We had a good personal relationship. Mike was a very nice person. When in the Isle of Man in 1967, when my chain broke when I was in the lead and he won, he came to me and said: ‘Today you are the winner, not me.” A very nice person. And we had a very close race, very hard. After you retired, you managed the factory Yamaha team for some years. Did you enjoy that, after racing? At first, I didn’t enjoy it. But afterwards it was good, because at that time it was your team. I had the bikes from Yamaha, but everything else was my responsibility. It’s not like today, when you are manager, but still behind many people. I decided everything: what to buy, how to make the hospitality, choosing the rider, making the contracts. And when we won, it was very emotional. Not like when I won myself, but it was my work, so I was happy. Your son is with you here. You had to trick your parents for permission to go racing. Would you want him to race? No. But he likes football, so … he is a clever boy. Talk motorcycle legends and you talk ‘Ago’ –MICHAEL SCOTT sat down with the revered Italian star of yesteryear Agostini now (above) and then (right) – film-star good looks ... 18