Tour of Europe ( The Continental Circus)
The Yamaha Classic Racing Team ‘Tour of Europe’ has been in full swing. To give you an idea, this was what it was like in ‘fast forward’ mode: the TT on the Isle of Man, then the celebration of Yamaha’s 50th racing anniversary in Assen, full speed ahead to the Bikers’ Classics at Spa-Francorchamps and finally a great event at Mallory Park. I am sorry to say that on our way back some team members including Steve Baker got injured: we got seriously sun burnt sitting on the deck of the ferry back to the Netherlands. Where’s Doctor Costa when you really need him?
Once again we had such a magnificent time on the Isle of Man. Let’s be clear about one thing: that is where it all started and the atmosphere is still magical. The excellent event manager Paul Phillips and his team had us working hard during our ten day stay, but we loved it. We even managed to squeeze in some sight seeing on the beautiful island. The organization invited us back for the 2012 TT and the guys in the team unanimously agreed it was worth taking the days off.
Then it was off to the Dutch TT where Yamaha celebrated its 50th racing anniversary. The Expo with some twenty bikes was absolutely immaculate and a personal highlight for me was the presence of good old Cees van Dongen at the opening ceremony. Cees was Yamaha’s first non Japanese rider to finish a race on a works Yamaha back in 1961, on an RA41, a 125 single cylinder at the Dutch TT. Cees had tears in his eyes and I had a lump in my throat.(my dad has been his mechanic for 13 yrs) It was a shame the weather was, ehhh… Dutch. But meeting so many interested race fans and then seeing Ben Spies win on Saturday in those wonderful nostalgic white and red colors made for a perfect ending of a great weekend.
No time to rest on our laurels though, because just one week later it was Bikers’ Classics time. At Spa we experienced problems we’d never had before. Thanks to the sunny weather our riders were able to do more laps than previous years – and ran out of petrol! Unfortunately our guest rider Johnny Cecotto could not get too many laps done on the 500 due to a faulty gearbox. I know that Johnny still has his own 750 at home. So I urge him: come on Johnny, if the passion is really there, get that thing out of the shed and get it up and running again! We want to see you ride! I am sure Yamaha Motor Racing boss Shigeto Kitagawa will share my views. Kitagawa-san visited us at Spa, reminiscing about the Seventies when he worked with Johnny, Kenny Roberts and Steve Baker.
At Mallory we were once again welcomed by the famous British spirit. From the lady behind the cash desk to the marshal at the end of the pitlane: these people know how this game works and they relate to our wishes. It is always a joy and an honor to ride on British soil. The YCRT riders Steve Baker, Phil Read, Chas Mortimer, Jos Schurgers and Tommy Robb even had their own private session. We also had a totally unexpected guest rider. At our hotel I bumped into 71 year old Benedicto Caldarella, the Argentinean demon on Matchless and Gilera in the early Sixties. He told me – now that he was here, anyway… – he wouldn’t mind riding one of our bikes. Even older men will always be boys, I guess. We decided to prepare the 1985 OW47 250 for Benedicto, got him in Steve Baker’s spare leathers and he was going like a rookie sniffing his first trophy!
There is one other topic I wish to mention, possibly slightly controversial. Although our Tour of Europe has once again been an unforgettable experience it also got me thinking of the future of Classic racing. We now know it will become harder to get former Grand Prix stars back on their bikes, because the younger generation generally asks for more money. Does this mean the end of Classic racing? I do not think so. The YCRT has decided to go – partially – four stroke, diving into the Classic Superbike era. I know there’s interesting RC30s, RC45s, 851s and OW01s around and our team is going to start work on an FZ750 Lawson Daytona replica, hopefully with Yamaha factory support. We have to be sensible about this: building and maintaining a 500/4 is extremely expensive, as is keeping our 125s and 250s running. I think incorporating two or three Yamaha Superbikes in our Yamaha Classic Racing Team could be a welcome addition to Classic racing and might attract new crowds and riders. I would love to hear what your views on this. Let me know!