This photo is around 46 years old. It is from the 1977 Castrol Six Hour production race at Sydney’s Amaroo Park raceway and features the rider who I regard as being the greatest road racer of all time, the late Mike Hailwood.
Hailwood had long since retired when this race took place. A serious injury had also seen his burgeoning Formula One career cut short and he was living in New Zealand, about as far from the madding crowd as it was possible to get. However, that is not to say that he had lost interest in the sport that had brought him both fame and fortune so it wasn’t a huge surprise to read in the motorcycle media that Mike was considering a comeback, having been invited to ride in the Six Hour with noted motorcycling journalist, Jim Scaysbrook.
The deal was a real one with a brand new Ducati 750SS being supplied and funded by Moreparts, a big motorcycle parts supplier. It was, of course, a bit of a giggle to most of us that Moreparts chose to sponsor a Ducati, a bike that, at the time, had a pretty bad reputation for reliability.
However, it was a very sensible effort. Ducatis had had a good history in the event, noted Queensland peddler, John Warrian, going to within a whisker of winning the event outright on his 900SS in 1975. The bike was stable, handled well, had a large fuel tank and the team was well equipped and well funded.
The pre-race publicity was extensive, the presence of the great Hailwood, star of two wheels and four, ensured plenty of media coverage. It even produced this photo which was taken on a Press Day.
The picture, that has been endlessly circulated since then, is not what it appears to be. When asked by the media people if he’d do a wheelstand for the camera, Mike demurred, stating that he didn’t do wheelies. Prominent New Zealand road racer, Stu Avant, volunteered for the duty, donned Mike’s leathers, helmet and gear and did the deed.
Rumours began almost as soon as the entry was announced and there are still plenty of people who will tell you that the bike was far from the stock standard specifications it was supposed to be, but, whether or not this is true is not really relevant any more.
Jim qualified in 13th place, about a second off the pole time set by Jim Budd on the Avon Tyres Kawasaki Z1B. Interestingly, the eventual winner, Kenny Blake, partnered by Joe Eastmure, only qualified in 11th, these figures highlighting the fact that the race was most definitely an endurance event rather than a sprint one.
After having to fight their way through the pack in the early part of the race (the Ducati only had kick start and was seriously hampered by it when most of the other bikes had electric start), the #9 bike made its way into the top ten and stayed there for the rest of the event.
In the end they finished 6th overall, just 6 laps behind the winners and were the second of the “smaller” class bikes to finish (the Kawasaki Z650 ridden by Hales and Burgess finished a brilliant 3rd)
Unsurprisingly, the outing more than fuelled Mike’s desire for a “real” comeback and that happened the following year with his entry into the Bathurst races on a brand new Yamaha TZ750
and his remarkable win at the Isle of Man on the NCR Ducati just a couple of months later.
I’m pleased to say that I got to spend a lot of time with Mike, both at the Six Hour in 1977 and Bathurst in 1978. He was everything his reputation suggested, a wonderful man.
So that’s my Friday Flashback, hope you enjoyed it.