MOTORCYCLE HERO: GIACOMO AGOSTINI
It's been 40 years since the end of Agostini's racing career, yet to date, he remains unbeaten. With 15 world titles and 122 victories, Agostini is the undisputed king of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, making him a top contender in our Motorcycle Heroes series. Here is his story.
Giacomo Agostini - or Ago, to use his nickname - was born 16th June 1942 in Brescia, Italy.
He was passionate about motorcycles from an early age. Much to his father's disappointment, who was keen on him becoming an accountant.
Ago ignored his father's advice and competed in local races from the age of 11. In his late teens, he competed in hill climb events on a Morini 175 Settebello, which he'd bought in instalments.
He was noticed by Alfonso Morini in 1962 and hired for the following season. It was a good move on Morini's part. Ago won the 1963 Italian 175cc championship, collecting eight victories.
In 1964, he won the Italian 350cc championship and finished 4th in the Italian GP. MV Agusta offered him a full-time ride in the GP world championship for its works team. Ago took the position. He was to be Mike Hailwood's understudy on 350cc and 500cc bikes.
Now competing amongst and against the world's greatest riders, he proved himself quickly. 1965 was a season-long battle between him and Honda's Jim Redman. Ago narrowly missed the 350cc world championship title at the very last race in Japan due to a mechanical failure with his bike.
Hailwood had moved to Honda for the 1966 season and Ago swiftly took the place as Agusta's No.1 rider. He gained his first world championship. It was in the 500cc class and he secured it the last race.
Once in Hailwood's shadow, Ago had become his competition. The pair battled it out in '66 and in '67. Hailwood taking both 350cc world titles and Ago taking both 500cc.
In two years, Ago had progressed from being a national champion to a worldwide champion. His wins in '66 and '67 had been marginal, with both taken by him in the last race. But for the next eight years, Ago would dominate both classes.
To top that off, Ago also won the Isle of Man TT 10 times in his career, and the Ulster Grand Prix seven. These races were long-known to be dominated by British riders. But for Ago, anything was possible.
With Honda's departure from GP motorcycle racing after the 1967 season came Hailwood's own retirement. Ago finally had the space he needed to thrive. His winning streak had begun, and so it was a golden era for MV Agusta also.
Not only did Agostini win both 350cc and 500cc championships every year until 1973, he dominated the races too, particularly in the 500cc class. Ago won all ten races in 1968. In 1969, he won 10 out of 12 races in the 500cc class; 10 out of 11 the following year. In 1971, he got eight wins in a row and 11 out of 13 in 1972.
Being dominant meant being influential. Agos' close friend Gilberto Parlotti died during the 1972 TT. Ago shockingly announced he would never race again at the IOM TT. He had boycotted one of the most prestigious races on the Grand Prix calendar. Upon Ago's decision, other racers dropped out of the round, and it was eventually taken off the schedule in 1977.
1973 made a cut from Ago dominating both classes when his MV Augusta team-mate Phil Reed took the 500cc title. Agostini promptly decided to switch to Yamaha. Thus his 350cc win that year was the 13th and final title he would win for the team.
Fans welcomed the move. The potential of mixing Ago's talent mixed with a Japanese machine was exciting. He didn't disappoint. In 1974, in his first outing for Yamaha and also his debut in America, Ago won the prestigious Daytona 200. He claimed the 350cc world championship again that year, but mechanical problems prevented him from winning the 500cc.
He won his 15th and final world title in 1975, the 500cc. It was the first time anyone had won the 500cc class on a two-stroke machine, and the first time Yamaha had won the 500cc. It was also the first time MV Augusta has lost the title since 1957.
It had been a good year for Yamaha, but the team struggled to compete for the following year against Suzuki's new four-cylinder machine. Ago won races in both the 350cc and 500cc classes in 1976 but did not win a championship. After switching back to MV August, he saw his last ever race win. It was at Nurburgring, which was the same venue where he'd won his first Grand Prix race back in 1965.
Ago retired from racing in 1977, aged 35, with 15 World Championships and 122 GP wins under his belt. Between 1978 and 1980, he raced in Formula One cars. Then it was back to motorcycles in 1982, when he became a successful Marlboro Yamaha team manager. Between '92 – '94, he managed the Cagiva factory racing team, and then a 250cc Honda team in 1995.
His 15 world titles, seven consecutive in the 350cc and seven consecutive in the 500cc, stands unbeaten. Few will be able to achieve what Ago did during his racing career, but if there is a lesson which can be learnt from him, it might be this. Know when to stop. He came. He won. He left. That was talent. That was Ago.
Giacomo Agostini Victories
Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing
World Championships: 15 (350cc class: 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974; 500cc class: 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1975)
Race Wins: 122
Isle of Man TT
10 (350cc Junior TT: 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1972; 50cc Senior TT: 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972)
Others in the Motorcycle Heroes series:
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