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Twenty-five years since Silverstone classic

Twenty-five years since Silverstone classic

Twenty-five years since Silverstone classic

On this day 25 years ago one of the greatest battles in road racing occurred at the Silverstone circuit for the British Grand Prix. The 12th August 1979 saw reigning World Champion Kenny Roberts face off against Barry Sheene at the packed midlands circuit and the archrivals produced an edge-of-the-seat duel that went down in history as an instant classic.

After two years of claiming the 500cc title with a works Suzuki Sheene had been upstaged by the arrival of dirt-king Roberts from the States armed with his bright yellow Yamaha in ‘78. Sheene had raised the profile of GP racing to a level that had never been see before in the UK, starring in commercials and making appearances on chat shows.

Such was the charismatic Londoner's appeal that motorcycle racing was an anticipated live event on the BBC flagship sport's show ‘Grandstand'. The British Grand Prix was a major sporting event by 1979 with a bumper crowd both at the high-speed circuit and at home. Winning the British race was an accolade that had evaded Sheene in his career so far and with his title hopes not looking so favourable due to some mechanical problems there was a surge of optimism that 1979 could finally be the year that he beat the world in front of his fans.

Roberts was firmly gunning for another world title after recovering from a heavy pre-season crash that left him with a broken foot, vertebrae and injured leg, whilst other contenders that season included riders such as Wil Hartog, Virginio Ferrari and Jonny Cecotto.

Under sunny and warm conditions it was Hartog, in his distinctive white leathers, who sprinted away from the pack early on. Bombing down the fearsome Hangar straight (Silverstone was one of the fastest tracks in the world at that time, without all the chicanes now added for the F1) Sheene and Roberts soon reeled the Dutchman in and passed the Suzuki man to begin their own tussle.

What made the race so special was that fact that neither rider could break away and the lead was swapped with a regularity that made the laps count down seemingly in an instant. Sheene was playing up to the crowd and the cameras and when he overtook Roberts and straightened up after the initial Copse corner flicked the American a ‘V-sign' behind his back! It was perfect entertainment between two rivals who had made no secret of their dislike for each other.

Roberts would win the race in a dramatic climax with barely half a bike's length separating the pair. Sheene broke the lap record on the final circulation after his planned final assault was wrecked by a back-marker rounding the final Woodcote turn for the penultimate time. Fighting to regain ground negotiating the last lap, the final moments of the race gave definition to the term ‘Grandstand finish'.

Both riders knew they had been a part of something special and the watching fans will have never seen anything like the combination of speed, skill, rivalry and expectation of home success that came together at Silverstone that unique day.

Meanwhile, the 12th August also marks the date of the last ever Grand Prix held in Sweden, at Anderstorp in 1990. Sweden hosted its first World Championship race in 1958 and went on to stage 22 Grand Prix, seventeen of which took place at Anderstorp. The last ever race there, fourteen years ago today, saw Wayne Rainey take victory from team-mate Eddie Lawson.

MotoGP, 2004

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