Agostini: The first Italian motorcycling legend

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

He was the man who got the world talking about two wheels in the 1960s and 70s. At Misano, he will be presenting a book which celebrates his life and career in photos.

As MotoGP™ descends on Misano for the San Marino Grand Prix, one of its most historical figures will be present, never out of fashion despite having competing in his final race some 36 years ago. Agostini, or ‘Mino’ as he is known by his adoring fans, will be presenting a book charting his time both on the race track and off it.

He’s the most successful rider in the history of the World Championship, with 15 titles and no less than 122 race victories to his name. He was known for eating up the records and, assisted by his image, seemingly establishing with ease his popular reputation both with those involved in motorcycle racing and those looking in - something compatriot Valentino Rossi would repeat some three decades later.

Back in the 60s and 70s, the power of the media – not least television – was not comparable with that of today. Instead, it was the youthful idol himself – an ambassador of Italy and well-known athlete – that was the phenomenon.

Agostini landed himself in the world of motorcycle racing with a determination and clarity in ideas second to none. He hailed from a family that was in no way, shape or form associated with the sport; in fact, his father very much deterred him from the very idea of two-wheel battle. He was eventually convinced by an official, when his son was attempting to sign up for the Trento to Bondone race in which would finish second on a modest Morini 175 Settebello.

The following year, Morini signed up Agostini for the Italian championship, which he would win in 1964, but more importantly he made a guest appearance in the 250 Nations Grand Prix at Monza in which he finished fourth. That grabbed the attention of Count Domenico Agusta, who almost immediately signed him for MV Agusta alongside then reigning 500 World Champion Mike ‘The Bike’ Hailwood.

Ago made his 500 debut in 1965. Back then, it was commonplace for riders to compete in more than one class, so the Italian featured in 350s as well as 500s. His first victory at the terrifying original Nurburgring proved to be the first of three that year and he would finish runner-up to Englishman Hailwood in the 500 ranks.

It was year two of the 500s in which the real Agostini ‘legend’ status began to emerge. Teammate Hailwood left for Honda, leaving Agostini in prime position to tailor MV to his own needs – a truly lethal combination that would lead to a record seven consecutive 500 titles, something not beaten or even matched to this day.

Between 1966 and 1972, the track belonged to Ago. Not only did he seal the 500 crown in every one of those years, but also claimed five successive 350 crowns for good measure. The 500 battles with Hailwood and Phil Read were nothing short of epic, while in 350s it was just as tight with Finland’s Jarno Saarinen and fellow Italian countryman Renzo Pasolini; however Ago went through extremely tough times when both Saarinen and Pasolini lost their lives in a tragic 350 crash at Monza in 1973.

Phil Read, now racing alongside him at MV, would clinch his first of two premier class titles in 1973. In another parallel with the future career of Valentino Rossi, Agostini would walk away from a team in which he had achieved so much, in the direction of Yamaha where he would celebrate another top class title (his last) in 1975. It was quite an adventure: winning the 500 crown with Yamaha in 1975, following on from victory in the Daytona 200 and claiming the 350 title in ’74.

Giacomo Agostini was able to enjoy one of the longest careers ever witnessed in the sport, competing at the very highest level for no less than 17 years. In one final case of déjà vu, his final win would come at the same venue as the first: Germany’s Nurburgring. Then came the moment to hang up that world-famous tricolour helmet, but neither Ago nor his records have departed the world of MotoGP™.

TAGS San Marino

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