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Phil Read on Grand Prix racing of now and then

Phil Read on Grand Prix racing of now and then

At Misano last weekend, Phil Read was in attendance at the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP hospitality as they celebrated the 50-year anniversary of their first title win in the 250 class. As the Englishman recalls, things have changed since then…

Read and Yamaha’s first world title was sewn up in the 250 race at Monza in Italy on 13th September 1964. The Englishman would go on to claim multiple world crowns, including the premier 500 class titles of 1973 and 1974 for MV Agusta.

“It’s quite amazing that I’m still here alive and thank God I am!” Read joked during an interview with “I have crashed a few times and competed in hundreds of races against some of the best riders in the world.”

Recalling the weekend he clinched that first title, Read’s story puts into perspective just how much the World Championship has changed since 1964:

“I drove my Citroen Safari estate car from England with the two bikes in the back. The next day we went to the track a day early and heard this incredible sound of the Honda 6. Our rivals were testing. My heart sank. I thought, ‘I’m finished! I’ll never win the title!’ But with my one mechanic from Japan, we produced a really reliable Yamaha bike. There was a bit of hard riding and slipstreaming, plus over-enthusiasm from Honda who had not tested their machine properly, because over one or two laps it started to overheat and forced Jim Redman to close the throttle in order to keep it running on six. My team-mate Mike Duff was using my spare bike and passed Redman before breaking the lap record, so it was a brilliant one-two for Yamaha. I then went back to the hotel, returned the mechanic to the airport, left with no press conference and no television commitments and drove back to England. I then went to Japan for the last Grand Prix at Suzuka and Yamaha Motor Company gave the whole factory a day’s holiday and a party in the town centre, which was incredible. I was very happy! Since then I’ve been happy to belong and be closely associated with the happy team, which I think Yamaha is.”

Read, now 75 and officially listed in the Hall of Fame as a MotoGP™ Legend, went on to compare the era in he raced with that of today.

“It is very hard work for them,” he says of the likes of Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. “They are not only working on the bikes, but there is qualifying, Warm-Up and various sessions. Then they have to meet the press and have commitments with sponsors, which they need to support this arrangement. However, they are paid well…very well! It is televised all over the world and there are big returns from the sponsors to the riders wearing helmets, leathers, gloves, boots and any sticker they can get on their leathers. There are much bigger returns now.

“My first contract with Yamaha was 5,000 pounds for the year! If you work that out, it would be about 37,000 pounds now, which is not a lot. But we were allowed to use the bikes at private international meetings, which paid a lot more than the Grands Prix. For the Dutch TT or Italian Grand Prix we would perhaps get 300 lira, whereas with the international events down on the Adriatic they would offer us three million lira which made you think, ‘Wow!’ So we were obviously keen to go down to the Adriatic to race. Honda and Suzuki would come with factory bikes and we would also have the Benellis and the Marinis. It was really quite intense racing, but great fun.”

Luton-born Read went on to discuss reigning World Champion Marc Marquez, whom he met after the Spaniard clinched the MotoGP™ world title at the end of 2013.

“I was honoured to give Marc his gold medal at the FIM Congress last December,” Read begins to sum up. “I said, ‘Marc, you’ve crashed 15 times this season – that’s too much!’ He replied with a smile and said, ‘No problem!’ As we know, it hasn’t been a problem at all. I think he has raised the bar so high now that it is very, very difficult to beat him, but I do also think that Honda are beginning to struggle to match the increased pace and improvement of Yamaha who are working very, very hard and have two brilliant riders in Jorge and Valentino.”

Phil Read is one of six British riders to have clinched the premier class world title (in 1973-74) along with Les Graham (1949), Geoff Duke (1951, 1953-55), John Surtees (1956, 1958-60), Mike Hailwood (1962-65) and Barry Sheene (1976-77).

MotoGP, 2014, Phil Read

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