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John Surtees reflects on his career ahead of MotoGP Legends ceremony

John Surtees reflects on his career ahead of MotoGP Legends ceremony

John Surtees reflects on his career ahead of MotoGP Legends ceremony

Many tried but all failed, apart from one man. Conquering the world on two and four wheels remains the domain of John Surtees, who will be honoured by the MotoGP community at a special ceremony on the eve of the Cinzano British Grand Prix at Donington Park on Thursday afternoon. Surtees, now a modest 68-year-old, was the Valentino Rossi of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in the late fifties. Riding the exotic MV Agusta machines, he won 38 grands prix en route to seven World titles before switching to four wheels. In 1964 he beat his great rival Graham Hill to clinch the Formula One World title, driving a Ferrari.

It´s a feat that almost certainly will never be repeated. Motorcycle legends Mike Hailwood and Johnny Cecotto proved to be brilliant car drivers but never made it to a Formula One World title. Last November in foggy Wales, Valentino Rossi´s efforts in the RAC Rally lasted just a few miles. `It´s a different World now and people get into Formula One through karting rather than MotoGP,´ explained Surtees, who won six Formula One races. `I was 26-years-old when I made the switch and Valentino Rossi is only 24, so perhaps he could still have a go although I think he´s more interested in driving a rally car´.

Incredibly it was boredom that gave Surtees the idea to combine a career on both two and four wheels. He asked MV Agusta if he could also race in the 250cc class in addition to the 350 and 500. They said no and so he found a unique way to fill those spare weekends. `I was pretty busy at the time riding for MV Agusta in both 350 and 500cc grands prix and for Lotus in Formula One races that did not clash with the motorcycle grands prix,´ recalled Surtees. `I don´t think I´d totally peaked as a motor cycle racer and I wanted to ride in the 250cc class as well but MV said no. They also told me I could not drive in any non championship car races and so Lotus gave me a car to drive in the grands prix´.

Surtees gave up his two wheel career at the end of 1960 after winning his seventh World title, to concentrate on his car racing. Certainly the switch from two to four wheels seemed to hold no fears for the British rider who changed from taking on the likes of Geoff Duke and Mike Hailwood to mixing it with Graham Hill and Jim Clark. `In just my fourth car race I drove the Lotus in Monaco and in my sixth race at Oporto in Portugal I started in pole and also set the fastest lap of the race,´ he recalled. `I had already finished second in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone which was sandwiched between winning both the Belgium and West German 500cc grands prix´.

Despite his success on four wheels, Surtees deep down always felt he'd left some unfinished business in motorcycle racing and today is a great fan of MotoGP. `I was still getting better on two wheels and would have probably stayed on them if MV Agusta had allowed me to compete in the 250cc Championship in addition to the 350 and 500,´ he explained. `My relationship with a motorcycle was very special, taking it to and beyond the limit. You´d be hard pressed to gain that sort of experience and it was very important to me when I switched to car racing´.

MotoGP, 2003

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