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Silverstone 1979 – a Roberts-Sheene classic

Silverstone 1979 – a Roberts-Sheene classic

This week´s announcement that MotoGP will return to Silverstone next year will remind older fans of some classic racing at the English circuit, including the superb Roberts-Sheene battle of 1979.

The news that the MotoGP World Championship is set to return to Silverstone as of 2010 conjures up memories of one of the most exciting motorcycle races of all time - the 1979 British Grand Prix.

The Silverstone meeting became one of the most talked about races in history, after a thrilling clash between home rider Barry Sheene and his American Yamaha nemesis Kenny Roberts, who had wrestled the title from the Londoner the previous season.

The pair went head-to-head in a breathtaking battle over 28 laps, famously exchanging gestures and hand signals throughout the race before a final corner dash to the line which saw Roberts take the win by just 0.3 seconds.

`There are two races from my career that people will come up to me and say: `I was at the race´, and I instantly know what they mean,´ recalls Roberts, who won a hat-trick of 500cc World Championship titles for Yamaha from 1978-80. `In America they mean the Indy mile that I won on the two-stroke Yamaha in 1975 and in Britain they mean Silverstone 1979. It´s just one of those races that sticks in people´s minds.´

The American MotoGP Legend continued, `It was a race where every lap or two we changed positions. Barry would get in front and slow me down and then I´d get in front and pick the pace up and we´d leave the other three guys behind. Then he´d get in front again and I´d be saying: `Hey! Get going!´ I knew I couldn´t outrun him but I didn´t want him slowing us down and letting everybody else catch up. So initially I was just telling him to get a move on, but Barry took it the wrong way.´

`They got the classic picture when he gave me a sign behind his back! We both knew it was going to come down to the last lap because I couldn´t outrun him and he couldn´t outrun me. Sure enough, it ended up last lap, last corner and I was just able to pull it off,´ remembered the former World Champion.

`Of course Barry was one of my biggest rivals and at the time our relationship wasn´t the best, but we respected each other and we later became close friends. He was one of the sport´s greats and he is missed by everybody. We were close on the track but Silverstone was one of the circuits that was very fast and it just suited my style. There were other races where I had to ride harder or be more clever, but the one everybody remembers is the British Grand Prix in 1979.´

MotoGP, 2008

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