King Ago

Nick Harris explains why in his view, Giacomo Agostini is the greatest rider of all time

Facts are facts. Manipulate them as much as you like, juggle them to your own advantage, but you will always return to the same answer in the end. Certainly, this is the case in the 75-year history of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. The fact is that Giacomo Agostini is the greatest rider of all time and the King of our sport.

It sounds like stating the obvious but some may not agree. Fifteen world titles and 122 Grands Prix wins are surely enough. More world titles and Grands Prix wins than any other rider, but there is so much more to the Italian who graced our racetracks for 14 glorious years. Where do you start?

It was the dream team for MV boss Count Agusta. A young Italian who could win him world titles. Before he had turned to the likes of John Surtees, Gary Hocking and Mike Hailwood, but at last a young handsome Italian to take on the world. Ago did not let him or Italy down. He finished second to teammate Mike Hailwood in the 1965 World 500cc Championship, winning his first premier class Grand Prix round the streets of Imatra. Jim Redman and Honda had dominated the 350cc class for the last three years but Ago, riding the new three-cylinder MV, pushed him to the limit. Only a mechanical problem at the final round in Japan prevented him from taking his first world title.

Hailwood left MV to spearhead Honda’s considerable efforts to win their first 500cc title. MV with Ago at the helm were ready to take on the might of Japan in one of the greatest duels ever witnessed. Two great riders, friends and former teammates, fighting it out for the most prestigious prize in Motorcycle racing. In 1966 and 1967, Ago fought off Honda and Hailwood to keep that 500cc crown in Italian hands after some classic battles to stir the blood. Honda withdrew from the battle in 1968 leaving the track clear for Agostini to totally dominate Grand Prix racing in a way never witnessed before or after.

Yes, for a few years he had little opposition to challenge his and MV Agusta’s domination of the 350 and 500cc classes, but he never took his hand off the throttle. Ago smashed lap records and won by record margins on fast dangerous road circuits such as the Isle of Man, Reika, the Nürburgring and Imatra. Across the 1968,1969 and 1970 seasons he competed in 54 500 and 350cc Grands Prix, and won every one.

In the 1968/69 season Ago won a record number of 20 successive 500cc Grands Prix. It could not last and new challengers and the two-strokes arrived, but he met them head-on. He held them off for a couple of years retaining both titles, especially after a tremendous battle with Jarno Saarinen on the 350cc two-stroke Yamaha, but the writing was on the wall. His new team-mate Phil Read won the 500cc title in 1973 and Ago realised that his future lay on two-stroke machinery. He made the headline switch to Yamaha in 1974.

Ago was crowned the first two-stroke 350cc World Champion and finished fourth in the 500s. A year later in 1975 he was re-writing the history books once again. He became the first rider on two-stroke machinery to win the 500cc World Championship. He is still the only rider to win a 500cc Grand Prix and world title on both two and four-stroke bikes. Ago is the only rider to win the 350cc World Championship on both two and four-stroke machinery.

In 1976 Ago was campaigning both a two-stroke Suzuki and four-stroke MV Agusta in the 500cc Championship. At the last round at the legendary Nürburgring circuit he practiced on both. The crowd willed him to compete on the MV in the race. A legendary combination that wrote such a massive chapter in the history books. Ago duly obliged putting in a classic performance leaving the two strokes in his wake. It was the last of those 122 Grands Prix wins and the last four-stroke victory in the 500cc class.

It was the only way for a true King to end his reign. Facts are facts.