Three GP wins, 440kms of racing in one day

There’s a reason why Assen is called The Cathedral of Speed

It could only happen at the Cathedral, not once but twice. Imagine telling the Moto3™ riders lining up on the Assen grid on Sunday, that after this race you have to compete and win in the forthcoming Moto2™ and MotoGP™ races on the same day. The legendary Assen Van Drenthe circuit has rightly earned the title as the Cathedral of Grand Prix racing, for many reasons. Some are obvious, others not. Of course, it’s the only circuit remaining on the MotoGP™ calendar from that original 1949 schedule. Not so well known, is that Assen staged the closest ever 500cc finish in 1975 and two great World Champions won three Grand Prix races in a single day.

Six-time World Champion Jim Redman was the first to pull off this incredible feat of both skill and endurance. In 1964 he won the 125, 250 and 350cc Grands Prix riding the works Hondas on a rather busy Saturday June 27th, 1964. Two years later Mike Hailwood, once again on Honda machinery, won the 250, 350 and 500cc races on the same day. Nine times World Champion Hailwood raced for over three hours on his 440-kilometre adventure. It’s a unique record that will surely never be equalled.

I like to think, and certainly tell my friends, that I played a part in the outcome of that closest-ever premier class finish in 1975. Around 25 of us rather boisterous fans arrived in Assen on the Saturday morning to support our hero Barry Sheene. The Suzuki rider who had recovered from that horrendous Daytona crash earlier in the year. It was a scorching hot afternoon. The cold Dutch beer was welcome and fully consumed by the time the 16-lap race got underway. We flew a large Union Jack and cheered on Sheene as he shadowed Giacomo Agostini’s Yamaha until the very last corner of the race. The 135,000 crowd, led by us, was going wild.

Lap after lap Barry had feigned to go left in that final bend and then stayed in Ago’s slipstream. He moved to repeat the manoeuvres for the last time, Ago positioned the Yamaha to block him and Barry was through on the right. They crossed the finishing line absolutely side by side and nobody knew who had won. Barry’s Dad Franco was running up and down pit lane celebrating, trying to convince the finish line judges that his son had grabbed his first 500cc victory. We joined in at a much higher pitch of both noise and excitement. At last, the Tannoy announced what we all wanted to hear. Sheene was declared the winner although for the only time in Grand Prix racing the two riders could not be separated on time. Both riders were credited with a race time of 48.01.00s. A long night of celebration followed in Amsterdam en route to the ferry home. I’m sure our support of Barry and Franco made no difference to the judges, but it made a very good story and my very first News Editor always told me, never spoil a good story with the facts. It also summed up my love of such a special place.

My first ever Grand Prix visit outside the Isle of Man in 1973. Watching Phil Read win on the MV Agusta while enjoying the delights of chips with mayonnaise, cold beer at 8 am and so many bicycles and windmills. My first assignment as a Grand Prix reporter in 1980 was witnessing Jack Middleburg claiming the last Dutch home 500cc victory. Since then, great memories from the commentary box. The Rossi/Marquez battle at the final chicane in 2015. The Doctor’s last Grand Prix win in 2017. Jack Miller’s win and celebrations a year earlier. We all felt the bitter disappointment of Colin Edwards, when he crashed in the chicane with the chequered flag in sight in 2006. If anybody deserved a Grand Prix victory it was Colin.

Finally, I loved Assen because up to 2016 the Grand Prix was always held on a Saturday. I could get home for a rare Sunday lunch with the family.

The Cathedral is the greatest Grand Prix venue in the world, for so many different reasons.