MotoGP Silverstone… A Look Back

Road Racing History

MotoGP motorcycle racing finally returns to a remade Silverstone circuit after a gap of 23 years. Silverstone was originally opened as a World War Two airfield in 1943, near the leafy village of the same name.

Once the war had ended in 1945 Britain was left with a number of redundant airfields but without a major race track Donington Park was still a military vehicle storage depot, Brooklands had been sold off, Crystal Palace was in a state of disrepair and Brands Hatch was still under-developed.

The Royal Automobile Club was interested in Silverstone as a potential site and approached the Air Ministry in 1948 and a lease was arranged. At this time the centere of Silverstone Circuit was a farm producing cereal crops and also a piggery so the RAC employed farmer James Wilson Brown to create the first Grand Prix circuit at the site and gave him just two months to build it.

On October 2nd, 1948, amid straw bales and ropes, Silverstone’s first event took place, the RAC Grand Prix. The crowds came in there thousands, thrilled to see the return of Grand Prix racing after so many years of war austerity. The 3.67-mile racetrack sent the 23 competing cars racing round part of the perimeter track, up the two former runways and back to the perimeter.

The first Motorcycle Grand Prix to be held at Silverstone was in 1977, when the British round of the world championship was moved from its previously traditional home of the Isle of Man TT circuit.

The British Moto Grand Prix was held for ten successive years at the Northampton circuit, before moving to Donington:

1977
This was the final race of the season and British hopes were high for a win in the 500cc class by a home rider, with reigning champion Barry Sheene qualifying on pole on his factory Suzuki.

However Sheene retired with mechanical problems on lap nine. This left the door open for team-mate Steve Parrish to lead the race into the closing stages only to crash with a couple of laps to go.

Fellow Britain John Williams then moved into the lead before he also crashed out. Finally the third factory Suzuki rider, American Pat Hennen, took the victory. Kork Ballington had a double victory in the 350cc and 250cc classes on his private Yamaha machines and in the 125cc race, Pierluigi Conforti took his only ever GP victory.

1978
The 500cc GP ended in chaos, after rain started to fall mid-way through the race. With no specific rules to deal with such a situation, the riders had to enter the pits to change tires.

Barry Sheene (Suzuki) was by far the quickest rider after the tire change but suffered with a pit stop that took over 7 minutes. By contrast the eventual winner Kenny Roberts (Yamaha) was in the pits for less than 3 minutes.

Splitting these two riders on the podium was Britain’s Steve Manship, who had gambled on starting the race with intermediate tires. Kork Ballington (Kawasaki) won the 350cc race from British riders Tom Herron and Mick Grant.

Toni Mang scored the first of his record 33 victories in the 250cc class, with Herron once again finishing second. Angel Nieto won the 125cc race riding a Minarelli from British rider Clive Horton.

1979
The two top riders of the day, Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts, exchanged the lead throughout the 500cc race. Roberts eventually took the win by 0.03 seconds in one of the closest finishes of all-time.

In the 250cc race Morbidelli factory rider Graziano Rossi (Valentino’s father) fell on the final lap of the race when holding a two second lead.

Kork Ballington (Kawasaki) took advantage of Rossi’s misfortune to win the race and then did the double by winning the 350cc race. Angel Nieto repeated his 125cc victory of the previous year.

1980
After a great battle early in the 500cc race, Randy Mamola (Suzuki) pulled clear of fellow American Kenny Roberts to win the race with Marco Lucchinelli finishing third and Graziano Rossi finishing fourth.

Toni Mang (Kawasaki) won the 350cc race and Kork Ballington (Kawasaki) was once again victorious in the 250cc class. In the 125cc class Loris Reggiani (Minarelli) took his first ever Grand Prix win.

1981
The edge was taken of this race as early as the third lap when race leader and pole position man Graeme Crosby crashed and took out Barry Sheene and forced championship leader Marco Lucchinelli into the catch fencing.

Dutchman Jack Middelburg (Suzuki) went on to win the race from Randy Mamola and Kenny Roberts. This was the last time that a premier-class GP race was won by a true privateer rider. Toni Mang (Kawasaki) won both the 350cc and 250cc race.

The home crowd was given something to cheer with Keith Huewen finishing second in the 350cc race. Angel Nieto (Minarelli) won in the 125cc class at Silverstone for the third time.

1982
Barry Sheene had a huge crash in practice that eliminated him from the 500cc race and Kenny Roberts’ race was short lived with a crash at the first corner.

With his two main challengers out of the race, Franco Uncini (Suzuki) cruised to a comfortable victory, which effectively sealed the world title.

Jean-Francois Balde (Kawasaki) won a tremendous 350cc race and Martin Wimmer (Yamaha) won the 250cc race from pole having crashed out of the earlier 350cc race that he also started from pole. Angel Nieto won the 125cc race once again – this time riding a Garelli.

1983

The 500cc race was run in two parts, after the race had been stopped due to a big crash in which Norman Brown and Peter Huber lost their lives.

Kenny Roberts took overall victory from great rival Freddie Spencer with Randy Mamola making it an all USA podium.
There was an historic win in the 250cc race with Jacque Bolle giving Pernod their one and only GP victory. Angel Nieto won the 125cc race at Silverstone for the fifth time.

1984
Riding as a replacement for the injured Freddie Spencer, Randy Mamola won first time out on the V-four Honda from fellow American Eddie Lawson and British rider Ron Haslam.

Christian Sarron (Yamaha) won the 250cc race on the way to taking the world title and Angel Nieto won the 125cc race and in doing so clinched his 13th and last world title.

1985
In horrendously wet conditions, Freddie Spencer (Honda) won the 500cc race after finishing fourth in the earlier 250cc race to clinch the world championship title.

British rider Alan Carter had led the 250cc race until mid distance before crashing and re-starting to finish seventh.

Toni Mang (Honda) took the 250cc race victory from Reinhold Roth and Manfred Herweh in an all-German podium. Austrian rider August Auinger (Monnet) won the 125cc race.

1986
As in the previous year, the event was held in terrible wet weather. Wayne Gardner (Honda) had a start to finish win in the main race after starting from pole position.

Winner of the 250cc race was Dominique Sarron (Honda) – brother of the winner of the race in 1984. Alan Carter crashed out of the 250cc race once again; this time on the last lap while challenging for the lead.

August Auinger (Bartol) repeated his 125cc win of the previous year.

History was made in the 80cc race held in the dry weather on Saturday, when Ian McConnachie (Krauser) became the only British rider to win a Grand Prix race for solo motorcycles around the Silverstone circuit.

Motorcycle Grand Prix racing returns to Silverstone after a gap of 23 years. The first Grand Prix to be held at Silverstone was in 1977, when the British round of the world championship was moved from its previously traditional home of the Isle of Man TT circuit.

The Grand Prix was held for ten successive years at the Northampton circuit, before moving to Donington:

1977
This was the final race of the season and British hopes were high for a win in the 500cc class by a home rider, with reigning champion Barry Sheene qualifying on pole on his factory Suzuki.

However Sheene retired with mechanical problems on lap nine. This left the door open for team-mate Steve Parrish to lead the race into the closing stages only to crash with a couple of laps to go.

Fellow Britain John Williams then moved into the lead before he also crashed out. Finally the third factory Suzuki rider, American Pat Hennen, took the victory. Kork Ballington had a double victory in the 350cc and 250cc classes on his private Yamaha machines and in the 125cc race, Pierluigi Conforti took his only ever GP victory.

1978
The 500cc GP ended in chaos, after rain started to fall mid-way through the race. With no specific rules to deal with such a situation, the riders had to enter the pits to change tires.

Barry Sheene (Suzuki) was by far the quickest rider after the tire change but suffered with a pit stop that took over 7 minutes. By contrast the eventual winner Kenny Roberts (Yamaha) was in the pits for less than 3 minutes.

Splitting these two riders on the podium was Britain’s Steve Manship, who had gambled on starting the race with intermediate tires. Kork Ballington (Kawasaki) won the 350cc race from British riders Tom Herron and Mick Grant.

Toni Mang scored the first of his record 33 victories in the 250cc class, with Herron once again finishing second. Angel Nieto won the 125cc race riding a Minarelli from British rider Clive Horton.

1979
The two top riders of the day, Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts, exchanged the lead throughout the 500cc race. Roberts eventually took the win by 0.03 seconds in one of the closest finishes of all-time.

In the 250cc race Morbidelli factory rider Graziano Rossi (Valentino’s father) fell on the final lap of the race when holding a two second lead.

Kork Ballington (Kawasaki) took advantage of Rossi’s misfortune to win the race and then did the double by winning the 350cc race. Angel Nieto repeated his 125cc victory of the previous year.

1980
After a great battle early in the 500cc race, Randy Mamola (Suzuki) pulled clear of fellow American Kenny Roberts to win the race with Marco Lucchinelli finishing third and Graziano Rossi finishing fourth.

Toni Mang (Kawasaki) won the 350cc race and Kork Ballington (Kawasaki) was once again victorious in the 250cc class. In the 125cc class Loris Reggiani (Minarelli) took his first ever Grand Prix win.

1981
The edge was taken of this race as early as the third lap when race leader and pole position man Graeme Crosby crashed and took out Barry Sheene and forced championship leader Marco Lucchinelli into the catch fencing.

Dutchman Jack Middelburg (Suzuki) went on to win the race from Randy Mamola and Kenny Roberts. This was the last time that a premier-class GP race was won by a true privateer rider. Toni Mang (Kawasaki) won both the 350cc and 250cc race.

The home crowd was given something to cheer with Keith Huewen finishing second in the 350cc race. Angel Nieto (Minarelli) won in the 125cc class at Silverstone for the third time.

1982
Barry Sheene had a huge crash in practice that eliminated him from the 500cc race and Kenny Roberts’ race was short lived with a crash at the first corner.

With his two main challengers out of the race, Franco Uncini (Suzuki) cruised to a comfortable victory, which effectively sealed the world title.

Jean-Francois Balde (Kawasaki) won a tremendous 350cc race and Martin Wimmer (Yamaha) won the 250cc race from pole having crashed out of the earlier 350cc race that he also started from pole. Angel Nieto won the 125cc race once again – this time riding a Garelli.

1983
The 500cc race was run in two parts, after the race had been stopped due to a big crash in which Norman Brown and Peter Huber lost their lives.

Kenny Roberts took overall victory from great rival Freddie Spencer with Randy Mamola making it an all USA podium.

There was an historic win in the 250cc race with Jacque Bolle giving Pernod their one and only GP victory. Angel Nieto won the 125cc race at Silverstone for the fifth time.

1984
Riding as a replacement for the injured Freddie Spencer, Randy Mamola won first time out on the V-four Honda from fellow American Eddie Lawson and British rider Ron Haslam.

Christian Sarron (Yamaha) won the 250cc race on the way to taking the world title and Angel Nieto won the 125cc race and in doing so clinched his 13th and last world title.

1985
In horrendously wet conditions, Freddie Spencer (Honda) won the 500cc race after finishing fourth in the earlier 250cc race to clinch the world championship title.

British rider Alan Carter had led the 250cc race until mid distance before crashing and re-starting to finish seventh.

Toni Mang (Honda) took the 250cc race victory from Reinhold Roth and Manfred Herweh in an all-German podium. Austrian rider August Auinger (Monnet) won the 125cc race.

1986
As in the previous year, the event was held in terrible wet weather. Wayne Gardner (Honda) had a start to finish win in the main race after starting from pole position.

Winner of the 250cc race was Dominique Sarron (Honda) – brother of the winner of the race in 1984. Alan Carter crashed out of the 250cc race once again; this time on the last lap while challenging for the lead.

August Auinger (Bartol) repeated his 125cc win of the previous year.

History was made in the 80cc race held in the dry weather on Saturday, when Ian McConnachie (Krauser) became the only British rider to win a Grand Prix race for solo motorcycles around the Silverstone circuit.