Posted: 03 Sep 2013
Valentino Rossi sparked memories of previous British Grand Prix at Silverstone when he explained that he doubted his father Graziano would be at the Northamptonshire circuit to watch him in the weekend’s MotoGP race as he had bad memories of his own race there back in 1979. Rossi senior, he explained, was leading the 250cc race but tipped off on the last lap, and with that went his chance of winning the World crown.
That was a talking point and there are others from the early years. The Grand Prix had switched to the mainland in 1977 from its Isle of Man home after numerous and increasingly vociferous complaints from the leading riders about the safety of riding the 37.73-mile public roads Mountain Course.
As a prelude to hosting its first World Championship race, Silverstone hosted a non-championship race, the John Player Grand Prix in 1976 which was won by the Barry Sheene, and the following year, retaining his World 500cc title, he was the favourite to win the first Grand Prix at the circuit. He qualified his Suzuki on pole for the race and was heading the action and looking good, only to be halted by a clutch problem on the ninth lap.
Sheene parked up and stomped off while his team-mate Steve Parrish took over as the race leader, only to crash out with a couple of laps remaining. Still it looked good for a home win as John Williams took over out front, but not for long before he too was down and out, leaving America’s Pat Hennen to go through and win.
Plenty of incident but the following year provided more, not to mention more than a degree of controversy with many people at the circuit convinced that there had been a British winner, Steve Manship, of the 500cc race.
The whole thing had ended in chaos with rain falling during the race, and the regulations did not deal with such a situation. Manship, who had started on intermediate tyres kept going but others pitted to change tyres. Sheene was in the pits for seven minutes, Kenny Roberts for three. Sheene was the faster when he re-joined but it was Roberts who took the victory with Manship second after the time-keepers and officialdom had checked and re-checked their lap charts.
There was no drama in 1979, though the race was a real thriller with Roberts and Sheene trading places throughout but just when Sheene thought he had done enough to break his Californian rival, Roberts bit back and took the verdict by 0.03seconds, one of the closest finishes of all time in the top flight. Randy Mamola ruled in 1980 but the following year, more incident as race leading Graeme Crosby crashed, taking out Sheene and forcing Marco Lucchinelli into the catch fencing, leaving Jack Middelburg to take the win.
Sheene crashed heavily and at high-speed, during practice ahead of the 1982 race, sustaining major injuries that ruled him out of the race and though he made a racing return the following year, his hopes of winning his home race were at an end. However on a blustery Saturday evening in 1986.
History was made in the 80cc race when Derbyshire rider Ian McConnachie aboard a Krauser became the first British rider to win a Grand Prix race for solo motorcycles around the Silverstone circuit.