Motor sport

Giacomo Agostini: the man even Valentino Rossi couldn’t beat

The two were friends, but that didn’t stop them from being totally ruthless when the flag fell and the race began.

Hailwood’s junior teammate Ralph Bryans, who died in 2014, recalled an incident at the 1966 East German GP at Sachsenring.

“Mike’s bike had broken and Ago was running away with the race when, surprise, he crashed on the last lap,” Bryans told me a few years ago. “Mike was in his trailer in a bad mood. I walked in and said, “Hey Mike, Ago just crashed”. And what did Mike say to that? ‘Fuck good!’ No, ‘Is he okay?’ Or anything.”

In 1974 Agostini left MV after nine years, as he believed the team’s new boss Count Rocky Agusta (Domenico’s nephew) was favoring new teammate Phil Read. He signed with Yamaha, who were still developing their first MotoGP bike, the OW20 four-cylinder 500cc two-stroke, which was still a tricky ride, to say the least.

Yamaha had been courting Ago for several years, but the Italian didn’t trust the early two-strokes, which tended to seize pistons or crankshafts, which locked up the rear wheel and threw the rider to the ground. Not good when the tracks were super fast with no runoff.

Ago parades his MV Agusta 500 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

good wood

“In 1971 I thought it was too early to race a two-stroke—they always seized up the engines,” Ago said. “But then I could see they were getting faster and more confident, when it was very hard to find more power with the four-stroke, so it was time for a change.”

The man who finally convinced Agostini to sign a contract with Yamaha was Rod Gould, the factory 250cc world champion in 1970.

“Ago mainly knew it was over for four-strokes,” Gould said. “But he didn’t like Rocky either, who was just a playboy. Rocky didn’t know a thing, all he did was spend money.