Mike Hailwood’s TT-winning Ducati
Steve Wynne tells the Inside Story
Steve Wynne with Mike Hailwood's 1978 Isle of Man TT-winning Ducati, wearing a period Sports Motor Cycles race jacket as supplied by Hailwood's Dutch race leathers sponsor, Lookwell!
Thirty-one years ago, Mike “The Bike” Hailwood stunned the motorcycling world when he emerged from 11 years of self-imposed retirement to win the Formula One TT at the Isle of Man on a specially prepared 883cc Ducati V-twin. A week later he rode to victory at Mallory Park, firmly cementing his reputation as one of the greatest riders of all time. Thanks to Alan Cathcart, we have the inside story on the Ducati that carried Hailwood to victory and the man who put it all together, Steve Wynne.
Steve Wynne is the man responsible for providing Mike the Bike with the means of making his victorious TT comeback in 1978, which has become the stuff of motorcycle racing legend. Wynne himself raced Ducatis successfully in the mid-'70s, but in his own judgment was better qualified to work on the bikes rather than ride them - especially with the pressures of building his Manchester-based company, Sports Motorcycles, into one of Britain's top sportbike dealers taking up so much of his time. But winning an Isle of Man TT remained an especially burning goal, and so to do so Wynne took a back seat as a rider and starting working towards TT success with hired hands.
First time out for the Sports Ducati team in the Island in 1976 almost brought a fairytale debut victory, when Roger Nicholls and Steve Tonkin built up a substantial lead in the 10-lap Production TT on Wynne's 750SS, only to suffer a broken piston just one lap from the end. The following year, 1977, saw the inauguration of the TT Formula 1 class, allowing a greater degree of engine tuning than the old Production rules as well as, especially, complete freedom of chassis design - aimed, so the cynics held, at allowing the Japanese factories to be competitive on a real-world road course, where their powerful but ill-handling streetbikes had yet to prove themselves. To relate the two categories to modern classes, Production racing was essentially the same as Supersport, whereas TT F1 was Superbike racing without the need to use stock frames and silhouette bodywork - only a highly modified production street engine.
Steve Wynne's efforts in the '76 Production TT had persuaded the Ducati factory to sell him an ex-works 900SS-based NCR-built Endurance racer for the TT F1 race, which duly arrived at the last minute in totally unprepared guise, fresh from completing its last long-distance marathon. In spite of this, careful preparation by the Sports Motorcycles team permitted Roger Nicholls to have the beating of the works Honda ridden by former world champion Phil Read, before the race was controversially cut short in circumstances that gifted Honda a victory - and a world title - which even they could scarcely have felt they deserved. "The biggest disappointment of my life," admits Steve Wynne candidly today - but better was yet to come, and revenge would be doubly sweet. Let Steve Wynne himself explain how it happened:
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