Mike Hailwood’s TT-winning Ducati

Steve Wynne tells the Inside Story


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Steve Wynne and Hailwood Ducati

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!

Kyoichi Nakamura

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:

"A couple of months after the '77 TT, we went to Silverstone for Roger Nicholls to ride in the TT F1 support race at the British GP. In the paddock there I was introduced to Mike Hailwood, who was visiting Britain from New Zealand, where he'd been living since retiring from Formula 1 car racing after his 1974 smash at the Nürburgring. He sees the Ducati, slings his leg over it, and says "This is the kind of old fashioned bike I understand - wouldn't mind doing another TT on this!" Half-jokingly, I say "Why don't you?!" - and with just a few words and a hand shake, the deal is done, for a paltry, completely nominal rider's fee of £1000 - I used to think it was even less, but I just discovered our single-sheet contract, complete with Mike's witticisms scrawled on it, in a drawer! But essentially Mike just wanted to have an enjoyable ride back in the Island he loved racing in - his plan was originally to ride under an assumed name, thinking nobody would realize it was him. Some hope!

"There were ten months to go before the TT, but I immediately contacted Ducati and told this time there had to be no cock-up with last minute arrivals - it must be two brand-new bikes, not a single worn-out Endurance racer with no spares. It was agreed however that I must pay for the bikes, one up front and the other at the end of the year, and they arrived painted in NCR colors of red and silver in plenty of time, before the end of 1977. In fact, there were three - one each for Hailwood and Roger Nicholls, who after his efforts in the previous two races I must admit was our best hope for victory, since you must remember Mike hadn't raced a bike at top level for seven years, and a third for Mike's Australian mate Jim Scaysbrook, who was mainly responsible for persuading him to take up bike racing again. This bike was bought and paid for by the Aussies, and went Down Under after the race, where it still is. We however painted the two Sports bikes red and green, a color scheme I designed from a can of Castrol oil, who were Mike's main sponsors - it had nothing at all to do with the Italian tricolore, which was just a happy coincidence, even if the people at Ducati preferred to think otherwise! I do know, however, that when they launched the Mike Hailwood Replica 900SS streetbike the following year, neither Mike nor I were paid any royalties on it, even though this was the model whose commercial success was such [over 7000 were built and sold over a seven-year period - AC] that it bailed the state-owned factory out of near-certain bankruptcy - in Castrol colors!

patrick
11/16/2014 12:46:05 PM

This was not the race jacket that SMC had supplied for 1978 0r 1979. In 1978 Castrol supplied the paddock jackets, and in 1979 Ducati and Castrol supplied the paddock jackets






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