Michelle Duff, formerly Mike Duff, at the Mosport GP 50th anniversary celebration on the Arter Matchless G50 she rode to third place behind Giacomo Agostini and Mike Hailwood in the 1967 500GP at Mosport. Photo by Bill Petro
On Sept. 30, 1967, the one and only Canadian road racing GP ever staged took place on the 2.459-mile Mosport circuit 60 miles northeast of Toronto, Ontario. Opened in 1961 and still in use today in essentially unchanged form, it’s one of the most challenging circuits in the world, with significant changes in elevation, copious blind apexes, and an undulating main straight where top-gear wheelies are a matter of course. This past August, Canada’s VRRA (Vintage Road Racing Association) staged a commemorative 50th anniversary event as part of their annual Mosport Vintage Festival.
1967 marked Canada’s 100th birthday as a nation, and to mark the occasion the Federal Centennial Commission underwrote the costs of bringing the world’s top riders and their machines to compete in the season-ending Canadian GP race, the final round in the 500cc World Championship so closely contested by Honda four mounted Mike Hailwood and his former teammate at MV Agusta, Giacomo Agostini, on the Italian triple.
The 1967 Canadian 250GP race had a 40-rider grid and saw a superb tussle for victory between Hailwood on the screaming Honda six and Bill Ivy on the bigger V4 Yamaha RD-05 stroker. The duo swapped the lead back and forth in what was undoubtedly the race of the day, which was only resolved in Hailwood’s favor when Ivy’s Yamaha stopped two laps from the end of the 32-lap 50-minute race while in the lead, under suspicion of a dry fuel tank. His teammate Phil Read finished second exactly one minute down on the victorious Honda, for reasons he admitted to at the 50th anniversary celebrations, where he rode former Canadian champion Eddy Brunet’s tricked-out TZ250 Yamaha. “I just couldn’t get on with the Mosport circuit,” Phil said. “Mike and Bill were much faster, and I just let them get on with it. It’s a pity Bill stopped — for whatever reason — because Mike and I tied on points at the end of the season, and he only won the World title because he had one more win than me.”
In the 500GP Hailwood tried to entice Ago into a battle for victory, but the Italian was having none of it, knowing he only had to finish second to retain his 500cc World title. Riding an improved Honda four in the company’s last-ever 500GP race until the 1979 debut of the oval-piston NR500, Hailwood pulled away to win by 38 seconds from Agostini in the worsening downpour at the end of the 40-lap, 73-minute race, with Canadian Mike Duff in third place on the Arter G50. Ago won the title by virtue of three second places to Hailwood’s two. Honda would have to wait until 1983 and Freddie Spencer to win a 500GP Rider’s title.
With a successful 50th commemoration, hopes are high the VRRA will repeat the event 10 years from now on the 60th anniversary of the day the Grand Prix circus came to Canada.