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The Giacomo Agostini Interview

Giacomo Agostini InterviewYes, I was fortunate enough to spend an hour with the truly great Giacomo Agostini.  He was generous enough to spend an hour of his busy schedule answering a few questions.  As a true hero of mine, with a sporting record that has marked him as one of the best riders of all time; it was a tremendous pleasure to meet the man behind the many pictures…  After some negotiations on what language the interview should be in (Italian, English or Welsh!), here are some of the interesting facts and views that came from the interview.

How and why did you start motorcycle racing?
I started when I was a young man – I don’t know why, it was just something inside me saying that was what I wanted to do.  It was difficult for me as my family had nothing to do with motorcycles.  I want to race but my father said that I must be crazy and refused me permission. I went to see the local Notary who saw me very upset and asked why.  I explained that it was because I just wanted to race.  He couldn’t understand why my father would not let me and convinced him to sign.  But it was only after this that they realised that the Notary thought I wanted to race bicycles.  But by that time I had the signature and it was too late – ciao!

What was your first racing bike?
After getting permission to race, I needed a bike.  The local Moto Morini dealer in Bergamo helped me and for just £2 each month he gave me my first bike.  In my first race I finished 2nd and straightaway people were asking “who is this guy”!  After 2 or 3 more races I won a race at Bologna – and Mr Morini was there.  He immediately wanted to know who I was as I was beating his factory bikes.  He invited me to ride a Morini factory bike and offered me £70/month, which in 1961 was a lot of money.  I stayed with the Moto Morini from 1962 to 1964 – and everyone knows the story after that!

Of course you left Morini to join MV Agusta where you were to stay for a few years….
Yes, in 1965 I moved to MV Agusta.  I was already 175cc world champion with Morini, but I wanted to race at Grand Prix events, and this would not have been possible with Moto Morini as they did not compete in that class.  So when MV offered me a place this was a great opportunity for me.  They offered me the chance to ride some beautiful machines, some of the best I ever rode.

It is often said that Mike Hailwood left the MV team because he found Count Agusta difficult to work with.  How true is this?
No, I do not believe that this is true.  I believe that there were two reasons.  Firstly, when I joined the team, Mike could see that I was an Italian joining an Italian family.  And almost everything was done in Italian. Even at dinner, everyone would speak Italian because that was what they preferred to do, so Mike found himself on the outside sometimes.  And the second reason is that Mike perhaps felt that was no room for 2 champions in the same team?  He knew that if he moved to Honda, there would be much better competition for both of us.

After an incredibly successful time with MV Agusta you decided to leave in 1974 and join the Yamaha Team.  How hard a decision was that four you?
It was a very hard decision to leave.  MV Agusta was my family and riding for them was my life.  But I could see that the days of the 4 stroke were coming to an end and 2 strokes were the way forward.  One year previous to me leaving, Yamaha had approached me to join them, but I had said no as, at that time, there were many engine seizures and crashes.  But just one year later they were making fast, light machines with engines that weighed 20kg less than MV.  The move was certainly the correct decision as 4 strokes disappeared from Grand Prix racing from the mid-seventies and were not to return for 30 years.

How did your supporters react to the move?
My fans accused me of being a traitor.  How could I leave an Italian factory team to go to Japan??  But after I started to win with Yamaha they soon forgave me!  Then they realised that I had had no choice and my career would have finished very quickly if I had not moved.

How different were the 2 stroke Yamahas to ride?
When I first made the move, I was very nervous as I was unsure what to expect.  The bikes were so different with no engine braking and very different handling and it made me start to wonder that perhaps I had not made the right decision.  But after spending 2 weeks in Japan testing the bike every day I went out to win my very first race!

Giacomo Agostini Interview

Tell me about the 1967 Isle of Man TT Senior.  It is commonly regarded as one of the best races ever.
It was an excellent race, one of my best, but as you know I did not win.  I had a lead over Mike Hailwood, but my chain broke and I could not finish the face.  Mike said “I didn’t win, you did” and even came to pick to me up from my hotel to have dinner and go to a party together.  He really wasn’t happy to have taken the victory as he knew that he couldn’t have won any other way.

And do you know why the chain broke?
Regina made a special one-off chain for this race.  But I think there was a mistake and the MV mechanic mistakenly put on the wrong chain.  Regina are also sure the correct chain was not used, but the mechanics say it was….  I think there was some confusion in the team.  The chain was taken by an English fan after the race so we will never know.

You finally retired in 1977. Do you miss racing?
No, I don’t miss it now, but I did miss it hugely after I retired.  I can understand how sports people find it hard to cope when they lose the big love of their life and perhaps lose their way and turn to drink.  Your life feels over at just maybe 34 or 35 years old – it is not like almost any other career.  Before, I was a champion and had everything I ever wanted and then everything stopped so quickly.

And what are you doing now?
I am very busy visiting many events all over the world.  In fact this year I think we will be in nine countries.  We’ll certainly be back in the UK for Mallory Park and the Isle of Man.

You have inspired many people over the years, but who was it that inspired you as young rider?
When I was a young man, I lived in small town in Northern Italy and it was not easy to hear about what was going on outside the local area.  I couldn’t easily find out what was happening in England for example.  So my heroes at the start were the local guys such as Tarquino Provini and Carlo Ubbiali – and later there were more international  riders such as John Surtees, Mike Hailwood and Gary Hocking.

Will someone beat your record of 122 victories?
Actually you are wrong – it is 123 victories!  A journalist from Spain called me to say he had counted 123.  We checked and found he was correct.   Valentino is very close to my record at the moment, but perhaps now he has moved to Ducati it will be harder for him – but I still think he will catch me this season.

And will you be pleased if Valentino does beat you?
I am very pleased at the moment that he may succeed, but when the time comes and he gets close to 123 wins, I will not be quite so happy about it!  So we may have to stop him – perhaps give him a special chain…!?

After all your incredible success through the years, what is your greatest racing memory?
I don’t have one,   I have so many.  My first win with Moto Morini was the greatest at that time, my first win at Monza in front of 30,000 people was the greatest at that time, realising the day after a race that I am World Champion was always great.  So I don’t think I can pick out anything from my career that stands out above the rest.

The Isle of Man has always been a dangerous circuit, but you were one of the first to refuse to race there in 1972.  This led ultimately to the circuit being dropped from the World Championships.  How do you feel about the continued racing there?
Every year we lost three or four friends.  When my friend Gilberto Parlotti died in 1972 in the 125cc at 9.30 in the morning, I was warming up for the 11am senior.  Only the night before he had asked me to take him around the circuit in my car so I could help him.  I felt it was time for me to stop. It was so hard, because the Island gives the riders so much – but a life is still a life.  It is still the best circuit in the world for riders.  I remember two years ago, Valentino and I did one lap together.  He said it was the most emotional place to ride around, but he wouldn’t race there for 1 million pounds, it’s so dangerous.  Despite this, I can understand why many still choose to race there.  Winning at the IoM is like winning the world championships – it is so difficult.

And how do you feel modern racing compares with racing in your time?
Riding at 100% is just as hard now as it was in my time.  Although now it is certainly far more safe – and most accidents can be soon forgotten.  And this is so good for the sport as it encourages others to join.  And also I think that modern racing motorcycles are still very similar to the motorcycles that everyone rides.  It’s not like Formula One where the competition machines have very little in common with “normal” cars. Of course now the bikes have better engines with manageable power, superior handling, better brakes and tyres for every occasion – we just had one tyre no matter whether it was sunny, rainy, foggy, whatever!

And how would you react if you son wanted to start racing – would you feel as your father did?
No, I wouldn’t encourage him, but I wouldn’t stop him either.    Anyhow, he likes football, so I don’t have to worry!

Giacomo Agostini Interview

Posted March 9, 2011 by in | 21 comments

21 Responses to “The Giacomo Agostini Interview”

  1. Geriatric Germ on March 9, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

    Watched AGO many times in the late sixties/ early seventies, (not always a placid as the interview depicts him, I saw him when he came off at around 1972 at Oulton Park, he must have blamed the machine, as he spent a few minutes kicking sh**e out of it.) Still one of the Greats though!

    Regards Rob C.

  2. James Deady on March 9, 2011 @ 7:53 pm

    Many,many Thanks. That was a great interview.You truly got insights into his personality and his very emotional reasons to race. It was interesting that he just wanted to race motorcycles from a non-racing, non- motorcycle background. He always seemed to have a natural talent. There was grace and style in his riding. His view of the IOM was also interesting. He felt the draw but he couldn’t justify the danger of the place. The interesting thing was Rossi seemed to have felt the same way. I must admit, at 64, my man is John Surtess. Different generation,same passion…….

  3. Thanks for that interview. I really enjoyed it.


  4. Steve Parsons on March 10, 2011 @ 1:57 am

    Thanks for an interesting interview.

  5. Yep, far away in Oz only saw Ago at Oran park in a three bike celebrity race, can still hear him now about the one corner with a concrete wall all round ” no astrawbale! anostrawbale!” Geez Ago your in Oz now mate….

    The bike shop I worked at had a worked 360 El Bandito in it… shot off like a rocket fell off on the first corner… Well done Gatesy! that way it wouldn’t be measured… Frazer must have sold heaps after that.

  6. Steve Murphy on March 10, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

    Thank you for sending this to me. I found it most interesting. I am 65 now but still feel enormous sentiment for those “golden days in the 60s”. I did not get too far from home so our highlights were the Post TT Races and the Daily Mail Thousand Guineas at Mallory Park. This tiny circuit was superb for the spectator because you can see at least half the track from where ever you are. In those days it was even better because they had not put in the chicane and the bikes arrived on the start finish straight much faster than was later the case. I just loved the wonderful unmuffled sounds of those fabulous multis, the smell of Castrol R and the commentaries from dear old Murray. Ago usually got a thrashing from Mike on the glorious 297-6 which in fairness was probably better suited to a short circuit. I challenge anyone to name any internal combustion engine that produced a more thrilling, spine tingling sound. It seems a catastrophe that modern machines are silenced, F1 doesn’t do so. Thanks for all the memories Ago. Oh, for those that are interested there is a u tube clip of Ago doing a few short runs on the fabled MV 6 cylinder. What a shame that Mondial, Guzzi and Gilera pulled out in 1957 as that bike was produced to challenge the big Gillies and was then not needed. There also some fabulous images of that machine. Just Google MV 6 cylinder images.
    Best wishes to all the old fossils like me.


  7. Keith Davies on March 10, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

    I have a couple of pictures I took of a young Ago at the IOM Diamond Jubilee TT if anybody’s interested in seeing. Will need some instructions to upload to site though.


  8. Many thanks for a great interview.
    I too am in my mid-60′s and saw the old time greats way back when; Ago, Read, Ivy and a little later, Sheene etc. But my main man is/was Mike the Bike! I was born in the UK, but I have lived in the US for many years. I still re-live those fabulous times in my minds-eye. I know it’s impossible and I know they’re all good, but wouldn’t it be nice to see all the stars of now and then race on a level playing field just to see………
    Your chat with Ago was a real joy to read and bought the memories flooding back! Many thanks.
    Not that Ago was involved, but I saw the first Anglo – American match races with the 2 BSA/Triumph teams and those open mega, full race Tridents/Rocket3′s have a very similar [lower frequency] wail to the 6′s and yes, Steve, I couldn’t agree more, the R smells and the sounds, it was real music wasn’t it?!! Ypounger fans will never know unless they go to some vintage meets.
    Keep up the good work VB, you’re one of my very few connections with a world I love and I visit the site just to look at the pics of old bikes again & again.

  9. Thanks for sharing that interview with Ago, What great man,

  10. Fred Schwarz on March 14, 2011 @ 4:18 am

    Thanks Nigel,for that interview . Ago was one of the great riders in those days ,for me where the 50s and the 60s the most exciting years of road racing.I was 14 years old 1951 when I went to Assen the Dutch TT .The starting grid with the Italian works multis and the British works singles what beautiful sight. Geoff Duke on the Norton and Nello Pagani on the Gillera ,the roaring BMW sidecars those day’s are over but the memory is still there.

    Nigel some years ago I send you that picture with young Geoff Duke surrounded with Fans and Policeman.

  11. Ashok Naidu on March 21, 2011 @ 6:59 am

    This is one in Best Interviews i have so far read in years about a true Rider.
    Hats off to you and my Salutes to you and your supporters and family.
    Amazing Rider. A big thanx to dear G.AGO you ar a Legend.
    Here is an invitation to all to attend the Rider Mania in Goa in Nov-2011.
    This is exclusively a Royal En Field Event in Goa which is for three days.
    You may higher a bike for the event or you may enter with out a bike.

    Plz make friends on Face Book.

    Ashok Naidu
    Pune India

  12. James Hill on March 22, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

    Many thanks for a great interview,i remember that race in 1967 it was one of the
    best races on the island. The reason why he coud’nt continue was because he
    went of the course at governers bridge.I have the video and the records of the event.
    Do you remember the records? Along with Hailwood,Read and Williams Ago was one
    of the best.

  13. a van bockel on May 24, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

    i still remember barry sheene making a comment that winning with the bikes ago had at the time it was easy for him to win.well i think you still got to finish the race!! and staying alive in those days with those wooden barriers& old cromwell helmets etc. to protect the public?(i sill have mine)was a feat on its own.i was at oran park now 40 yrs ago time fly’s !!hindle thrashing ago on a 350yammie i think ago underestimating the aussies?not starting the 500 because of a flat tyre?well if i remember the race was held up for a considerable time surely somebody could have shoved another backwheel in??bit disapointing for the paying spectators. i wonder if he still got the full fee of $18 grand for doing only the 2 meetings insteadt of 4..

  14. I’m born very near to the “Dutch TT circuit” at Assen, and as a small boy I was already
    impressed from the results of AGO.
    The combination from the MV Agusta with Ago in the saddle it was tremendes for me,
    ans Ago is still for me the greatest.
    I was on many events with Ago, and it is still unbelievable how the spectators after
    so many years are mad from Ago..It was a great honour for me that he was riding
    my 4 cilinder MV racer.

  15. Stig Eriksson on May 27, 2011 @ 7:36 pm

    Tack, för en intressan intervju me AGO. Jag träffade honom i Stockholm januari 2011 och det är fantastiskt att se en sådan racingstjärna in live! Goood Lucky AGO in the rest of your life!
    Best Regards from me
    Stickan Eriksson

  16. Don Robertson on August 7, 2011 @ 1:04 am

    In 1967 while living in Syracuse New York, I went to the Grand Prix races at Mosport Raceway in Ontario Province. All the great guys were racing that weekend, Agosini, Hailwood, Ivey, Bryan(I think). Got some decent pictures in the pits but the racing shots were without a telephoto lens. Walked up behind the 6 cylinder Honda in the pits just as the mechanics started it. Was almost deafened. Have never heard anything like that since! It was a wet cold, dreary weekend. There were almost no one there(maybe why they didn”t come back as far as I know). On a small grandstand near the starting line I was sitting with 10 other people for the races I watched from outside the track.

  17. born in Bolzano Italy 30 March 1958.
    As a child Ago was, and still is my hero, especially after witnessing him destroy the opposition at Kyalami. My country of residence is S.Africa since 1964.So as far as i am concerned, Agostini is by far one of the greatest, not because of my Italian roots, but the record speaks for itself. It takes a real hardcore champ to win 10 IOM, not to mention his track carreer in different classes. Caro Giacomo, per me sarai sempre il migliore, e il piu grande.

  18. Kevin Littlemore on March 17, 2012 @ 10:57 am

    Did Ago ever race bikes at Oulton Park

  19. Kevin Littlemore on March 17, 2012 @ 5:30 pm


  20. Fantastic blog! I definitely adore how it’s simple on my eyes plus the data are very well written.

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