Hansford’s Bathurst Return
America has Randy Mamola, and Australia had Gregg Hansford. Both riders won over ten motorcycle grands prix and could dominate the very best riders of the day with brilliant, spectacular riding, but neither could quite crack it for a world championship.
After staging a fierce but friendly rivalry with Warren Willing in Australia, firstly on a Yamaha TZ700 then Kawasaki 750s from 1975, to impressing all and sundry with outstanding outings at Daytona, Laguna Seca and Talladega, Gregg went to Europe with Team Kawasaki manager/tuner Neville Doyle in 1978‑79 and was runner‑up in the 250 and 350cc world championships despite winning a gaggle of grands prix including his favourite, the Dutch 350cc TT in front of 150,000 fans. Kawasaki did not have a 500 GP bike at the time, so Hansford successfully flew the green flag on his underpowered KR750 against the awesomely fast Yamaha YZR750s in Formula 750 racing.
He and Kawasaki team-mate Kork Ballington denied triple 500cc world champ Kenny Roberts a 250 world title, and was considered by many pundits as one of the top three road racers in the world. Indeed, Roberts rated Hansford the most gifted rider he’d seen for just jumping on a bike and going for it. The reputation, the promise he’d demonstrated so clearly in Australia through the mid’70s had been vindicated.
After a two‑year absence, Hansford returned to Australia to compete in the 1980 Easter Bathurst races. He was clearly more consistent and race‑hardened from his week- in‑week‑out experience against the world’s best. Even though most other GP riders would’ve boycotted a circuit like Bathurst, Gregg put the dangers to one side and dominated the 250 and 350 Australian GPs, setting lap records that would last for years.
In the Arai 500km endurance race, Hansford partnered with Jim Budd on a Kawasaki Z1000SR endurance racer. Gregg faced off against Dennis Neill, who in Hansford’s time in Europe, had established himself as the absolute numero uno of Superbike racing in Australia, intimidating rivals with his take no prisoners attitude. Riding a colossally fast Honda RSC1062, Neill was afraid of nothing and no one, but on an under‑prepared bike, Hansford more than answered the challenge from Australia’s fiercest fire‑brand. The two howled away from the field, engaging in a terrific stoush before Hansford’s clutch packed it in. It was an impressive performance from a rider who had everything to lose and nothing to gain.
Although he missed out that time, Gregg returned to the famous mountain circuit 13 years later to win the Bathurst 1000 touring car race.
Gregg’s passing in 1995 was so tragic, and at 42, much, much too early for someone so special, well-liked and revered. I consider myself very fortunate to have seen him at his very best in Australia. Gregg Hansford, a champion in every way.
1: Gregg blasts his way up to Reid Park gates early on in the 1980 Arai 500
2: …so does Dennis Neill, the pair swapping the lead in a furious sprint race from the start
3: Gregg wandering along the old pits at Mount Panorama, where later he would enjoy more success on four-wheels.
4: Gregg smiling for the camera in Europe
4: Gregg with Neville Doyle at Lakeside in 1976
5: Dennis Neil at Amaroo Park for the Castrol 6 hour in 1980
Video: The video is on-board from Dennis Neill during practice for the Eater Production Bike race in 1981. It shows just how awesome Bathurst was on two wheels.
Images: Darryl Flack, Deejay51.com
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