The day the Yamaha XS1100 won the Castrol Six-Hour – Part 1
While Yamaha dominated the local grand prix classes throughout the 1970s, it had only limited success in production racing that had swept Australia. The Yamaha RD250 was the bike to have in the lightweight production class, but due to the lack of a large multi-cylinder muscle bike in its line-up, Yamaha could only watch as Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and even Ducati and BMW fought out the big-money endurance events like the Castrol Six-Hour.
In 1978, with the battle of the big-bore market booming and distributors and tyre importers pouring vast sums of money into production racing, the big guns had been brought out. Suzuki had released its GS1000 in 1978, while Yamaha unveiled its XS1100.
By mid-year, Honda launched its secret weapon, the six-cylinder Honda CBX1000. While the new CBX1000 and Suzuki were out and out sports bikes, the shaft-drive XS1100, affectionately called the “Xcessive’, was more of a muscle bike cum tourer. Heavier than and not as fast as its rivals, the XS1100 did have one particular ability – winning races.
In the lead up to the Six-Hour, the XS1100 had swept the Adelaide Three-Hour, the Perth Four-Hour and the Surfers Three-Hour. The unlikely XS1100 and Pitman Yamaha rider Greg Pretty had upstaged the biggest, baddest production bikes around, confounding everyone.
The advertising copy writers had a field day. Greg Pretty was a big fan of the rock band The Who and said, “After we win a race, we go back, party on and listen to The Who.” The copy writers stole a line out one of Pretty’s favourite songs by the Who ’Won’t get fooled again’.
‘Meet the new Boss’ was the headline to a series of Yamaha ads that ran in the local motorcycle press rejoicing Pitman Yamaha’s extraordinary run of victories.
The new Honda CBX1000 spoilt the party, however, when it blitzed the Castrol Hour Two-Hour at Calder Park on debut in the hands of a young B-grader, Michael Cole. Shown live on ABC-TV, the new Honda had its rivals shaking in their boots heading into the Six-Hour.
Team Avon Tyres manager, Lindsay Walker, wasn’t so sure. His squad, including firebrand riders Jim Budd and Roger Heyes, had enjoyed considerable success on Kawasakis, winning the 1976 Castrol Six-Hour, but could see a sea change coming.
Having raced the Kawasaki Z1000 and Suzuki GS1000 in 1978 without much success, Team Avon had a big decision to make.
“With the race looking wide open, we debated for some time which machine to race and finally settled on the Yamaha,” said Walker at the time.
“We knew it wasn’t the fastest machine around Amaroo Park, but at the same time XS1100s had taken out nearly all the major production races in Australia.”
The Yamaha could do the six-hour in just three fuel stops against the Suzukis and Hondas that both needed four. Budd also said that the biggest problem with the Suzuki would be ground clearance, the exhaust collectors scraping and wearing away the muffler clamp.
While the Honda had the raw speed thanks to a claimed 103bhp from its 1047cc engine, and Graeme Crosby putting it on pole by 0.4sec ahead of Alan Hales’ Suzuki, there were question marks over the six-cylinder’s affect on tyre wear.
Budd also made one of the more prescient pre-race comments, the fruition of which would change the history of the six-hour forever.
“I know that several theories exist on this year’s race, but I think it will be the year of the fast wheel change.”