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The day the Yamaha XS1100 won the Castrol Six-Hour – Part II

Submitted by on September 9, 2009

At 10:00am on Sunday, October 22, the flag was raised to signal the start of the 1978 Castrol Six-Hour. The riders sped across the front straight to their mounts, Graeme Crosby leading the charge up Bitupave Hill. Starting from third on the grid, Jim Budd held a massive slide as he gunned the Avon XS1100 away from the Le Mans start and then blew a huge plume of smoke around the first lap, leading team-mate Roger Heyes to exclaim: “Oh no, we’re going to be out on the first lap!”

Thankfully, the sump had simply been overfilled as the oil burnt off, but Budd had dropped back to ninth place as Crosby, Greg Pretty and Alan Hales made a break up front.

Having set a blistering pace, Crosby’s Honda ran into problems just laps into the race, signalling to his team that something was wrong as he flashed passed race control.

Crosby pitted at 10:12am, for what would be the first of several stops, saying the rear-wheel was locking on a trailing throttle. Co-rider Tony Hatton headed out but pitted the Honda after experiencing a huge slide, claiming the problem was due to a fuel quality problem. The Crosby/Hatton CBX1000 was retired 41 minutes into the race.

At the three-hour mark, Hales led and tried to put a lap on Heyes’ Avon XS1100, but dropped the Suzuki as he tipped into the Dunlop Loop, promoting the Dennis Neill/Mick Cole CBX1000 into the lead.

Lying third, Heyes made a scheduled pit-stop at 1:12pm and the decision was made – the first strategic wheel/tyre change in Castrol Six-Hour history.

The job was completed by Malcolm and Dean Pitman, who carried their wheel changing gear up to the Avon pit following the retirement of the Pitman team bike after Pretty’s co-rider, Jeff Miller, decked the XS1100 at Mazda House corner at 12:28pm.

Heyes’s tyre didn’t appear too badly worn, but Walker believed a fresh rear Avon would give his riders a significant performance and psychological advantage for the back half of the race. The entire stop was captured live on ABC-TV and took 1m14sec, although the tyre change didn’t commence until almost 20 seconds after the bike stopped.

Dropping into the ‘59s, Budd was catching second place, Dave Robbins’ Yamaha XS1100, at a second a lap. The tyre change proved to be a master stroke. Inexorably, Budd whittled down Neill’s lead and he finally claimed position one at 2:31pm after one of the most inspiring rides in six-hour history.

Neill pitted the Honda at 2:47pm and his team was instructed by scrutineers to change the rear tyre due to safety concerns. The chain-drive Honda proved far more difficult to complete the change compared to the shaft-drive Yamaha, Neill speeding away after spending 4m10sec in the pits.

At the stroke of 4.00pm plus a lap, the XS1100 had done it again. A large dollar sign was displayed on Heyes’ pit board as he cruised to a comfortable victory, finishing one lap ahead of John Warrian and Terry Kelly’s Ducati 900SS with Neill’s CBX1000 in third.

According to the race report in REVS Motorcycle News, “The machine that ‘shouldn’t win production races’ has won another one.”

Indeed, the XS1100’s 1978 win set off a run of victories that would see Yamaha dominate the Castrol Six-Hour until the event’s demise in 1987.

Yamaha won a total of five Castrol Six-Hours, the same number as Kawasaki. It is also the only manufacturer to ever have won the event outright on a 500cc two-stroke, and it also won with both the largest and smallest capacity engines – the Yamaha RZ500 (499cc) and the XS1100 (1102cc). It was also the only manufacturer to win the event with four different machines – XS1100, RZ500 (’84), FZ750 (‘85, ‘86) and FZR1000 (’87).

Kevin Magee and Michael Dowson were both duel Castrol Six-Hour winners with Yamaha in 1986 and ‘87, as was Richard Scott in 1984 (with Dowson) and 1985 (with Paul Feeney).

Darryl Flack

Read part 1 here

More feature stories here

Images: deejay51.com, Castrol6hour.com.au

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