Australian Double At The ‘Ring
The full 22.8km Nurburgring is daunting. Throw in rain and mist and it’s scary. But forty years ago, it was the venue when, for the first time, two Australian recorded Grand Prix victories at the same meeting.
It was not Australia’s first GP double, however. Tom Phillis rode works Hondas to win the 125 and 250 classes at the French and Argentine GPs in 1961
Incredibly, both Australian winners at the ‘Ring in 1970 were private entrants and one damn near missed his race.
Here’s the scene. It’s the first round of the world champions. Kel Carruthers is riding private Yamahas after winning the 1969 250 championship on a works four-cylinder Benelli. New rules limiting 250s to two cylinders have confined the Benelli 250-4 to a museum.
John Dodds, Carruthers toughest domestic rival when he left Australia at the end of 1965, has also joined the move to two-stroke machines. His 125 mount is a single-cylinder Aermacchi.
If the weather isn’t bad enough, there’s controversy over the circuit. It’s now lined with Armco barriers, to meet the demands of car racers. The fledging Grand Prix Riders’ Association is up in arms. It gets worse. English veteran Robin Fitton dies during practice after striking a fence.
But the racing goes ahead in what is the first motorcycle GP on the Nordschleife since 1958. It’s a two-day meeting with motorcycle and car events.
Dodds endures 62 minutes of gloomy conditions to record his first GP victory and the first classic win for Aermacchi — by a margin of six seconds over Austria’s Heinz Kriwanek on a Rotax.
The 250 event is literally another story. Carruthers is in sparkling form. He’s already won the won 250 races at Daytona and Riccione (Italy), and scored a double at opening of the Osterreichring in Austria.
He has vivid memories of the ‘Ring on the first weekend of May 1970 – as he explained last year to the author.
“It rained before the scheduled start to the race,” he said. “”It was miserable and a group of us in were in a kind of safety committee. We said it was impossible to race and the organisers agreed to delay the start by an hour. So I went back to the paddock – which in those days was down through a tunnel – and sat in my caravan with the heater on. I asked my mechanic, Nobby Clark, to come and get me when they were going out. So I’m sitting there and Nobby comes running in to say ‘they’re gone!’
“I still had my leathers on. Put my helmet on real quick and started up the tunnel. Then the officials wouldn’t let me onto the race track. They kept me at the top of the tunnel until the race started, and then they let me out.
“So I started in all the spray. I remember passing (Jarno) Saarinen and seeing Rodney Gould on the side of the road. Somewhere in the distance I thought I saw Phil Read and figured he had to up near the front. After another lap I passed Ready and ended up winning it by 22 seconds.”
Germany’s Klaus Huber edged out England’s Chas Mortimer for second place. The next day – with the weather still wet — Carruthers rode a works Benelli 350 to second place behind Giacomo Agostini’s MV-Agusta in the 350 GP.
Carruthers went on to win another three 250 GPs in 1970 – a tally only bettered by Casey Stoner in 2005. But a series of ignition failures meant Kel narrowly missed out on a second world crown.
Dodds went on to win another three GPs in the 250/350 classes and win the 1974 FIM Formula 750 Prize.
It was 25 years before the next Australian GP double – when Garry McCoy (125) and Mick Doohan (500) won at Shah Alam in Malaysia.