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Mike Hailwood
Mike Hailwood
UK
Nicknames"Mike the Bike"
NationalityEnglish
Isle of Man TT career
TTs contested12 (1958-1967, 1978,1979)
TT wins12
First TT win1961 Lightweight 125 TT
Last TT win1979 Senior TT
Podiums19

Stanley Michael Bailey Hailwood, MBE, GM (2 April 1940 – 23 March 1981) was a British Grand Prix motorcycle road racer regarded by many as one of the greatest racers of all time. He was known as "Mike The Bike" because of his natural riding ability. Later in his career he went on to compete in Formula One auto racing, becoming one of the few men to compete at the Grand Prix level on motorcycles and in auto racing.

Mike Hailwood was born at Langsmeade House, Great Milton in Oxfordshire, His father, who also raced in the pre-World War II era, was a successful motorcycle dealer and as such, Hailwood had a comfortable upbringing. He learned to ride at a young age on a minibike as a small boy in a field near his home. He was educated at Pangbourne College, but left early and worked for a short time in the family business before his father sent him to work at Triumph motorcycles. He married Pauline Barbara Nash on 11 June 1975 and had a son and a daughter.

Motorcycle racing career

Hailwood first raced on 22 April 1957, at Oulton Park. Barely 17, he finished in 11th place, but was soon posting successful results. In 1958, he teamed with Dan Shorey to win the Thruxton 500 endurance race. By 1961, Hailwood was racing for an up and coming Japanese factory named Honda. Riding a four-stroke, four-cylinder 250 cc Honda, Hailwood won the 1961 250cc world championship. In 1962, Hailwood signed with MV Agusta and went on to become the first rider to win four consecutive 500cc World Championships. After his success with MV Agusta, Hailwood went back to Honda and won four more world titles in 1966 and 1967 in the 250 cc and 350 cc categories.

Honda RC162 as ridden by Hailwood in 1961
Honda RC162 as ridden by Hailwood in 1961

Mike Hailwood won the 1965 Hutchinson 100 Production race at the Silverstone racecourse on a BSA Lightning Clubman in heavy rain, beating the Triumph Racing Team's Bonnevilles. The 'Hutch' was the main production race of the season, so it was very important to manufactureres to establish the racing credentials of their latest range. Triumph Bonnevilles were ridden by World Champion Phil Read and ex works rider Percy Tait. BSA Lightning Clubmans were ridden by Hailwood (with a large number 1 on the fairing) and factory rider Tony Smith. Conditions were poor and Smith was out of the race at slippery Stowe Corner. With little regard for the rain, Hailwood was achieving laps of 83 mph (134 km/h) to establish his winning lead.

Hailwood is remembered for his accomplishments at the famed Isle of Man TT. By 1967, he had won 12 times on the island mountain course including three straight wins during the 1961 event, losing the fourth when his 350 AJS broke down with a broken gudgeon pin whilst leading. He won what many historians consider to be the most dramatic Isle of Man race of all time, the 1967 Senior TT against his great rival, Giacomo Agostini. In that race he set a lap record of 108.77 mph (175.05 km/h) on the infamous Honda 500-4, that stood for the next 8 years.

In 1968, Honda pulled out of Grand Prix racing, but paid Hailwood £50,000 (equivalent to over £620,000 or US$1.1m at 2006 prices) not to ride for another team, in expectation of keeping him as its rider upon return to competition. With no other factory racing teams available to compete against MV Agusta, Hailwood decided to pursue a career in auto racing.

Auto racing career

During his auto racing career, Hailwood never achieved the same level of success that he had on motorcycles. He posted respectable results in Formula One and World Sports Cars. He won the 1972 Formula Two European title and earned a podium finish at the 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans. Hailwood participated in 50 Formula One Grands Prix, debuting in the British Grand Prix on 20 July 1963. He achieved two podium finishes, and scored a total of 29 championship points. Hailwood was recognised for his valor when in the 1973 South African Grand Prix, he went to pull Clay Regazzoni from his burning car after the two collided on the second lap of the race. Hailwood's driving suit caught fire, but after being extinguished by a fire marshall he returned to help rescue Regazzoni, an act for which he was awarded the George Medal, the 2nd highest gallantry award that a British civilian can be awarded. He left Formula One after being injured badly at the 1974 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring.

Comeback

On June 3, 1978, after an 11 year hiatus from motorcycling, Hailwood performed a now legendary comeback at the Isle of Man TT. Few observers believed the 38-year-old would be competitive after such a long absence. Riding a Ducati 900SS, he was not only competitive, but managed a hugely popular win. He raced the following year at the Isle of Man TT before retiring for good at the age of 39. In that final Isle of Man appearance, Hailwood rode a two-stroke Suzuki RG500 to victory in the Senior TT. He then opted to use that same 500cc bike in the Unlimited Classic and diced for the lead with Alex George (1100cc Honda) for all 6 laps in yet another TT epic. A minute or two apart on the road, they were rarely a few seconds apart on time each lap, Hailwood losing by just 2 seconds.

Here was a rider from the 'old-school' (he was the first to complete all 6 laps of the magnificent yet notorious Mountain Circuit at over 100 mph (160 km/h) on a single cylinder 500cc machine) coming to terms with vastly different machinery after 11 years away - the tyres, frame, brakes and engine power having undergone a quantum leap in capability, even the full-face helmet and brightly coloured padded leathers must have seemed strange - and yet still being able to get as a much from it as any rider around.

Death and legacy

On Saturday, 21 March 1981, Mike Hailwood set off in his Rover SD1 with his children Michelle and David to collect some fish and chips. As they returned along the A435 Alcester Road through Portway Warwickshire near their home in Tanworth-in-Arden, a truck made an illegal turn through the barriers into the central reservation, and their car hit it. Michelle, aged nine, was killed instantly; Mike and David were taken to hospital, where Mike died two days later, aged 40. David survived. The truck driver was fined £100.

Astonishingly Mike had been told by a fortune teller at age 18 in South Africa that he wouldn't live to 40 and would be killed by a truck. This fact was revealed by Elizabeth McCarthy in a 1981 memoir while recounting her relationship with Mike whom she had met at the first Canadian GP in 1967. When he asked her hand in marriage she replied that she was hesitant to marry someone who could die at any weekend race. He then told her his story and said; "..so you see, it won't happen on a track."

An annual "Mike Hailwood Memorial Run" takes place in March every year. The starting point is the former Norton factory in Aston, Birmingham. The run goes out to Portway, where the accident occurred and then onto the church in Tanworth-in-Arden where Mike and Michelle are buried. The 25th anniversary of this tragic accident was in 2006.

He retired with 76 Grand Prix victories, 14 Isle of Man TT wins and 9 World Championships. He was awarded the Segrave Trophy in 1979. The FIM named him a Grand Prix "Legend" in 2000. He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2000 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2001.

MotoGP Champions
500cc/MotoGP Motorcycle World Champions
1950 – U. Masetti 1960 – J. Surtees 1970 – G. Agostini 1980 – K. Roberts 1990 – W. Rainey 2000 – K. Roberts, Jr. 2010J. Lorenzo
1951 – G. Duke 1961 – G. Hocking 1971 – G. Agostini 1981 – M. Lucchinelli 1991 – W. Rainey 2001 – V. Rossi 2011 – C. Stoner
1952 – U. Masetti 1962 – M. Hailwood 1972 – G. Agostini 1982 – F. Uncini 1992 – W. Rainey 2002 – V. Rossi 2012 – J. Lorenzo
1953 – G. Duke 1963 – M. Hailwood 1973 – P. Read 1983 – F. Spencer 1993 – K. Schwantz 2003 – V. Rossi 2013 - Marc Márquez
1954 – G. Duke 1964 – M. Hailwood 1974 – P. Read 1984 – E. Lawson 1994 – M. Doohan 2004 – V. Rossi 2014 - Marc Márquez
1955 – G. Duke 1965 – M. Hailwood 1975 – G. Agostini 1985 – F. Spencer 1995 – M. Doohan 2005 – V. Rossi 2016 – J. Lorenzo
1956 – J. Surtees 1966 – G. Agostini 1976 – B. Sheene 1986 – E. Lawson 1996 – M. Doohan 2006 – N. Hayden 2016 - Marc Márquez
1957 – L. Liberati 1967 – G. Agostini 1977 – B. Sheene 1987 – W. Gardner 1997 – M. Doohan 2007 – C. Stoner 2017 - Marc Márquez
1958 – J. Surtees 1968 – G. Agostini 1978 – K. Roberts 1988 – E. Lawson 1998 – M. Doohan 2008 – V. Rossi
1949L. Graham 1959 – J. Surtees 1969 – G. Agostini 1979 – K. Roberts 1989 – E. Lawson 1999 – À. Crivillé 2009 – V. Rossi
Categories: Motorcycle Racers