Return to minimalism
With a calendar that only had six rounds, they finally responded to the unpleasantness that had been observed over several years, with numerous manufacturers not taking part in all of the events. In addition, this also eliminated the long overdue unpleasantness that, until before, many of the events had only advertised a few solo classes. This was the FIM’s good deed, but there were also failures and one of them was the restriction of the proliferation of streamlined fairings. The opinion of almost all experts and manufacturers on this was clear, as shown by the example of a survey among the Italian racing departments. By the way, one of the most prominent racing team bosses of the time had an interesting explanation as to why he liked to rely on English drivers instead of just Italians. One of the reasons he cited was their abilities on routes that were very different from the Italian ones and often had very different climatic conditions. In addition, in his eyes, the professional attitude of the British men is a significant advantage compared to his compatriots, who would rather relax in the winter instead of specifically preparing for the next season.
The opinions of the Italians as the leading manufacturer nation on full cladding
With only one exception, everyone was in favor of a ban and thus the abolition of the voluminous and, from today’s perspective, shapeless, huge casings on racing motorcycles. Conte Domenico Agusta, head of MV, summed it up when he said: “All forms of streamline on two-wheeled vehicles are dangerous, which is why they should be banned.” Commendatore Giuseppe Gilera also noted that “the formwork has major disadvantages in terms of cooling and bad weather properties”. Similarly, Alfonso Morini made this clear with the statement: “The fairings offer no real advantages of a technical nature, they are sensitive to crosswinds and are only recommended for (speed) record drives. One day they will be banned.” However, it would take another two years for those responsible at the FIM to understand this. Instead, they preferred to use their power to take drastic action against pilots who had made themselves unpopular with them and Geoff Duke, of all people, was to become a tragic victim of their dictatorial violence, as not only the English were soon to comment with irritation.
Bad news before the start of the season with the TT
Before the season began again for the first time with the Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man, as in the first two years of the Motorcycle World Championship and also in 1953, tragic news reached the motorsport world. On May 6, 1956, Fergus Kinloch Anderson, one of the greats from the first post-war years, died in a fall at the Circuit de Floreffe in Belgium. The two-time world champion up to 350cc (1953 and 54), who had actually already resigned at the end of 1954, was then racing director at Moto-Guzzi, but resigned after just one season because, in his opinion, he had not been given enough authority. At the now almost unbelievable age of 47, the Scot had become an official works driver at BMW again. He died on the very course on which he had achieved his first victory in 1938. The Continental Circus not only lost a driver and friend, but also one of its most interesting characters. With this accident, Floreffe’s Belgian classic ended and there was no continuation.
Very dark shadows over the start of the 1956 Grand Prix season
In the fifth real year of the World Championship, things once again started the way most Brits wanted. However, starting the season on the Isle of Man had both advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, in contrast to the previous year, the event was not free of tragedy, as two Englishmen, David Merridan, in the junior category and Peter G. Kirkham (both BSA) in the senior category, as far too often, ended up with two fatalities. The favorites were the factory pilots from MV Agusta in the two smaller classes, the Moto-Guzzi team in the 350s and thus the junior category, and Gilera and MV in the senior premier class. But Gilera, with its stars, including reigning world champion Geoff Duke and Reg Armstrong, didn’t even start in the senior category. Even today, every observer with an understanding of fairness in sport is bewildered by why last year’s winner and reigning world champion was unable to compete. Unfortunately, the attitude of the officials of an organization that was already criticized in many places for their behavior and power-wielding never really improved over decades. We are talking about the FIM as the highest authority in motorcycle racing and its officials, who are repeatedly criticized, as well as various state associations.
Disgusting reasons prevented Duke from repeating last year’s victory
The reason for this was a scandalous decision by the FIM, a top two-wheel sports commission driven by a desire for revenge, for which sportsmanship was obviously just a word for decades. As a result of this, Duke and thus also his Gilera factory team were confronted with unexpected adversities that ultimately made it impossible for him to defend his title. Because he was banned from these desk jockeys for the first six months of 1956, even though he was the reigning world champion, he remained on the fence and had to watch idly as his competitors raced for points. His ban was punishment for supporting a rider who was striking for a better entry fee for GP privateers, who made up the majority of the grid at the Dutch TT the year before. His Gilera teammate Reg Armstrong was also given the same ban because he also assisted the private pilots last year. A truly disgusting revenge against the background that the Englishman supported many colleagues with sportsmanship and fairness, without whose participation his results would have been basically worthless. In addition, many visitors, especially in Assen, came to the route to cheer on their own heroes, who were exclusively among the private drivers. The damage caused by sheer power was enormous. At the same time, this made it virtually impossible for the best driver of his time to defend his title for years. And his factory team was also “punished” for something that wasn’t their fault in the slightest. As a result, even the organizer of the TT sold significantly fewer tickets than the year before, with Duke.
The race in the (formerly ultra) lightweight category up to 125cc
In the absence of NSU, there were no German successes this time, but rather surprisingly, several Spaniards and a Czech (or Czechoslovakian at the time) suddenly appeared in the rankings. DKW wanted to start and had also been successful at last year’s finale in Monza. For some unknown reason, according to a contemporary witness report, they were “subsequently no longer admitted.” Since even the reigning half-liter world champion and last year’s winner Duke was not allowed to be there, this is hardly surprising. Initially, FB-Mondial pilot Cecil Sandford was in the lead, but when he dropped out, Ubbialli had an easy time of it. Three Spaniards gave Montesa their first World Cup points outside their home country in places 2 to 4, followed by Dave Chadwick as the only Englishman in the points. In P6, the man from behind the iron curtain in the person of Václav Parus on CZ, a brand that would later attract a lot of attention, especially in motocross. Of the 21 pilots who started, only 9 reached the finish.
Race in the Lightweight category up to 250 cc
Similar to the smaller ones, Carlo Ubbiali was also very lucky this time when two of his strongest rivals, teammate Luigi Taveri and Sandford, were eliminated due to a fall. In addition, the English NSU private driver Miller complained of engine damage and his brand colleague Baltisberger from Germany had to go into the pits to change his glasses, which meant he lost a lot of time, but still took P3 after a strong race to catch up and even ended up on the podium. Behind him is his compatriot Horst Kassner (also NSU), as well as the Czech František Bartoš on CZ. Ubbiali’s MV factory teammate Colombo secured second place, more than 2 minutes behind winner Ubbiali. Of the 18 pilots who started in the pouring rain, at least 15 saw the checkered flag.
The junior category up to 350 cc
In strong winds and a wet track, the English factory machines proved to be just as inferior to the Italian ones from MV with the 4-cylinder and Guzzi with their modern single-cylinder engine, as were the private drivers. With Ken Kavanagh, an Australian won the Tourist Trophy for the first time after numerous attempts. Surtees retired shortly before the finish due to a lack of fuel on his MV Agusta and last year’s winner Lomas, who had been leading for a long time, also did not see the checkered flag. However, it looked like Kavanagh had won the junior class on his own. Hans Baltisberger had incredible bad luck with his NSU Sportmax, which had now been expanded to 305cc, when a defective cable on the front brake forced him to give up. Cecil Sandford, on the other hand, came through this time and achieved a respectable success for DKW at least in this category with fourth place. By the way, during the course of the race it had stopped raining and the track began to dry out. AJS pilot Derek Ennett in second place ahead of young Hartle (Norton) was not expected to live another two months before a tragic accident in Northern Ireland took him from his liver.
The senior category – premier class without the participation of the king
It was difficult for us to report objectively on this race, which was overshadowed by unsportsmanlike behavior of the worst kind. Without last year’s winner Geoff Duke as the reigning world champion, some officials who took themselves far too seriously had caused immeasurable damage to him, his Gilera factory team and the fans. Many people stayed away from the Tourist Trophy because they couldn’t see the best of his time fighting for victory. Despite the strong performance of the 500 cc winner and numerous other pilots, we are exceptionally allowing ourselves to forego details about the course of the race at this point. This was out of respect for Geoff Duke as the fastest man in the first post-war years, to whom power-obsessed desk clerks refused to take part for base reasons. Instead, we prefer to mention the premiere of a technical marvel. After numerous tests and two training sessions last year, Moto-Guzzi now had their V8 racer ready to race and brought with them to the Isle of Man.
Not very exciting World Championship round 2 in Assen
Without the defending champion Geoff Duke, who was frenetically cheered on by a fanatical audience last year, this event was not a good thing. This was especially true because in 1955 he won the 500cc race with superiority and, in the 350s, supported the striking private drivers in the style of a gentleman, most of whom could not even pay for the journey to the Netherlands with the meager entry fees. Without all the pilots present at their own expense, the stars’ victories would have been basically worthless and Duke, as a sportsman, was well aware of this. Power-obsessed officials, on the other hand, saw him as just a rebellious person, and their actions prevented him from defending his sixth world championship title. With only six races in the 1956 season, a driver who failed twice (in his case involuntarily) lost almost any chance of winning the title. Gilera decided not to travel in protest for the suspension of her figurehead, which also affected 500cc vice world champion Reg Armstrong. It was therefore little surprise that, due to the absence of the crowd’s favorite in the person of Geoff Duke, a maximum of 90 thousand spectators came to the Circuit van Drenthe.
The second strike from Ubbiali to 125cc
The Italian had already won the 250cc race and now he pulled away from the rest of the field right from the start behind his team-mate Taveri, who was in the lead. Due to a crash on lap 4 by the Swiss who had previously been in the lead, Ubbiali inherited P1, which he would not relinquish until the finish. A little later, Libanori on the third factory MV Agusta and Provini (Mondial) also didn’t get far as a result of their slip-ups. This cleared the way for August “Gustl” Hobl on the fastest DKW, securing the first podium in the smallest category for the German factory when he took third place. After his crash, Taveri was able to continue the race slightly behind the leader and then finished second. The Englishman Cecil Sandford had to settle for 4th place ahead of the second best DKW of Karl Hofmann, behind František Bartoš with another point for CZ after the TT. The Spaniards didn’t make it into the top six this time because DKW was allowed to take part again on their much faster two-stroke engines. Before that, they had not been admitted to the TT because they were apparently entered too late. A little surprising and, above all, annoying for them, DKW had already demonstrated their quick wit at the season finale in Monza in autumn 1955.
MV came second in the 250cc Grand Prix of Assen
As expected in advance, the Italian and his Swiss MV factory team colleague Taveri clearly set themselves apart from their opponents immediately after the start. Behind them initially followed Provini (FB-Mondial) and the two Czechs (then Czechoslovakians) Bartoš and Kostir on their CZ, followed by Colombo (MV) and Lorenzetti. Provini then caught up, overtook Ubbiali and stalked the leading Swiss. But his compatriot behind him didn’t give up yet and caught up with the FB-Mondial factory driver, only to take P2 again a short time later. The Italian then caught up with his teammate and set a new fastest lap, which was only slightly slower than Dickie Dale’s record in the 350s last year. Ubbiali won ahead of Taveri and Provini had to park his Mondial shortly before the end with technical problems. Only Lorenzetti on the Moto-Guzzi was able to prevent a triple MV triumph with Colombo behind him. Horst Kassner on the NSU Sportmax demonstrated to CZ factory driver Jiří Koštir the still high competitiveness of the production racer from Neckarsulm. Behind them, two other NSU private drivers from the host country, Lo Simmons and Kees Koster, narrowly missed out on the points. For MV Agusta and Carlo Ubbiali as double winners of the TT, things couldn’t have gone better in the smaller two classes and of course they wanted to build on that. But in the end, of course, this added to the tension, especially because with Duke as the defending champion in the premier class, there was no salt in the soup.
Demonstration of the strength of the reigning 350cc world champion
After his zero result due to bad luck in the Tourist Trophy, Bill Lomas was motivated to clarify the balance of power in the second highest class again this time. But first, as is often the case, the DKW two-stroke engines started the fastest and the two factory riders Sandford and Hobl were in the lead after the start. Behind him was Masetti and after terrible problems when setting off, Lomas was initially only in P29. A little later, Surtees grabbed the German on the 4-cylinder MV and set off in pursuit of the leading compatriot. Nobody expected Lomas at first, but last year’s runner-up overtook opponent after opponent. In front of the packed audience, Bill also caught Hobl, Sandford and Surtees one after the other. Lomas, who was driving freely, took a clear lead and Hobl overtook Sandford to finish third behind Surtees. Behind them, Kavanagh and his Guzzi teammate Dale finished the most exciting race in Assen in the points, which their factory team colleague Duilio Agostini was denied with P7. After fifth place in the smallest class up to 125cc, Karl Hofmann still managed to come 8th in the 350cc.
Little tension in the premier class
Of course, it was clear to everyone that this time it wouldn’t be as exciting as the 350cc Dutch TT with Lomas’ sensational comeback. This was anything but a miracle, due to the absence of last year’s winner Duke and due to his absolutely unjustified suspension of his entire Gilera factory team and other colleagues such as Armstrong, Colnago, Liberati and Pierre Monneret. The final result made it easy to see what a class difference there was between the only two classified factory riders and the pack of private pilots. Moto-Guzzi, with the spectacular V8 provided for Lomas, had given up using this delicate vehicle after training. Top favorite Surtees got off to the best start, followed by BMW rider Zeller. Bill Lomas, on the other hand, crashed early on the conventional Guzzi and then gave up. Curious was the reason for the failure of MV factory rider Masetti, who lost his fuel cap, which caused him to fall, where he also hit Kavanagh (Moto-Guzzi) and thus also forced him to give up. At the top, Surtees was now expanding his lead over Zeller. Long before the end, the two had a huge lead over all the following private drivers, which ultimately meant that only the first two remained on the same lap. Despite the huge starting field, many observers were reminded of the 125cc Ulster GP in 1952, in which only three pilots even made it to the finish line.
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