Hans Baltisberger on his NSU Sportmax 250 – after the resignation of H.P. Müller as world champion and a year before that of Werner Haas, as well as the tragic death of the Austrian Rupert Hollaus, Hans was the last of the 4 NSU Mohicans in racing. The four of them formed the unbeatable NSU works team in 1954, which was surprisingly disbanded at the end of the season.

The second third of the season with the return of the superstar

In the first part of the series about the 1956 season, we went into detail about why the best pilot of the first years of the World Championship was prevented from starting. Due to his officials, who were obsessed with their lust for power, Geoff Duke was only involved again from Spa-Francorchamps, in the Ardennes onwards. His Gilera factory team also behaved very consistently and loyally, which is why Reg Armstrong and the other pilots of the most successful factory in the premier class of the World Championship, which was newly introduced in 1949, were not at the start in the first two rounds of 1956. With 4 of only six laps left to go, the chances of their flagship Duke defending their title were almost zero. Above all, MV Agusta’s main rival, John Surtees, won the first two races of the season. For this reason, Gilera’s motto as world champions for the last four years could only be to keep their damage as low as possible for the last two thirds of the World Cup year. But unfortunately fate didn’t really go well with their pilots after their return to the World Championship.

This time there was a premiere for the Belgian GP in Spa-Francorchamps, because for the first time in its 8-year history of the World Championship, all solo classes were finally held.

Premiere of the 125cc class in Spa

In training, MV ace Ubbiali and Mondial spearhead Ferri had the best time together with 5:21 and an hourly average of 158.355 km/h, which promised a lot of excitement for the race. The small and modest Czechoslovakian squad from CZ, which even scored points for the first time with its pilots in the first two rounds, was no longer there and did not appear at the World Championship races this season. Gilera had given its new 125 Twin into the hands of Romolo Ferri and Pierre Monneret for the first time, who thus heralded the premiere in Grand Prix sport in the smallest category. However, the Frenchman’s machine was reportedly only equipped with a five-speed gearbox, which means that his bike was at least a hybrid. In any case, like the famous NSU Sportfox a few years before, the racing machine had one with 6 gears. DKW and Montesa had already had trouble with their two-stroke engines during training on the fast course, which lacked top speed compared to the Italian competition, which were all 4-stroke engines. Roberto Colombo (MV Agusta) was injured in a fall during training and had to forego taking part in the race.

The route sketch from that time of the traditional Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Ardennes. However, with five fatalities in the first 7 years of the World Championship, this racetrack was one of the most dangerous on the calendar. This time it was supposed to end lightly, but a year later the sixth pilot would lose his life here. More about this in our report on 1957.

The race in the smallest category
After the start, Ferri and Ubbiali immediately took command and made it clear early on that victory could only come from one of them if they reached the finish. Behind them were Libanori, Monneret and Provini, who seemed to be struggling with problems. But it wasn’t Tarquinio with his Mondial, but Ferri who got into serious trouble shortly after he set a new record lap. It was gearbox problems that forced him to retire at La Source in the third of eight laps. Provini, like DKW works rider August Hobl, also had to park his Mondial in the same manner. Now the way to the top was clear for Ubbiali and for the third time in the first three laps everything seemed to be going well for the reigning world champion with his MV Agusta. Far behind Libanori (MV) and Pierre Monneret (Gilera), Luigi Taveri followed on another MV, a pilot who was more capable of due to his good performance in the previous year. Behind him, Karl Hofmann saved DKW’s honor with 5th place, one lap behind the Brit Grace from Gibraltar, followed by Gonzalez (both Montesa). Lo Simmons from the neighboring Netherlands with P7 on Mondial and behind him the Englishman Maddrick (MV) were also classified.

Fortunato Libanori, the world championship leader’s compatriot and MV works team colleague, to Eau Rouge with the main grandstand at the start-finish just visible behind him.
Carlo Ubbiali on his hat trick in the 125cc class in Spa, crossing the checkered flag alone with his third win in a row. This gave him a total of 24 points in the intermediate ranking, ahead of Taveri with 9, Libanori and Cama (6 each), and Monneret, Gonzalez, Hobl and Hofmann (4 each). With only 3 laps left to go, the Italian’s title defense was almost impossible to take away.

The first Belgian Grand Prix up to 250cc

After two double victories in the smaller two classes and his triumph up to 125 cc in Spa, everyone was excited to see whether MV ace Ubbiali would achieve the “double-triple”. Geoff Duke (then on Norton) would have almost achieved winning three times in a row in two categories in 1951 if the superstar had won in Assen instead of dropping out. The Italian was the first to achieve this historic achievement. The omens were good because since NSU’s factory withdrawal at the end of 1954, no other well-known manufacturer remained in the quarter-liter class. This was also evident after the start, where Ubbiali and his MV works team colleague Taveri immediately took the lead. Initially, Kassner (NSU), Lorenzetti (Moto-Guzzi), the Dutchman Koster and Baltisberger (both NSU) were still halfway behind the two leaders. Even Lorenzetti was able to take command for a short time. But the factory MV Agusta ultimately had to be considered, especially the Guzzi private driver stopped a little later and Taveri lost touch with Ubbiali. As in the smallest class, the way was now clear for the top favorite and he went down in history as the first driver to achieve a hat trick in two categories at the same time. Because Taveri came second behind him for the third time in a row, the title fight here was still completely open, in contrast to the 125s.

Start with two NSU, one Moto-Guzzi and one each MV Agusta and FB-Mondial in the front row.
Enrico Lorenzetti (Moto-Guzzi) chasing the two leading MV pilots Ubbiali and Taveri.

The highlight of the day – in the second highest category

At least this time there was an exciting battle for victory, in contrast to the two smallest classes. This was thanks in particular to DKW, who, in addition to undisputed speed, now also had the necessary reliability of their 3-cylinder two-stroke engines. In addition, MV was also prominently represented here, making it the only manufacturer in all categories. The helicopter manufacturer from Varese (northwest of Milan) had experimented with numerous models this year and, in addition to a new 125, not less than three different 350cc engines (mono, 2 and 4 cylinders) and even a 500cc inline 6 cylinders, which, however, remained secret and were never intended to be used. Apparently Moto-Guzzi had stimulated Count Agusta’s ambition with their revolutionary V8 machine that he was prepared to finance such an immense effort. In any case, MV may have even been on the verge of becoming the first work to win all solo classes. The most exciting race of the day showed that this option was not illusory.

Start of the Belgian Grand Prix up to 350cc, with from the left Surtees (MV), Hofmann, Hobl, behind with the 78 Sandford (all DKW), hidden Lomas (No. 2), Duilio Agostini (No. 38) and with the 28 Dale (all Guzzi).

The race up to 350 cm³ in Spa-Francorchamps
With Enrico Lorenzetti (Guzzi) and Hans Baltisberger (NSU), two former factory pilots were at the start as private individuals, who, along with the 11 factory employees from DKW, MV and Moto-Guzzi, definitely had a chance of a top placement. With eleven laps and 155.32 kilometers to go, the pack pushed their machines and jumped up after the starting signal. Almost traditionally, “Gustl” Hobl, a DKW rider, came back from the first lap as the leader. Behind him is Surtees on the four-cylinder MV and following at a respectful distance are Sandford, Bartl (both DKW), Masetti (MV), Dale, Duilio Agostini and Rocchi (all Guzzi), as well as Hofmann on another factory DKW. One lap later, Surtees was already in the lead, with Hobl in his slipstream. Behind him there was Bill Lomas driving at full speed, followed by Sandford, Bartl, Masetti and Dickie Dale. Two laps later, Lomas had taken the lead over Surtees and Hobl had lost touch, 6 seconds behind. On the fifth lap, two factory Guzzis, Dale (P7) and Kavanagh in 8th position, dropped out, while their factory team colleague Lomas was still clearly in the lead. Lorenzetti was next caught as the best-placed private driver in the seventh round, after which Lomas, the sole leader, stopped a short time later. This paved the way for Surtees’ first win of the season up to 350cc and with Hobl ahead of Sandford, two DKW factory drivers made it onto the podium, followed by their teammate Hofmann, Masetti (MV) and Bartl as the fourth DKW man in the points.

The four-cylinder MV Agusta with its characteristic cylinder head was very reminiscent of the Gilera when it was released. With Surtees already having two victories up to 500cc in the absence of Geoff Duke and now also the first triumph with the 350cc machine, this was the manufacturer to beat in 1956.
August “Gustl” Hobl on the three-cylinder DKW RM 350 cc, which finally demonstrated not only good top speed but also the necessary stability since the middle of last year. Since then, the Germans have fought on an equal footing with the Moto-Guzzi and MV Werks riders.

Duke’s failed comeback in the half-liter class

After Surtees was initially in the lead, Duke soon had his nose in the lead for the first time at “La Source”. The MV works driver then tried to keep up with the Gilera in front of him, but Geoff Duke drove like he was unleashed and continuously increased his lead over his pursuer. With an initial five seconds, the reigning world champion then set a new record lap of 4:29.8, which corresponded to an average of 188.5 km/h (115 mph). With two laps to go, Surtees was already 49 seconds behind when a murmur went through the audience. Suddenly the superstar was missing when he crossed the finish line and the way was clear for Surtees to take what was a gift for the third time in a row. Second place went to BMW works driver Zeller on his 2-cylinder with fuel injection, ahead of Monneret on the fastest Gilera, Masetti (MV), Milani (Gilera) and local hero Goffin on Norton. For the first time in motorcycle Grand Prix history, the same brand won all four solo races that day. In addition, there was the historic premiere of Ubbiali as the first three-time double winner, which means that the effort for the first four solo classes should have really paid off for the Spa organizer. In any case, contemporary witnesses had reported a sizeable crowd, in complete contrast to Assen (where Duke had to stay away due to his hair-raising dispensation).

Our summary only contains some of the most important failure victims up to 500 cc, the number was supposedly significantly higher at 15. By the way, Geoff Duke’s Gilera factory teammate Harry Reginald “Reg” Armstrong, as one of the pilots banned for months along with Duke, was supposed to hang up his helmet at the end of the season. One can guess three times what made him, one of the best of his time, do so. He was also canceled in Spa, as we recorded in the results sheet.
Winner John Surtees with his boss Comte Agusta next to him and on the far right the Englishman’s father, who after 3 races like Ubbiali was almost confirmed as world champion.
John Surtees on MV Agusta might not have been forced to push himself to the limit until Spa without the participation of reigning world champion Duke (Gilera). In any case, none of the other factory riders and certainly not one of the private drivers could pose a threat to him in the first half of the season. In any case, Geoff Duke had clearly dominated him at the Belgian GP before missing the checkered flag.

Grand Prix of Germany – back on the Solitude

The signs were rather suboptimal when it came to the tension in the World Cup. After Ubbiali’s double hat trick in Spa and Surtees’ 3 victories in the premier class, three categories of the World Championship were almost decided at halftime. Fortunately, at least two German manufacturers, BMW and DKW, with the majority of their own drivers, had achieved very pleasing results in advance. Otherwise a debacle in terms of viewership would have been expected. But although according to official estimates around 330,000 visitors came (one foreign reporter wrote of only around 75,000, another of around 350,000), there were German motor and sports newspapers that only wrote a few lines about it reported. In one case, at the time of the successes of the NSU and Werner Haas, multi-page reports with numerous photos could only be seen two years before. It was very sad how the media damaged two-wheeled motorsport in a time without the Internet and often even complained about the dwindling interest of local works at the same time. In any case, the weather, similar to two previous rounds in Assen, could hardly have been better and the event took place in ideal and sunny conditions, incidentally at Solitude for the eighth time in a row after the war.

Route sketch of the Solitude from that time; the first German Grand Prix took place here in 1952. The following year there was a debacle with a strike in the larger classes in Schotten, before it returned here again in 1954. With a guest appearance the following year on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife, it was once again the turn of the traditional route west of Stuttgart, with a length of 11.5 kilometers.

The World Championship decision up to 125cc

As in the previous year, only his teammate Luigi Taveri could pose a threat to Ubbiali when it came to defending his title. In this race, which took place on Saturday, a good place was enough for him if the Swiss did not win at the other factory MV. After the start, it was initially Ferri who took the lead on the new development of Gilera. The intense three-way battle between the three top Italian pilots Tarquinio Provini on Mondial, Ubbiali on MV Agusta and Romolo Ferri soon became just a fight for second place. Since Ferri pulled away, the attention of most observers was now on the duel between the reigning world champion and his opponent on FB-Mondial. Although it was once again close between the two, in the end, somewhat surprisingly, Ferri won ahead of Ubbiali and Provini. Liberati (MV) had to make do with fourth place, followed by Hobl on the fastest DKW in front of Sandford on a Mondial (the Englishman only competed up to 350cc on a factory DKW). Taveri didn’t even appear in the results list and his team may have even asked him to concentrate only on the 250cc so that he didn’t cause his colleague unnecessary stress. Carlo Ubbiali was already the defending champion up to 125cc after only 4 of 6 rounds and could possibly even be crowned double world champion the next day.

Tarquinio Provini (FB-Mondial) ahead of Carlo Ubbiali (MV Agusta) and Romolo Ferri (Gilera). For the first time since 1953, when Moto-Morini was still there, three Italian manufacturers fought for the points in the 125cc. There was also another Italian success in an international race in Hedemora (Sweden) on July 15, 1956. The young Italian brand Ducati achieved its first foreign victory up to 125 cm³ with Gianni Degli Antoni. Unfortunately, Degli Antoni died shortly afterwards, on August 7th, during a test in Monza.
Ubbiali on the podium in Spa, when he had already laid the foundation for his successful title defense with his third victory in a row. Without the danger of Taveri winning, the race on the Solitude was ultimately just a formality.

The quarter liter race for the German Grand Prix

The starting position was similar to the 125cc the day before, with the only difference that Taveri was a little closer to the Italian in the 250cc intermediate classification before the German GP. This meant that Ubbiali had to win if the Swiss were to finish second. A total of 30 drivers started their machines at 11 a.m. with the engine switched off by pushing. Ubbiali came out best, immediately broke away from his pursuers and then began to control the race from the front. Initially, Lorenzetti tried to keep up with his compatriot on the private Moto-Guzzi, but he was soon ahead of him by a good half a minute. In the second lap, Venturi was in P2 ahead of MV factory teammate Taveri. With one conversation to go, the two ultimately swapped positions. Behind him, local hero Baltisberger on his private NSU Sportmax, who won the international race that was not part of the World Cup last year. His compatriot and brand colleague Hallmeier was behind in P5 before he was thrown out of the race by a crash. The Australian Brown then took his place in front of the German rear (both NSU). This order did not change until the checkered flag fell and Ubbiali was declared two-time world champion with two laps to go.

Start of the quarter liter class at the German Grand Prix on the Solitude, with Carlo Ubbiali in the front on the left, who was already sitting on his MV Agusta and immediately took the lead.
Carlo Ubbiali was the man of the hour on Sunday, July 22, 1956, when, one day after defending his title up to 125cc, he secured the 250cc world championship early, making him a four-time champion (three times in the smallest class, first in 1951 and then in 1955).

Dramatic decision up to 350cc

John Surtees should probably remember this beautiful summer day for a long time. After his double victory up to 350 and 500 cc in Spa, which was helped by Duke’s failure in the premier class, the fast Englishman was also considered the favorite in the Solitude. Even if only in the smaller category, because the reigning world champion Geoff Duke was clearly in the lead in Belgium before he gave up. Surtees traveled to Germany as the leader in the intermediate classification of the 350 class, but this time he did not reach the finish. But Duke wasn’t lucky that day either. The category up to 350cc was the only one in which German drivers had a serious chance of a podium on a domestic machine. Thanks to continuous development and various improvements, the 3-cylinder two-stroke DKW was now almost on a par with the Italian competition from Moto-Guzzi and MV. They also had some very good drivers under contract with the experienced Sandford and the young German Hobl, as well as his compatriots Hofmann and Bartl. The official Guzzi’s of Duilio Agostini and Rocchi were withdrawn, while Eddie Grant was entrusted with a factory Guzzi for his final GP. The South African died a little later, on August 5th in Villefranche-de-Rouergue during a 350cc race.

Starting line-up for the 350cc class, with the first line being all Moto-Guzzis apart from the DKW factory pilots with start numbers 64 and 66 (half-hidden second from the right).

The 350cc race at the German Grand Prix
Because we always report from the smallest to the largest class, it should be mentioned at this point that the category up to 350cc was, as so often, held before the 250. This made perfect sense because up until the 1990s there were often double starters who usually either only competed in the smaller classes or competed in the two larger ones. This season, Lomas and Surtees were probably the two most prominent drivers when it came to the latter. But Hartl, Brett, Masetti, Goffin and, last year, Kavanagh were also there. The 350s took off at 9:30 a.m. and a total of 30 pilots showed up. Initially Surtees leads from local hero Hobl, Lomas, Sandford, Kavanagh, Bartl, Lorenzetti, Hofmann and Grant. A lap later, Lomas was in P2 ahead of Kavanagh and behind him Hobl was trying not to lose touch. In the third round, Lomas suddenly passed as the leader and a little later Surtees was eliminated due to a fall, breaking his upper arm and Kavanagh also landed off the track and had to retire. After that, Lomas didn’t let the butter take away from his bread and won ahead of an acclaimed Hobl, Dale, Sandford and another German, Bartl. Behind them are Storr and Bryen’s two private Nortons. Incidentally, Surtees had to undergo several operations after breaking his upper arm; in January 1957 we read about a third operation, at the same time as Pierre Monneret’s resignation was reported.

With August “Gustl” Hobl at the DKW, the German fans had a new beacon of hope after the resignations of Werner Haas at the end of 1954 and old master “HaPe” Müller a year later. The Ingolstadt native was now tied with Lomas in the interim standings with 16 points, ahead of Surtees (14), Sandford (13), Kavanagh (10), Emmett (6) and Dickie Dale (5). Unfortunately, the man with 6 points was not to survive the Ulster GP.

Surprise winner in the premier class

In the absence of Surtees, who was injured in his fall in the morning, Duke was even more considered the favorite on the Gilera. His factory team colleague Armstrong and Kavanagh, who fell in the morning, had outside chances, provided they were fit enough again, but the Australian ultimately withdrew. But Monneret on another Gilera and Masetti with the factory MV should not be underestimated either. As is so often the case, the favorites did not win in the most watched race of the day. At 12:40 p.m., 40 pilots pushed their aircraft after the start signal in order to jump on as soon as the engine was running. Lomas was the first to return from the first lap, Duke was stuck to his rear wheel and a little behind him were Armstrong, Masetti, Zeller, Monneret and Storr as the front private rider on his Norton. At the front a duel broke out between the reigning world champion and the man on the revolutionary V8 Guzzi.

Reg Armstrong (Gilera) was particularly motivated after the unfair and not only incomprehensible suspension and his failure in Belgium. Without Surtees and with Duke’s problems, he was suddenly confronted with chances of winning a little later.

The first dramatic failures characterized the race up to 500cc
It continued like this until the sixth round, with a clear gap ahead of BMW factory driver Zeller, who was now the first pursuer, but who had to give up a little later due to technical problems. But Duke and Lomas were also missing at the next finish, to the surprise of the audience in the main stand. Masetti came along first, with Monneret and Armstrong in tow. Duke came into the pits at a slow pace and Lomas had also let down his technical marvel. At half time it was Monneret who was leading ahead of Masetti and Armstrong, some behind. The Australian Norton private driver Bryen followed ahead of the Germans Hiller, Knees and Huber (all BMW). Geoff Duke drove out of his pits again, but after fighting his way up to P4, he finally had to retire due to engine problems. In the meantime, Armstrong had caught up with the two brawlers at the front. On lap 15, the Irishman was in the lead for the first time after the two competitors had significantly lost speed and did not relinquish his lead until the finish. Masetti came second, 14 seconds behind, ahead of Monneret and the Austrian Klinger (MBW), followed by the two private Nortons of Grant and Brien. The Germans Hiller and Knees narrowly missed out on the points ahead of Collot (Norton). For Duke, the season was as good as over and all chances of defending their title were gone. In this regard, only Armstrong had a chance, albeit a minimal one, because there were only two rounds left to play.

Start of the 500cc category as the highlight of the Solitude weekend in front of an estimated almost 350 thousand spectators, with in row 1 from the left Duke (Gilera), Lomas (Moto-Guzzi V8), Zeller (BMW), Armstrong, Monneret (both Gilera) and Masetti (MV Agusta).
In our overview of the results, John Surtees is of course missing from the premier class because he was unable to compete in the 350cc race after breaking his arm. With Ernst Degner in 10th place in the category up to 125 cm³, a man appeared internationally for the first time and we should see more of him soon. The same applied to the small troop from the GDR to which he belonged, which had just been renamed from IFA to MZ.
Umberto Masetti (MV Agusta) ahead of eventual winner Reg Armstrong and Pierre Monneret (both Gilera).

Unless otherwise stated, this applies to all images (© MotoGP).