The last third of the season began in Northern Ireland with Round 5
A season with countless injuries and far too many deaths was coming to an end with the last two World Championship events. Traditionally, the smallest classes in Belfast were only very sparsely populated and if some pilots dropped out, it was not uncommon for not all of the points to be awarded for the top 6 ranks at the time. In 1950 only two riders reached the finish and two years later three in the 125s. Of all people, the man who stood at the top of the podium in 1952 dropped out this time and so only six of the seven drivers who started saw the checkered flag. We’re talking about Cecil Sandford, the unlucky guy in the smallest category. On the 11.32 kilometer long Dundrod Circuit, known as the driver’s course, only 10 laps had to be completed in the smallest category.
The category up to 125 cc with a Swiss winner
It was Venturi who got off to the best start ahead of his MV factory team colleagues Taveri and Chadwick. Behind them were Miller, Sandford and Provini with the favored FB-Mondial, which produced around 18 hp at 12,000 rpm and weighed around 115 kg. After the first lap, Taveri led Venturi, Miller and Chadwick. Three laps later, Taveri was still in the lead, followed by Venturi, Chadwick and Sandford, while Miller had dropped to P8 after changing his leaky tank. At halftime, Provini was in P3. With two laps to go, Sandford dropped out and so there was a three-way fight for victory, which the Swiss won by a narrow margin ahead of the two Italians. Behind Chadwick and in front of MV private driver Webster, Miller ultimately made it into the points with fifth place.
The rainy second-to-last 250cc race of the season
Shortly before the start it rained, which was no problem for Sandford as a specialist in wet conditions and the Englishman immediately took the lead. Behind them were Venturi and Taveri as the next pursuers. After the first of 12 laps, the leader had already pulled away a bit and behind Taveri was Chadwick, who had caught Venturi, followed by Miller and Provini. Sandford was in the lead unchallenged and was not deterred by the loss of his rear fairing. Taveri had to pit briefly and then returned to the track in sixth place. A little later, Miller retired and Provini lost all chances of a top position due to a spark plug change. Chadwick made it to second place, a minute behind Sandford, before the checkered flag waved, followed by Robb, Brown and Andrews on private NSU Sportmax. The last championship point went to Hodgins on Velocette. And the most important thing in the end was that Cecil Sandford had already won the second title of his career, this time in the quarter-liter class. He had never won a race since his world cup year in 1952 on an MV Agusta 125. Now, five years later, after the victory on the Isle of Man, he already achieved his second win of the season and thus made everything clear, meaning that the world champion in the smaller classes was once again determined early at the season finale in Monza.
The repeat offender in the 350s
After second place on the Isle of Man and two victories in the Benelux countries, everyone was excited to see whether Australian Campbell would score a hat trick in Belfast. He won his first world championship point up to 250 cc on his private Excelsior in 1950 right here. Seven years later he returned as a Guzzi factory driver and had become the main favorite in the absence of Geoff Duke and Bill Lomas. The crowd’s favorite Duke was there again for the first time, but the 350cc race didn’t bring him any luck. Six factory machines were at the start, for Gilera it was Liberati, Duke and Mc Intyre, for MV only Surtees and Guzzi relied on the two Australians Campbell and Bryen. When Keith Campbell took the lead from the start, Liberati and Surtees followed him, while Mc Intyre lost a lot of valuable time at the start due to a spark plug change.
The preliminary decision for victory and title was made at halftime
After the first lap, Surtees was the Australian’s first pursuer, followed by Liberaty, privateer Murphy, Hartle, Brett, Chadwick (all Norton), Bryen and Duke. One round later nothing had changed at the tip and Bryen had already moved up to 3rd position, while Duke had to retire early with suspension problems. Shortly afterwards, Murphy also retired, while Mc Intyre had already fought his way to P5 behind Bryen and Liberati. Campbell now clearly led ahead of Surtees, Bryen, Liberati, Mc Intyre, Hartle and Chadwick. But the man in P2 with his MV also had no luck and was the next to stop at the halfway point. This meant that the race finally lacked excitement and only the duel between Hartle and Chadwick, in which the former was ahead in the end, provided some variety. This didn’t matter to Campbell; the Australian’s world championship title could no longer be taken away from him before the final round in Monza.
Preliminary decision in the title fight in the premier class
This time there were 8 factory machines at the start and a total of 35 private riders. On the Gilera from Mc Intyre and the two MVs from Surtees and Shepard, the massive front paneling that was otherwise common had been removed. Brett won the start on a completely naked Norton without fairing, followed by Surtees (MV) and Duke (Gilera). After the first lap, however, Surtees was already ahead of Liberati (Gilera), Brett, Mc Intyre (Gilera), Hartle (Norton), Duke and Campbell on the Mono-Guzzi. In the third round, Surtees had already pulled away from his pursuers. But the defending champion from England was unlucky again after his failure in the 350s and retired two laps later with magnet damage to his ignition. Hartle was then the first pursuer of the now leading Liberati, but a short time later he also stopped. Mc Intyre inherited his place, having already grabbed Geoff Duke after he passed him first. After all, the 6-time world champion and crowd favorite still made it onto the podium for the first time in this season, which was cursed for him again after a lot of bad luck last year. Brett also had problems and had to give up in the end due to a loss of compression. As a result, Tanner inherited P4 in the best Norton ahead of Bryen (Guzzi) and MV factory driver Sheperd.
Season finale in Monza with the derniere for 3 manufacturers
After the second time in a row, it was slowly becoming a tradition in the Royal Park that no title decision was made at this season finale. Only in the 250cc series did the last race in 1955 benefit from this excitement, with the final lap in northern Italy, as was so often the case. For the local fans and even the entire world of motorcycle racing, this was a dramatic tragedy, although no one or at least a very small group of people were aware of it at the time. At the Grand Prix of Nations, even the Italian motorsport authorities had no idea that three of the most successful brands to date, FB-Mondial, Gilera and Moto-Guzzi, would withdraw from the motorcycle world championship at the end of 1957. This would be the death knell for the 350 national championship. By the way, just a week before the Nations GP, another fatality in motorcycle racing, this time in the teams, was to be mourned: Friedrich “Fritz” Hillebrand. Like Rupert Hollaus three years before in the category up to 125cc, the German was posthumously declared world champion. And just one day before Hillebrand, Stig Elon Valdemar “Walle” Lundberg tragically lost his life during training for the 350cc at the Masaryk Ring near Brno. At least there were no serious accidents at Monza this time.
Ubbiali’s return to size in the 125s
After his opening win at the season opener and then second place, Carlo Ubbiali did not compete in a race until Monza due to the injury he suffered in Assen. During training he suffered a bruise and severe burns in a fall and was then replaced by MV with Fortunato Libanori. He was there again and was supposed to contribute to a real festival for his brand in Monza. But this time the main actor was again Ubbiali, who was supposed to be announced for the following season in the 350cc class a little later, but that didn’t come true. But this didn’t matter to the fast man from Bergamo, he felt particularly comfortable in the smaller classes. He proved this once again after his return to the MV Agusta in his home country. His arch-rival Provini dropped out shortly after the start with engine failure (Mondial’s factory team-mate Sandford also retired a short time later) and this initially led to a three-way battle with Taveri and Venturi. But Carlo made it clear early on who would be the boss of the MV troop again this time, as before, and confidently won the race. Only the troublemakers Miller in second and Sala in P6 were able to break into the phalanx of the MV Agusta troops with their FB-Mondial. Behind them, Ernst Degner on MZ, came in 7th and we would hear more about him soon.
Reverse bad luck in the quarter liter class
While Carlo Ubbiali suffered Tarquinio’s bad luck this time, he almost had a free run without his arch rival for the first time this year. Above all, Luigi Taveri didn’t see the checkered flag either. With the exception of the 125cc class, the existing lap record was also broken here. In the end, Venturi, in second place, was almost half a minute behind winner Provini, followed by Lorenzetti on the fastest Guzzi, Sandford and Miller (FB-Mondial) and Alano Montanari with another Moto-Guzzi. Not surprisingly, the private drivers had no chance on this fast route. Nevertheless, it was astonishing how far ahead Roland Heck still was with the aging NSU Sportmax. For Cecil Sandford, the placement was irrelevant because, despite finishing 4th, he was already confirmed as world champion before the race and thus took over Ubbiali’s title. The veteran Montanari would tragically die in Cesena the following year after leaving hospital too early following a car accident to prepare for the Italian GP. Unfortunately, due to blood poisoning, he did not survive his forty-ninth year.
The race in the category up to 350 cc
With an average speed of 180 km/h (111.85 mph), which was unbelievable for the time, Bob Mc Intyre was the fastest, although he benefited from the fact that numerous stars were unavailable. Both Surtees (MV) and Duke (Gilera) on their four-cylinder machines had retired far too early, but also Montanari with a broken brake cable two laps before the end and Bryen (both Moto-Guzzi). Liberati, who was initially in the lead on another factory Gilera, was also unlucky when he fell back with problems, but was still able to reach the podium in the end. The best private driver was Hartle on Norton, who took the last point behind Milani (Gilera) and Mandolini (Guzzi). It was almost unimaginable that the Gilera and Moto-Guzzi machines that finished in the first five places would no longer be on the starting grid the following year, but unfortunately it became a fact. Together with FB-Mondial, the three manufacturers had been the most successful in the young world championship since 1949 with a total of 19 titles.
The season finale of the premier class
At the end of superstar Geoff Duke’s second disastrous season, it was finally confirmed in Monza that his time of dominance was over. The big absentee in this race was Bob Mc Intyre, who had previously won the 350cc race for Gilera, complaining of unwellness after his training crash at around 200 km/h (124.27 mph). After a short medical examination on the route, he was admitted to a clinic in Milan. A fracture of the third cervical vertebra was discovered. It would be some time before he was seen in the paddock again. More about this in our report on the 1958 season. The Scot’s machine was handed over to Milani. Moto-Guzzi, on the other hand, decided not to take part due to the injury to their figurehead Campbell. After the start, the 3 MVs of Masetti, Bandirola and Surtees were in the lead and initially only Liberati was in close contact with the MV pack ahead of his Gilera factory team colleagues Milani and Duke. By half time, a duel developed between Surtees and Liberati for the lead.
A fierce battle for the lead kept the spectators in suspense
Of course, Libero Liberati wasn’t a monastery student either, but what his English opponent in particular showed in this race was extremely rare for the time. It was completely normal back then that the lead was constantly changing, but what the spectators had never seen before was the form of aggression with which this duel was fought. In order to get rid of his opponent, Surtees apparently often used unsportsmanlike, if not irregular, means, according to statements from reporters present (from a neutral country, i.e. neither from Italy nor England). For example, he fought his way from behind out of the Italian’s slipstream and then blocked Liberati’s path and intentionally blocked the ideal line. These tough maneuvers were also visible to the audience from the stands and could well have resulted in a catastrophe. Behind them, Milani and Duke lost ground to the two contenders, but then Surtees suddenly fell behind due to a lack of power from his engine. In the end, Liberati won safely ahead of Duke and Milani completed a podium with only Gilera factory riders. Behind him, Surtees crossed the finish line ahead of his MV colleagues Masetti, Sheperd and Bandirola. However, only last year’s world champion was in the same round as the winner.
Conclusion of a season with lots of new world champions
With Libero Liberati, an Italian became champion in the premier class for the first time since 1950 and 1952 with Umberto Masetti (also on Gilera). His splendid performance with four wins in six races this season and the Monza victory as the icing on the cake, showed, above all, that the peak in the career of crowd favorite Geoff Duke had been passed. He had been clearly beaten by his teammate twice in a row and, like him, had now lost his place at Gilera. The three manufacturers Moto-Guzzi, FB-Mondial and Gilera had concluded a contract with each other towards the end of the year in which they assured each other that they would not return to racing before 1960. Curiously, they had also provided all the world champions before they withdrew from Grand Prix racing and were no longer to appear in the result lists this century. With the exception of Cecil Sandford, who was a repeat offender (he had become world champion up to 125 cc in 1952), all the other pilots had won a title for the first time.
Interesting side story at the end of 1957
What was particularly interesting was an event that did not take place under the public eye. Because FB-Mondial withdrew from Grand Prix racing and this caused quite a stir, a man from Japan contacted the Boselli brothers. We’re talking about Soichiro Honda, the head of what will soon be the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. He asked to purchase one of the Mondial racing machines that had driven the competition to the ground this year and received one. After thorough examination, this was later included in the exhibition of this brand at the Motegi race track. We will see a similar story in an article a few years later, in which the Japanese would prove to be highly skilled copiers and imitators of Western technology. However, in this case there was no truly voluntary release of high-tech development on the part of the manufacturer and its brilliant designer.
The 1957 season in numbers
Our list of fatalities from the 1957 season in motorcycle road racing
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