The young Barry Sheene on a 125 cc Suzuki made his breakthrough in Grand Prix sport in 1971 and at that time nobody suspected that the boy from London would become one of the most popular GP drivers of all time just five years later.

The GDR Grand Prix 50 years ago

While the preparations for a ghost race (except for a bunch of VIPs) at the Sachsenring are in full swing and sometimes even damp conditions are to be expected, we take a look back. Exactly 50 years ago, when Barry Sheene was only twenty-first and had just begun to make the world of international racing happy with his presence. The GDR Grand Prix was the sixth of 13 world championship races, and for the fourth time since 1967 all events took place only in Europe. At the time, the race at the Sachsenring was perhaps the most important sporting event behind the iron curtain. And unfortunately it was overshadowed by two events, one of which meant the imminent end of this race, which was incredibly popular in the area and far beyond the borders of Saxony and the GDR.

The program for a unique folk festival in the small town of Hohenstein-Ernstthal, at which the citizens of the “workers and farmers state” could experience the international stars of the Grand Prix Sport up close. At a time when, even in the West, there were almost no TV broadcasts of motorcycle racing.

Günter Bartusch’s tragic accident
It was one of the most successful drivers in the GDR who tragically lost his life on July 9th at the start of the race weekend. Born on April 18, 1943 in nearby Freiberg (between Chemnitz and Dresden), three years earlier he had immediately finished third at his first Grand Prix behind the two Yamaha works riders Phil Read and Bill Ivy. For the MZ driver, it went on like this on his second international outing at the GP of the Czech Republic in Brno. Günter Bartusch took third place again and as a reward he was even allowed to contest four Grand Prix races the following year. The best result was a second place in Imatra (Finland) and with 12 points he was sixteenth in the World Cup in the 11-round season. A year later he started in three classes and took third place in the 125cc class at the French GP in Le Mans, as well as at the TT, which was then part of the World Cup (there also up to 250cc). In addition, at the Ulster GP up to 350cc, even a second place. After his tragic accident, some claimed that the engine of his MZ had got stuck with Bill Ivy on his Jawa two years earlier, but this was officially denied. Before the start of the race, the Saxon who died at the age of 28 was remembered with a minute’s silence.

The last photo of Günter Bartusch, shortly before the motor sportsman, who was very popular in his country, lost his life in training in a fall. After Helmut Arnold (GDR), Gerhard Hofmann (FRG), Werner Daubitz (GDR) and Bill Ivy, he was the fifth fatality in Hohenstein-Ernstthal since the end of the Second World War.
Only the Queckenberg curve and then the start-finish area still exist on today’s Sachsenring, while at that time it was on normal roads through the village and up towards the motorway and along it before the downhill section through the forest followed. Two years earlier, Bill Ivy, one of the most successful and popular racing drivers of the time, had a tragic accident on this dangerous track. For more about its history, see our ever-growing history.

The GDR Grand Prix of 1971

In the 125cc class, Angel Nieto (Derbi) won ahead of Barry Sheene (Suzuki) and the Swede Börje Jansson on the German brand Maico. In addition, the little Spaniard remained victorious in the so-called schnapps glass class up to 50cc on the make from his country, ahead of the two Dutchmen de Vries and Schurgers (both Kreidler). As so often in these years, Giacomo Agostini won the 350s on the vastly superior MV Agusta with 1’20.4 minutes ahead of Paul Smart (GB, Yamaha) and the Hungarian Laszlo Szabo was also almost 2 minutes behind on a Yamaha, the Italian. Except for two other drivers, the multiple world champion had lapped all the others when he saw the chequered flag.

Laslo Szabo (here on MZ in front of Francesco Villa in the 1969 season) was a strong third at the 350cc Grand Prix of the GDR on a Yamaha.

The grotesque result of the 500cc Grand Prix of the GDR
In the premier class, “Ago nazionale” dominated even more dramatically, and only New Zealander Keith Turner on a Suzuki crossed the finish line on the same lap. If the winner is more than two and a half minutes ahead, the “decimal places” are completely unnecessary. The reason for this overwhelming superiority lay a few years ago, when the FIM decided to drastically change the regulations in response to pressure from the European plants without prior consultation with the Japanese plants. Honda had suddenly withdrawn from racing and would not return until more than a decade later. After the announcement of the change decided in February 1968 to the season in the following year, Suzuki also left together with Honda. However, the Hamamatsu factory returned to Grand Prix racing much earlier than the world’s largest motorcycle factory.

The development of the Sachsenring record from 1927 until before the race in 1971, when Agostini clearly missed his previous record of 1968 with 172.073 km / h. But due to the superiority of his MV, the Italian was able to allow himself a somewhat more leisurely pace on the dangerous street course.

The wrong winner and above all the wrong anthem in the 250cc GP

The quarter-litre class race should go down in history for a number of reasons. As in the two smallest categories, it was exciting and dramatic right up to the end. And to the hardship of the countless party comrades present in the injustice state of the GDR, it was a “Wessie” of all people who played the role of the hero. Of course, the Swabians understood the Swabians particularly well when he spoke into the microphone, and his performance demanded all respect from even his opponents on this Sunday. From position 10, the tall man from Hermaringen had continuously worked his way forward. In the tenth round he took the lead and in the end it was the man from the land of the “class enemy” who was on top of the podium. Before the West German national anthem, the political functionaries even ensured that almost all loudspeakers, at least except for those at the start-finish line, were switched off. But with that they scored a goal of their own, because the enthusiastic fans from the majority of the GDR simply sang along themselves, which continued around the track. There was only one edition left in 1972 and then the GDR GP came to an end, thanks to the victory of a West German and above all stubborn party officials.

Rodney Gould in front of Phil Read and Dieter Braun, after the German had already fought his way from P10 and was only just behind the leading duo, which he was to show the rear wheel shortly afterwards.

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