The start of the 1982 Belgian...
The start of the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix, with Graeme Crosby (5), Randy Mamola (2), Barry Sheene (7), Jack Middleburg (4), Marco Lucchinelli (1), Marc Fontan (9), Kenny Roberts (3) and Kork Ballington (11). Winner Spencer is behind Lucchinelli.
In qualifying for the 1982 Belgian GP the late Dutchman Jack Middleburg was on the pole with a lap of 2:39. Spencer was second. He picks up the story. “In the race, got a pretty good start, but I was maybe about fifth or sixth and I felt really good in practice, but the thing about this track is it’s so big,” he said. “And you can carry a lot more speed than you realize and I remember probably in practice improving my lap times maybe over the session by four or five seconds, which is not uncommon. But in the race, about the third lap, I really started getting comfortable using the whole track. And the amazing thing was I didn’t really feel like I was pushing any harder. I was just using what was there of the racetrack, so I would just carry more speed. That’s kind of like riding this inline around here,” he said in the garage he shared with one of the vintage Honda superbikes he’d ride that weekend, “versus, the other bikes have more power. But I just know I can carry speed. So about, like I said, the third or fourth lap, and Kenny was in front and I got in second and ran him down and got in the lead and then he faded back.”
It wasn’t the three-cylinder that suited the track, it was the track that suited Spencer that made him so fast.
“It just…this racetrack really suits me,” said Spencer. “I love high speed technical stuff. I’m glad that most of the middle part is not like the road course. I mean you can carry speed through there, but that’s just matter of being willing to hit this point and that point and that point and just keep the throttle on, which I would certainly try to do. But the parts that I like were the parts where you connect the sections, like I said, downhill, off camber and it really required a lot of precision.”
“The three-cylinder worked well because of the corner speed that I could carry. Because, really, on a track as high speed as this — like Silverstone, it wasn’t that great, as we know later in the year. I mean, I was just hanging on there, because usually at that time, and that was the last year I really raced it, as much as people talk about the acceleration, really it didn’t have a lot of torque and acceleration, most of the time would work out OK, because I had to pick the throttle up so early and get it moving. And if the gear ratios would keep it close enough together. So it was a good balance here of high speed, but also technical.”
After Spencer won the race, he stopped quickly and tried to make a U-turn on the pit lane and tipping over at walking pace. “One of the most famous kind of pictures is when I turned around I fell over. It was on such a slope here and I went to put my foot down and (tipped over), all the fans and stuff were running down (to help me).”
The fans still flock to Spencer. Some things never change.
KENNY ROBERTS ON SPA 1982
In 1982 Kenny Roberts made the first big tire change of his career. Having won three 500cc World Championships on Goodyears, Roberts was reluctant to switch brands. But he’d lost the 1981 title to Marco Lucchinelli, whose Michelins were clearly superior.
Roberts tested both Dunlops and Michelins, the Michelins at a two-day test at Laguna Seca Raceway. The Dunlops felt more like Goodyears. “It moved around. You could feel it,” Roberts said. There were other reasons — “I think that the Michelin guy at that time was a little arrogant,” he said — so he went with the British rubber.
“I remember Freddie asking me, ‘Why did you go to Dunlop?’ I tested Michelin and I couldn’t even spin it. I said ‘The tire was so stuck I felt that if it ever came unstuck I’d be down the road not even knowing why.’ And that made me real nervous, because I was used to Goodyears that were moving around all the time.”
Roberts rode the OW60 in 1982, “the bad one,” he calls it. At Spa he remembers shredding the tire in about eight laps. “You couldn’t keep tires on it,” he said. “It was hard on the tire, because the suspension was not right. And it had a very quick accelerating motor and it just burned the tire up. Then you’re in for the ride of the your life. About halfway through the race, you’re doing everything you can to not crash.
“What I remember about it is just trying to get it out of the chicane, because out of the chicane you’re still turning at Spa and I couldn’t accelerate out of the chicane because it was on its side where the tire was gone.
“The thing was either on or it was off. I was trying the back brake, I was doing everything I knew how to do to try to get the thing to go around the racetrack; I just couldn’t do. So I don’t remember even racing with Freddie at that race. I was in such trouble as it was. Them guys were all gone. I raced them four or five laps, Franco (Uncini) and all them guys. Then they just left.”
JEREMY BURGESS ON SPA 1982
Jeremy Burgess was Randy Mamola’s crew chief at Spa in 1982. This was before he moved to Honda in 1983 to work with Erv Kanemoto and Spencer, where they’d win three world championships. This was before Mick Doohan, with whom he’d win five 500cc World Championships. And before the seven premier class titles — one 500cc, six MotoGP — with Valentino Rossi.
“We were having a pretty bad year that year, because we started out on Dunlops, because it was an English Suzuki team, as they always did,” Burgess recalls. “And Dunlop had built that year for Daytona an enormously big rear tire which we took down to Argentina for the first Grand Prix and Randy (Mamola) struggled there. And actually the thing I remember now about the Spa race were Randy’s comments in practice about following (Graeme) Crosby, that Crosby could change his line in the corner — had a lot more agility — whereas the Suzuki with the big Dunlop was just a one-line bike. And the agility of the NS Honda that Freddie had, obviously, everybody knew, and we found out a year later how good it was.
“And, yeah, Freddie was fast. What can you say? He was always fast on it. He was good all year. They had some silly problems with the bikes from time to time, but…the next year all of that was tidied up fairly quickly and the is rest history, so to speak.”
FRANCO UNCINI ON SPA 1982
History may have been different had Franco Uncini not had a problem in the race. The Italian was leading at Spa when he developed a large blister on the side of his front Michelin tire. It grew to the point that it was hitting the front fork tubes on his Roberto Gallina Suzuka “and then there was a vibration and step-by-step I finished. I insisted. I didn’t care about what’s going on. I said, ‘I don’t care.’ I keep going until I have to stop.”
Uncini finished, but not in the lead. Eventually he was passed by both Spencer and Barry Sheene, dropping him to third.
“They normally work good,” Uncini said, a fact that both Spencer and Kenny Roberts could attest to.
Roberts remembers telling crew chief Kel Carruthers, “I would come in and say, ‘There’s no way I can do that. There’s no way that that tire’s going to stick the way that he’s putting it in there.’ And so we were battling.”
Why the tire developed a blister was never known. “Maybe because was a little bit higher speed on that racetrack or some defect on that tire,” Uncini speculated.
“If you see the picture of that time, I was crying on the podium,” Uncini, who’s now the IRTA Riders’ Safety rep, said recently. “I was really serious and was very upset and nearly to cry. Honestly, I’m sure I can guarantee that when I was in the airport I was crying.”
The tears would be replaced by smiles in due time. Uncini won five of the eight races he entered that year and the 1982 500cc World Championship.