VD. Hailwood, Ducati & the TT, part 2 of 2

[This is the final part of Patrick Slinn’s story. If you haven’t already done so, you should read part one, blog page titled VE. Hailwood, Ducati, and the TT part 1 of 2. When I published part one there was a comment saying that Mr. Slinn is working on a book, perhaps an autobiography. If that’s true you should consider this story as a preview, an excerpt. Watch for the book to appear and buy it. It will be good.

As in part one, in some places I have inserted my own words to clarify things. Also, after reading bit more I found that Steve Wynne’s name is actually spelled with the final e. Occasionally there will be a word or two inserted withing [square brackets], again for clarity. Otherwise the words are Pat’s own.

Here’s Pat Slinn’s story part 2 of 2.

My Story of the 1978 Mike Hailwood, Sports Motorcycles, IoM TT
by Patrick Slinn

[Part 2 – The TT and a little more]

The Sports team was staying at the Douglas Bay hotel in Douglas. They had organized three single car lock-up garages that were built to the side of the hotel car park. The Sports/Hailwood/Ducati team consisted of Steve Winne, manager; John Sear, sales director; Graham Whittaker, mechanic; Ian Dagnal, general assistant; and Ron Winder, super gofer. I was there as a representative of Coburn and Hughes and a mediatory between Sports and Ducati.

Mike’s first practice ride was nothing spectacular, in fact the Ducati stopped within a few miles of the grandstand with an electrical problem. It was quickly fixed and he was on his way. I remember after his first laps he said that he had not forgotten any of the mountain course at all – he still remembered all the bumps! As the week progressed Mike became more confident and started to lap faster. The engine that came with the bike from Ducati was 088238, this engine did all the pre TT testing and most of the TT practice.

The Ducati factory sent Franco Farne and Giuliano Pedritti along to look after the Hailwood machine, considering that Sports Motor Cycles had paid a lot of money for these machines and the spare engines. Pedritti had build all the engines and had a lot of input into the whole bike, while Farne was Ducati’s senior race and development engineer and knew Mike personally. Farne and Pedritti arrived from Italy [after the first day of practice. The pair] took over the preparation of the Hailwood machine. They knew exactly what engine they would use for the last but one Formula 1 practice, and they had with them a special pair of camshafts. The race engine was 088243, Franco Farne from Ducati had earmarked this engine for the race, it produced a little more power than the other engines. Farne said that this camshaft produced a little more torque, ideal for the IOM TT course. This camshaft was fitted to MH’s race engine No. 088243 by Farne and Pedritti prior to the last practice session. The other engine that was sent with MH’s bike was 088240[, which turned out to be an unused backup].

Somehow the Italians had heard that the Lucas “Rita” ignition system was unreliable. Farne was not impressed with the Lucas “Rita” ignition system that Steve had fitted to the machine — Lucas had supplied these ignition systems free of charge, along with Geoff Johnson their competition wizard – but Farne was having none of it and promptly refitted the original ignition set-up complete with contact points and coils. It had been noted that Farne and Pedritti were slightly concerned regarding the Triumph silencers that Steve had riveted and welded onto the Ducati megaphones. They had noticed that they were sucking air on the overrun and were concerned that it would upset the carburetion. Farne noticed that we had a roll of silver duct tape and asked me to wrap this tape around the joint of the Ducati/Triumph megaphone. On the photographs of Mike racing the Ducati it can be seen that the Ducati has this silver duct tape.

The following practice sessions went well with Mike getting faster and faster. During the last but one practice session Hailwood, on the machine with [motor number 088243 with] the special camshafts and original ignition system, was told to do only two laps. The standing start lap was good but on the flying lap he lapped at a staggering 111.04 mph. At first Farne could not believe what his stopwatch had recorded and thought that it was broken, but soon realized it had not because mine said exactly the same.

That evening Farne and Pedritti went about preparing the machine for the following day’s Formula 1 race. After the two Italians prepped the machine, Farne pulled down the garage door, locked it, and went to bed. He was the only one with the key to the door.

[There was a lot of doubt among the British motorcycle racing fans about the Sports/Hailwood effort. Mike was thirty-eight years old and hadn’t raced the Isle of Man course in 11 years. Steve Wynn received many letters from folks telling him he would ruin Hailwood’s reputation, which was legendary. People wrote that they would hold Wynn personally responsible if Mike was injured, or if he ruined his reputation by getting badly beaten. Many people thought he was “over the hill” and Sports and Hailwood were wasting their time.

There was also a lot of support. Many people thought he would win. One journalist, assigned by his paper to cover the event, sent a pre-race telegram to the paper reading thus: “Mike Hailwood will be racing the 37-mile TT course after an 11-year absence STOP He will be racing a Sports Motor Cycle-sponsored Ducati in the Formula One class STOP He will win FULL STOP.”
The paper chose not to print it.]

The following day, race day, and quite early Ted McCauley came to the Douglas Bay to tell us that Mike had slid off his 250cc Yamaha during the early morning practice at Braddon Bridge, however Mike was unhurt. The Ducati was submitted for scrutineering, of course there was no problem. Shortly before the start of the race Mike asked for a tennis ball with [an opening in the top] cut out and a damp sponge in it fitted, to clean his visor, to the left inside of the fairing. Somebody managed to rush down into Douglas and buy what was necessary and it was fitted to his bike.

The regulations for this race stipulated that only two people be present in each pit and only one of those two people could push the bike away after the refueling stop. It was also allowed under the regulations that a tyre technician could be present at the pit stop to inspect the tyres, and a scrutineer to run an eye over the machine to look for any loose or broken parts.

The day’s F1 race is now history. Mike won the race with an speed of 108.51 mph and a record lap of 110.62 mph. Phil Read blew the factory Honda trying to catch the Ducati, and so many people wanted to be in on the act. People who had told Steve, John, and me that we were wasting our time with Hailwood and the Ducati were [now] shouting that they knew Mike would win.

I have always thought that more credit should have been given to Franco Farne and Giuliano Pedritti. They were sent by Ducati to look after and prepare Hailwood’s bike for the [race]. Guiliano Pedritti built Mike’s engines, these engines were not touched or modified by anybody else prior to the TT.

At the post race scrutineering all that the scrutineers were interested in were the size of the carburetors. After I had removed these and they were found to be correct, Vernon Cooper sent for me to attend his office. He said to me, “The Ducati won’t start will it Pat?” I answered him, “Yes Vernon, of course it will.” He replied, “No, it won’t.” Then I gathered that he did not want it to be started. I noticed that Alf Briggs and the team manager from Honda were outside his office. I believe that Honda had protested about the loudness of the Ducati exhausts.

[I was a little confused about this part so I dug a little further. It seems that there could be a post-race sound test if necessary, but that would be waived if the bike didn’t start. Mr. Cooper didn’t want to be lynched by the fans for disqualifying Mike Hailwood.]

One little-known fact is that after the Ducati was back in Manchester Steve [discovered] that a tooth on the bottom bevel gear broke, and Mike had to coast the bike down to the paddock entrance. This could only have happened as Mike crossed the finish line, so really the bike would not have started anyway. When I returned to the scrutineering tent Mike was there, on his way to the press conference that was held in the press office. He had stopped by to say thank you to the team.

Vernon asked to see me again. Apparently somebody, I always assumed it to be Honda, had been questioning legality (homologation) of the F1 Ducati, they were concerned about the sand-cast crankcases and the spin-on type of oil filter. Farne had the homologation papers with him so for the time being all was well. There did not appear that an official protest had been entered because after the compulsory hour we were allowed to remove the bike from the scrutineering tent.

We had the most wonderful celebration that night, which ended with the sun coming up, and a tug of war. Those of us that were on the Ducati side had no chance of losing because Mike had hooked the loop on [our side of] the end of the rope over the wing mirror of a car that was parked right outside the restaurant.

With regard to the homologation papers, I was told by Vernon Cooper a day or so later that the confusion, and the basis of questions being asked regarding the homologation of the Ducati were: The original FIM regulations, that were written in French, said that the “material that the crankcases are made from may not be altered,” however the English translation said, “The design of the crankcases may not be changed.” It appears that the Ducati engineers had read the original French version.

The following weekend was a round of the British F1 championship at Mallory Park, and Mike had asked to ride the Ducati. Steve had re-fitted one of the TT practice engines, and during the first of two ten minute practice sessions Mike was on the pace, not bad for someone who had not scratched around a short circuit for seven years. The only request that Mike asked to be done to the bike was for the footpegs to be shortened so that he could get it over further! That F1 race was without doubt one of the most exciting short circuit races I have ever witnessed. Mike outsmarted, outcornered, outbraked, and gave the current short circuit scratchers a lesson in how to race a motorcycle.

[The Mallory Park race is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LnNP7mw7XY&t=7s. Highly recommended.]

In July Mike had another outing on the Ducati at the F1 race at Donnington Park. This time however he had an engine problem. As he came past the pits on one lap he raised one finger in the air, we could not understand what he was trying to tell us. In fact at the end of the race he told us that the engine had lost 1000 revs. The problem was later traced to a broken piston ring on the front cylinder.

At the request of Sports Motor Cycles Franco Farne and Franco Valintini (Ducati sales Director) came to Silverstone for Mike’s last ride on the Ducati in 1978. This was not a fairy tale ending to the year as Mike finished third, and Farne knew then that for 1979 the Ducati had to have more speed. At the end of the meeting I was sitting with Farne having a chat about the following year and Mike came and joined us. He gave a small package to Farne. I presumed that this was a gift; it was given with no ceremony, no hype, just a big smile and a thank you.

I last saw Mike when I visited the motorcycle shop that he ran with Rod Gould in Birmingham, just a few days before that fateful accident when he was driving his two children to their local fish and chips shop. [His daughter] Michell and Mike received injuries that they later died from. David was not so seriously hurt and now races and parades to this day.

Elaine and I were asked by Ducati to represent them at Mike’s funeral, which was a who’s who of the entire motor racing world. Everybody wanted to say farewell to a racing legend and gentleman.

Patrick Slinn
Poyton, Cheshire
Aug. 2000 and Sept. 2003.