Mike Hailwood (1940 - 1981)

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Mike Hailwood (1940 - 1981)

Mike Hailwood

Stanley Michael Bailey Hailwood

Stanley Michael Bailey Hailwood was born on 2 April 1940 at Oxford, where his father, Stan, a former motor-cycle racer, owned a motor-cycle business which developed into a prosperous series of dealerships in post-war years. Mike, as he became known, was educated at Nautical College, Pangbourne and was then apprenticed to Triumph Motor Cycles in Coventry. En- couraged by his father, he took up motor-cycle racing almost as soon as he was legally able, at the age of seventeen.

His first race, on a 125cc MV, resulted in thirteenth place at Oulton Park, but within four years he had obtained the first of his nine World Championships. Between 1961 and 1968, he won 75 motor-cycling Grands Prix and no less than twelve Isle of Man TT races, which are still regarded as the greatest test of any motor cyclist.

There were many precedents for successful motor cyclists moving into motor racing, and Hailwood's dominance of the two-wheeled world convinced him that he stood a good chance of following other great motor cyclists-turned-motor racers like Tazio Nuvolari, Piero Tariffi, Jean-Pierre Beltoise and John Surtees. In 1963, he bought himself a Formula Junior Brabham, finishing fifth in his first race and doing reasonably well in the few races his motor-cycling commitments allowed.

For 1964 Reg Parnell invited him to join his team of Formula One Lotus-BRMs in Grand Prix racing, but little success came his way because the Lotus 25s were already three years old when Hailwood started to drive them and their engines were unreliable. He took part in the occasional race in sports cars and kept his hand in by driving cars such as E-type Jaguars, various Ferraris and an Iso Grifo on his journeys across Europe and Britain.

World Sports Car Championship Races

At the end of 1967 he decided to bring his motor-cycling career to an end, at which time he was honoured by the award of the MBE. He switched to full-time motor racing, taking part in the South African Springbok series by co-driving Ed Nelson's Ford GT 40. For 1969 Hailwood was signed by the John Wyer team to drive Ford GT 40s and Mirage-BRMs in the World Sports Car Championship races. He often led races, but was invariably forced to retire, while the rivalling 3-litre Porsches often proved too fast for the Fords. However, he and co-driver David Hobbs finished a good third in the Le Mans 24-hour race.

The Guards Formula 5000 Championship

Hailwood also drove a factory-sponsored Lola T142 in the Guards Formula 5000 Championship, taking third place in the Championship despite having an ill-handling car. Mike remained in Formula 5000 for 1970, driving the works-backed Lola T190 entered by Jackie Epstein. After the chassis had been improved, he really made the Lola competitive, winning at the Salzburgring in Austria and at Silverstone, and taking second place at Brands Hatch, Mallory Park, and Snetterton. This gave him fourth place in the Guards Championship. He also drove a Gulf-Porsche 917 at Le Mans, but spun in torrential rain and shattered the front of his car against the Armco railing.

Ex-motor cyclist John Surtees recognised Hailwood's potential at the end of 1970, so he signed him to drive the Surtees TS8 in the Rothmans F 5000 Championship. The car was very competitive and Hailwood picked up victories at Mallory Park (twice) and Silverstone (twice), together with several other good placings, to take second place in the Championship. Towards the end of the season, John Surtees gave him a drive in a Formula One Surtees at the Italian GP, where he led the race on occasions and eventually finished fourth. This resulted in a full-time contract with Surtees for 1972 to race both Formula One and Two cars.

Matchbox Toys

In the Matchbox Toys-sponsored Surtees TSIO, Hailwood had a fine year in Formula Two, winning races at Rouen, Osterreichring, Mantorp Park, Salzburgring and Hockenheim to take the European F2 Championship very easily. In Formula One, he finished only four races in his his Surtees-Ford TS9B, but he scored World Championship points on all four occasions by finishing second in the Italian GP, fourth in the Belgian and Austrian GPs and sixth in the French GP to come eighth in the World Championship, with thirteen points. He also finished second in the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch and was leading the exciting International Trophy race at Silverstone until he was forced to retire.

Mike Hailwood in 1973 driving a Surtees TS14
Mike Hailwood in 1973 driving a Surtees TS14.

Mike Hailwood at Brands Hatch in 1974 during the British Grand PrixMike Hailwood at Brands Hatch in 1974 during the British Grand Prix.

Mirage Cosworth V8

Hailwood stayed with Surtees for 1973, but the Formula One car was not very competitive and Hailwood either retired or finished well down in all his races. In long-distance events, he drove the Mirage Cosworth V8, winning the prestigious Spa 1000 Kilometres with Derek Bell as co-driver. He also finished fourth in the Austrian 1000 km race and fifth in the Dijon 1000 km and Watkins Glen 6-hour races. For 1974, he left the Surtees team and joined the Yardley-Mcl.aren team to race a McLaren M23 in the colours of Yardley toiletries. He started the season well, but in the German GP at Nurburgring, on the 12th lap, Hailwood's car crashed heavily, breaking the driver's leg in three places, and putting him out of racing for the remainder of the season.

Isle of Man TT Comeback

Mike Hailwood retired from racing in 1976 to concentrate on his boat building company in New Zealand, but inevitably racing was in his blood. On June 3, 1978, after an 11 year hiatus from motorcycling, Hailwood performed a now legendary comeback at the Isle of Man TT. Few observers believed the by now 38-year-old would be competitive after such a long absence. Riding a Ducati 900SS, he was not only competitive, but managed a hugely popular win. He raced the following year at the Isle of Man TT before retiring for good at the age of 39. In that final Isle of Man appearance, Hailwood rode a two-stroke Suzuki RG500 to victory in the Senior TT.

Hailwood then opted to use that same 500cc bike in the Unlimited Classic and diced for the lead with Alex George (1100cc Honda) for all 6 laps in yet another TT epic. A minute or two apart on the road, they were rarely a few seconds apart on time each lap, Hailwood losing by just 2 seconds. Here was a rider from the 'old-school' (he was the first to complete all 6 laps of the magnificent yet notorious Mountain Circuit at over 100 mph (160 km/h) on a single cylinder 500cc machine) coming to terms with vastly different machinery after 11 years away - the tyres, frame, brakes and engine power having undergone a quantum leap in capability, even the full-face helmet and brightly coloured padded leathers must have seemed strange - and yet still being able to get as a much from it as any rider around.

On Saturday, 21 March 1981, Mike Hailwood set off in his Rover SD1 with his children Michelle and David to collect some fish and chips. As they returned along the A435 Alcester Road through Portway Warwickshire near their home in Tanworth-in-Arden, a truck made an illegal turn through the barriers into the central reservation, and their car hit it. Michelle, aged nine, was killed instantly; Mike and David were taken to hospital, where Mike died two days later, aged 40. David survived. The truck driver was fined £100. Astonishingly, Mike had been told by a fortune teller, at age 18, in South Africa, that he wouldn't live to 40 and would be killed by a truck. This fact was revealed by Elizabeth McCarthy in a 1981 memoir, while recounting her relationship with Mike, whom she had met at the first Canadian GP in 1967.

The George Medal

When he asked her hand in marriage, she replied that she was hesitant to marry someone who could die at any weekend race. He then told her his story and said; "..so you see, it won't happen on a track." An annual "Mike Hailwood Memorial Run" takes place in March every year. The starting point is the former Norton factory in Aston, Birmingham. The run goes out to Portway, where the accident occurred and then onto the church in Tanworth-in-Arden where Mike and Michelle are buried. The 25th anniversary of this tragic accident was in 2006.

He retired with 76 Grand Prix victories, 14 Isle of Man TT wins and 9 World Championships. He was awarded the Segrave Trophy in 1979. The FIM named him a Grand Prix "Legend" in 2000. He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2000 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2001. But, here at Unique Cars and Parts, we believe Mike Hailwood is best remembered for the bravery displayed when he pulled Clay Reggazoni from his blazing car in South Africa in 1973, a feat for which he earned the George Medal. Mike Hailwood - proof that the good really do die young.
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