It was 47 years ago today, but it seems like yesterday. The announcement on the BBC News that there had been a tragic accident at Monza in Italy and that two riders Jarno Saarinen and Renzo Pasolini had lost their lives. I just could not believe the news as I stared at the radio on that sunny Sunday afternoon.
Two of my heroes killed in a split second in an avoidable accident in the 250-cc race at the Nations Grand Prix in Monza just did not seem logical or possible but it was.
The Finn Jarno Saarinen who we had followed, admired and even idolised watching him enjoy the complexities of British short circuit racing when he like many other grand prix stars came to ride in the International meetings. The TT races in the Isle of Man were still the British round of the World Championships and it was at the likes of Mallory Park, Silverstone and Brands Hatch we realised we were watching somebody so special.
Much to the disgust of some of our friends we had even decided to forgo our annual trip to the TT races on the Isle of Man that year. Instead we decided it was time to go to grand prix to watch Saarinen in World Championship action at the 1973 Dutch TT in Assen. At least it was a TT but a very different one to the mountain circuit that we had so enjoyed for many years. It was the right time to go because Saarinen had taken the World Championship by storm, in a similar style to Rossi and Marquez in later years. The previous year he won the 250 cc World Championship for Yamaha. The Japanese factory launched a two-stroke attack on the four stroke – dominated 500cc World Championship in 1973. They knew Saarinen was the man capable of their first and the first 500 cc two-stroke title. Of course, he did not let them down. He won the opening two rounds in France and Austria and only a broken chain prevented the hat trick in Germany. In addition, Saarinen won the opening three rounds in the defence of his 250-cc title. No wonder he was nicknamed the ‘Flying Finn.’
Such was the impact of his death that Yamaha immediately withdrew from the 500cc Championship for the remainder of the season and Monza did not stage another motorcycle grand prix for many years.
Ironically, it was at the TT races we fell in love with Italian Renzo Pasolini. The bespectacled Elvis Costello look alike on board that glorious looking and sounding Benelli won our hearts in the 1968 350 cc TT race in the Isle of Man. We sat on the wall at Greeba Castle and could hear at least five miles away first Giacomo Agostini on the MV Agusta and then Pasolini on the Benelli racing through the gears towards us with that glorious sound bouncing between the Manx stone walls and houses. The master Agostini arrived first, fast, smooth and so immaculate. It took us a good minute to catch our breath before Pasolini arrived in a very different but equally quick manner. He was all over the place and almost mounted the grass verge in front of us before disappearing leaving just the haze of exhaust fumes and that wailing sound as he stormed on towards Ballacraine. We were totally hooked.
I don’t think it’s fair to try and work out or compare how sportsman from different eras would have fared against each other but perhaps Jarno Saarinen should be the exception. Would he have been the greatest grand prix motorcycle racer in the 71-year history of World Championship racing?
I think he would.