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Jarno Saarinen, the "flying finnish"

Jarno at the Daytona 200, 1973

Jarno Karl Keimo Saarinen (11.12.1945 - 20.05.1973) was a very important rider on the international road racing scene.

His speed and dominance earned him the nicknames “Flying Finn” and “Baron”.

Sticker and Jarno at Ice Racing in 1961

Despite his short career abroad, between 1970 and, due to his tragic disappearance, 1973, he left marks that last until today:

  • it rose in a meteoric way until, in 1973, it presented itself as the biggest candidate for the title in the 250cc and 500cc classes;

  • revolutionized the way of riding, being the first rider to scrape his knees on the ground in order to better feel the limits, he imposed an elegant driving technique that lasts until today;

  • he never allowed third parties to take care of his motorcycles, he was a mechanical engineer and personally took care of the maintenance and tuning of the machines he manned. Still, for his last season (1973), as a factory rider in two classes, 250cc and 500cc, he admitted Vince French as mechanic and the young Japanese Saito as assistant;

  • his girlfriend and later wife, Soili Karme, was an important part of his team, in charge of all the organization of the paddock work;

  • to date, he is the only Finn to have won a World Road Racing ​​Champion title, 250cc in 1972;

  • achieved great popularity, and his notoriety quickly spread beyond the confines of the Continental Circus to reach the general public;

  • finally, the tragic accident in which he died (May 20, 1973, GP of Nations at Monza) together with Renzo Pasolini, constitutes a sad milestone that has become crucial to positively change the paradigm of passive safety on circuits.

The beginning

Jarno was born and raised in southern Finland, in Turku.

At the age of 15 he went to work as an apprentice and test rider at TUNTURI PUCH, a factory in Turku that manufactured motorcycles under license from the Austrian PUCH. He competed in his first race, Ice Racing, in 1961 at Ylone, having reached the second position, from there, together with his great friend Teuvo Lansivuori, he regularly participated in Ice Racing, Grasstrack and Road Racing ​​races. In 1965, he became Finnish Ice Racing Champion in the 250cc class, also proving to be a good Speedway driver. In 1968, he made his debut, sporadically, in the World Speed ​​Championship, having participated in the Finnish GP, in Imatra, in the 125cc class at the controls of a PUCH, the bike had insufficient performance for this level, he ended up in 11th place 3 laps behind the top 2, Phil Read and Bill Ivy. In 1969 he won the Finnish Road Racing ​​Championship in the 125cc and 250cc classes.


Soili Karme giving information!

Images of the complicity between Jarno and Soili throughout their short career at Continental Circus

The World Road Racing ​​Championship

From left to right, Vince French (the pilot turned mechanic) with Jarno and a respectable trio: Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read and Jarno


In 1970, he obtained funding to continue his studies in mechanical engineering and with the resulting liquidity he planned a season in the 250cc World Championship. He participated with a YAMAHA TD-2 in 8 of the 12 races that made up the championship of this class. He did not race in the Isle of Man because he disagreed with the evident lack of safety on that track and he did not participate in the last 3 GPs (Dundrod/Ireland, Monza/Nations and Montjuich/Spain) in order to complete the mechanical engineering course at the Turku Technical Institute. Despite these constraints, he would be 4th in the championship, having reached third position, his best classification so far, in Assen and Brno. The first 3 championship positions were respectively occupied by Rodney Gould, Kel Carruthers and Kent Andersson, all in YAMAHA.


In his second world championship season, in 1971, Jarno participated in the 250cc and 350cc races, riding the ARWIDSON-YAMAHA, respectively TD-3 and TR-3. Interestingly, he would also participate in the last two 50cc races, with KREIDLER Van Veen, to, together with Barry Sheene, help Jan de Vries to win the title against his main opponent Angel Nieto in DERBI. In these participations he reached a 6th place in Monza and a 2nd place in Montjuich, in the end Jan de Vries would be crowned champion, therefore, the objective was successfully achieved.

Images of Jarno's 50cc adventure, top to bottom and left to right, in action, KREIDLER Van Veen's anti-Nieto armada, Jos Schurgers, Jan de Vries, Barry Sheene and Jarno, finally with the ever-present Soili

As, at that time, only the 7 best scores counted, the riders opted for strategic and/or budgetary reasons for the GP in which they participated, so Jarno participated in 8 of the 12 250cc GPs and in 6 of the 11 350cc GPs. In the 250cc he took 3rd place in the championship behind, respectively, Phil Read and Rodney Gould, all in YAMAHA, he won the last GP of the season in Montjuich. In 350cc, he won in Brno and Monza, having been crowned runner-up of the World behind Giacomo Agostini in MV AGUSTA.



Valuing the qualities that Jarno demonstrated, YAMAHA hired him as a factory rider to compete in the 250cc and 350c classes in 1972. The bet proved to be right and at the end of the year, Jarno was 250cc World Champion after an intense fight with Renzo Pasolini in AERMACCHI and Rodney Gould also in YAMAHA. Won in 4 races. Spa-Francorchamps, Sachsenring, Brno and Imatra, of the 10 GPs in which he participated.

Jarno with his hands in the dough

In the 350cc he was, once again, vice-World Champion and, once again, behind Giacomo Agostini in MV AGUSTA, however, this time, Agostini won with more difficulty and MV AGUSTA was even forced to produce a new bike to take on the flying Finn. He won 3 races, one of them, the Nurburgring, in a head-to-head fight with Agostini that lasted the entire race.


At the end of the season, Jarno negotiated with BENELLI to crew the following year's motorcycles from the Transalpine brand in 350cc and 500cc, after having made a secret test in Modena, he participated in a non-championship race in Pesaro where he won both classes. ahead of Agostini. YAMAHA reacted and hired him to defend the 250cc title in 1973 and, also, to race in the 500cc aboard the new YZR500, in an attempt, as it turned out, realistic to put an end to MV AGUSTA's long dominance in the class. queen.


Thus, Jarno arrived in the 1973 pre-season as a great protagonist. Even before the World Speed ​​Championship began, he won the Daytona 200 Miles riding a YAMAHA TZ350 against larger capacity bikes and was also riding the same bike that won the Imola 200 Miles, the first race of the , then newly created Formula 750 FIM Trophy.

1973 French GP, first 500cc race, first win!

Super morale, he attacked the first race of the CMV, the French GP in Paul Ricard, having won the 250cc and 500cc races. In the second race of the season, the Austrian GP at Salzburgring, he won again in both classes. In the third race, the German GP in Hockenheim, he won the 250cc and withdrew in the 500cc, broken transmission chain, when discussing the first position with Phil Read. The fourth race, the GP of Nations at Monza, was marked by the tragic accident in the 250cc race that ended the lives of Jarno and Renzo Pasolini and involved more than 14 riders, including Hideo Kanaya, Walter Villa, Victor Palomo, Fosco Giansanti, Borje Jansson and Chas Mortimer. It happened on the first lap, at the first corner, when Renzo crashed into the rails, according to the report he died instantly, his bike ricocheted and hit Jarno in the head causing the injuries that were fatal. Among the other riders there were several injuries, some seriously, several needed further psychological support to deal with the trauma caused to them, the race was cancelled, as was the 500cc race that would follow. The final report - after other considerations that would have to do with oil that Walter Villa's BENELLI would have started at the end of the previous race (350cc) and which would not have been properly removed - pointed to the fact that the engine of Renzo's motorcycle had caught the flu and consequently blocked the rear wheel!

Undoubtedly, Jarno Saarinen is to this day a unique figure in motorcycling and will always be remembered for the importance of his results, for the popularity that his friendliness and simplicity generated and, sadly, for the importance that the accident that killed him contributed to improving in a decisive the passive safety conditions in the World Road Racing ​​Championship.


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