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Phil Read, the prince of speed

Phil Read

Phillip William Read (M.B.E.), born in Luton/Bedfordshire/GB on 1 January 1939), is a motorcyclist who has made a remarkable international career in speed. He was the first rider to have won World Champion titles in the 125cc, 250cc and 500cc classes. In total, he won seven titles: 125cc in 1968, 250cc in 1964, 1965, 1968 and 1971 and 500cc in 1973 and 1974. Cumulatively, it also reached the Formula TT championship in 1977, a title awarded, that year, in a single event, the Isle of Man. Coming from a family that had the motorcycling gene, Phil's taste and first steps in motorcycles came early and naturally. It was his mother who introduced him to driving, she herself crewed a 1922 RUDGE in her daily life. At the age of 13, Read received a MATCHLESS 250 and his idols were the stars of the time, Geoff Duke and John Surtees, His sporting career began in 1955 (at the age of 16, which was the legal minimum age required to participate in competition in England). He assiduously participated in national competitions riding several motorcycles, such as VELOCETTE, BSA and NORTON.


In 1957, at the age of 18, a race at Mallory Park took his career to the next level. He got his first victory a year later, on the same circuit. His notoriety was greatly increased when, surprisingly, he won the initiation category on the Isle of Man in 1960. In 1961, he won the Junior TT riding a NORTON 350, beating the stars Mike Hailwood and Gary Hocking, it was his first victory at the Worlds! At the end of the year he was 12th in the 125 cc aboard an EMC (only participated in 2 of the 11 races in the championship, having withdrawn in the IOMTT and getting 4th in the Netherlands), 5th in the 350 cc aboard a NORTON (only participated in 3 of the 7 championship races, he won in the IOMTT and was in 4th position in Holland and Ulster) and 15th in the 500cc riding a NORTON (only participated in 2 of the 10 championship races, withdrew in the IOMTT and was in 4th position in Netherlands).

In 1962, Read remained as a private rider with NORTON, participating in 350cc and 500cc. He surprised by being third in the 500cc World Championship, defeated only by Hailwood's official MV AGUSTA and Alan Shepherd, at the time official MATCHLESS rider. That year he was, therefore, the best private pilot in the World Championship in the main class. In the 350cc, he participated in only 2 of the 6 races of the championship, having reached the 15th place. At the invitation of Geoff Duke, one of his youth idols, in 1963, replacing Derek Minter who was injured as a result of an accident at Brands Hatch while discussing victory with Dave Downer - who died in the same accident -, Phil took a seat in the SCUDERIA DUKE GILERA GRAND PRIX. In this line-up, he stood out and asserted himself by reaching the third position in the Senior TT of the Isle of Man, the second position in the Dutch TT of Assen and the same position in the GP of Belgium. In the next race, the Ulster GP at Dundrod, Derek Minter claimed his place in the team and Phil was left without a competitive ride for this class. Even as a replacement rider, at the end of the year his adventure with GILERA resulted in 11th position in the 350cc class and 4th place in the 500cc class. In the same year, 1963, YAMAHA starts its participation in the World Championship in the 125cc and 250cc classes with Fumio Itoh as a pilot in both classes. Realizing that the future would pass through the Japanese brands, HONDA and SUZUKI were already there before YAMAHA arrived, Read accepted YAMAHA's invitation to participate in the 125cc and 250cc classes from 1964. Having his first participation with this brand happened in the Japanese GP (last race of the championship) still in 1963, while he remained in the Duke team in the 500, which had lost the support of GILERA. Read's aggressiveness took the two-stroke Yamaha RD 56 to the front and, to the delight of the Japanese, he took 3rd place in his first participation with the brand (250cc).


In 1964 he made only one (Holland GP) 125cc race (YAMAHA) having achieved the 2nd position which implied the 8th position at the end of the championship in this class. In 250cc (YAMAHA), the class to which, that year, he was most dedicated, he participated in 8 of the 11 events that made up the championship of this class, registering a withdrawal (IOMTT), a third place (Spain), a second place (Holland ) and 5 victories (France, Federal Germany, Democratic Germany, Ireland and Italy), this result presents several novelties: the first of seven world titles for Phil, but also the first YAMAHA title and the first title of a motorcycle equipped with an engine 2Q In the 350cc he only participated in the IOMTT riding an AJS having reached the 2nd place (6th at the end of the championship). In the 500cc he participated in 6 (five with MATCHLESS and one with NORTON) of the 10 championship races, withdrew from the IOMTT, placed 6th in Holland, 3rd in Germany, 2nd in the USA and Belgium, having won in Ulster (Ireland), in championship final was 3rd. In 1965, with YAMAHA only, he concentrated on the 250cc and won in a devastating way, participated in ten of the thirteen events that made up the championship of this category, withdrew in the IOMTT, was second in Belgium and in Democratic Germany, having won on seven occasions. : USA, Federal Germany, Spain, France, Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and Ireland. In the Isle of Man event he also participated in the 125cc having won and in the 350cc reaching the second position! 1966 was not such a positive year for Read, he remained dedicated to YAMAHA and participated assiduously in the 125cc class, finishing fourth in the championship (he participated in 9 of the 10 championship races, having recorded one withdrawal, a fifth place, three fourth places, three third places, a second place and a victory - in Finland-).

In the 250cc YAMAHA debuted a new V4 engine that failed to produce the desired result and Phil finished in second position behind Mike Hailwood and the mythical HONDA 6 cylinder. He also participated in the last 350cc race, Japan, having won, which gave him the right to 8th position at the end of the championship in this class. In 1967 he concentrated only on the 125cc and 250cc classes, becoming runner-up in both classes. In 125cc he was supplanted by his teammate Bill Ivy and in 250cc Hailwood was once again the champion, although this time in a more balanced way, 4 wins for Phil and 5 for Mike. In 125cc, Ivy dominated the championship, while Read had to settle for second, which caused Read some discomfort. Still, in the 250cc, YAMAHA provided Read a very competitive bike and he disputed the championship head to head with Hailwood, they reached the last race, the Japanese GP in Fuji, tied with 50 points, the best placed in this race would be champion , both gave up and Hailwood became champion for having one more victory. 1968 was the year in which HONDA decided to withdraw from the championship, Mike Hailwood, keeping the salary that the contract required, stayed at home and YAMAHA, in order to contain the growing rivalry of its two riders, decided that Read would win the 125cc and Ivy the 250cc . In fact, Phil won the 125cc and taking advantage of the momentum, contrary to the brand's instructions, he also took the title in the 250cc! As a result of his rebellion, he lost his factory motorcycle in 1969 and 1970. In 1969, he participated, with YAMAHA, but as a private rider in the IOMTT (having withdrawn in 250cc and 350cc) and in the GP of Nations (Italy/Monza) where he proved all his worth by winning in both classes. In 1970 he participated only in Holland (2nd in 250cc and 3rd in 350cc) and in the GP of Nations (3rd in 250cc). In 1971, Phil makes a comeback, at the controls of a private YAMAHA, he gave priority to the 250cc having to face the rising stars Jarno Saarinen and Rodney Gould, it was a very disputed season and in the end, Read won another title! In the 350cc, only two appearances: he withdrew from the IOMTT and took second place in the Netherlands. He also participated, riding a DUCATI, in the 500cc Nations GP, reaching 4th position. Meanwhile, MV AGUSTA dominated in 350cc and 500cc. Phil Read sang to the winds that if he rode one of these bikes he would win both categories, leaving behind the mythical Giacomo Agostini and the rising star Saarinen.

Surprisingly, after his YAMAHA background, MV AGUSTA hired him, initially in 350cc, later in 500cc and the result was surprising. In 1972 he participated (in 5 of the thirteen races) with the private YAMAHA in the 250cc, the result was two victories, two third places and a fourth place (in the final ranking he was 4th). In 350cc, his debut with MV AGUSTA (6 participations in twelve races) was not brilliant: a win, a second place, a third place, a fourth place, a fifth place and a withdrawal (in the final ranking he was fifth).

In 1973, at the helm of the transalpine brand in 350cc and 500cc, he won his first title in 500cc, benefiting from some irregularities from Agostini and the tragic disappearance (GP of Nations/250cc) from Jarno Saarinen. In the 350cc he reached the final third position behind Agostini and Teuvo Lansivuori. During the season, Giacomo Agostini assiduously complained about the atmosphere that Phil Read, allegedly, caused in the team, this was the justification he found to move from weapons and luggage to YAMAHA the following season! In 1974 and 1975, Phil dedicated himself only to 500cc with the MV AGUSTA, he became, once again, champion in 500cc (his 7th and last title in the "Continental Circus) in 1974. After a year of development, YAMAHA provided Agostini with a very competitive bike, in 1975 and the championship was hotly contested between Agostini's agile YAMAHA 2T against Read's heavy four-stroke MV AGUSTA. Despite the great effort shown and having achieved two victories, the Englishman had to settle for runner-up behind Giacomo Agostini (YAMAHA). In 1976 he participated in only three 500cc races at SUZUKI, having registered a 2nd and 3rd position plus a withdrawal. Realizing the emergence of a new era of two-stroke motorcycles, MV AGUSTA decided to officially withdraw from the World Championship and that was practically the end of Phil Read's good times. At the age of 36, Read witnessed the emergence of a new wave: Marco Lucchinelli, Johnny Cecotto and Barry Sheene, who took a picture with Read when he was a child. Read is back to being a private rider and even racing the same Suzuki that he dominated the previous year with Sheene, in 1976 he participated in just three 500cc races in SUZUKI, having registered a 2nd and a 3rd position plus a withdrawal. Read decided to retire from the World Cup after 17 seasons, seven world titles: 1964-250, 1965-250, 1968-125 and 250, 1971-250, 1973-500 and 1974-500, 113 Grands Prix, 52 wins, five poles , one fastest lap and 121 podium finishes, covering the three categories. Until the emergence of legend Valentino Rossi, Phil Read was the only one to have won a World title in all three categories (125, 250 and 500).


Read started to compete sporadically, including a remarkable victory at the TT, in the Isle of Man, in 1977, riding a HONDA, defeating, on that occasion, Mike Hailwood, taking the change the following year. Phil Read's last competitive race was the 1982 TT, when the Englishman was 43 years old. To this day, Read, better known in England as the "Prince of Speed", participates in historic motorcycle events and in 2002 he legitimately entered the Hall of Legends of the Motorcycle World Championship. Read may have had his faults and made several enemies, but there is no doubt that the Englishman is a great figure in motorcycling history. Phil Read is also one of the first figures whose popularity surpassed the motorcycle world, with some star attitudes and behaviors (from a certain point on he began to move from ROLLS ROYCE), having also pioneered the sale of of replicas of his helmet, a design that endures and sells to this day! Currently, Phil Read M.B.E. lives in Canterbury Kent. After the passing of John Surtees, Phil is the oldest surviving 500cc World Champion!


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