The unforgettable race

— Insight —

The Unforgettable Race

The 1979 British GP is etched in motorcycling folklore. The leaders were almost inseparable throughout… and remained so at the finishing line

Sheene’s duel with Kenny Roberts at Silverstone in 1979 was one of bike racing’s all-time greatest moments. Not surprisingly, Roberts remembers it well, not least for the notorious hand signals that the pair exchanged.

“I knew I couldn’t outrun him and he knew he couldn’t outrun me, so we were just playing with each other,” recalls Roberts, who went on to win the second of his three 500 titles that year. When he would lead, he’d slow us down, so I’d have to lead because there were guys behind us. We both knew it was going to come down to the last lap. When he gave me the bird it made me chuckle, but what people didn’t see was that I’d already been waving at him saying, ‘Fuck, let’s go asshole, because (Wil) Hartog is catching us’.

“In fact the race came down to the last corner, Sheene making a heroic surge round the outside as the pair swept through Woodcote for the final time.

“I knew he was there,” says Roberts. But he wasn’t going to get inside of me, that’s for sure, and I made myself pretty wide.”

As Roberts drifted to the edge of the track, Sheene had the momentum to make a pass on the outside but there was nowhere to go. By the time he was alongside the Yamaha he had run out of racetrack and was inches away from a huge crash. He lost the race by one yard.

The effort Sheene put in was pretty amazing to try and go that far around me,” adds Roberts. He got beat but he was happy how could you not be? He’d given it everything he had. Really there was no loser that day if you come that close, there are no losers.”