Naturally, with the racing season not yet under way, riders’ programmes are far from being finalised, although many of the season’s teams are settled. After their rather disappointing season last year, Norton’s are going all out for a come-back and have a team of riders that will take a great deal of bettering. Fielding four machines for the Grand Prix events, Norton Motors have two of the finest riders in the world leading the team, in Harold Daniell and A. J. Bell. Daniell, who is probably the wiliest rider of all time, together with Irishman Bell, who can try harder, against uneven odds than any man, will have as team mates Johnny Lockett and Geoff Duke. Lockett, whose safe and stylish riding is a joy to watch and who did remarkably well in the 350-c.c. class last year, is as steady a team man as any manufacturer could wish to sign on, while Geoff Duke, the newest and youngest member of the team, is, with no question at all, the find of 1949 and should be more than capable of justifying his place in the world’s most famous racing team. Anyone who saw Duke riding at Silverstone last year will realise that in this 20-year-old Norton’s have a really dashing rider who is not only capable of riding right on the limit, but is well aware of what he is doing and is not likely to make mistakes. The Norton team’s aim this season is 850-c.c. class supremacy, but with Daniell, Bell, Lockett and Duke as a team, the 500-c.c. class should also see the team well to the fore. Already the 1950 racing prototype has been thoroughly tested by all four riders who report vastly improved handling qualities over last year’s models.
The other British manufacturer’s team who will be well in the picture are the A.J.S. group. At present their riders are not finalised, although Les Graham, 1949 World Champion, will again lead for the Plumstead firm, backed up by Bill Doran, Ted Friend and rumour says possibly Bob Foster. The very fine 500-c.c. “Porcupines” will undoubtedly show a little more speed this year, as indicated by Graham’s machine at Monza last September, and although Graham’s riding, ability with the Twin can match most things, Doran and Friend do not make up quite so strong a team as that fielded by Bracebridge Street. If, as rumour suggests, Foster rides for Ajay’s, then a different story can be expected. A.J.S.’s will obviously concentrate most of their efforts on the 500-c.c. class, but that will not mean that the 350-c.c. Boy Racers will not prove hot opposition in this class. With the Norton team showing signs of a come-back in the 330-c.c. class and Ajay’s undoubted ability in the 500-c.c. class, the Italians, who are the major rivals in Grand Prix racing, will have to try very hard.
The semi-works team of Velocettes, financed by the Nigel Spring/Dennis Mansell combine, do not look as though they will have the success of last year, for with Freddie Frith retiring from racing, there is no one to replace him immediately. In the new Spring team we have three very promising riders who will certainly all be well to the front of the 350-c.c. racing. After a slight disagreement with the A.J.S. firm, young Reg. Armstrong signed up with the Spring organisation, and it will be interesting to see how this young Irishman gets on with a K.T.T. Velocette. He will certainly look strange, for we have been so used to seeing his silver helmet emblazoned with the shamrock over the bars of a Boy Racer. With him on the Spring Velocettes are Frank Fry and Charlie Salt, both newcomers to team riding, although they had a preliminary tryout last season. Frank Fry has long been overdue for a works ride, having proved time and time again that he was capable of something faster than his own standard Mk. VIII Velocette. His showing in last year’s Ulster Grand Prix must have convinced anyone who needed convincing, while his successes in smaller races, always with Velocettes, date back to pre-war times. Charlie Salt, a comparative newcomer, stuck to privately entered Norton machines for a long time, but last year made the change to a Velocette. In all probability he will concentrate on the home events, the other two riders doing the Continental races. Nigel Spring’s 500-c.c. entries are still not finalised, but whether they be Velocettes, or foreign machines, Fry, Armstrong and Salt will be the riders.
Of the other English “private stables,” R. S. (Dick) Wilkins will again be entering men and machines. His first string will again be Bob Foster, providing the aforementioned rumour does not come to fruition, and he will be backed up by a very promising newcomer who has yet to venture into the Classics, but who has, nevertheless, shown great promise at smaller meetings, especially Cadwell Park. He is W. A. Lomas, a youngster with a great future in front of him if he continues as he did last year. A sound and steady rider, Lomas should, with experience, prove a useful asset to any team and, of course, with Bob Foster to give a guiding hand he could wish for nothing better for the future. Another very promising young rider is Dickie Dale, who, although at present a little headstrong for team riding, nevertheless has remarkable riding ability and backed by Austin Monks he should continue to do as well in 1950 as he did last year. It was interesting that Benelli’s offered Dale a machine for the Monza meeting, no doubt due to Ambrosini watching him in the I.O.M. last June, and whether the offer will be repeated this year is net yet known.
Of the “Independents” little will be changed for the coming season. Most of the regular “Continental Circus” members will be “on tour” again by Easter time, although a notable exception will be M. D. Whitworth, who has retired from Continental racing, due to having started a tuning business at Harlesden; he will, however, be riding in the T.T. and probably the Ulster Grand Prix, while the chances of him staying away from Blandford and Silverstone are pretty remote. The “Uncrowned King of the Circus” Fergus Anderson will be at it again, but what difficulties will be put in his way by Guzzis stopping racing this season is not known. Tommy Wood will be present with his usual array of machines, although his Albatross Guzzi is hoping to be swopped for a Gambalunghino Guzzi. Sidecar World Champion Eric Oliver, accompanied by his bearded passenger, will be defending his title, as well as riding in the solo events abroad and others going overseas again include Phil Heath and Eric Briggs with a pair of Nortons each, while veteran Albert Moule also intends “going continental” with a pair of Nortons. C. W. Petch, V. H. Willoughby, Mason, Dear and others will also be at it again and no doubt more will cross the water from time to time. Supporting Oliver in the sidecar class we shall probably see P. V. Harris, who made fastest three-wheeled time at Shelsley Walsh, and Cadwell-Maestro Jack Beeton, both with 596-c.c. Norton outfits.
The major opposition to this country will come from Italy, but though they have the machines they have not such a good selection of riders as we have. Italy suffers mainly from a lack of promising newcomers, and though this will not affect her this season, in a few seasons’ time we may find English riders being sought after. The major interest in Italy is with 500-c.c. machines and the team of four-cylinder Gileras will be all-out for a clean sweep of the Senior honours. Nello Pagani proved himself the most successful rider of these machines last year and will probably lead the attack again, even though he does not always see eye-to-eye with the firm. At the end of 1949, Arcisco Artesiarti was threatening to retire from active racing, but if not he will again be backing up Pagani. If it were not for the lack of good riders in Italy, it is doubtful whether Carlo Bandirola would get another chance with the four-cylinder, for his crashes in the 1949 Swiss and Italian Grand Prix races blotted his copybook in no mean manner. While there are many good riders in Italy, well able to cope with a fast five-hundred, there are few who can cope with a very fast five-hundred such as the Gilera four. The Guzzi factory have officially withdrawn from racing for this season, but Enrico Lorenzetti will be competing as a private owner with the 1949 works machines, including the rare 350-c.c. twin. Some idea of the Guzzi team’s plight can be gauged from the end of last season when they had five machines lined up for the 500-c.c. class and with Lorenzetti unable to pass the medico, they could only find two riders to handle their unorthodox “Bicylindris.” These two were Guido Leonni and Bruno Bertacchini and whether they will use last year’s machines as private owners is doubtful. The sidecar class will see the works Gilera out again, ridden by that very clever Italian, Ercole Frigerio, ably assisted by Lorenzo Dobelli and it is quite likely that this season will see the water-cooled four-cylinder replaced by one of the air-cooled models, which are not only much lighter, but quite a lot faster.
Enthusiasm for road-racing is as high as ever it has been and it is interesting that, while this country is not outstandingly capable of producing a team of drivers for Grand Prix cars, it can produce three or four top line teams of motor-cycle Grand Prix riders.