Jorge Lorenzo Jarno Saarinen
In a tribute to legends past, Jorge Lorenzo rides the bike of a legend cut short.
Lorenzo rides Saarinen Yamaha
As part of the pre-race events at the 2009 Dutch MotoGP round, Jorge Lorenzo was one of a number of current riders who took part in a demonstration parade of the bikes ridden by legends from the sport’s history, riding on Finn Jarno Saarinen’s Yamaha.
Colin Edwards got the chance to ride a GP race winner machine at Assen – Dutchman Jack Middelburg’s 500cc race winning machine from the 1980 event. Middelburg sadly passed away in a race accident in 1984.
Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen rode the 1976 500cc Suzuki of his hero and mentor Barry Sheene, another fallen legend, although not on a race track.
Scot Racing ridersYuki Takahashi and Gabor Talmacsi, rode a 1976 Mike Hailwood Honda replica and a 1976 Bob McIntyre Honda – McIntyre a multi GP and Isle of Man winner from Scotland, who lost his life racing in 1962.
Marco Melandri took control of a Renzo Pasolini 1968 Benelli replica, a name inexorably linked to Jarno Saarinen’s.
Jarno Saarinen, Rising Star
For those who are under 40, or are not students of the sport’s history, Jarno Saarinen’s name may not be familiar. But in the ’70s, Finnish rider Saarinen’s name was known by race fans worldwide – the 1972 250cc World Champion – who, like Lorenzo, was riding for Yamaha in the 1973 season.
Last year parallels were drawn between the two names, as Lorenzo burst into the premier GP class with 3 poles in a row, so too did Saarinen, with a pole position in his first 3 races on a 500cc bike in 1973. Unlike Lorenzo however, Saarinen won the first two races, only a DNF in the 3rd stopping a season opening trifecta.
But in the seventies racers were made of sterner stuff, and Saarinen was also contesting the 250cc class as well, with potential entry into the 350cc class, after a 2nd place result in the 1972 350cc Championship to go with his 250cc Champions title.
Saarinen had a distinctive style, he has been credited with being the man who introduced the “knee down – off the seat” style of cornering, soon to be copied and used by every other succesful racer since. It is said his background in ice racing was responsible for the style, the clip ons on his TZ Yamaha tilted downwards severely to enable his wild riding.
1973 started for Saarinen in the way he had become accustomed to, winning. A visit to the USA resulted in a Daytona 200 win, onboard a TZ350 Yamaha. Back in Europe, Saarinen won all three of the opening 250cc races, and the first two 500cc races. Only a broken chain in the German GP stopped him from winning every start he had taken that year.
The series moved on to the Italian event, held at the infamous Monza circuit, and despite the fact that chicanes had already been added to this frighteningly fast circuit in an attempt to make it safer, they were not used at this event. 30 years later, it is difficult to know the facts of what happened that day, but it is known that in the previous 350cc race, an engine problem with one machine had apparently deposited oil on the circuit, and that despite some complaints from riders, was not cleaned.
Whether this was the cause is arguable, but whatever the case, as the field of riders charged thru the Curva Grande flat out in top gear on the opening lap, Renzo Pasolini lost control and crashed, bringing down a large number of bikes. Jarno Saarinen was one of those involved.
Sadly, both the veteran Pasolini, and the rising star in Saarinen, both lost their lives in the accident, with a number of other riders seriously injured. Yamaha withdrew for 500cc racing for the rest of the year, and the motorcycles did not appear at Monza again until nearly a decade later, in the 80’s.
To lose two of the sports biggest stars in one accident was a black day that is still remembered with sadness today, and highlights the fine line between glory and tragedy that motorcycle racers tread.