(February 2010) Last year I spent a lot of time researching the pictures for a book on the 60-year history of motorcycle Grand Prix racing. That meant rooting through the file boxes of stuff I’ve accumulated over the last 30 years as a bike journalist, and it meant quickly putting anything that wasn’t directly relevant to GPs to one side. Now the MotoGP Source Book is safely in the shops, I have been reorganizing my photo filing and, as you do, wasting my time looking through some old snaps. That’s how I came across this picture.
It shows Guy Bertin at the 1984 Bol d’Or at Circuit Paul Ricard. He is nearing the end of a 90-minute push in from the start of the Mistral straight where he highsided the factory Honda RS750R out of a leading position. Look at some of the details: Sarron’s hands a swathed in bandages, there are no handlebars on the bike and the whole fairing has been ripped off. Now this photo was taken three miles (4.8km) from the scene of Bertin’s crash, so we can work a few things out. First, the Honda doctor must have gone out to dress Bertin’s wounds before he started his push. In endurance racing, the first rule is to get the bike back to the pits at all costs. However, the rules explicitly forbid a rider receiving assistance outside of the pit lane. That applies specifically to the bike though, although it has been known for riders to carry tools taped inside the fairing – or for the necessary spanners to suddenly materialize beside a crashed rider…
So after a violent crash and a bit of al fresco medical attention, Bertain started an hour-and-a-half push in the Provencal sunshine. In the picture, he is on the access road on the inside of the final corner and about to get into pitlane. Five minutes after I pressed the shutter release, Bertin was back at his pit where he punched the air and then collapsed. The second pic shows him, swathed in damp towels, sat in the cool of the Honda pit garage examining the damage to his hands. By the way, the bike got back on track in 63rd place and Dominique Sarron broke the lap record on it before he too pushed in with ignition failure.
Those are the facts behind the photo, but even though a rank amateur cameraman—me—took it, there are aspects worth looking at, doubtless because someone who knew what they were doing printed it. Check out how Bertin is pushing on the top of the fork legs with his bandaged hands, check out the mixture of pain and sheer determination on his face. You can compete just as hard at walking pace as you can at 180mph, or you can if you’re the sort of racer Guy Bertin was.
The image is given extra power by the nature of endurance back in the 1980s when all the factories competed with full factory teams and brought in GP winners like Bertin to ride for them. Mind you, he was a 125 racer and that’s a 350lb (160kg) bike he’s pushing. The ’84 RS750 was the last of its line, much prettier and neater than the 860 and 920cc versions that preceded it. You can see the influence of the NS500 two-stroke clearly but this much-improved bike was only on track for one year. In 1985 Bertin and his Honda team-mates got to ride the awesome RVF but had to contend with Suzuki’s new GSX-R and Yamaha joined in by bring the FZ-based Genesis to the Bol. Endurance really was worth watching back then. These were pre-Superbike days, so the only bits off the homologation road bike were the major engine castings—cases, barrels, heads; everything else was completely prototype. If this is what the MotoGP powers that be mean by a production-based bike, not many people will complain.
And the picture? Well, it could have been better composed, shouldn’t have my shadow in it, and a professional would have rattled off a dozen exposures. But I think it still says a whole lot about racers, and it is definitely the best picture I ever took.