In 1971 he scored three GP wins on the ex-Stuart Graham 125 Suzuki at Spa, Belgium; Anderstorp, Sweden and Imatra, Finland.
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He’d even won the 50cc GP in Brno, Czechoslovakia, as guest rider for the Van Veen Kreidler team, but his results during the following years on the continent were a faint shadow of that successful season.
Looking for the right machine in the bigger classes in comparison to the tiddlers he’d found the top of the podium with, Barry signed for Yamaha in 1972 to race 250 and 350cc bikes but, again, the GP season ended up a disaster for Barry. He didn’t get on with a quarter-litre race bike with a tendency to seize and throw the youth off its back. Barry had lost confidence in the water-cooled works 250 Yamaha YZ635 and the bike was swiftly handed over to Jarno Saarinen by Yamaha bosses – Saarinen went on to became a world champion on it…
So Barry went back to Suzuki again and found machines he could really hustle, becoming the winner of the 750 FIM Cup in 1973. In 1974 he was an official works rider for the big S along with Paul Smart and Jack Findlay in the GPs, the trio riding the then brand-new four cylinder RG500 Suzuki.
Sheene crashed again at Imola and finished sixth in the championship behind Findlay.
Early on in its development, the RG500 simply wasn’t yet capable of getting out there and beating the MV Agustas of Phil Read and Gianfranco Bonera plus the works Yamahas of Tepi Länsivuori and Giacomo Agostini. In fact, the start of the 1975 season was (again) a disaster for Barry when he crashed at high speed at Daytona because of a puncture. He was out for several months with the season passing him by until, back to some strength at least, he turned up to the Dutch TT at Assen on June 28.
Right from the off Sheene was on the pace, surprisingly (to those watching) bagging a 2.58 lap time in Friday’s practice session – that was the fastest lap ever on this circuit at that time. Talk about setting out your stall early!
Agostini was second on the Yamaha and Barry’s team-mate Tepi Länsivuori was third. Last place on the first line of the grid was taken by Franco Bonera on a MV Agusta. Phil Read, on the other MV was only 0.1 second faster than Alex George. The MVs were still suffering with handling issues and even Read continued to be plagued with the problem even though his bike was fitted with new rear shocks. In an effort to sort out the problem, Bonera reverted back to the old rear shocks – Read tried them too but decided to stay with the cantilever system that was supported with two extra converted shock absorbers. Try as MV might, it was obvious that the Yamahas still performed much better.
Come the Dutch race it wasn’t just Sheene returning to form after earlier injury, being joined on the front row by the equally-hobbling Bonera and Länsivuori. Only the physically smaller Länsivuori still had problems bump-starting the heavy Suzuki four at the start of the race – so much so that he finally got underway dead last off the grid.
Alex, who did a great job by finishing third earlier in the day during the 350 race, was forced to retire when Yvon Duhamel’s Kawasaki caught the rear brake pedal of the Scot’s Yamaha, breaking the rod during a hectic scrap for the lead during the first lap of the race.
Over the first chunk of the race it was Agostini, Sheene and Read who swapped the lead. A few laps later, things had settled down to a fast pace but it was clear that both Ago and Sheene were biding their time – allowing Read to lead the action as the laps ticked down.
Findlay crashed the RG500 Suzuki but was unhurt. Länsivuori rushed through the field after his bad start, however he was unable to pass John Newbold on another Suzuki four who finished a fantastic fourth. He might not have got any higher than fifth place but it was a great ride by Tepi.
On the fifth lap, Ago and Sheene both decided to pass Read. Barry held wingman position for another two laps and then passed Ago – the Brit couldn’t shake the Italian though and the pair were locked in a memorable cat and mouse game for the rest of the race.
It all came down to the finale though and as both riders entered the final turn, Ago closed the gap professionally but Barry had a game plan and darted to the other side of the Italian’s bike. Passing Ago on the outside, Sheene used all of the Suzuki’s punch out of the turn to take the chequered flag.
The MVs of Read and Bonera eventually finished third and sixth and with John Williams crossing the line in seventh place it meant that the Brits left Assen having scored 1-3-4 and 7.
Barry Sheene was the unexpected winner in what turned out to be a glorious show of skill and racecraft also taking the new lap record with a best time in the race of 2m 55.5s.