The Day The Yamaha XS1100
‘Tourer’ Won The Castrol Six-Hour
From Yamaha Australia
anniversary: Looking to the future and honouring the past.
Yamaha dominated the local grand prix classes throughout the
1970s, it had only limited success in production racing that had
swept Australia. The Yamaha RD250 was the bike to have in the
lightweight production class, but due to the lack of a large
multi-cylinder muscle bike in its range, Yamaha could only watch
as Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and even Ducati and BMW fought out
the big-money endurance events like the Castrol Six-Hour.
In 1978, with the battle of the big-bore market booming and
distributors and tyre importers pouring vast sums of money into
production racing, the big guns had been brought out. Suzuki had
released its GS1000 in 1978, while Yamaha unveiled its XS1100.
By mid-year, Honda launched its
secret weapon, the six-cylinder Honda CBX1000. While the new
CBX1000 and Suzuki were out and out sports bikes, the
shaft-drive XS1100, affectionately called the “Xcessive’,
was more of a muscle bike cum tourer. Heavier than and not as
fast as its rivals, the XS1100 did have one particular ability
– winning races.
In the lead up to the Six-Hour,
the XS1100 had won the Adelaide Three-Hour, the Perth Four-Hour
and the Surfers Three-Hour. The unlikely XS1100 and Pitman
Yamaha rider Greg Pretty had upstaged the biggest, baddest
production bikes around, confounding everyone.
The advertising copy writers had a
field day. Greg Pretty was a big fan of the rock band The Who
and said, “After we win a race, we go back, party on and
listen to The Who.” The copy writers stole a line out one of
Pretty’s favourite songs by the Who ’Won’t
get fooled again’.
‘Meet the new Boss’
was the headline to a series of Yamaha ads that ran in the local
motorcycle press rejoicing Pitman Yamaha’s extraordinary run
The new Honda CBX1000 spoilt the
party, however, when it blitzed the Castrol Hour Two-Hour at
Calder Park on debut in the hands of a young B-grader, Michael
Cole. Shown live on the ABC, the new Honda had its rivals
shaking in their boots heading into the Six-Hour.
Team Avon Tyres manager, Lindsay
Walker, wasn’t so sure. His squad, including firebrand riders
Jim Budd and Roger Heyes, had enjoyed considerable success on
Kawasakis, winning the 1976 Castrol Six-Hour, but could see a
sea change coming.
Having raced the Kawasaki Z1000
and Suzuki GS1000 in 1978 without much success, Team Avon had a
big decision to make.
“With the race looking wide open,
we debated for some time which machine to race and finally
settled on the Yamaha,” said Walker at the time.
“We knew it wasn’t the fastest
machine around Amaroo Park, but at the same time XS1100s had
taken out nearly all the major production races in Australia.”
The Yamaha could do the six-hour
in just three fuel stops against the Suzukis and Hondas that
both needed four. Budd also said that the biggest problem with
the Suzuki would be ground clearance, the collectors scraping
and wearing away the muffler clamp.
While the Honda had the raw speed
thanks to a claimed 103bhp from its 1047cc engine, and Graeme
Crosby putting it on pole by 0.4sec ahead of Alan Hales’
Suzuki, there were question marks over the six-cylinder’s
affect on tyre wear.
Budd also made one of the more
prescient pre-race comments, the fruition of which would change
the history of the six-hour forever.
“I know that several theories
exist on this year’s race, but I think it will be the year of
the fast wheel change.”
At 10:00am on Sunday, October 22,
the flag was raised to signal the start of the 1978 Castrol
Six-Hour. The riders sped across the front straight to their
mounts, Crosby leading the charge up Bitupave Hill. Starting
from third on the grid, Budd held a massive slide as he gunned
the Avon XS1100 away from the Le Mans start and then blew a huge
plume of smoke around the first lap, leading team-mate Heyes to
exclaim: “Oh no, we’re going to be out on the first lap!”
Thankfully, the sump had simply
been overfilled as the oil burnt off, but Budd had dropped back
to ninth place as Crosby, Pretty and Hales made a break up
Having set a blistering pace,
Crosby’s Honda ran into problems just laps into the race,
signalling to his team that something was wrong as he flashed
passed race control.
Crosby pitted at 10:12am, for what
would be the first of several stops, saying the rear-wheel was
locking on a trailing throttle. Co-rider Tony Hatton headed out
but pitted the Honda after experiencing a huge slide, claiming
the problem was due to a fuel quality problem. The Crosby/Hatton
CBX1000 was retired 41 minutes into the race.
At the three-hour mark, Hales led
and tried to put a lap on Heyes’ Avon XS1100, but dropped the
Suzuki as he tipped into the Dunlop Loop, promoting the
Neill/Cole CBX1000 into the lead.
Lying third, Heyes made a
scheduled pit-stop at 1:12pm and the decision was made – the
first strategic wheel/tyre change in Castrol Six-Hour history.
The job was completed by Malcolm
and Dean Pitman, who carried their wheel changing gear up to the
Avon pit following the retirement of the Pitman team bike after
Pretty’s co-rider, Jeff Miller, decked the XS1100 at Mazda
House corner at 12:28pm.
Heyes’s tyre didn’t appear too
badly worn, but Walker believed a fresh rear Avon would give his
riders a significant performance and psychological advantage for
the back half of the race. The entire stop was captured live on
ABC-TV and took 1m14sec, although the tyre change didn’t
commence until almost 20 seconds after the bike stopped.
Dropping into the ‘59s, Budd was
catching second place, Dave Robbins’ Yamaha XS1100, at a
second a lap. The tyre change proved to be a master stroke.
Inexorably, Budd whittled down Neill’s lead and he finally
claimed position one at 2:31pm after one of the most inspiring
rides in six-hour history.
Neill pitted the Honda at 2:47pm
and his team was instructed by scrutineers to change the rear
tyre due to safety concerns. The chain-drive Honda proved far
more difficult to complete the change compared to the
shaft-drive Yamaha, Neill speeding away after spending 4m10sec
in the pits.
At the stroke of 4.00pm plus a lap,
the XS1100 had done it again. A large dollar sign was displayed
on Heyes’ pit board as he cruised to a comfortable victory,
finishing one lap ahead of John Warrian and Terry Kelly’s
Ducati 900SS with Neill’s CBX1000 in third.
According to the race report in
REVS Motorcycle News, “The machine that ‘shouldn’t win
production races’ has won another one.”
Indeed, the XS1100’s 1978 win
set off a run of victories that would see Yamaha dominate the
Castrol Six-Hour until the event’s demise in 1987.
Yamaha won a total of five Castrol
Six-Hours, more than any other manufacturer. It is also the only
manufacturer to ever have won the event outright on a two-stroke,
and it also won with both the largest and smallest capacity
engines – the Yamaha RZ500 (499cc) and the XS1100 (1102cc). It
was also the only manufacturer to win the event with four
different machines – XS1100, RZ500, FZ750 (‘85, ‘86) and
Kevin Magee and Michael Dowson
were both duel Castrol Six-Hour winners with Yamaha in 1986 and
‘87, as was Richard Scott in 1984 (with Dowson) and 1985 (with
“The Castrol Six-Hour, and
production racing in general, played an enormous role in
developing road racing as a high profile sport in the 1970s and
1980s,” said Steve Cotterell, managing director, Yamaha Motor
“Being unique to Australia, it
was incredibly competitive, and brought the best out of the
manufacturers, tyre distributors, and riders in determining who
the best was.”
The XS1100 proved in 1978 that it
was unquestionably the most successful endurance machine in a
year that boasted multi-cylinder, 1000cc offerings from all four
Japanese manufacturers for the first time.
“Although Yamaha enjoyed success
in the lightweight classes in the early years of the Castrol
Six-Hour, it wasn’t until 1978 that it had a competitive
machine that was capable of outright victory – the XS1100 was
more capable than many people thought,” Mr Cotterell added.
The XS1100 was Yamaha’s first
four-cylinder production bike, and became the fore-runner to the
FJ1100 that was released in 1984. Now in 2005, the spirit of the
XS1100 ‘Tourer’ lives on through the Yamaha FJR1300.
Rated as one of the best
sports-tourers ever built, the FJR1300 has much of the XS1100
DNA including the ultra-reliable in-line four-cylinder engine,
The Castrol Six-Hour may be gone,
but its legacy - like the XS1100 – lives on.
The Castrol Six-Hour
As Australia’s longest running
endurance production event, the first of which was won in 1970
by Brian Hindle and Len Atlee on a Triumph 650, the Castrol
Six-Hour became the single most important motorcycle race in
Normally held a few weeks after
the Bathurst 500/1000km race in mid-October, the race was run at
the unlikely venue of Amaroo Park.
Just 1.9km in length and located
on the north-west outskirts of Sydney, Amaroo was a deceptive
little track that made or broke some of the biggest names in the
sport. It had a faster average speed than the Oran Park GP
The event attracted over 15,000
spectators and was covered live by the Seven Network for the
entire six-hours, and probably a total of eight hours including
preamble and post-race celebrations.
ABC-TV took over the coverage in
1976, which it continued through to the final Castrol Six-Hour
in 1987 - the coverage mixing both delayed and live coverage
from the early-80s onwards. The ABC’s coverage also included a
top-ten shoot out on Saturday that started in 1981.
The 1984 Castrol Six Hour, run for
the first time at Oran Park, was controversially stopped at
3:57pm, three minutes before its official finishing time,
because the ABC had a commitment to cross to a golf tournament.
Michael Dowson and Richard Scott
piloted their Toshiba Yamaha RZ500 to a five-second victory over
the Honda VF1000 of Wayne Gardner and John Pace in the closest
finish in six-hour history.
In addition to the leading
Australian and New Zealand stars, many overseas riders competed
in the Castrol Six-Hour including Percy Tait, Hurley Wilvert,
Helmut Dahne, Mick Grant, Mike Hailwood, Wes Cooley, Ron Haslam,
Dave Petersen and Niall Mackenzie.
The final Castrol Six-Hour was won
in 1987 by Kevin Magee and Michael Dowson on a Yamaha FZR1000.