Agostini and Cooper pay tribute to friend and rival Phil Read

| | MotoGP
Picture: Yamaha Racing

Tributes from the big names in road racing, including the likes of Giacomo Agostini and John Cooper, plus Peter Duke and Paul Butler, have marked the career and achievements of Phil Read.

Here are their recollections of one of the world’s greatest riders:

Giacomo Agostini, speaking to bikesportnews from his home in Bergamo, talked of his shock in hearing the news having just seen Phil Read at an event in Assen a couple of weeks earlier:

“OK he was not in good condition, but I did not think he was very close to finishing his life. He wasn’t riding a bike, but we were talking about things gone past, a lot of bullshit but good fun.

“He was a great rider and very aggressive. We were both trying to be the idol of the people and they like to see the battle. And when he rode for MV, and I had left my Italian friends behind to go to Yamaha it was good for both but occasionally we had a little ‘discussion.’

“But we always said “Hello” to each other and sometimes had dinner together. It’s important to stay friendly but we may not be gentleman all the time especially when you want to win! When I was at a race at Brands Hatch, he invited me to his home which was very nice and outside was a Rolls Royce. I must say I was a little jealous.

And I also remember one morning at Francorchamps we had breakfast together and he ate boiled eggs telling me that that if I ate eggs I would go faster. So, I did.”

Peter Duke recalled the time when his father, the great Geoff Duke, was became manager of the Gilera team which made a comeback in 1963 in an effort to take on MV which by that time had Hailwood on its books. Derek Minter and John Hartle were hired but Minter was injured in a Brands Hatch crash in which Dave Downer was killed and Phil Read was called in:

“Although the Gilera’s had been out of action for some time and were undeveloped they had some success in early meetings including finishing second and third behind Hailwood in the 1963 TT. My father had a lot of time for Phil, but I don’t think I’m talking out of turn to say he found Phil quite hard to manage but he was a great rider who could hold his own against anybody Ago included. Just at the time when they were starting to develop the bike with a four-valve engine, electronic ignition, disc brakes etc. but with not an awful lot of money and they decided to pull out which was a pity. Phil went on to great things but with Yamaha.”

John Cooper, although winner of more than 100 races in the sixties and early seventies, did not quite reach the dizzy heights of Phil Read although there were many, including himself, who thought he should have done.

Talking of Read he said: “He’s someone I’ve known all my racing life; I’ve stopped with him in his house at Oxshot and I’ve raced against him. He was very good to me, and we always got on very well. Was he one of the all-time greats? Yes, he certainly was and a character. I always think his answer to that famous question ‘What do you do with all your money‘ would have been ‘Wine, women and song and I waste the rest’!

He was a very good rider, and he was always very friendly, never acting like some works riders who would walk straight past you. He was under-rated, no doubt, but perhaps one of his biggest mistakes was getting Bill Ivy to ride Yamaha and one year they were supposed to ride to orders.

“There was the famous Isle of Man story of Bill stopping at Creg-ny-Baa and cheekily asking spectators ‘Where’s Phil Read, he’s supposed to win this!’ I think Phil went on to win both the 125 and 250cc world titles that year which wasn’t the plan and didn’t help the relationship.”

Paul Butler’s career with Dunlop, Yamaha and finally as Race Director of MotoGP gave him an insight, often via the likes of Hailwood and Ivy, into Phil’s character and personality. His relationship was closer during later times when Phil’s wife Madeleine was playing a major part in his career and saw him through some great successes with Yamaha and MV: “The time with Madeleine was very good and she seemed to look after him well. He had mellowed a little and was more efficient in communicating with people.

‘Post his Yamaha 250cc championship, the last one, and the withdrawal of Honda leaving Yamaha as the only production bike he was finally recognised by them as their only world champion and the relationship improved. But you cannot expect everyone to be personable and excellent at public relations. But he was an awesome racer, and he has done huge amounts for the sport by turning up at events and making the younger generation aware of the history of Grand Prix racing.

“And, in terms of poetry in motion, he was one of the most beautiful racers I have ever seen. I’d defy anyone who saw him race in his prime to not have that impression because he was so, so smooth. Not to be forgotten.”