Only twelve years of "200 Miglia", twelve years that left a mark in the history of motorbikes. Before, it was a sport in the shadows, locked in tradition. Afterwards, it became an exciting show made of colours and music.
AN ENORMOUS SUCCESS THAT CAME FROM THE STATES HIGH SPEEDS FROM THE BRUTE POWER OF 750CC. THE BEST RIDERS IN THE WORLD. SHORT RACES TO INCREASE THE PACE. THAT WAS IMOLA’S WINNING MIX IN THE FAST-CHANGING WORLD OF THE SEVENTIES.
Imola was a great circuit, winding in part over public roads, which made it necessary to close a few country lanes when the race was on. Checco Costa had already organised a number of races, up to and including the 1969 Nations GP, when he launched the first “200 Miles” in 1972, inspired by the Daytona 200 Miles which he had attended in person. Nothing was the same again.
The world championship was neither particularly balanced or exciting at the time, with Ago and MV reigning unchallenged. But things were different in the United Kingdom, where the top British and American riders battled it out in short races, while in Florida one Bill France had organised a 200 mile race for modified production 750s.
Taking up the new trend, Costa launched his race, involving a handful of Americans, including Don Emde who had just won Daytona on a Norton, and securing the participation not only of Agostini on a special MV, but also of Spiaggiari and Smart on Ducatis and Villa on a Kawasaki.
Black leathers were banned. Colour was the order of the day. The riders were paid handsomely. Ducati won in 1972, with Paul Smart leading Bruno Spaggiari. Ago withdrew but achieved the fastest lap time in front of the 70,000 spectators.
Then Costa tweaked the formula, switching to two short races instead of one and allowing 350 GP bikes to participate. They dominated the second year, with Saarinen winning, but were then excluded again. In 1973, a freckled fourteen-year-old turned up at the Imola circuit hoping to take part in the accompanying 250 event but was too young to race. That was Randy Mamola. He stayed in the pits.
In 1974, there was a historic duel between Agostini and Kenny Roberts, both Yamaha works riders on 750s. Ago won, maintaining the incredible form of his Daytona debut victory just days before. The crowd had grown to past the one hundred thousand mark.
Gino Amisano was quick to see that the future of motorcycle racing lay in these events and was able to get his helmets on the fastest riders. He subsequently became friends with Checco Costa, was a partial sponsor of the 1974 race and principal sponsor the following year, which went down in history as the “AGV Imola 200 Miles”. It was 6 April 1975. Around one hundred and twenty thousand enthusiasts had thronged to the event. Ago’s engine seized in the first race, Roberts withdrew with severe pain in his injured right hand and a new arrival, the brilliant Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto, took Yamaha to victory, clinching the first prize of over eleven million lire. The takings were also record-breaking at over 300 million lira.
The 750 races became increasingly popular and Daytona, Imola and Le Castellet came together to form the World Cup, which lasted for three years, after which the international federation launched a special five race championship that subsequently became the World Championship.
In 1976, Steve Baker came in first at Imola, Ago went out with engine trouble in the first race and there weren’t enough spare parts to repair it for the second. Roberts and Cecotto were also scuppered by technical problems. The seventh Imola 200 Miles in 1977 was the scene of an epic struggle between Kenny Roberts and Baker and Agostini, watched by over 140,000 fans of the world’s top race. In 1978, the race was due to receive live television coverage by Italy’s state broadcasting corporation, which, however, in its wisdom decided to report on the proceedings of a big political congress instead.
Cecotto took the flag and went on to win the 750 world championship that year.
But the race was sadly in decline. The Italian Motorcycling Federation had incomprehensibly decided to push Mugello and rob the 200 Miles from Imola in 1979. And the big names were deserting the race because of their increasing commitments, while demanding more and more money from Checco Costa, who struggled to make the sums add up.
In 1980 Cecotto won again on the TZ750. It was the in-line four’s last victory. In 1981, Marco Lucchinelli (Suzuki) took the title, riding one of the newly reallowed 500s. The 750 class disappeared and the 200 Miles continued until 1985, when Kenny rode to victory on Lawson’s 500 Yamaha, which had been lent to the by-then retired rider.