When Editor Duke messaged me to ask if I was interested in attending a dinner with 15-times world champ Giacomo Agostini, it took me all of a second to reply with a big yes. The dinner was an exclusive event of just 27 MV special customers and selected media, part of Australia’s International Festival of Speed, formerly known as the Barry Sheene Festival of Speed, held at Sydney Motorsports Park.
Although Ago is a superhero, his career was before my time. With that, I was expecting to feel lucky but not overwhelmed by the man. However, there is definitely an aura about Ago. As soon as he walked in the room for the pre-dinner drinks, you could have heard a valve collett drop on the floor. We all stopped, stared and kind of didn’t know what to say. It was as if Elvis had entered the building!
No wonder. Ago’s illustrious career includes 122 GP wins and 15 world titles to his name. In the premier 500cc category, he has 68 wins and eight titles, as well as 54 350cc wins and seven world titles in that class. He also scored 13 podiums and 10 wins at the Isle of Man TT, along with 10 Italian championships. He retired in 1977 and tried car racing, driving for Williams in the British Formula 1 championship, scoring seven podiums in 1979 and 1980.
Ago then took on team management, becoming the Marlboro Yamaha team manager, winning three world titles with Eddie Lawson along with the 1982 Daytona F1 (Graeme Crosby), 1983 and 1984 Daytona F1 (Roberts), and the 1986 Daytona Superbike Championship (Eddie Lawson). He also ran the Marlboro Yamaha 250 team for three years with Cadalora, Wimmer and Criville, and the Cagiva 500 team from 1992 to 1994, before his last year in racing, managing the late Doriano Romboni on a Honda 250.
With that pedigree, it is no wonder a room stands still when the man walks in!
After greetings and a casual glass of wine, we took our seats and enjoyed a meal while being entertained by Ago and, as a bonus, his buddy Frankie Chili, who just happened to be out and about with Ago that evening. What a gift!
Host Alan Cathcart wasn’t going to let Frankie slip by unnoticed to enjoy a few quiet merlots. He was soon up front making us laugh hard. His energy and enthusiasm on track is legendary and it is reflected in his personality. Chili is intense, incredibly passionate about bikes and hard to take seriously as he is always having a laugh.
Chili explained to us that he works as a surf lifesaver in summer, on a jet ski, and that his ex-wife got all of the money from racing spoils. More seriously, there were some fantastic stories about battles with Bayliss, Corser, Edwards, Gobert, Kocinski, Haga and the rest of the legends of the late 1990s. The following day at the track he rode like the usual Chili, absolutely flat out trying to race with Troy Bayliss as if it was 1998.
When Ago stepped up to be interviewed by Cathcart, the room once again stopped. The answers were comprehensive, passionate and awe-inspiring. Ago explained to us all how he discovered his love for motorcycles at a young age and had a true desire to race early on. His father would not permit it, so Ago did it on the quiet initially until his father realized the seriousness of his ambition, and by 15 he was racing the Italian championships and winning. He won the 1963 175cc title and the following year the 350 title.
Ago told a fantastic story about how he came to the attention of Count Agusta, the patriarch of MV Agusta.
“After I won the 350cc title in ’64 and also came fourth in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, as a wildcard, Count Agusta sent a messenger to ask me to visit him. I had to be there at 5:00 p.m. at his headquarters. I was so nervous. I went and got haircut, new clothes. I arrived early and said politely, ‘I am here for my appointment with Count Agusta.’ I was told to sit down and wait. I had not eaten so was very shaky and nervous.
“Anyway, at 10:00 p.m., after five hours waiting, I was ushered into his office. He was at a big desk and he did not look up at me for minutes. Just sat there shuffling papers, and he said, ‘Well, what do you want. Who are you?’ and I thought to myself, I don’t facking know, you are the one that asked me to come here. Of course I did not say that out loud! I told him why I was there and who I was. He then said promptly, ‘Okay, tomorrow 8:00 a.m., you meet my team at Monza and test the MV thank you.’ That was it! A very strange meeting.
“I went to the track the next day and the count had put witches hats (cones) along the front straight as he said he does not want me to go too fast in case I can’t ride properly! Anyway I rode well and the rest is history. We won 13 world championships on MV, the other two on Yamaha.”
Ago then went on to chat about his Isle of Man TT racing years, a track he says he respected but hated riding at. He said they had to practice at 4 a.m. in the dark in his era!
Agostini and MV go hand in hand and, despite a switch to Yamaha in 1974 and winning the 1974 350cc World Championship and 1975 500cc World Championship for Yamaha, Ago remains to this day the person who made MV Agusta the brand it is today. He is a true superstar and an incredibly passionate motorcyclists. I saw him wandering around the pits admiring bikes over the weekend and it was clear that he is a pure motorcyclist at heart that just happens to be the most successful racer in history…