It's been 30 years since Franco Uncini won his 500cc motocycle grand prix racing world championship, but he's found a way to stay on in racing and still enjoys every bit of it
Today, Suzuki are no longer present in MotoGP, which is such a pity – especially so when you consider the fact that three decades ago, it was a Suzuki rider who won the 500cc roadracing world championship. Born in 1955 in the village of Recanati, in Italy, started racing motorcycles in 1974. The talented Italian moved up the ranks swiftly and reached the pinnacle of the sport when he won the 500cc title in 1982.
For their September/October 2012 issue, Classic Racer magazine have done a fabulous interview with Uncini, who’s a MotoGP riders safety representative these days, a position he’s held for the last two decades. Here are some excerpts from what Uncini had to say to Classic Racer:
On getting started with bikes
The first bike I had was a Peripoli Giulietta [and] after that I moved to a Honda twin-cylinder four-stroke 125cc. When I turned 18 and had four years of experience, I requested of my father that I buy a Laverda 750SFC. I liked very much this bike, the orange colour and the noise was fantastic. The funny thing is, the 750SFC was no longer in production – they were changing the model and told me they didn’t have any left. I was insistent I would have this bike. Finally I succeeded and they created this bike from spare parts at Laverda.
On getting started with motorcycle racing
After about six months [after he got his Laverda 750], I went to Misano, which was only about 120km from my village, just to do some laps. After about three or four times testing, I invited my father, who was not in favour of this. When he discovered that I was quite quick, we convinced him to go racing. My first race was a production race called the Moto di Serie Championship, in 1974, and I finished third with my Laverda.
On getting into the GPs as a privateer, in 1976, in the 250cc and 350cc classes
It [Yamaha] was the only grand prix bike that it was possible to buy. After four races, I was called up to ride for Team Diemme, which had the won the 350cc world championship the year before, with Johnny Cecotto. Morbidelli had offered me a bike for the 125 because I was very light and was a good rider for the smaller classes, but I didn’t like it and wanted to start in 250 and 350. I didn’t really like the 250 and 350 either, as I was always straining to race in 500. My dream was to race in 500.
On getting sponsorship as a privateer in the 500s
My mother and father sponsored me. It was my own team, sponsored by my father’s company, which made musical instruments. I had some other sponsors but the difference to make up the budget was from my father. [In 1979, his first season in 500cc motorcycle GP racing, Uncini claimed one podium finish – taking third spot at the Rijeka circuit in Yugoslavia – and ended the season with 5th place in the world championship.]
To win the 500cc title in 1982, Uncini had to contend with men like Kenny Roberts, Barry Sheene, Freddie Spencer and Marco Lucchinelli. It certainly couldn't have been easy...
On getting a factory ride in the 500s in 1981
In the middle of the season, Suzuki contacted me when Will Hartog decided to stop and said “Franco, if you want to ride this bike, we can offer you the bike.” But that bike – I did not have a good feeling. Something was different, they had created that bike for Will Hartog, a tall guy. For me it was quite difficult. Luckily at the end of the season, when Marco Lucchinelli won the championship, Honda offered him a big amount of money to ride their bike. So he moved from Gallina Suzuki, who then thought to offer his bike to me.
On 1982, his championship winning season
In 1982, when I went to test, I was really fast and it was really exciting. In the last hour I went too fast, fell down, crashed [in January]. The doctor said I had broken the scaphoid and that I would have to be in plaster for three months. Three months from then was end of March and the season started in Argentina in March! I called Dr Claudio Costa, who told me that in Bologna there was an electromagnetic machine. Every day I went from Recanati to Bologna, 400km a day, for one hour of my wrist inside the machine. It worked. I won five races that year, it was a fantastic season.
After winning the 500cc world championship in 1982, the following two years did not go too well for Uncini. Suzuki made some major modifications to their 1983 racebike, which did not work for him. The Italian rider was also involved in a major accident at Assen in 1983, during the Dutch TT, when he was highsided off his bike and was then hit by Wayne Gardner’s bike. The accident left him in a coma and Uncini did not race for the rest of the season – it was American rider Freddie Spencer who went on to win the first of his two 500cc world championships that year.
Uncini did come back to race in the 500cc class in 1984 and 85, but things were never the same again. “At the end of the season, I really didn’t want to race any more with Gallina or Suzuki. I didn’t have any manager working for me. No one was working to promote, to speak with a company like Yamaha or Honda. I was thinking that I’m 30 years old and I’ve won the championship. I will stop,” says Uncini, who retired from motorcycle racing at the end of the 1985 season.
After he retired, Uncini went on to various other things and even started an oil drilling company, which he ran for a few years. He missed motorcycle racing, however, and came back as a team manager at Ducati, in World Superbikes, winning the world championship with Doug Polen in 1992. At the end of the 1992 season, Uncini became a rider safety representative in MotoGP, a position which he still holds to this day.
“We have improved a lot, together, and now it is quite good. Dorna, IRTA and the FIM understood the importance of safety and that is the most important thing,” says the man who won the 500cc motorcycle grand prix roadracing world championship 30 years ago.
Source: Classic Racer