Although it’s virtually impossible to compare riders from different eras, Hailwood’s claim to be the greatest racer ever is convincing. Between the ages of 17 and 27 he won almost 350 races against some of the best riders around, on just about every make of machine imaginable. He claimed 76 wins in Grands Prix, of which 12 were on the Isle of Man, and won nine World Championships between 1961 and 1967. He very often raced in and won in three different classes in a single day.
Hailwood had an uncanny ability to race anything, anywhere and go quickly. In 1963 and 1964 he contested six Formula One GPs in between his motorcycle commitments, scoring a sixth, four eighths and a tenth. After Honda packed in motorcycle GP racing in 1968, he retired and became more involved in car racing and in ’72 won the European F2 championship; those he pipped to the title included future F1 World Champions Niki Lauda, Jody Scheckter and James Hunt. By the time he gave up racing cars in 1974, Hailwood had racked up 49 GP starts, scoring numerous placings between 2nd and 8th after failing to finish 27 times. He also picked up a third place in the Le Mans 24 Hour endurance race.
Mike owned a house in Durban for a couple of years, where he set up a building contracting business with Suzuki star Frank Perris in 1967. He married his girlfriend, Pauline, in South Africa shortly before moving to New Zealand in 1976. Those who met him here remember a party animal with no big attitude. He loved a good time, and in his GP days bedded hundreds of beauties, claiming that sex before a race invigorated him. An article on the BBC website claims that his face was familiar at hospitals around the world – not because of racing accidents, but because he frequently popped in for injections to clear up the sexually transmitted diseases he picked up on his travels. Luckily Pauline was understanding; she joked that all these other women kept her lover in practice while he was away from home. Now why are there no similar stories about Mr Rossi, who’s richer and more famous than Hailwood ever was?
Mike Hailwood’s greatest achievement came about in 1978, when, after eleven years out of motorcycle racing, he entered the Isle of Man TT on an F1 Ducati and won, following up with a win at Mallory Park the following weekend. The Ducati win brought him another World Championship – the F1 title. A year later he pitched up at the Island again and won the Senior TT by over two minutes on a Suzuki two stroke, giving him his 14th and final TT win.
Two years later The Champ set off in his Rover with his children to pick up a fish and chips takeaway for dinner. His daughter died instantly when the fool in the lorry did a U-turn, while Mike lingered on for two more days. The truck driver later received a 100 pound fine.