It was the best advert for a new motorcycle – ever…
It’s March 16 1986 and it’s the annual Transatlantic races taking place at Donington Park. For the first time the race was held at the-then recently extended circuit, complete with new Melbourne Loop section.
The UK team featured legends such as ‘Rocket’ Ron Haslam, Rob McElnea, Keith Huewen, Steve Parrish, Roger Marshall, Roger Burnett, a young Kenny Irons and Paul Iddon. While the US team seemed pretty weak in comparison, apart from a young Kevin Schwantz on a GSX-R750 F (a knackered UK one, once used by Tony Rutter) and Fred Merkel on his V4 Honda ‘Interceptor!’
With many of the Americans having shipped over their factory superbikes for the event, the Brits were also on some fast tackle – apart from our Ron. Rumour was Honda had given Ron a trick machine – but it blew up. Other rumours said he was down to ride a Suzuki – until Honda blocked him. So what happened Ron? “My main bike blew up so I had nothing to ride,” he confirms. “So, I went to Granby Motors and took a VFR750 F-G off the shop-floor. When we got to the track we were told by the scrutineers to take the side-stand off so we did. The wheels and everything else was standard and I got two thirds in the damp races!”
With eight races run over the Easter weekend, Schwantz would win four and Merkel two – but the British squad’s strength in depth would see them win 314-214.
While many thought it was great to see Ron dicing with factory superbikes on a stocker, one person did not. The late, great Barry Sheene who was commentating on the race for live TV said it was a ‘bloody disgrace’ that Ron should have to use a stock bike. Ron shrugs: “The bike handled lovely and the power was so smooth in the wet. In the last race things dried up a bit too much, but we’d proved what a lovely bike the standard VFR was. To give Kevin and Merkel a run on a stocker were brilliant and it was such a good, genuine publicity stunt that the UK stock of bikes sold out within a few weeks.” Ron would ride more race-prepared VFRs, like the one pictured here.