In Australia, they call it the ‘tall poppy’ syndrome. Everyone loves a ‘battler’ – until they’re successful that is.
I must admit I do gravitate towards the underdog.
For years I followed the battles of Cagiva in 500 Motorcycle Grand Prix. Beautiful motorcycles but never seemingly able to take on the Japanese as equal teams. Cagiva actually never lasted long enough to become a ‘tall poppy.’
However, the drama of the fight made up for that! With great riders like Randy Mamola, the firm certainly spent big to win. It seemed to be a hopeless effort, but then they hired that ‘cold assassin’, four time world champion, Eddie Lawson. This coincided with the Australian Moto GP moving to Sydney, my home city.
On a fateful night, I was watching the race in Hungary, alone in the lounge-room of my family home. I had told my parents that I would include them if a miracle happened.
“I’ll wake you if they win,” I said.
It didn’t start well. Eddie sprinted off the mark in this semi-wet race, then he was passed by just about everyone. Cagiva’s ‘greatest fan’ was just about to call it a night when script flashed across the screen:
EDDIE LAWSON – FASTEST LAP!
Using his great experience, Lawson had picked intermediate tyres.
The bet paid off.
When everyone else’s rain tyres were falling apart due to the drying conditions, he came from well down the field to enjoy an historic first win.
And yes, I didn’t spare my parents.
A few years later, the Castiglioli family hired the ‘rebel racer’, John Kocinski. After a chequered career, having fallen out with other teams, he was an interesting choice. But when he was being a good rider, he was very good (indeed). The greatest of all time, Agostini, was, in those days, team manager. Did the Castigliolis finally now have the dream team?
Kocinski was still causing trouble. He must have watched a little Australian T.V. because he painted the word ‘Agro’ (the name of a muppet type puppet) on the teams’s motorscooter. Agostini, known affectionately as “Ago”, obviously thought it was directed towards him and was seen removing it with some petrol.
Would the joker bring home the goods?
The day before the race, the competition for pole position on the grid was intense. But Cagiva were not successful. Then, with only minutes to go till the end of the qualifying session, Kocinksi was back. Using a special, extra sticky, qualifying tyre, that would only last a few laps, he blitzed the opposition.
Such drama! However the friend with me, a Japanese bike fan, was dismissive. Didn’t mean anything to him.
Suddenly, over the P.A., I heard Ago for the first time. The greatest of all did not hold the young rebel’s slight against him. “He could be world champion,” Agostini replied to a question from a motorcycling commentator.
Pole positon and Agostini’s recommendation.
I went home satisfied.
The Cagiva were such beautiful motorcycles that many present wanted them to win, but were afraid to hope for such a long-shot; such an impossibility.
On the next day, the Cagiva led from start to finish. It was simply a dream performance. My motorcycling friend was speechless. He had only been used to such dominance by Japanese teams.
What a climax it turned out to be!
Within months, Cagiva had retired, no longer able to afford the enormous cost of fielding a team. Claudio Castiglioni, the great motorcycling entrepreneur, later succumbed to lung cancer and his son, Giovanni, would eventually be excluded from ownership of the firm, now famous for resurrecting MV Agusta, Agostini’s brand.
Yes, Cagiva never lasted long enough to become a ‘tall poppy’ in the motorcycle racing scene. They never became so successful that we were to tire of their success.
But, when they did shine, it was with a blinding light when contrasted with their long time in the shadows, from whence they had so dramatically appeared.
The Castigliolis certainly wrote a great motorcycling story.