Rivalries exist in all sports and, indeed, motorcycling is no exception with the sport littered with them over the decades, some more intense than others!
From Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini to Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz, or from Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene to Carl Fogarty and Scott Russell, the fierce competition for World Championship glory has seen some of the greatest rivalries do battle. In chronological order only, we take a look at ten of the best.
Mike Hailwood v Giacomo Agostini
For the first part of the 1960s, Mike Hailwood was the man to beat and having joined MV Agusta in 1962, he immediately romped to a hat-trick of 500cc titles. However, in 1965 he had a new challenge in the shape of team-mate Giacomo Agostini, a young, dashing Italian eager to wrestle the crown from him.
Hailwood duly won his fourth successive 500cc title but it was clear MV were going to give Agostini number one status in 1966 – an Italian on an Italian bike was just what they wanted – and so the Brit moved to Honda who were entering the 500cc fray for the first time.
The following two seasons saw Hailwood and Agostini go head to head and their battles are still talked about to this day, particularly the 1967 Senior TT which is widely regarded as one of the greatest races ever seen on the island. Agostini quickly learned the circuits and fully utilised the sweeter handling of the MV Agusta whilst Hailwood continually wrestled the Honda.
The duo won practically every 500cc race in 1966 and 1967 but it was Agostini who won the title each time, Hailwood having to settle for World Championship glory in the 250cc and 350cc categories instead. The sport was robbed of more battles when Honda pulled out at the end of 1967 and Hailwood retired.
Phil Read v Bill Ivy
Without doubt, one of the most famous rivalries of them all was the bitter feud between Yamaha team-mates Phil Read and Bill Ivy in 1968. Read had been team leader at Yamaha since 1964, winning the 250cc World Championship in both 1964 and 1965 and, indeed, he was instrumental in bringing Ivy into the team midway through the 1966 season.
Read had to play second fiddle to Mike Hailwood in the 250cc series in both 1966 and 1967 but Ivy took the 125cc World Championship in the latter to increase his status within the Yamaha ranks so much so that at the beginning of 1968, it was decided that whilst all of the races would be fought hard, Ivy would win the 250cc World Championship and Read the 125cc.
However, having been the senior member of the team for four years, this, naturally, didn’t sit well with Read although he begrudgingly went along with the management’s decision. As the season wore on though, he got wind of the fact that Yamaha would be pulling out at the end of the season leaving both him and Ivy without rides.
As far as Phil was concerned, that changed everything and whilst he kept it quiet, it was now every man for himself. Having wrapped up the 125cc crown, he then set about winning the final 250cc races which he duly did to claim a controversial double and leave fellow Brit Ivy shell-shocked.
Barry Sheene v Kenny Roberts
British ace Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts first locked horns in 1974 and after a number of duels at the Daytona 200 and Transatlantic Trophy Races, the American and Yamaha announced they were going to launch an assault on the 1978 500cc World Championship with the sole aim of toppling Sheene and Suzuki.
The British rider had taken back-to-back 500cc titles in 1976 and 1977, being relatively untroubled in each, but he knew Roberts would be his biggest rival to date – and so he was, both on and off the track. It was another American though, Pat Hennen, who made the early running in ’78 before suffering career-ending injuries in a crash at the Isle of Man TT races but with four wins to Sheene’s two, Roberts came out on top by ten points to claim his first crown.
Roberts missed the opening round in 1979 due to injury sustained in a testing spill but it mattered little as he was more dominant this time around with five wins to his name. Sheene could only manage third overall and was 26 points adrift of Roberts although their battle at the British GP at Silverstone is still talked about to this day as one of the greatest Grand Prix races ever.
Sheene had to revert to privateer status in 1980, albeit with Yamaha, when Roberts took his third successive title but he gradually got back to his previous heights and 1982 saw the duo dispute the title once more if only for two thirds of the season. Sheene’s devastating crash at Silverstone that year ended his season and although they competed against each other for another year, the Brit wasn’t at the same level and the rivalry subsided.
Kevin Schwantz v Wayne Rainey
Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz became rivals in the AMA Superbike Championship, disputing the title in 1986 and 1987, and the fierce competition between the two was first witnessed in the UK at the 1987 Transatlantic Trophy races where they constantly swapped paint and crunched fibreglass. And when they moved into the 500cc World Championship a year later they were, arguably, more intent on beating each other than they were the opposition!
Six superb years followed and 1989 to 1993 saw them contest the title each season, Schwantz for Suzuki and Rainey for Yamaha. Rainey should have won his first Championship in 1989 whilst Schwantz won six of the 15 races, more than any other rider that year. However, he crashed when leading a number of others, a trait that stayed with him for a number of years.
The battles continued to rage for the next four seasons, none more so than Schwantz’ memorable victory at Hockenheim in 1991 after he pulled off a demon late-braking manoeuvre coming into the stadium section on the final lap. Rainey continually won the war though with three successive titles coming between 1990-92 and whilst Schwantz won more races, too many crashes affected his title aspirations.
Rainey was on course for a fourth title in 1993 until he suffered a career-ending crash at Misano in September, the back injuries leaving him paralysed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. Schwantz went on to take his first, and only title and continued racing for another 18 months before retiring mid-way through the 1995 season when his constant injuries had finally taken their toll.
Steve Hislop v Carl Fogarty
Towards the end of the 1980s, British riders Carl Fogarty, Terry Rymer, Steve Hislop and James Whitham were all tipped for stardom but when it came to the roads, it was Hislop and Fogarty who fought for supremacy as the other two concentrated on the short circuits.
After winning his first Isle of Man TT race in 1987, Hislop became the first rider to lap the Mountain Course in excess of 120mph on his way to a hat-trick of victories two years later. Fogarty took his maiden win that year too and upstaged Honda team-mate Hislop a year later with a double victory of his own although Hislop pushed his own outright lap record to new heights.
With three successive Formula One world titles, Fogarty then started to focus his attention on the flourishing World Superbike Championship but he returned to the TT in 1991 and 1992 going head to head with Hislop each time. The duo had factory RVF Hondas at their disposal in ’91, Hislop taking another hat-trick and another outright lap record but it is 1992 they are best remembered for as they fought tooth and nail throughout that year’s Senior race.
Hislop rode the unfancied Norton and Fogarty an OW01 Loctite Yamaha and although they exchanged the lead on numerous occasions, it was the Scot who came out on top by 4.4s with Fogarty claiming a new outright lap record, which stood for seven years, and the race was recently voted as the greatest TT race of all time.
Carl Fogarty v Scott Russell v Aaron Slight
The World Superbike Championship had, arguably, its halcyon days in the mid-1990s when the grid was packed with up to 40 riders with almost half of those on factory or semi-factory machinery. With the riders evenly matched, a ten-rider fight for the win wasn’t unusual and interest in the UK was never higher with over 120,000 fans flocking to Brands Hatch in support of their hero Carl Fogarty who was taking on – and beating – riders from all corners of the globe.
Leading the challengers, initially, were American Scott Russell and New Zealander Aaron Slight and their contempt for each other was well publicised with Fogarty practically despising Russell who beat him to the 1993 title. The duo did battle all the way through 1994 when Fogarty came out on top with Russell never winning a race again. Slight and Fogarty continued to fight it out on the track for the rest of the decade, Fogarty critical of the Honda’s top speed, Slight claiming the Brit and the Ducati had an unfair advantage.
Team-mates at Honda in 1996, Slight (above) relished competing against Fogarty on equal machinery and although he got the better of him that season, the overall statistics don’t lie and Fogarty won four titles to Slight’s none, winning 59 races along the way to the Kiwi’s 13. Fogarty, meanwhile, also locked horns repeatedly with the likes of Troy Corser, Colin Edwards and John Kocinski, battles the series has been crying out for in recent times.
Valentino Rossi v Max Biaggi
Max Biaggi was considered to be Valentino Rossi’s main rival even before the two were competing in the same series, Biaggi winning four successive 250cc world titles in the mid-1990s when Rossi was just making the start to his GP career. However, everything Biaggi achieved in 250s, Rossi wanted to better, something the Italian press were always keen to seize upon.
Biaggi had completed two seasons in the 500cc class when Rossi moved into the premier division in 2000 and the scene was set, Biaggi on the Marlboro Yamaha and Rossi on the Nastro Azzurro Honda. Despite his comparative inexperience though, it was Rossi who came out on top as he finished second overall, one place ahead of Biaggi, although it has to be said, the Honda was the better bike.
The rivalry continued to grow and as it did so too did the dislike between them. It reached its peak in Barcelona in 2001, at the end of the 500cc race, which Rossi had won by over two seconds from Biaggi. Out of sight from the cameras, the two riders came to blows moments before the podium ceremony with members of their entourage and circuit employees also involved. Rossi continued to have the upper hand on Biaggi until the latter quit MotoGP and moved into World Superbikes.
Valentino Rossi v Casey Stoner
When Casey Stoner moved to the Ducati MotoGP team in 2007, he stunned Valentino Rossi and the all-conquering Yamaha team to dominate that year’s Championship with ten victories in the 18 races to win by the colossal margin of 125 points. And although he only won one more Championship, between 2007 and 2010 he and Rossi consistently did battle.
The duo always fought hard, sometimes more, with an infamous overtaking manoeuvre by Rossi through the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca in 2008, which put Stoner in the dirt, boiling over to the paddock afterwards when Stoner made the comment, “I have lost respect for one of the greatest riders in history.”
Rossi appeared to have won the mind games between the two riders as Stoner crashed out of a number of subsequent races whilst leading although another infamous moment came at Jerez when Rossi sideswiped Stoner with the Australian asking Rossi “did your ambition outweigh your talent?”
Rossi’s popularity saw Stoner booed on the podium in some countries, and it would take a move to Repsol Honda in 2011 for him to be crowned champion again, another dominant season seeing him claim ten more victories. Rossi’s career was in the relative doldrums by them after an ill-fated move to replace Stoner at Ducati but the latter stunned the paddock by announcing his retirement at the French GP in 2012 when aged just 27, tired of the politics and lack of enjoyment within the sport.
Valentino Rossi v Jorge Lorenzo v Marc Marquez
When Jorge Lorenzo joined the MotoGP World Championship in 2008 as team-mate to Valentino Rossi, feathers were immediately rustled and the duo have been disputing race wins ever since. And when Marc Marquez joined the fray in 2013, the rivalry and completion became even fiercer!
Marquez immediately stunned the paddock by winning the MotoGP crown at his first attempt to become the youngest rider ever to win the premier class but it was a hard fought victory though as he only got the verdict over Lorenzo by four points. With Rossi back up to speed in 2014, retaining his title was expected to be a tougher proposition for Marquez but dismissed that theory as he promptly won the first ten races of the season. Rossi and Lorenzo ended the season some 67 and 99 points adrift respectively.
Marquez had to give best to Lorenzo in 2015 as he took his third MotoGP title with no less than six DNFs seeing Marquez back in third but he’s been blazing a trail ever since, his precocious talent seeing him take countless victories and more world titles. The flashpoints between the trio continue though, as recently as Aragon this year and recent years have certainly been some of the best ever in the MotoGP class.
Ian Hutchinson v Michael Dunlop
When Ian Hutchinson won all five solo races at the 2010 Isle of Man TT races, it should have started a period of domination for the Yorkshire rider but horrific leg injuries from a crash at Silverstone meant it would be 2015 before he was ready to challenge for the race wins again. By then, Michael Dunlop was in the ascendancy with no less than eight wins in 2013 and 2014 alone but the scene was set.
The duo didn’t have it all their own way but 2015-17 saw Hutchinson take 8 wins and 12 podiums and Dunlop 4 wins and 6 podiums as they disputed victory in each and every class. 2016 saw them do battle right from the very first practice session as they constantly tried to out-do the other and it all came to a head in the middle of race week after a number of records had been broken.
Keen to stamp their authority on the event and claim number one status, exchanges of words took place in two of the press conferences with the one after the closing Senior race particularly vicious. Road racing hadn’t seen a bitter rivalry like it for some time.
Other rivalries worth mentioning
Geoff Duke v Ray Amm, Carlo Ubbiali v Tarquinio Provini, John Surtees v John Hartle, Jim Redman v Phil Read, Joey Dunlop v Rob McElnea, Joey Dunlop v Robert Dunlop, Niall Mackenzie v Steve Hislop, Neil Hodgson v Chris Walker, Troy Bayliss v Colin Edwards, Valentino Rossi v Sete Gibernau, Shane Byrne v Josh Brookes and Jonathan Rea v Tom Sykes – to name just a few!