View our column profiling Yamaha's 50 years of involvement in racing. Vol.14Pride triumphs in 4th GP season: Kanaya's first 500cc victory!
May 1975, Salzburgring, Austria. In the circle surrounding the post-race podium, most of the faces of the Yamaha team staff were streaked with tears.
Hideo Kanaya, who stood on the top step of the podium, arms outstretched, was laughing unrestrainedly for the first time in a long while. This was his second victory of the day, following a win in the 350cc class. And this time, it was not only a first GP500 victory for him personally but also the first ever for a Japanese rider in the premiere class.
Kanaya had been given the opportunity to race in the World GP with Yamaha in 1972. (His first World GP race was with Kawasaki in 1967, when he took 3rd place in the 125cc class in the Japanese round.) Halfway through the series, Kanaya had raced through to the Belgian GP and gained recognition for achievements that included a win in the 250cc class in the opening round. Along with Jarno Saarinen, he was given a regular seat with the Yamaha Factory Team, which entered the 500cc class for the first time the following year.
At the Daytona 200 in 1974, however, Kanaya was injured in a fall while racing with his new teammate Giacomo Agostini and had to pull out for the rest of the season. As if this wasn't enough, after a good start with his domination of the Daytona 200, Agostini was also injured when he got caught up in an accident caused by another bike in the Swedish round in the second half of the World GP season. This caused him to be overtaken and lose the GP500 title race to Phil Read when it had been his for the taking.
For Kanaya, however, this development would present a big opportunity. "Thanks to the efforts of our importer teams and privateers, we took the 500cc Manufacturer's title. But this is nothing without a rider's title. In 1975 we have to go all out and finally secure a rider's title!" This was the overarching imperative imposed on the team by Yamaha.
Having two aces seeking the title would be superfluous, so Agostini, with his proven track record, was given priority and Kanaya was relegated to a supporting role. As second rider, he was to focus more on machine development. This was the order given him by the team.
However, Kanaya had ideas and ambitions of his own. He had no intention of quietly buckling under and just doing the development job. In the opening round, the French GP500, Kanaya yielded the victory to Agostini by just 0.5 seconds, after recording the fastest lap of the race at 2 minutes, 23.8 seconds. And in the season'ssecond round, held in Australia, he was again 2nd behind Agostini in the 500cc preliminaries. In the 350cc preliminaries, though, he actually bettered Agostini and recorded the top time. His performance proved he could win if given the chance. That chance came unexpectedly. In the 350cc finals, Agostini encountered mechanical problems. And Kanaya, who had been the front-runner from the start, secured the victory.
However, in the 500cc finals, Kanaya and Agostini both riders got slow starts. Kanaya was aware that parts of the course were still wet from rain that had fallen during the 350cc race and settled on a leisurely pursuit. Agostini had a different plan. He decided that a time like this when other riders were playing it safe would constitute an ideal opportunity to move out and take the lead. While the group was strung out on an inside corner, he would pick them off one by one from the outside.
Though surprised at such boldness, Kanaya could not afford to be left behind. On the first corner in the second lap, he swooped in to almost touch the inner guardrail, and with his helmet all but scraping the rail, he passed the second group. Then, putting everything he had into it, he almost managed to overtake Agostini, who was in the lead.
In this way, the Yamaha pair managed to leave the others behind, still in their 1-2 team order. However, just when everyone was convinced it would end in a replay of the opening round, Agostini suddenly slowed down! Kanaya matter-of-factly circled the remaining lap alone and looked a little self-conscious as he thrust one arm into the air on the final straight.