Put this into perspective. In 1985, Freddie Spencer made history by claiming both the 500cc and 250cc titles in the same season; a feat nobody has achieved since and, with the way racing has become more specialised with riders focusing on single categories, probably never will again. However, 12 years before this, Jarno Saarinen was on target as the Finn topped both championships. He was already the 250cc World Champion of 1972 while he and Italian Renzo Pasolini sat first and second in the ’73 standings. Then came the fateful day at Monza in the Nations Grand Prix.
‘Granty’, chatting with Eurosport commentator Greg Haines in Monday’s show, was in that race and remembers it like it was yesterday. Normally, your bike stalling on the grid would be a major frustration – but this time it could have saved Grant’s life as the 250cc event got underway following a major oil spillage in the previous race.
“The riders wanted to hold up that race until they got the oil sorted out,” Grant recalls. “The organisers wouldn’t hear of it because they had quite a large crowd. We set off in the race. I think I was on about the second or third row of the grid. I was always good at starting but, luckily for me (on this occasion), the bike started (from the push start) but I stalled it. It seemed like a lifetime but it was probably about two seconds before I got it going again.
“The initial bunch had just gone into the first corner. From the start at Monza, you’d be in fifth gear by the time you got to the Curva Grande. By the time I got there it was absolute mayhem. It was unfortunate that both Pasolini and Saarinen were together. They both went down. There must have been about 20 bikes down; it was the biggest crash I have ever been involved in, in terms of the number of bikes down, but Pasolini and Saarinen were together on the track and they were both killed. It was absolutely terrible, absolutely terrible.
“I remember going into the Curva Grande with petrol tanks flying over my head and bikes coming past me. Normally I would have got off. That day, for some reason, I thought, ‘No, just stay on the bike’. I stayed on the bike, missed all the debris and got through it. It was just a terrible, terrible day. People have said to me that we must be either very brave, very stupid or whatever to be a motorcycle racer. I’ve always been a big believer in fate; when your time’s up, your time’s up. You might as well crack on and do whatever you’re doing.”
Listen to this Mick Grant memory and many more in Monday’s Full Throttle podcast here on the Eurosport website, on Apple Podcasts and on Spotify.