It isn’t always easy to remember what you were doing twenty five years ago – it can be hard to recall details, and when you do remember (if you do) then it also reminds you of just how old you are!
Twenty five years ago, a number of Canadians were getting ready for the first ever Superbike World Championship event at Donington Park in the midlands of the UK. For most, their actual focus of attention was on the long-running British traditional Easter weekend Transatlantic Trophy events, or Match Races.
Started as a Triumph-backed works rider battle between their U.S. and British squads, the Match Races evolved into a big bike spring blowout. Eventually, the series provided a launching pad for late 70s/early 80s American F-750 stars such as Kenny Roberts, Mike Baldwin, Dale Singleton and especially, a teenage sensation named “Fast Freddie” Spencer.
However, as works Formula One machinery (750cc and later 500cc two-strokes) became harder to come by, the Trans Atlantic Trophy required an update. British race promoters still had a desire to start their busy season with an international series. The Match Race format was initially used to enhance (or Anglicize!) the traditional spring Champion Spark Plug-backed FIM F-750 Cup tour of the mid-1970s, centered on Daytona’s 200-mile race, the Imola 200 and Circuit Paul Ricard in France.
As four-stroke, street-based Formula grew in popularity in the mid-1980s, the British organizers reinvented the Match Races, initially as a continuation of the Brits vs Yanks format. In that 1986 re-launch, Michel Mercier (Suzuki Canada GSX-R750) and Rueben McMurter (Yamaha Motor Canada FZ750) were late additions to the “American” team, and showed very well in their British short circuit debut.
The Trans Atlantic format was expanded for 1987, with more teamsters to ensure solid grids over Easter. Recruiting was carried out at Daytona, meaning that not only did Mercier and McMurter return, but BC-based rising star Gary Goodfellow was added. The Canadians were almost a team of their own!
The 1987 Match Races featured dynamite fights at the front between American teammates Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey. Video of their fights at the front is well worth exploring on Youtube – at times it looks like a SuperMoto race, especially in the wet!
It would be fair to say that the Brits did not yet have competitive “works supported” machinery – their best bikes were built to a different spec, for the FIM’s TT-F1 (Tourist Trophy Formula One) “street circuit” world championship series.
Buddies Mercier and Goodfellow featured in 1987 for Suzuki Canada, taking full advantage of their experience with cold and wet conditions. When it comes to bad weather, Canucks (and Vancouver-based ex-Kiwis) had an edge over their American teammates.
For 1988, the Match Race format was expanded to allow for a total of four teams, representing various areas of the road racing world. As well, the final races at Donington were now in support of, or supported by, the inaugural round of the Superbike World Championship.
For the promoters, the new race allowed them to share the costs of getting all the best Superbike class riders to England, and guaranteed that at least the first round of the new series would be well supported. For the racers, this offered another payday, but meant even more work over the long weekend. While the Brit and Euro “locals” would be based out of their regular trucks and trailers, the visiting North Americans would have limited equipment and a packing crate as home base.
Canadians attending the Easter events included veterans Mercier, McMurter and Goodfellow, as well as young up-and-coming Montrealer Tom Douglas. Dicom Courier-backed Douglas made his continental debut aboard a Gord Hubbel-tuned Yamaha Canada entry. While Mercier and McMurter handled their regular Canadian equipment, Goodfellow had managed to arrange a semi-works Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R750 LTD, complete with Don Knit backing, direct from Japan.
The American portion of the Transatlantic Trophy team was strong, lead by the works HRC Honda VFR750 of Bubba Shobert. Yoshimura Suzuki sent a factory crew for the first time, with Doug Polen and Scott Gray ready to fly the AMA-Yoshimura USA flag.