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Barry Sheene

Full Name:
Barry Steven Frank Sheene, MBE
11th September 1950
10th March 2003 (Aged 52)
Gold Coast, Queensland (AUS), cancer
Most recent race (in database):

Motor sport was mainstream news in Great Britain during 1976 with the charismatic duo of James Hunt and Barry Sheene crowned world champion in Formula 1 and 500cc motorcycles respectively. Sheene successfully defended that title in 1977 as he transcended his sport. He was well aware of his own commercial value and was the public face of Brut aftershave and Texaco motor oil. Injuries took their toll but it was a lifelong smoking habit eventually proved more dangerous than the sport he chose.

Family background and early career

Often mistaken as a Cockney, Sheene was born near London’s Gray’s Inn Road. His father was an engineer at the Royal College of Surgeons who had raced during the 1950s and Frank Sheene later entered his son on his motorcycling debut in 1968. Barry Sheene rode Frank’s 125 and 250cc Bultacos bikes and soon caught the eye by winning races at Brands Hatch. Fast and smooth from the outset, Sheene spent £2,000 on an ex-Stuart Graham Suzuki with which he clinched the 125cc British Championship in 1970.

World Championship debut

He used that bike to graduate to the 125cc World Championship in 1971 and that delivered Grand Prix wins at Spa-Francorchamps, Anderstorp and Imatra as Sheene finished as runner-up behind Angel Nieto. Also winner of the 50cc class at Brno that year, the following season on Sonauto Yamahas was interrupted by a broken collarbone sustained during the Nations GP at Imola.

Sheene joined Suzuki in 1973 at the start of a partnership that would deliver glory for both. That year’s ntional champion in both the 500cc and 750cc classes, he re-emphasised his impressive return to form by winning the new European Formula 750 title as well. Armed with the new twin-stroke Suzuki RG500 in 1974, he finished on the podium in the first two 500cc GPs of the season although poor reliability restricted him to sixth in the World Championship standings.

500cc Grand Prix winner for Suzuki

His 1975 season began with further injuries when his rear tyre punctured while at top speed on Daytona’s banking. Sidelined for seven weeks with another broken collarbone, fractured left thigh and right arm, Sheene returned to qualify on pole position twice and score breakthrough 500cc victories in Holland and Sweden. Those were Sheene’s only finishes of the season as he finished sixth overall once more.

Double World Champion

Heron-Suzuki added reliability to speed in 1976 and Sheene proved the class of the field. He won five of the six GPs he started (also finishing second in Belgium) to ease to the 500cc World Championship. He was so dominant that Sheene even had the luxury of missing the Tourist Trophy and the last three road races of the season.

That form continued into 1977. He qualified in the top two throughout and won six times as he retained the 500cc title. That included winning the Belgian GP on the old Spa-Francorchamps at an average speed of 135.067mph, the fastest GP to that date.

A new rival: Kenny Roberts

Sheene began 1978 with victory in Venezuela but hopes of a third successive title were reduced by illness and the arrival of Kenny Roberts sr on a factory Yamaha. The Londoner also won in Sweden but narrowly surrendered his crown to Roberts. The 1979 British GP was a classic duel between the two rivals that further enhanced Sheene’s standing within the British racing public’s mind despite losing by 0.3sec. He won three times that year but retirements meant he slipped to third overall in what proved to be his last season with Heron-Suzuki.

Life as a privateer

Sheene believed he was receiving sub-standard equipment so he left the Heron-Suzuki team at the end of 1979 and switched to a private Yamaha. Factory support was not immediately forthcoming and he scored just one top five finish during 1980. Victory in the following year’s Swedish GP was Sheene’s 19th and final 500cc win as he improved to fourth overall.

However, any hope of a sustained return to winning form ended when he hit a crashed bike while testing before the 1982 British GP at Silverstone. He broke both knees and his left wrist but he was lucky to be alive.

Final seasons and retirement

His much publicised injuries and subsequent recovery only heightened Sheene’s fame although his days as a championship threat were over. Out of action for seven months, Sheene registered a final podium finish in South Africa at the start of 1984 in his last season before retirement.

His bike career over, Sheene drove in the occasional touring car race and emigrated to Australia where he worked in the media. A popular star of classic event such as the Goodwood Revival, he was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and the double World Champion succumbed to the disease in the following spring.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1985 Trimoco British Saloon Car Championship 15th 18
1984 World Motorcycle Championship
Heron Team Suzuki
12 0 1 0
0% win rate
6th 34
1983 World Motorcycle Championship
Heron Team Suzuki
10 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
14th 9
1982 World Motorcycle Championship
Yamaha Motor Company
7 1 6 0
0% win rate
4th 68
1981 World Motorcycle Championship 11 1 3 1
10% win rate
4th 72
1980 World Motorcycle Championship 5 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
14th 10
1979 World Motorcycle Championship
Texaco Heron Team Suzuki
11 (1) 3 6 3
28% win rate
3rd 87
1978 World Motorcycle Championship
Texaco Heron Team Suzuki
11 0 7 2
19% win rate
2nd 100
1977 World Motorcycle Championship
Texaco Heron Team Suzuki
9 (1) 7 7 6
67% win rate
1st 107
1976 World Motorcycle Championship
Texaco Heron Team Suzuki
6 4 6 5
84% win rate
1st 72 (87)
1975 World Motorcycle Championship
Suzuki Motor Company
7 (1) 3 2 2
29% win rate
6th 30