Motorcycle Legend Races Again - Forty Years Later

If motorcycle enthusiasts feel the hairs rising on the back of their biker necks, it could have something to do with two-wheeled history being made. Essentially, it’s a case of legends creating legends.

A past winner of the oldest most demanding and also most hazardous motorcycle road race in the world returns to the saddle forty years after claiming the Production 1000 cc class TT championship title. The honorary lap will take place today, August 29th at the Classic TT being held on the Isle of Man.

Bookending the Tourist Trophy (TT) races which took place in June, the Classic TT not only celebrates recent victories but also the most spectacular accomplishments of the past. At this year’s meet-up of two wheel legends, BMW Group Classic recalls the year 1976 when Helmut Dähne and Hans Otto Butenuth won the 1000 cubic centimeter class of the Production TT on a BMW R 90 S.

Since then, Dähne and his teammate Butenuth, who passed away in 1997, have belonged to the exclusive group of riders able to enter their names in the winners’ list of what’s considered the oldest most demanding and also most hazardous motorcycle road race in the world. The now 71-year-old Dähne returns to the scene of his great triumph at the 2016 Classic TT.

To celebrate, Dähne will once again ride his original BMW racer around the Isle of Man.

“The Tourist Trophy is in no way comparable to a conventional race on a permanent track,” says Helmut Dähne. “The 60.725-kilometre Snaefell Mountain Course consists of cordoned-off country roads – with front gardens instead of gravel beds and curbs instead of safety fences at the side. The motorcyclists speed through towns and villages, passing fields and meadows and riding up and downhill through forest and coastal landscapes.”

This ride will be the highlight of the BMW Group Classic’s appearance at the Tourist Trophy paddock next to the grandstand in the island capital of Douglas and at the festival on the airfield in Jurby. In a large display area, motor racing fans will be able to see not just the winning boxer motorcycle of 1976 but also numerous other BMW racing bikes with a TT history.

The selection ranges from a BMW R 5 SS from the year 1937 and a BMW R 51 of 1939 to the BMW RS 54, which was designed as a racing machine in 1954 and already reached top speeds of over 200 km/h. The current model program is represented with the two latest new additions, the BMW R nineT Scrambler and the BMW G 310 R.

Helmut Dähne – motorcycle racer, tire expert, record holder

At a special exhibition in honor of Helmut Dähne, there will also be a display of numerous trophies, historical pictures and other memorabilia from his impressive racing career. Born in Bavaria, Dähne was active in motor racing for more than 40 years. At the age of 17 he took part in his first slalom race, and he went on to enter motocross competitions shortly afterwards. Dähne achieved his first success in a road race in 1968. After this he won 15 German championship titles in serial production motorcycle racing. All in all Helmut Dähne ran a total of 383 races, of which he won 131, before finishing his career in 2006. One particular feat that ensured Dähne a place in the history of motorcycle racing was his record run on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. In 1993 he completed the circuit in 7:49.71 minutes: this outstanding time can no longer be improved on as the track has since been modernized, so Dähne’s motorcycle lap record is “eternal”.

Helmut Dähne started his career by training as a motor mechanic with BMW. In the company’s motorcycle racing department he was then involved in the maintenance and repair of the legendary vertical shaft engines for customer racing. In addition, he specialized in reliability testing and at the beginning of the 1970s developed racing machines based on the BMW R75/5. In 1972 Dähne rode this type of motorcycle in the 200-mile race in Imola, Italy. The talented mechanic was also quick to get hold of the BMW R 90 S launched in 1973 – the brand's first superbike. With full trim, stub handlebars, turned back footrests, a short jump seat and a boxer engine with its output increased by 9 hp to 76 hp, his machine reached speeds of well over 200 km/h. After this, Dähne attracted attention at numerous races with his elegant riding style and fast lap times – and his red leather racing suit with white stripes became a striking trademark, too.

Dähne remained faithful to the powerful BMW boxer motorcycles when he moved to tire manufacturer Metzeler in 1974 to work in racing. Here he advanced the development of tires for fast road bikes and serial production racing. Dähne was both a test rider and a racer, and this was how he came to be involved in the Tourist Trophy, which he first entered in 1972. Up until 1994 Helmut Dähne entered a total of 26 Tourist Trophy races, including several in the same year on some occasions. He became a TT legend when he secured victory in 1976, only narrowly failing to repeat his triumph in 1984 and 1986, when he finished second.

BMW and the Tourist Trophy: the success story began with “Schorsch” Meier

By winning the Production TT in 1976, Dähne and Butenuth were the first BMW solo riders to successfully follow in the footsteps of Georg Meier. It was in 1939 that Meier became the first non-British rider to win a title at the Tourist Trophy. “Schorsch” won the Senior TT on the Isle of Man riding a BMW racing machine with a 500 cubic centimetre boxer engine, a vertical shaft and compressor charging; it produced an output of 60 hp and reached a top speed of over 220 km/h. British rider Jock West finished second, securing a perfect victory for BMW.

After this, BMW was mainly successful in sidecar racing, also in the Tourist Trophy. From 1955 to 1976, 28 racing victories went to sidecars powered by BMW engines. But another 37 years were to pass before the BMW team won its next solo victory with Helmut Dähne. And it was to be another two decades before BMW tasted victory on the Isle of Man once more. In 1997, 1998 and 1999, British rider Dave Morris won three times in a row in the Singles TT riding a motorcycle developed by Chrysalis Racing Team and powered by the single-cylinder engine of the BMW F 650.

Another 15 years later, Northern Ireland’s Michael Dunlop started his winning streak at the most famous of motorcycle races on his BMW S 1000 RR. In June 2014, exactly 75 years after Georg Meier’s legendary win, Dunlop crowned a superb performance on the 4-cylinder BMW superbike by clinching the Tourist Trophy triple.

He finished first in the Superstock TT, the Superbike TT and the Senior TT. And the BMW S 1000 RR dominated the 1000 cubic centimeter class in the very latest Tourist Trophy, too. Michael Dunlop won the Superbike TT, while the UK’s Ian Hutchinson secured first place in the Superstock TT. What is more, the two BMW riders won a double victory in the Senior TT, with Dunlop in first place and Hutchinson finishing second. On this occasion Dunlop also completed the fastest lap ever run on the Snaefell Mountain Course when he travelled at an average speed of 215.6 km/h.

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