Giacomo Agostini is considered perhaps the greatest Grand Prix rider of all time. Over the course of a remarkable career of 17 years, the peerless Agostini won 15 world Grand Prix titles (8 in 500cc and 7 in 350cc), 12 Isle of Man TT crowns, an astonishing 122 Grands Prix, and he rarely ever fell off his machine during all those years. He became motorcycling's first genuine world superstar and, whether riding a 350cc or 500cc, he was nearly always the man to beat whenever he took up his position on the starting grid. In America, Agostini won the Daytona 200 in 1974, bringing unprecedented recognition to the race.
Agostini was born on June 16, 1942 in Brescia, Italy, and was raised in Levere near Bergamo. He was raised in a well-to-do family and his parents discouraged him from taking up motorcycle racing. To start racing he needed a signature from his parents. Agostini went to a notary and told him he was going cycle racing. The notary, who was a friend of his father’s, told Agostini’s father that Giacomo was a nice boy and it was a good sport and his father signed. The notary understood cycle racing to be bicycle racing, not motorcycle racing, but with his father’s signature now in hand he was able to start his motorcycle racing career.
Agostini cut his racing teeth in European hillclimb events (racing up hillside roads, not the American style of hillclimbing) before being offered a place on Morini's works team in 1964. He immediately began to impress and was soon given a world championship ride by MV Agusta as understudy to Mike Hailwood. Hailwood became something of a mentor to him.
"Ago," as he became known, made his first telling impact in 1965 when he rode a 350cc three-cylinder machine to victory on its very first outing at the Nurburgring in Germany. He narrowly missed out on his first world championship that year but, following the departure of Hailwood to Honda, Agostini became MV's number one rider.
On the 350cc bike, he was twice runner-up to Hailwood, in both 1966 and 1967. But he managed to take revenge in the 500cc class as he prevailed in several duels between the two riders over the same two seasons. Ago claimed the 500cc world title in both 1966 and 1967 in championships that came down to the final event.
Honda's departure from the scene in 1967 heralded eight years of dominance by Agostini and MV Augusta in the world championships. He completed the world title double with MV -- on both the 350cc and 500cc -- in 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972. In 1973, he won the 350cc title and then, with Yamaha, he won the 350cc world crown in 1974 and the 500cc title in 1975.
The only real threat to Ago's supremacy came in 1971 when Jarno Saarinen, a young Finnish rider, burst onto the scene with Yamaha. Saarinen won the first two rounds of the 1973 season on a powerful 500cc Yamaha but he was then tragically killed in a horrendous 250cc-class pile-up in the third round at Monza. MV and Ago were once again left in almost total command. But MV's plans to develop a new four-cylinder model eventually saw Agostini relinquish his 500cc ride to Englishman Phil Read -- and then move to Yamaha in time for the 1974 season.
Agostini made his U.S. racing debut in the Daytona 200 in March of 1974. The race that year was loaded with talent, including Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene, as well as all the top U.S. riders. Agostini led early, but then had to battle Sheene, Roberts and Gary Nixon. For half the race, the quartet staged some of the most exciting laps ever turned in the 200 (that year reduced to 180 miles due to the oil crisis). Eventually, the other three riders fell by the wayside due to bike problems or crashes and Agostini rode to victory in his first attempt at Daytona. Winning the 200 not only added immensely to Agostini’s popularity in America, but it also helped solidify the Daytona 200’s standing as a world-class motorcycle race.
“Winning Daytona was a very good memory for me,” Agostini said. “I’d left MV [Agusta] for Yamaha and this was to be my first race with Yamaha. Many people said I was finished, that riding for MV was the reason I won races. Winning at Daytona proved to those people that I could win on another brand. It was my first time in America, my first time racing a two-stroke motorcycle and my first time working with the Japanese. I had a lot of emotion after winning that race.”
After winning his final world title in 1975, Agostini enjoyed his last competitive year in 1976 when he managed to notch up Grand Prix wins in both the 350cc and 500cc class. Fittingly, his last career victory came at the Nurburgring, the German venue where he had won his very first Grand Prix race back in 1965.
After retirement, Agostini became team manager for Yamaha’s and later Cagiva’s Grand Prix racing squads. Under his guidance the team won world championships. Ago has won numerous awards and accolades over the years. He was the first motorcyclist recognized by the World Sports Academy.