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Jarno Saarinen, the world's greatest road racer. Read on and see if you don't agree.

Vale Jarno Saarinen - we'll always remember you

Spanish 350cc GP 1971

Jarno's death, along with that of Renzo Pasolini at Monza on 20 May 1973 was a great tragedy which appalled the motorcycling world. Rarely has one man received such adulation and achieved so much on the race track in such a short time. Jarno died a hero's death on the race track doing what he always did, riding 10/10ths. But, he didn't want to do die and he died needlessly and in doing so the world lost a larger than life motorcyling celebrity.

Saarinen leads Sheene 1971

Jarno rode in 3 race seasons and looking back he seemed invincible and his spectacular riding style was immensely popular. "I want to live to be a very old man" he joked a year before his death. "If I win a world title I will definitely retire." He neither lived to be old nor retired after winning the world title.

350 Yamaha mounted at the 1973 Daytona 200

The 1973 Italian Grand Prix was a farce with tensions running high. The armco fencing was very unpopular even with hay bales. The track had been re-surfaced carelessly. In the 350cc event after Villa's Benelli began losing oil forcing his into the pits. His team encouraged him back onto the track a there was only one more lap to go. He cruised around to finish 5th dropping oil onto the track in the process.

The incredibly steep angle of Jarno's clip-ons are visible in this shot

A journalist, Christian Lacombe was concerned at the amount of oil visible on the track and approached the marshalls to clean it up. Instead they called the police and threatened him with ejection from the circuit. John Dodds confronted the Clerk of the Course over the condition of the track and was also threatened with the police. John warned as many riders as he could but didn't get to speak with Jarno.

On the 4 cylinder 500cc Yamaha at Hockenheim 1973

Pasolini also did not know having retired from the 350cc race. It was inconceivable that anyone started the race at all but in those days riders did not have a spokesman and were not used to challenging authority. Disaster struck almost immediately. Pasolini struck the oil in the first corner, the Curva Granda, and fell fatally. Saarinen following closely could not avoid him and also fell. Hideo Kanaya missed the fallen riders but hit the straw bales full on. Another dozen riders were embroiled in the mayhem that resulted, most suffering injuries. The race organisers took another two laps before stopping the event.

Mallory Park 1972

The shock was total. The Suzuki, MV, Harley and Yamaha factories banded together to fight for better race conditions and Yamah pulled out of racing for the year. The tragedy saw the end of a racing regime which had not adjusted to changing times.


Daytona 1973

Jarno had rocketed to fame after achieving 250cc world champion status at the end of 197. In only his 4th season he rode a diminutive 350cc Yamaha to first place in both the 1973 200 mile Daytona race and the Imola 200.


Hard charging on the 500 Yamaha

Jarno was born in 1945 in Finland. He studied to become a qualified mechanical engineer before taking up ice racing at the age of 20. He won six Finnish championships road racing on a 125cc Puch and 250cc and 350cc Yamahas.


In front of Agostini, Jarno on the Benelli

Entering the GPs as a privateer in 1970 he rode his 125 Puch and 250 Yamaha and soon gained the epithet "the promising young Finn." It was not long before he was better known as the "Flying Finn." To the Finns he was known as "Paroni" the "Baron." Running out of money he went and completed his final engineering exams at Heklsinki. In 1971 Arwidson and Co. sponsored Jarno to second place in the 250cc championship despite a series of seizures.


Imola 200 1973 and Jarno takes the little Yamaha inside of DuHamel and Baumann on 750 Kawasakis


Saarinen on the 350 Yamaha at Siverstone

For 1972 Yamaha supported Jarno and he went on to win the 250cc world championship. He also rode the new water-cooled Yamaha 350cc twin setting a new lap record in the process. He beat Agostini at Pesaro riding 350cc and 500cc Benelli 4 cylinder machines.


Daytona on the 350 in practice

At Silverstone he won the 250 and 350 races, 250, 350 and 750 at Scarborough and at Mallory park the "Race of the Year." The race going public was enthralled at his wild but seemingly safe riding style. Not everyone was convinced, bothe Phil Read and Rod Gould expressed concern at how hard it was to ride with Jarno.


250cc race at Hockenheim in 1973

After hurting himself between seasons and needing stitches to a leg wound Jarno tested the new 500 Yamaha 4 cylinder. In March 1973 he won the Daytona on a 350 Yamaha against much bigger opposition. He repeated this triumph at Imola in the 200 mile race.


500 Yamaha in the Hockenheim pits

In France Jarno won the 500 race on the new Yamaha beating Ago on the MV. MV responded with a new short stroke engine. Jarno walked away with the 250 class. In Austria he again won the 250 and 500 races. In Germany he won the 250 but Ago came back with the new MV in the 500 race.


Triumphant at Daytona 1973


Jarno went on to Monza and into history. His winning streak had come to an end. Jarno is a legend among riders and his short history does little justice to his brilliant riding skills. Against big and small Jarno could not fail to impress and his early death shocked the race going public. No one could ever follow the races again without the nagging fear that tragedy may strike again. Many riders have died in competition and the race goes on; but Jarno's death shook up the whole race world. Enough was enough and the factories and riders stood up and demanded safer conditions and greater care in race management. Today we have a far safer racing environment, it is a shame that men such as Jarno had to die before anyone would sit up and take notice.


Silverstone 1972


WARNING: the following pictures may cause distress.

The unforgivable, needless tragedy at Monza 1973,

Jarno's last race. 


Chris Bradley from Newcastle on Tyne writes:
"I have seen your article on Jarno Saarinen and thought it was a very fitting and commendable tribute to this hero of our time. Jaarno was reputed to be the first rider to demonstrate the knee out riding position which came from his previous experience as an Ice Racer before he started road racing. Kenny Roberts adopted this style and perfected it for road racing."

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