Jarno Saarinen bigraphy, stories - Finnihs motorcycle racer

Jarno Saarinen : biography

December 11, 1945 - May 20, 1973

Jarno Karl Keimo Saarinen (December 11, 1945 in Turku, Finland – May 20, 1973 in Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy) was a Finnish Grand Prix motorcycle road racer. He is the only Finn to win a road racing world championship.


Early in his career Saarinen won the Finnish ice track racing championship. Saarinen was also an accomplished motorcycle speedway racer. He had studied mechanical engineering and thus could modify his bike in addition to riding it. For example, in order for him to ride using his "hang-off" style, he lowered the handle bars and angled them downwards at an extreme angle.

Saarinen began his Grand Prix career during the 1970 season, at the age of 25. He would finish in a respectable fourth place in the 250cc class, despite missing the last three races to return to his engineering degree studies - before the DNF at the Finnish TT he was tied for second. In 1971 Saarinen competed in both 250cc and 350cc classes. Saarinen won his first Grand Prix that year, claiming the 350cc class in Czechoslovakia. He finished third in 250cc World Championship and second in 350cc. His success didn't go unnoticed as Yamaha signed him to ride its TD3 and TR3 bikes, then pre-production TZs for the 1972 season. Saarinen delivered as expected, winning the 250cc World Championship. He finished second in 350cc World Championship, giving defending champion Giacomo Agostini a strong challenge.

Yamaha developed a new, four cylinder, two-stroke 500cc bike for the 1973 season and chose Saarinen to ride it. Finally, Saarinen was ready to challenge Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read in the 500cc class with competitive equipment. Saarinen's 1973 season started amazingly well, as he became the first European rider to win the prestigious Daytona 200 race in the United States on a TZ350 against much larger-capacity opposition. Returning to Europe, he jumped to an early lead in the Grand Prix championships by winning his first 500cc race, then the premier racing, class. His win was also the first win for the new, four cylinder Yamaha. Saarinen went on to win the first three 250cc rounds and the first two of three 500cc rounds, but his bike suffered a broken chain in the third. It seemed he was on the brink of running away with these titles, with the opportunity to compete in the 350cc class if or when the 250cc title was certain.

However, the 1973 season ended in tragedy. On May 20, 1973, the fourth Grand Prix of the season was held at Monza near Milan, Italy. Despite the installation of new chicanes for cars during the previous year's Formula One season (one was placed before the Curva Grande and one at Vialone), they were not used for motorcycle racing at Monza. The second-placed Renzo Pasolini fell in front of Saarinen. He couldn't avoid the fallen rider and the resulting crash caused a multiple rider pile up. In all, 14 riders were embroiled in the mayhem that resulted. When the dust cleared, Jarno and Pasolini lay dead with many other riders seriously injured.

Over the years, the crash has been subject to significant controversy. The original cause of the crash was attributed to a spill left on the track during the 350cc race when Walter Villa's Benelli began leaking on the penultimate lap. Race officials neglected to clean up the spillage prior to the 250cc race, and one rider, John Dodds, made his concerns known to authorities, only to meet with threats of ejection from the circuit by police. However, some articles have appeared showing photos of Pasolini's bike consistent with the bike having seized, this locking the rear wheel and causing him to crash.

Not only did this incident take the lives of the two top competitors, but after the race, the factory-teams of Suzuki, MV Agusta, Harley Davidson, and Yamaha all joined together to fight for better race conditions. Yamaha went even further by pulling out of racing the rest of the year to honour Saarinen's memory. However, only forty days later, three riders in a Juniors race were killed in the same turn. From that day until 1981, all motorcycle racing at Monza was banned. The tragedy saw the end of a racing regime which had not adjusted to changing times.

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