Four blokes and a road bike have a bash at the Bol

Four blokes and a road bike

by classic-bike |
Published on
SEPT 17, 1977, BOL D’OR, LE MANS

In 1977 these likely lads rocked up at Le Mans with hopes of glory in their first endurance race – the world-famous Bol d’Or. They arrived with a toolbox that flew over with them as luggage from Australia... and a Z1000 ridden to the track on public roads


Astride a Kawasaki Z1000 superbike on a cold, wet night in Paris, 22-year-old Graeme Crosby must have been wondering what he’d done to deserve this. OK, he’d signed up to race the bike at the Bol d’Or, starting on Saturday, September 15, 1977. But having to ride the Z1000 to the track on the Thursday before race day – a 150-mile slog to the other side of one of the busiest cities in Europe via damp cobblestones and autoroutes – was never in the plan.

It’s a last-minute dash, after the airline lost the Kawasaki for three days and the team’s transporter turned out to be a nine-seat Peugeot wagon with no room for the bike. We’re talking an on-the-fly, minimal-budget assault on the famous endurance race here, launched by a suburban motorcycle shop in Sydney, Australia. So Crosby mucks in and rides it from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Le Mans, with a fill-up on the way and more stops because the engine doesn’t like the low-grade motorway fuel. At the team’s hotel he finds his colleagues in the most obvious place, the bar.

It’s just one scene in this saga of a bunch of have-a-go heroes taking on the big boys and gunning for glory. The bare-bones team had only four members – Aussie bike shop owner and Yoshimura parts importer Ross Hannan and his younger brother Ralph, along with Kiwi Crosby and his co-rider Tony Hatton.

It all began with Ross showing a film of the Bol d’Or at a motorcycle club meeting and deciding a naked superbike racing against specialist endurance bikes would be the perfect promotional vehicle for his business and Hideo ‘Pop’ Yoshimura’s tuning parts. He reckoned endurance bikes were tuned for fuel economy rather than outright performance so might be upstaged by a fire-breathing bike.

He turned out to be right – but his brother Ralph was underwhelmed by the plan. Asked about it in 2009, he exclaimed: “My f**king brother! He’s sitting around at home, doing nothing, and he comes in to work and says we’re going to the Bol d’Or. I said: ‘Ross, we’ve done Europe’.”


And so they had. Ross raced in 1969-70 until he was run over by several bikes in a mass-start practice session at the Isle of Man, while Ralph had been a mechanic for Terry Dennehy and New Zealand’s Ginger Molloy in 1968-70.

But Ralph eventually came round and suddenly the pair were working against time. Ralph had to build a race bike in two weeks, plus there was the lighting system to sort, sponsorship for airfares, freight, fuel, oil and lights to sort...

The lighting system was tricky. Ross reckoned a Kawasaki alternator wouldn’t cope with sustained high revs, so went for Cibie lights run by battery. “We’d have to refuel every hour, so could swap batteries every hour,” he said. That would come back to haunt him, due to a slight miscalculation – the batteries took longer than an hour to recharge! “Ralph has never let me forget that,” said Ross, ruefully.

Crosby was an obvious choice as one of the riders – he’d ridden one of their bikes before and Ross knew he was far more race-wise than his age and rowdy streak suggested. Co-rider Tony Hatton said: “Everyone who hadn’t met Croz thought he was a clown. They’d see him go fast and try to match him. Soon they’d crash and come back in Band Aids. Sometimes when I rode with him, I was two seconds a lap slower – but I was proud if I could finish the race.”

To read more head into stores and grab the latest issue of Classic Bike, or why not check out our subscription options so you never miss an issue!

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us