Wednesday, January 13


Kevin Magee, once described as the most talented Australian since the late Gregg Hansford, is joining the international line-up of former Grand Prix stars at the Barry Sheene Festival of Speed from March 18-20.

The event, now in its 11th running, will again be held at the former world championship grand prix circuit, Sydney Motorsport Park, Eastern Creek.

In addition to Magee, the event will be graced by three times world champion Freddie Spencer, 1993 World 500 Champion Kevin Schwantz, four times world champion Kork Ballington, New Zealand legend Graeme Crosby and the late Barry Sheene's best mate, Steve 'Stavros' Parrish (See more here ). 

The Yamaha YZR500 V4 two-stroke grand prix machine that Kevin Magee will demonstrate at the 2016 Barry Sheene Festival of Speed on March 18-20.

Magee will be riding a Yamaha YZR500, almost identical to the machines he raced in the World 500 Championship for Team Roberts in the 1980s.  

After racing a 750cc Ducati Pantah for Victorian Bob Brown in Australian Superbike racing, Magee got his international break riding for the Moriwaki Engineering team in the 1985 Coca-Cola Suzuka 8-Hour race in Japan.  He was entered as co-rider with Australian Superbike legend Rob Phillis on a Honda CBR750-powered machine.  During the race, Magee was regularly dicing with Texan Kevin Schwantz, who was also having his international debut - as team-mate to Graeme Crosby in the Yoshimura Suzuki team.

Crosby and Schwantz ultimately finished third in the 1985 8-Hour, won by Wayne Gardner and Masaki Tokuno on a factory RVF750 Honda, while Magee and Phillis battled home for a ninth place finish.

A year later Magee raced the Suzuka 8-Hour as team-mate to Michael Dowson in the Warren Willing managed Marlboro Yamaha Dealer Team.  They finished runner-up to Gardner and Dominique Sarron, on an FZ750 Superbike, beating Schwantz and Japanese rider Satoshi Tsujimoto by a lap.

At the end of that year, Willing persuaded Yamaha to bring a second YZR500 Grand Prix two-stroke to Australia for the 1986 Swann Insurance International Series.  Kel Carruthers looked after the bike raced by regular GP rider Rob McElnea while Willing oversaw the preparation of the second bike, which was raced by Magee.

Despite having never raced a 500cc two-stroke GP machine, Magee won two of the six races on the GP machine - the second race at Surfers Paradise and the second race at Oran Park.  Both circuits are now real estate developments...

Those performances were enough to see Magee get three 'wild card' rides in the 1987 World 500 Championship.  He crashed in the Japanese GP, qualified second fastest at Assen and finished tenth in a rain-lashed race, then finished third at the Portuguese GP at Jarama.

In addition, he scored a last gasp win in the 1987 Coca-Cola Suzuka 8-Hour race in Japan with Martin Wimmer, after Kiwi Garry Goodfellow and Japanese rider Katsuro Takayoshi had led for the last four hours on a Yoshimura Suzuki.

Magee on the YZF750 factory Yamaha on his way to winning the Coca-Cola Suzuka 8-Hour in 1987.

This was the first time Yamaha had won the Suzuka 8-Hour and that, along with his GP wild card results, was enough to score him a place in Kenny Roberts Lucky Strike Yamaha team in 1988.  Both he and Wayne Rainey were hampered by Dunlop tyres that lost traction in the latter stages of races but at Jarama on April 24, 1988, Magee started the 500cc GP from pole position and after he and Eddie Lawson got clear of Wayne Gardner's Honda, they raced head to head for the win, Magee snatching it by half a second from the American.

It was his finest hour in GP racing.

The following year he struggled to get near the podium, four fourth place finishes his best results.  He was on the 'outer' with team boss Roberts after the USGP at Laguna Seca when he had pulled up at the end of the race and proceeded to a burn-out for the crowd.  

Magee had earlier looked to have third place sewn up but on the last lap his Yamaha started to burble and pop on corner exits, a sign of fuel starvation.  Perhaps frustrated with that, or his rear Dunlop, Magee proceeded to do his big burn-out.

On the cool-down, American Bubba Shobert was congratulating Eddie Lawson on his third place finish on the unruly NSR500 Honda, did not see Magee and ran smack into the back of the Yamaha.  Shobert suffered severe head injuries and although he made a full recovery after months of rehabilitation. He never raced again.

Shobert was a hugely popular rider in the USA and close friends with Kenny Roberts.

Kevin Magee battles fellow Aussie Wayne Gardner at the 1989 USGP at Laguna Seca...

Magee sustained a broken ankle.  (See 1989 USGP video here ).

At the end of the 1989 season, Magee joined the Lucky Strike Suzuki team. After a fourth place finish in the opening GP in Japan, right behind Kevin Schwantz, Magee was flung from the RGV500 Suzuki V4 in the next race, at Laguna Seca, in the same spot Shobert had collided with him the year before.

Magee was flung high in the air and came down on his head.  Fortunately, his Shoei helmet spread the impact load across its shell, absorbing most of the energy of the smash.  But Magee still suffered a serious head injury with a blood clot.  He was kept in an induced coma for many days and did not race again that year.

Following that he raced the first two GPs of 1991 for Suzuki, contested the Suzuka 8-Hour for Yamaha after earlier having signed for Kawasaki Australia, and raced a Yamaha to fifth place in the Malaysian 500 GP.

In 1992 he contested the All-Japan 500 Championship for Yamaha, finishing second to fellow Aussie Daryl Beattie and also raced four-strokes in selected races.  In 1994 Magee joined the Martin Adams owned Smokin Joe's Honda team in the AMA Superbike Championship racing an RC45.  The team had severe handling problems with the V4 Honda that year and Magee was 'let go' at the end of the season.

Since then he has been a TV commentator for FOX Sports in Australia.

The Barry Sheene Festival of Speed on March 18-20 will mark his first time on a Yamaha YZR500 since Shah Alam in Malaysia on September 29, 1991.