Sunday, January 31, 2021

Bruno Kneubuhler

 I've been reading "Chris Carter at Large,  Stories from a lifetime in motorcycle racing" which is a collection of anecdotes about races and racers.  Carter writes of the Swiss racer Bruno Kneubuhler "He was good, too.  Second in both the 50cc and 125cc world championship, and he rode in the 250cc, 350cc and 500cc championships at various times, scoring podiums in all classes, I think.  Possibly a unique achievement."  I found this quite amazing and started researching if it was in fact true.  Bruno Kneubuler's name was vaguely familiar, but I didn't know any of his details.  A quick Google search confirmed that he had been on the podium in every solo class, had won five GPs, and finished 2nd in the '73 Spanish GP in the 50, 250 and 500 races.  But, what I found even more impressive was that he raced in the World Championship GPs from 1972 when he was 26 years old through 1989 when he was 43 and scored points every year except '87 racing a Honda in the 500cc class. Bruno started racing in 1969 and got 2nd place in his first competition, a hillclimb.  In 1970 he won the Swiss Senior title.  In 1971, he rode as many International races as he could get starts for.  In 1972, he started racing in the GPs in the 350 and 500 classes on Yamahas, was 4th at his first GP in the 500, third behind Ago and Pagani on the works MVs at Assen and third again at Brno, and won the 350 race at the last GP of the season in Spain by 42 seconds. This made him third in the 500 class for the season and 6th in the 350 class in his rookie season. For some reason, I associated his name with the Imola 200 Ducatis.  Sure enough, he rode one of the works bikes in '73.  '72 was the first year of the Imola 200 and Paul Smart put Ducati on the map by winning over his teammate Bruno Spaggiari.  Apparently, the 350 Yamaha wasn't allowed in '72, but was in '73 and Jarno Saarinen, fresh from his win in the Daytona 200, dominated the event.  Ducati had developed their 750 V-Twin considerably with a shorter stroke, and reduced valve angle that allowed a shorter wheelbase.  Smart rode a Suzuki in '73, and Spaggiari had Mick Grant and Bruno Kneubuhler as teammates on the works Ducatis.  Grant fried a clutch at the start and retired and the two Brunos chased Saarinen, after Yvon duHamel and Art Baumann on H2Rs dropped out.  Kneubuhler was in 2nd place near the end of the first 100 mile leg when he crashed after turning the fastest lap of the race.  

At Imola on the works Ducati in 1973

Here's a link to a documentary of the race:

In June of 1977, Bruno crashed at an International in Holland and badly fractured his left ankle and the surgery was botched and it got infected.  He was flown to Zurich and, after three months and more surgery, his ankle was fused.  This not only ended his season and but compromised his push starts when he resumed racing in '78 on a RG 500 Suzuki, and he only scored 2 points all year.  So, in '79 he switched to a 125 MBA, but that season was ruined by a fall at Assen where he broke both wrist.  He came back strong the next year with the MBA with three podiums and 4th in the 125 championship.

On the 125 MBA at Assen in 1980

For 1981 Bruno raced a 250 Pinfold Rotax that wasn't very successful.  He only scored points in  two GPs.  Fron Motocourse 1981-82: "Schlachter passed Bruno Kneubuhler on lap ten as the Swiss dropped down the field.  It was yet another disappointment for Bruno who struggled all year to make his Pinfold-framed Rotax competitive and had qualified fourth only to have the engine run flat in the race."  Here's a video of the earlier race at Hockenheim:

#33 is Bruno at Monza in '81

It was back to the 125s with an MBA in '82 and in '83 he had perhaps his best year finishing 2nd overall in the 125 World Championship with two wins, a 2nd and a 3rd, and scoring points in 8 of the 11 GPs he contested at the age of 37.  Bruno stayed with the 125s through 1986, but in 1987 he raced a 500 Honda, presumably a RS500 three cylinder.  This was probably prompted by the FIM changing GPs start from push to clutch. '87 was the first year that Bruno didn't score any World Championship points since 1972 but, keep in mind that '87 was the last year that points were awarded only 1st through 10th and the next year they went to 1st through 15th, which is still used today.  And, Bruno was racing against Gardner, Mamola, Lawson and Schwantz on works bikes.  It only got worse with the addition of Rainey in '88 and Doohan in '89, but Bruno did score points both those years.

On the RS 500 Honda

Bruno has participated in Classic racing in more recent years and operates riding school in Switzerland.

So, from 50cc Kreidler to 750 Ducati to RS 500 Honda, Kneubuhler was superbly versatile.

But, somewhere in my research, I saw a reference to seven riders being 'classified' in all five solo classes: Ralph Bryans, Tommy Robb, Luigi Taveri, Stuart Graham, Dave Simmons, Bruno Kneubuhler, and Alberto Pagani.  It wasn't totally clear what 'classified' meant, but I assume it meant scored points.  Further research revealed that Kneubuhler's podiums in all solo classed wasn't a unique achievement.  Tommy Robb won 125, 250 and 350 races and got 3rds in 50 and 500 GPs.  Stuart Graham may have also been on the podium of all five solo classes as he won 50 and 125 GPs and was 2nd in 250 and 500 GPs, but I haven't been able to find results of all his 350 GPs, though think that it's probably unlikely that he made the podium in one.  Bryans, Robb, Taveri, Graham, and Simmons all raced against each other in the mid to late '60s and Kneubuhler and Pagani were just a little later in the early 70's, but Kneubuhler carried on and was 5th in the 125 World Championship in 1986 riding an MBA, then spent his last three years in the GPs racing the 500 Honda.  It was a different time.  Much was made of Freddie Spencer winning both the 250 and 500 World Championships in 1985 and I don't think anyone has even tried running more that one class since then, even Kneubuhler who last raced more that one class in a season in 1977.  The 350 class was eliminated after 1982 and the 50 class was replaced by the 80cc class in 1984 and ran through 1989, when it too was eliminated.