Anton Mang

Anton MangThe likeable German was born in September 1949 in the town of Inning am Ammersee near the Bavarian town of Munich. With the help of his childhood friend and school chum Sepp Schloegl, Mang soon began racing, aboard a home built 250 twin, taking part in races at Augsburg in Germany. This friendship with Sepp Schloegl would later turn out to be instrumental in Mang’s success, creating, amongst other ventures, the world championship Kawasaki’s and playing a large part in every campaign for Anton from 1974 through to 1988. Mang was drawn to motorcycle racing after a reasonably successful career in ski-bob racing! A skilled tool maker by trade he was also a keen cycle racer and lists model making as one of his hobbies. That first bike, the SMZ250, named after its creators Sepp Schloegl, Anton Mang and Alfons Zender, was completely home built and this ability to build such machines would prove invaluable later on in his career when factory help dried up, as it did for Mang on many occasions.

Mang, along with Schloegl, initially became part of the grand prix scene working as mechanics for fellow German and former 125 and 250 World Champion Dieter Braun.  Dieter Braun was instrumental in Mang becoming a Grand Prix rider, and with his help he progressed up through the ranks eventually finding himself in the spotlight of the of the world stage in 1974.  Riding a TZ350 Yamaha, Mang competed in the Austrian GP at Salzburgring, finishing a very creditable Sixth in his first Grand Prix. Surely an indication of what lay ahead for the strong willed Bavarian.

Anton MangKnown for his gritty determination it wasn’t to long before his first victories came at GP level and 1976 saw the start of his climb up the ladder to greatness.

Riding a the Morbidelli twin he won the rain soaked 125 German GP, stamping his mark on the proceedings of the normally incredibly close racing of the 125 field, leading by a minute and a half at the finish.  Along with three more points scoring rides that season, Mang finished that first full year fifth overall in the title hunt behind Champion Bianchi, Nieto, Pileri and Van Kessel.

The following season saw Mang return to the highest level with an unlikely brace of machines.

A 125 Morbidelli and a Suzuki RG500 seemed like an impossible combination and at times Mang certainly fell foul of the bigger bikes requirements compared to the diminutive 125cc twin. On more than one occasion, it is well documented, that he would misjudge the speed differential between each bike. This wasn’t a problem as such on the 125, it only cost you time coasting into the bends, but resulted in Mang trying to corner the 500 at too high a speed and subsequently crashing the big Suzuki square four.

Anton MangOne such incident was during the French GP at Paul Ricard when he out-braked himself at the end of the straight and a few weeks later in a German championship meeting when he completely wrote off the RG in a similar crash.

All through the year of 77 Mang persevered with his improbable pair of machines and he failed to better his 125 challenge, finishing fifth again behind Bianchi, Lazzarini, Nieto and Guinabodet, his 500 season resulted in a poor 23rd, despite some strong performances but managing to reach the finish line only twice, finishing 8th  in Germany and 10th at the Italian round.

1978 saw the German Kawasaki importers hiring Mang to ride their new 250 and 350 KR twins. This liaison resulting in fifth place in the 250 series, despite failing to score in five of the twelve rounds, and a lowly sixteenth in the 350 after scoring in only three. As Mang had already established himself as a GP front runner in the previous two seasons this apparent poor showing was more than likely attributable to the early development of the Kawasaki twins rather than to Mang himself.

Anton MangFor the 1979 season Mang fared a little better riding once again for the German Kawasaki importers finishing fourth overall in the 350 championship and sixth in the 250. Unfortunate for the German team and rider was Kork Ballington winning both titles on supposedly identical machines to Mang.

Instead of continued factory support, the start of the 1980 season brought Mang a bitter blow when KawasakiGermany withdrew their support, this left him without a competitive seat for that season. The official story being their withdrawal was due to the lack of spares to successfully campaign a full Grand Prix season, and not wanting to lose face by making “temporary and makeshift” repairs they had no choice but to pull out.

Anton MangEver resourceful, Mang begged the importers to let him have last season’s bikes, they agreed but stipulated the removal of the Kawasaki logo from the machines in case his plan miscarried. Anton took the 1979 spec 250 and 350 machines back to his Bavarian home and into the hands of ace tuner Sepp Schloegl. With backing from the Mike Krauser, race enthusiast and boss of the German Fairing and luggage manufacturer Krauser and with the help of more than a few Yamaha engine internals, Mang’s privateer Grand Prix assault began.

 Midway through the 1980 season and the official factory Kawasaki team, with Kork Ballington riding, appeared at the Italian GP with separate cylinder barrels and heads instead of the one block containing the two bores. Believing they had developed a technical advantage over their rivals imagine their surprise when they realised that Mang also had the barrels but not from Kawasaki! Showing great ingenuity, the privateer effort of Mang and Schloegl was so technologically advanced that they to had lined up on the grid that day with an identical set up to the factory bike, much to the chagrin of the Kawasaki bosses, only the Mang/Schloegl version featured cylinders hand crafted in Germany and produced in a fraction of the time and cost!

Just to rub it in with the Kawasaki factory team, who had distanced themselves from his private effort, Mang was consistently faster than all the official factory entries through the speed traps all season.

Anton MangThis “home grown” arrangement resulted in Mang’s first world crown in the 250 class, and a fight to the very last race for the 350 title. Mang had the 250 title sewn up by the British GP allowing him a little respite to then concentrate on the 350 title, which he did in fine style, winning the 350 race at Silverstone by 14 seconds from Ekerold with Frenchman Eric Saul a further six seconds adrift.

This added new life into the 1980 350 World Championship with the battle going right down to the wire at the Nurburgring with both riders on equal points going into that round. The scene was set and tensions were high with Ekerold even adorning his Yamaha engined Bimota 350 with yellow plates and riding in the 500 qualifying session to get some extra set up time and Mang unusually setting the pole time for both the 250 and the 350 race.

Mang rarely started from pole throughout his career preferring instead to use the practise sessions as set up time for the race, but it was time for the mind games to begin. It was the most dramatic way possible to settle a world championship, both riders new the circuit well, both machines were evenly matched, it was a case of winner takes all. Ekerold prayed for rain, feeling he had the edge over Mang in the wet. Indeed it had threatened rain in the 250 race earlier in the day in which Mang finished third, after starting the race on full wets, behind slick shod Ballington and Balde, who finished 1st and 2nd respectively.

Anton MangAt the drop of the flag it was Ekerold who got the holeshot and led into the first bend followed by Johnny Cecotto and Keith Huewen with Mang languishing in sixth place on the opening lap. In statements made to the press after the race Ekerold admitted he rode that first lap like a man possessed.

Ekerold was experiencing some problems with the rear brake, having to continuously pump it up to get any pressure on the pedal. This allowed Mang to join the South African at the head of he field by the start of the second lap, and so one of the greatest battles in the history of the sport began.

The pace was blistering throughout the 6 laps of the 14.189 mile (22.835km) circuit. The average speed for the whole event was 99.66mph (160.39km/h) just one mile an hour short of the overall lap record, set by Ekerold on the final lap, at 100.96mph (162.48km/h) and Johnny Cecotto was left way behind on his Yamaha in third place some 50 seconds adrift.

Anton MangThose race speeds would have put both Mang and Ekerold in the top three of the 500cc race later in the day! At the finish, and subsequently the title fight, the ever aggressive Mang finished second by a wheel, to the equally hard riding, and ever belligerent, Jon Ekerold.

Anton Mang lost the title by less than a second after a whole season of duelling with Ekerold and if it were not for a crash at Misano (Mang’s only fall that season) then the German would have, no doubt, completed the double in 1980.

1981 saw the return of the full support by the Kawasaki factory for Mang and he rewarded their confidence in him with an emphatic 250 title victory, winning all but two Grand Prix and securing the 350 crown with no less than five wins and two second places.

The only other 250cc riders to enjoy race wins in that season were future French stars Jean Francois Balde and that man again Eric Saul.

Anton MangAnton Mang remained with Kawasaki for the following season securing the 350 title, making him the very last World Champion in that discipline, and losing out in the 250 fight by just one point to privateer Yamaha rider Jean-Louis Tournadre. Despite Mang being the faster rider and winning five 250 races in that season, DNF’s in France and Yugoslavia and safe, consistent riding by Tournadre, undoubtedly cost the German the lightweight crown.

The 1983 season saw a new challenge for Mang as he revived his interest in the 500 class. Riding for the HB Suzuki team, alongside Randy Mamola, the season ahead looked promising with Gary Taylor from the team predicting great things from Mang. An unfortunate pre season skiing accident precluded him from even starting the campaign and left him with a very badly damaged knee that was slow to recover. He healed sufficiently to compete in the final two events of the Grand Prix calendar, finishing tenth on both occassions, but while his team mate Mamola, finished third in the overall standings behind Spencer and Roberts 1st and 2nd respectively Mang could only score enough points to finish 18th overall.

As is usual in the racing game, a poor season often leads to demotion to the ranks, or even no offers of a ride, for the following one.

This being the case and in 1984 Mang returned to the 250 class as a privateer, armed only with a pair of brand new Yamaha 250L engines and the cash backing of the HB cigarette concern. Not a problem for this man and his incredible team, using a frame built by Mang and Schloegl, based heavily on their own 250 Krauser design from the 1980 campaign, the hard charging Bavarian once again took his place on the Grand Prix circus. As usual his bikes were as well prepared as any factory effort, but apart from one win at the French GP, he failed to set the world alight finishing a disappointing fifth in the Championship which was deservedly won by Frenchman Cristian Sarron with Manfred Herweh second and Carlos Lavado third.

His efforts had not gone unnoticed by the big “H” and Mang made the move to Honda team for the 1985 season. He was fully expecting to get the number one works machine however it soon became apparent that he would be playing second fiddle to Freddie Spencer. Most riders, having achieved the successes that Mang had in the past would have sat back on their laurels and accepted the situation, but no, Mang and Schloegl again worked miracles with the inferior tackle and seriously challenged Fast Freddie all year long.  Riding the much modified production RS250 in the vivid Marlboro colours, the 36 year old German pushed the young American, on a full works NSR250, all the way the bitter end. Honda went all out to secure victory for  “Golden Boy” Spencer in his attempt to win both the 250 and 500 titles, a feat never accomplished before and only really attempted by Kenny Roberts nearly a decade before him.

Mang and his friend from school, Sepp Schloegl, once again led the way with technical innovations. The pair were among the first to use data-logging systems on board the bike to set up the suspension etc, enabling them to develop a bike to match, or even eclipse, anything that Spencer had. Their combined knowledge accrued over the previous ten years allowed the Marlboro team to put up a good show with their production based bike, only losing the championship due to a broken plug cap whilst running in third place five laps from the end of the Yugoslavian GP.

The history books regularly tell us about Freddie Spencer, the first rider ever to complete the “double”, but most fail to inform us of  the fact that, although Spencer completely dominated the premier class winning no less than seven 500cc races that year and finished eight points ahead of fellow American Eddie Lawson, Mang was only three points adrift of “Fast Freddie” in the 250 class come the end of the season. I often wonder what became of that plug cap!

By now Mang had been around the GP scene for some ten years and well into his late thirties, quite old by 250 standards, but he could still run with the best of them. In 1986 he had one win and 3 second places proving his riding potential but no less than 5 DNF’s due to machine failure left him only fourth in the final standings, not a true reflection at all of his capabilities. It was a different story for 1987 however with eight wins aboard the fully factory supported Rothmans Honda NSR250 he completely dominated the proceedings to convincingly clinch his fifth and what would turn out to be his final World Crown. Fellow German Reinhold Roth was the runner up that year and Spaniard Alfonso Pons completing the top three.

Mang and his number one plate remained with the Rothmans team for 1988 and as the reigning World Champ he won the opening round in Japan with Sito Pons in second place. On to the USA for round two and Mang found himself eighth in a very fast race indeed as all the American wild cards came out to play. An indication of the intense competition was the qualifying times with less than a second covering the first thirteen.

Mang started a run of midfield positions and failed to finish the Spanish GP following a spectacular crash whilst duelling with Reinhold Roth, these doldrums lasted for six rounds until he regained his previous form to score two third places in Holland and Belgium. He was lying fourth in the championship behind Pons, Juan Garriga and Jacques Cornu and well within striking distance of his sixth title when disaster struck. A coming together with Donnie Mcleod, in the first corner of the opening lap of the Yugoslavian GP, resulted in a broken collarbone for Mang, Mcleod fortunately escaped unscathed and rode at the French GP the following week but Mang was forced to sit out the rest of the year.

The injury he sustained to his shoulder proved difficult to repair, the collarbone was crushed and required grafts and Mang bowed out of the Grand Prix scene for good. The world of racing may be a hard one but it always respects it’s heroes, so much so that when Mang announced his retirement at the Czech Grand Prix, it was arranged for him to complete a lap aboard his NSR250 Honda for the fans to show their appreciation. But the riders and mechanics did not consider that was a proper send off for a man of Mang’s stature so the whole paddock turned out to follow him around the Brno circuit on their paddock bikes, hundreds of them! This brought to an end a twelve year stint at Grand Prix level with no less than five World titles, countless lap records and 44 GP wins under his belt. Mang must also rank among the great riders of all time as he scored points in every solo discipline he competed in from 125’s through to the mighty 500’s and is one of only a handful of riders to win world titles spanning a full decade.

When Mang announced his retirement he expressed an interest in team management with a plan of fielding the Italian Luca Cadalora and fellow German Peter Oettl in a two man Marlboro backed 250 GP team. This did not come to fruition and Mang apparently disappeared from the public eye for some time. Since 1991 he has been actively involved in teaching his race-craft, instructing with the Pro Speed team all over his native Germany and surrounding countries.

Via the Pro Speed web site it would appear that in 1995 Toni Mang, and his wife Collette, became the proud parents of a little girl named Vroni. He stated on that site that with fatherhood he faced a far greater challenge than ever before in his life and wanted to be the best father he could possibly be.