Opatija in what is now Croatia and only 50km or so from the Italian border was another real road racers circuit which hosted the Yugoslavian Grand Prix on a number of occasions, as part of the FIM World Championship Series.
Situated on the coast road the circuit was in the form of a large triangle with the longest side (the hypotenuse) being the coast road on the sea front which folLowed a large sweeping bay before riders encountered the first right hand hairpin known locally as “sign post corner”. From here started the climb to the top of the circuit (named “the mountain”) where there was another right hand bend, taken at some speed, before riders started their decent down to the fastest point of the circuit which included an S bend (taken flat out on a 250 if a rider was very bold!). They then encountered another left and then a tight right hand bend at the bottom of the mountain which returned them to the coast road and back to the start and finishing line situated on it.
It was an idyllic setting with the race paddock near the start and finishing line one side of the coast road and a golden beach on the other. Parking in the race paddock in glorious weather in what appeared to have been a stone quarry cut out from the base of the mountain, we no sooner had a welcoming cup of tea provided by Vernon and Margaret Cottle than we were joined by Bert and Raymond, the two Stockport lads we had previously met at the Skofja Loka races.
Ramon Robinson, who raced his 125cc Bultaco and 250cc Parilla at this meeting, recently recalled one particular incident test riding on the circuit after having lengthened the swing arm on his Parilla:-
“We had established ourselves in the camping site about a week before the event and, after several days of idleness and sunning ourselves, got a little bored. Eager to try out the bike with the longer swing arm, I and Lewis Young, with a couple of other riders, started riding around the circuit, a public road open to normal traffic! After a few laps I saw a policeman standing where the road going up the hill intersects with the road going down to the left in the direction of Trieste (sign post corner); he was frantically waving his hands in the air and I thought “oh shit!”, only to see that he was stopping traffic coming down the road so we wouldn’t have to stop! Great fun was had by all
With the additional assistance of Bert and Raymond, we soon had the bikes off loaded and prepared ready for practice the following morning.
With some time to spare we took a swim during the afternoon before joining up with the American riders Ramon Robinson, who was also down to ride a 250cc Parilla, Andy Rickman and others to explore the restaurants of Opatija, none of which were to disappoint us during our 4 day stay.
Following my custom of avoiding all alcoholic drinks for some days before or during race meetings, and now with the back up of three mechanics, I was not only the first of the visiting International riders to start practising the moment the circuit was open the following morning on the 250 Parilla but I also completed 4 or 5 laps before any other riders appeared! The same thing happened during the 350 practice period which was possibly why, by the end of the day, I had recorded the fastest lap in the 250 class and was also near the top of the timed laps in the 350cc class.
On pole for the very first time but next to Morrie Lowe on his TSS Bultaco, I knew there would be a desperate sprint when the flag dropped to sign post corner and the climb up the mountain. In some ways, I felt the pole position was the wrong end of the starting line in that immediately after the start the circuit followed the coast road through a series of fast left hand curves for about 1 km to sign post corner. This meant that I had to ride on the outside of these curves for some time before arriving at the hairpin, this did not worry me too much as I knew I had no chance of out accelerating Morrie to the hairpin whichever end of the starting line I was on!
As anticipated, although initially marginally ahead of the pack at the start for a 100m’s or so, Morrie came through on the inside of me and then crossed ahead to take the inside line for the approaching hairpin, so that I could not squeeze back up the inside of him as we braked hard for the bend. I was more than happy with this position and was expecting a tow from Morrie up the mountain when suddenly whilst still braking for the hairpin, a rider (on a Benelli I think)? shot through between us completely out of control and very nearly took me out. Touching fairings he shot forward in the direction of Trieste hitting the temporary barrier head on with him and his bike then bouncing back onto the track for what appeared to me at the time, as having another go at taking me out!
By the time I had recovered and ridden around the fallen rider and his machine, a dozen or so riders had passed and were well on their way up the mountain. So much for my pole position!
Fortunately, without any damage to myself or my bike, I continued as best I could and by the penultimate lap had climbed back to 3rd position. Then I overdid things coming down the mountain under very heavy braking for the final hairpin I overshot the bend but fortunately found a gap between the straw bales leading on to a slip road. Turning the bike around I was soon back on the track and quite relieved to take 5th place after all the excitement of that race!
Arriving back at the paddock I was greeted by Morrie with a big grin on his face, he had not only won the race but had, out of the corner of his eye, seen most of the incident at the first hairpin. “did you hit him he asked”? when I had explained how I had succeeded in avoiding the fallen rider and his bike he told me that I had been lucky as the unfortunate rider had already been taken off to hospital with a suspected broken leg and collar bone. The track Marshals suspected that the throttle on his bike had stuck wide open which could well explain why he went past at such speed with both brakes hard on! Morrie was followed home by the Czech rider Milan Chaluphik (Jawa) and Les Allan (Bultaco ?)
With yet another good start in the 350cc race, and then by hugging the inside line on the hairpin bend and other tight turns to prevent any further ‘attacks’, I enjoyed a good race but lost out to the more powerful 350cc bikes when it came to climbing the mountain. There was much more chopping and changing of position for me riding in this race as my 256cc Parilla was faster through the hairpin bends and tight curves than some 350cc Manx Nortons, 7R AJS or Aermacchi and other 350s, but these bikes were in most cases quite a bit faster than the Parilla on the long straights and particularly the climbs, nevertheless another top 12 finish was good enough for me as I could not realistically expect to finish any higher in this class.
The race was won by Frantisek Srna (Jawa) followed home by Nikolai Sevostianov (CKEB) from the USSR and Miroslav Cada (Jawa)
Morrie also went on to win the 500 cc race on his Manx Norton.
Another of Ramons recollections of this meeting was in the 125 race:-
“Directly after the start, my Bultaco flooded at the hairpin. When I got it cleared and started up the hill, there were riders everywhere in the bushes trying to get their bikes back onto the road. Someone had broken a primary chain and spilled oil all over the place and many riders following him crashed. Thanks to my misfortune at the hairpin, I was able to wave to them on my way past!”
Opatija was very special, glorious weather, golden sands, crystal clear sea, local restaurants all serving up delicious seafood dishes at extremely low prices, no wonder many of the riders, wives, girlfriends and mechanics lingered on for some days! For us with another race in France, the following weekend including a stop off at the Parilla factory on the way, we just could not delay our departure for too long and we were on our way at sunrise the following morning.