He rode a near standard Z1 900 to victory in the prestigious Castrol 6 Hour Race, mastered the fearsome 750cc two stroke three cylinder H2R factory racer and swung a leg over one of the very first tandem twin KR250’s, a machine that would eventually take multiple world championships.
Softly spoken and still unerringly quick on a race track, Murray Sayle is one of Kawasaki’s unsung heroes. “Muzz” was one of a select band of riders that established the reputation of the Green Meanies racing against the likes of Gregg Hansford, Kenny Roberts, Graeme Crosby, Pat Hennen and Marco Lucchinelli. We caught up with the easy going Australian and talked to him about his long career.
Murray "Muzz" Sayle
Go - So Muzz how do you catch the motor cycling bug?
My parents had four children, Douglas, Julie, Jeff and me. I remember Dad had always had an interest in motorcycles and motorcycle racing; he did compete in some Club level sprinting on old WW2 air strips that were around Sydney in the post war era and even had an award for a quarter mile sprint. Before I was born the family travelled by sidecar to the annual Easter motorcycle races Bathurst approx 200 kilometres west of Sydney. A few years later around 1955 the family with the 4 children camped in Bathurst to watch the Easter races.
As one of three brothers I grew up in a shared bedroom with a large poster on the wall of Geoff Duke at the TT going down Bray Hill. To be honest, even then I had an idea of what I wanted to do.
When my eldest brother, Douglas, started work he bought an old Jawa 250 street bike, which I learnt to ride on the local High School football oval near our home. He later purchased a 250cc Suzuki T20 Hustler on which we went for many high speed and downright dangerous rides.
Upon leaving school I became an apprentice and saved up for my first motorcycle. It was a crash damaged Honda CB72 Dream for $50 which I repaired to get it registered for road use. I applied for my Learners Permit at 16 years and 9 months (minimum age) to be able to ride on the road; there was no compulsory rider training like today.
After about three months - and a speeding ticket! - I swapped it for a C110 Honda with a high school mate and joined the local bike club doing some dirt track races. If it went wrong I repaired the little Honda at home splitting the crankcases and making good any damage. Eventually I traded it in for a newer bike. On meagre wages all I could afford was to buy was a YAS1 Yamaha 125 twin which I would use for transport to and from work and, ultimately, for racing.
Early years on the Yam
Go. So the racing bug bit early. How did it all come together for you?
With the little 125 twin Yamaha I decided to start road racing. With crashes due to a poor initial choice of tyres, it was a fast learning curve in machine setup, engine tuning and crash repairs but I was enjoying it immensely.
At my first race meeting at Oran Park I never finished last in any of my races and was looking forward to my next meeting at Bathurst. With some minor engine tuning the little Yam indicated 90 mph on the speedometer down the long Conrod Straight, which seemed really fast at the time. I could tell the racing bug had really bitten and, predictably, I could see I needed a faster bike to get further up the results.
I purchased a second hand Yamaha TD1C with help from my parents, this was also about the time the TD2 first appeared. I was able to get some better results on the TD1C and then purchased a new Yamaha 350 TR2B and was delighted to be competitive and got a close second at Bathurst plus a fastest lap. By this time I had also been riding 250 Production models in the Castrol Six Hour Race. I teamed up with my future brother in-law, Warren Willing, and finished third on his T250 Suzuki in 1971 then won the following year 1972 on a Yamaha YDS7 which was considered an underdog model at that time.
With the prize money, Warren and my younger brother Jeff planned to ride in New Zealand over the December and early January summer race meetings to gain more experience.
Gaining experience on the twin
Our plan was to ride in then the Summer Motorcycle Races on the North Island. The highlight of the trip was racing at the famous Wanganui cemetery circuit on Boxing Day 1972 were I won the New Zealand 350 Grand Prix beating American Factory Suzuki Rider Ron Grant.
Sad news arrived from home when we were in New Zealand though; my elder brother Douglas had been killed in a motorcycle road accident in Parramatta. Previously in late 1972 at an Amaroo Park, Older brother Doug and younger brother Jeff and I all raced at one meeting, it was Doug’s first and only Road Race and the only time all three of us were together on the same race track.
A few months after our return from New Zealand, I sold the TR2B and purchased a new Yamaha TZ350A. From then on things started getting serious in terms of my racing career.
GO - How did you get from track to track?When starting I travelled to race meetings with my father in his car and a box trailer. Then in around 1973 I purchased a new Ford Transit Van for carrying the bikes to interstate meetings. It was setup as local delivery van and had a very thirsty 6 cylinder 3.3 litre inline 6 cylinder, with very low gearing and a small fuel tank – the fuel range was poor, the worst possible vehicle for good fuel economy!
I raced Production models like the YAS1 Yamaha, T250 Suzuki, DS7 and RD250 Yamahas. Also the racing models, like the TD1C, TR2B, TZ350A, and later the factory racing models like the Kawasaki H2R, KR250 (75 and 77 models) and the 1977 KR750.
Go - The Kawasaki connection started soon after this didn't it?
I had known Kawasaki Team rider Ron Toombs for a number of years and he had mentored many young riders of that period, I raced him number of times with both of us on TZ350s and this include beating him at Oran Park.
Following other race wins and good results, Team Kawasaki Australia racing team owner Neville Doyle asked me to ride their second H2R 750cc three cylinder race bike which was the bike previously ridden by Ron.
Muzz on the H2R
When first riding the H2R the tyres fitted were Dunlop KR84 treaded tyres. At Lakeside in Queensland it was wheel spinning in a straight line and would jump forward when the throttle was closed as the rear tyre regained grip. To say it was a challenging ride was an understatement....but damn it was fast!
The tyre problem was relative short lived as in late1974 we had access to Goodyear slick tyres from the USA which offered more traction and controllability.
So by mid to late 1974 I was riding the H2R on a full time basis. Neville had made a special 3.5 rear rim to get a wider tyre contact patch which was unique at that time. Later improvements included changing the transmission to 6 speeds and larger 38 mm carburettors. Neville was certainly a resourceful engineer and he made the bikes fast, reliable and tractable in all conditions, just what you needed to get on the podium in fact.
So how was the team funded - was Team Kawasaki Australia a company by then?
Prior to 1975 the race team was funded by the various state private distributors. Kawasaki Motors Pty Ltd started in 1975 and the team was brought under more direct control.
For 1975 season, Neville signed Gregg Hansford. It was a very successful year. Team Kawasaki Australia won 29 of 31 races we entered. We also won the prestigious Castrol Six Hour Race on a Z1B.
With Greg Hansford and Neville Doyle
In late 1975, Gregg and I had been provided with the then new model KR750 to race at Ontario, California again, this time I finished in sixth place overall after the two legs.
Go: tell us about the heyday in the 70's – what was the racing like?
In the mid 70’s the crowds were very good at all of our races. Most of the more important races were on TV back then. We had the six rounds of the Australian Road Race Championships, one round in each of the States, NSW, Queensland and Victoria each had State Championships, there were a number of major Production Races, Adelaide had a three hour, Calder in Victoria held a two hour race and, of course, the Castrol Six Hour Race. At the end of the year there was a International Series with New Zealand or American riders. In 1974 Pat Hennen was signed to do the Pan Pacific Series on an H2R from the USA with Ron Toombs and myself the local H2R’s.
Go: The air-cooled H2R and later water-cooled KR750 are the stuff of legend - did they deserve their fearsome reputation?
The H2R was actually based on the H2 street engine, but fitted with a dry clutch and electronic ignition – it even ran a standard crankshaft! Most obvious was the swapping of the two outer cylinders so the exhaust pipes could be tucked in better. We soon discovered that the air-cooled motor was too wide and when the tyres got more grip and lean angles increased the engine width was becoming a problem. The air cooling made maintenance easy but became issue in itself with the engine losing approx 10 Bhp when it got hot.
Naturally, the engineers in Japan tried to overcome these design problems with the water-cooled KR750. To make it narrower they did two things the bore and stroke was changed to 68 x 68 mm and the transfer ports were angled so the cylinder bore centres could be closer together. Using water cooling allowed the overall engine package to be more compact. The KR750 had a standard six speed transmission and the fairing was narrower than the H2R so we got a more streamlined package and the cornering ground clearance increased too
A taste of the KR750
Go: You seemed to race a lot outside of Australia in those days, where did you compete?
Apart from Ontario Raceway in California I also rode in Indonesia of all places. In 1977 I rode at Daytona on the second generation KR750 and the KR250 tandem twin.
I finished ninth in the 250 class and we had some minor engine problems on the 250 which hampered engine performance, Gregg Hansford's KR250 stopped in the race, mine kept going to finish in front of the late Tom Heron. I could tell the KR250 had great potential if only some early problems could be solved.
I rode an early KR250 in Australia during 1976. It was the twin shock version before Uni-trak was incorporated and had a seven speed transmission as it was developed for the AMA 250 class which didn’t have the mandatory 6 speeds under the FIM regulations.
Riding the tandem twin KR
The firing order was 180° apart; this caused high frequency vibrations, which made the bike uncomfortable to ride. The bike was very narrow and light, I got a third at Bathurst and won at Hume Weir. Mind you, at that stage, it was down a little on power to the Yamahas.
I did not have the opportunity to ride the KR350 but rode against them in 1979 and 1980 in the GPs in Europe so I know how good they were and why they won multiple World Championships.
Go: What happened next – how did you join Kawasaki Motors Australia?
I returned from Europe and worked with my brother in law, Warren Willing, in a race team. After a spell working for with my brother in the building industry I was asked if I was interested in joining Kawasaki.
I started in December 1987 and have worked in both the Technical Department and Marketing Department.
During this time I have seen many changes in the products, we now have a lot more electronics with ABS brakes, traction control, trip computers and radios with iPod connectivity. All this with lower noise levels as well as a desire for low fuel consumption plus demands for lower exhaust emissions with increased power and torque.
Testing the Ninja ZX-10R
Go: So how many years have you racked up at Kawasaki Australia and how has job and market changed?
Actually, I celebrated 25 years at Kawasaki in December 2012. Over the decades we have increased our in-house facilities immensely. That means we have better systems in place to support our customers and dealers.
So far in 2013 Kawasaki we have been at the top in terms of Road Bike sales, we are number two with both Road and Off Road models combined. The motorcycle market has changed with more models from more manufacturers and the prices are more competitive than ever.
Go: We have to ask Muzz, what is your proudest racing moment and biggest racing regret
Proudest must be winning the Australian Road Race Championship in 1978. And regret? Not winning the New Zealand Marlboro 250 series in 1977-78.
Thank you Muzz.