The 2016 Classic TT saw Helmut Dähne reunited with his BMW R 90 S for a lap of honour, 40 years after winning the Production TT. The Classic TT not only celebrates recent victories but also the most spectacular accomplishments of the past. At this year’s meet-up of two wheel legends, this year we looked back to 1976. This was when Helmut Dähne and Hans Otto Butenuth won the 1000 cc class of the Production TT on a BMW R 90 S. Since then, Dähne and his teammate Butenuth – who passed away in 1997 – have belonged to the exclusive group of riders able to enter their names in the winners’ list of the iconic Isle of Man TT. Now 71-years-old Dähne, returned to the scene of his great triumph at the 2016 Classic TT. 40 years after his victory, he was able to ride his original BMW racer around the Isle of Man – this time by way of a lap of honour, not as fast as in 1976 but undoubtedly to the applause of thrilled spectators once again!
Helmut Dähne – motorcycle racer, tyre expert, record holder.
Born in Bavaria, Dähne was an active racer for more than 40 years. At the age of 17 he took part in his first race, and he went on to enter motocross competitions shortly afterwards. Dähne achieved his first success in a road race in 1968. After this he won 15 German championship titles in production motorcycle racing. Helmut Dähne ran a total of 383 races, of which he won 131, before finishing his career in 2006.
One particular feat that ensured Dähne a place in the history of motorcycle racing was his record run on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. In 1993 he completed the circuit in 7:49.71 minutes: this outstanding time can no longer be improved on as the track has since been modernised, so Dähne’s motorcycle lap record is “eternal”.
Up until 1994 Helmut Dähne entered a total of 26 Tourist Trophy races, including several in the same year on some occasions. He became a TT legend when he secured victory in 1976, only narrowly failing to repeat his triumph in 1984 and 1986, when he finished second.
Helmut Dähne started his career by training as a motor mechanic with BMW. In the company’s motorcycle racing department he was then involved in the maintenance and repair of the legendary vertical shaft engines for customer racing. The talented mechanic was also quick to get hold of the BMW R 90 S launched in 1973 – the brand's first superbike.
With full trim, stub handlebars, turned back footrests, a short jump seat and a boxer engine with its output increased by 9 hp to 76 hp, his machine reached speeds of well over 200 km/h. After this, Dähne attracted attention at numerous races with his elegant riding style and fast lap times – and his red leather racing suit with white stripes became a striking trademark, too!
The formula for success in 1976: fast and furious with brief fuelling stops.
With the expertise acquired at the Nürburgring and the knowledge gained from his five previous entries in TT races, Helmut Dähne already had extensive experience of long-distance racing when he set off for the Isle of Man once again at the end of May 1976. His BMW R 90 SS, sporting the standard Daytona Orange finish, was also excellently prepared – almost 30 kilograms lighter than the road version, fitted with softer springs and featuring various modifications to the engine. He was also backed by a strong team made up of mechanic Helmut Bucher and the second rider Hans Otto Butenuth. The latter was from Dortmund and also had a wealth of experience in motorcycle racing. The fact that he was familiar with both the BMW and the island race course further qualified him for the role of co-rider. “I knew Hans Otto was the right man for the job,” says Dähne.
Butenuth immediately put in an impeccable training lap on the BMW R 90 S. Meanwhile Dähne was confronted with technical difficulties. The intake manifold bolted onto the right-hand cylinder came loose. This problem was solved with a two-component adhesive. Not long after this an entire engine overhaul was required: here the trio joined forces to deal with the setback by fitting a substitute power unit they had brought along with them. The intake manifold again proved unstable, so extra work was done to permanently eliminate the problem with a flexible carburettor mounting bracket: this time the crew believed they had finally overcome all obstacles.
“We were the fastest in training,” said Dähne, “I thought I had a good chance of winning the race itself.” But then the rain set in. The start was postponed several times, which was good for the BMW team since Dähne’s new employer did not have rain tyres yet!
When the race finally got under way, the weather conditions were ideal. The racers now faced ten laps covering a total of more than 600 kilometres on the Mountain Course. Dähne took the lead right away. His BMW R 90 S was as fast as he had hoped, clearly outrunning most competitors on the numerous bends of the island course in particular.
After three laps it was time for the first fuelling stop and rider changeover. Here the BMW team was able to play another surprise. The trio had developed its very own fast-filling system which significantly accelerated the fuelling process. Dähne arrived in the pits 30 seconds behind, Butenuth re-joined the race with a ten-second lead. The two other stopovers also went very smoothly, so the two riders were unstoppable. They finished the Production TT race as winners of the 1000 cc class and fifth in the overall standings. “The fact that Rolf Steinhausen and Josef Huber also won the 500 cc sidecar class at the 1976 TT perfectly rounded off the success as far as BMW was concerned,” says Helmut Dähne today.
BMW and the Tourist Trophy: the success story began with “Schorsch” Meier.
By winning the Production TT in 1976, Dähne and Butenuth were the first BMW solo riders to successfully follow in the footsteps of Georg Meier. It was in 1939 that Meier became the first non-British rider to win a title at the Tourist Trophy. “Schorsch” won the Senior TT on the Isle of Man riding a BMW racing machine with a 500 cc boxer engine, a vertical shaft and compressor charging; it produced an output of 60 hp and reached a top speed of over 220 km/h. British rider Jock West finished second, securing a perfect victory for BMW.
After this, BMW was mainly successful in sidecar racing, also in the Tourist Trophy. From 1955 to 1976, 28 racing victories went to sidecars powered by BMW engines. But another 37 years were to pass before the BMW team won its next solo victory with Helmut Dähne. And it was to be another two decades before BMW tasted victory on the Isle of Man once more. In 1997, 1998 and 1999, British rider Dave Morris won three times in a row in the Singles TT riding a motorcycle developed by Chrysalis Racing Team and powered by the single-cylinder engine of the BMW F 650.
Another 15 years later, Northern Ireland’s Michael Dunlop started his winning streak at the most famous of motorcycle races on his BMW S 1000 RR. In June 2014, exactly 75 years after Georg Meier’s legendary win, Dunlop crowned a superb performance on the 4-cylinder BMW superbike by clinching the Tourist Trophy triple. He finished first in the Superstock TT, the Superbike TT and the Senior TT. And the BMW S 1000 RR dominated the 1000 cc class in the very latest Tourist Trophy, too. Michael Dunlop won the Superbike TT, while the UK’s Ian Hutchinson secured first place in the Superstock TT. What is more, the two BMW riders won a double victory in the Senior TT, with Dunlop in first place and Hutchinson finishing second. On this occasion Dunlop also completed the fastest lap ever run on the Snaefell Mountain Course when he travelled at an average speed of 215.6 km/h.