Four-time World Champion Kork Ballington is now a MotoGP Legend. The South African, who took the 250 and 350 World Championships in both 1978 and 1979, was inducted into the MotoGP Hall of Fame on Friday at Phillip Island.
Ballington took his first podium in 1976 when he came second in the 250cc race at the West German Grand Prix and he followed it up – this time in the 350 World Championship – with his first win, taken at the Spanish Grand Prix. 1977 saw more podiums and wins – with his first 250 victory coming at Silverstone – before the South African made his charge for the crowns.
He began 1978 off the podium in both Championships before he made his first visit to the rostrum that season in the 350cc race at the Salzburgring. Repeating the feat next time out, the eventual Champion in both classes then took both the 250 and 350 wins at the Nations GP at Mugello, something he also did in Finland and at Brno. Ballington took four 250 wins and six 350 wins on the way to winning both titles that year.
1979 was a similar story as the South African on the Kawasaki dominated. Seven 250 wins – achieved three-in-a-row and then four-in-a-row – saw him defend the crown, and five wins in the 350 World Championship wrapped that up title for the second year running, too.
Ballington decided to target the 250 and 500 Championships in 1980 and was runner up in the lower category after another five wins, alongside taking some top ten results on the 500. That laid solid foundations and his first podiums in the premier class came the following season in the Netherlands and Finland. A final year of competition in 1982 prefaced the four-time World Champion’s retirement.
“It’s fabulous, we follow what they do closely and jump up and cheer for them. MotoGP is the greatest show on the planet and it’s great to see them doing so well. What an occasion! This is fantastic, I’m deeply humbled for starters, and honoured,” smiled Ballington. “I’m amongst friends again, this is my fraternity, and to be put alongside the other fantastic Legends is an honour and a privilege.”
Quizzed on a stand out memory of his time racing, Ballington goes right back to basics.
“My first Grand Prix win was in Montjuic Park in Barcelona in 1976, as a privateer against the factory Yamahas, factory Harleys…my brother and I just had our little 350 Yamaha going so well that nobody could see me on that day. It was a big stepping stone because to win your first Grand Prix sets you up to win your second. I suddenly believed it and realised I could do it – the consequent Grand Prix wins then came a little bit easier. That’s a stand out for me.”
Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta
“It’s an honour today and I had the honour to see him racing. He was racing at Jarama when I was the director of the circuit and I remember it well. For me he’s one of the mythical names in the FIM Road Racing World Championship, it’s also a great honour to have the first South African and African Champion here. For everyone in the MotoGP family it’s a great honour to nominate Kork here today.”
Ballington has now joined a long list of greats that have been made MotoGP Legends that includes Giacomo Agostini, Mick Doohan, Geoff Duke, Wayne Gardner, Mike Hailwood, Daijiro Kato, Eddie Lawson, Anton Mang, Angel Nieto, Wayne Rainey, Phil Read, Jim Redman, Kenny Roberts, Jarno Saarinen, Kevin Schwantz, Barry Sheene, Marco Simoncelli, Freddie Spencer, Casey Stoner, John Surtees, Carlo Ubbiali, Alex Crivillé, Franco Uncini, Marco Lucchinelli, Randy Mamola and the late Nicky Hayden. Dani Pedrosa will join the ranks at the season finale.