An often-forgotten 125cc specialist who fought hard for the eighth-litre world title and helped his home country to climb the podium at the legendary Maggiora MXdN in 1986, Massimo Contini won enough GPs to get to #49 in our Top 50 1980s list – by the numbers!
Words: Ben Rumbold | Images: Jack Burnicle
Massimo Contini raced for many years in the Italian championships on a wide variety of machinery, including a Moto Villa and several Maicos, and as Italian riders started to make their presence felt on the world stage, the man from the north of the country joined a handful of his countrymen in moving to GPs in the early 1980s.
Born: September 1958
Years Raced: 1982-1991 (Every year in 125cc GPs)
Machines Raced: Maico, Aprilia, Kawasaki, Cagiva
GP Wins: 4 GP Podiums: 11 GP Moto Wins: 7 GP Moto Podiums: 24
Nations Selections: 4 – Member of 2nd-placed Coupe des Nations team, 1983-84
Championship Medals: 1 Bronze – 1986 125cc World Championship
In the case of “Conte”, it was a surprise selection for the 1982 Motocross des Nations at Wohlen in Switzerland that sprung him into international competition at the ripe old age of 24. Even on a by-then uncompetitive Maico, he scored a respectable 15th overall to help the consistent Italians to a solid 4th behind the USA, Belgium, and Great Britain.
From there he joined the true Italian hotbed of the 125cc class. Slight of frame and not particularly tall, his smooth style was useful in not letting any of the precious little horsepower go to waste by thrashing sideways. Part of the reason for the Italian presence in the class was the abundance of local manufacturers plying their trade there. So Contini made his GP debut in 1983 on the pretty little Aprilia machines and scored a best of 7th overall at both his home GP and in France. Typically for Italian racers at the time, although the likes of Puzar and Cairoli bucked the trend eventually, Contini was one of those who struggled in sand but loved the hard-pack of his home country and of places like Launsdorf in Austria where he scored his first World Championship points.
A move to a more competitive Kawasaki saw him take a massive step forward in 1984, as he opened the season with his first top three moto and 4th overall at his home GP at Vittorio Veneto. That was backed-up by his first points in the sand at the following weekend’s Dutch GP, and although he never got that high an overall finish again that year, a 2nd place in the second moto at Roggenburg in Switzerland really showed his potential. He was actually part of an all-Italian top six in that race – won by Romano Nannini, then behind Contini were Rinaldi, Giuseppe Andreani, Maddii, and finally future WSB star Fabrizio Pirovano! Quite a line-up! Conte finished the year in 8th, at the time the lowest position that earned a rider a guaranteed race number for the following year.
Back to Riding Italian
He took that #8 plate back to native machinery, but the 1985 Cagiva didn’t quite give him the jump forward he wanted, and a pointless start to the season at Oss in the Netherlands wasn’t helped by just 4 points on home ground the following week. San Marino and Germany were better for him with top five overall results, but 3rd in race one of the sweltering heat of Argentina was his best of the year and he dropped to 10th in the series. 1986 would be better!
This is when Contini really hit the big time, and he did it with a bang! Round three, after so-so results in the super muddy French opener and no points again in the Dutch sand of Mill, was at the spectacular Grottazzolina circuit on the Adriatic coast. The massively steep hillsides suited the more powerful Cagiva, but he had to hold off the mercurial Dave Strijbos and reigning champ Pekka Vehkonen who both had the same equipment, and he delivered a loudly-cheered double moto victory. No-one could deny that Contini had arrived!
Now the top Italian in the series, Massimo gained momentum and from that win the next 6 motos would see him 2nd four times, as well as taking the second moto win for the overall GP victory at Dalecin in Czechoslovakia. He even split the Dutch stars Strijbos and John Van Den Berk for 2nd overall at the Belgian GP at Genk. He was suddenly a contender, 3rd in the championship and only 13 points back from Strijbos at the halfway point of the year.
The softer going of Ireland and Sweden weren’t kind to him, but he bounced back to 3rd in the standings with another stunning double moto win, this time at the concrete-like going of Laubus Esbach in West Germany. By this time the two Dutchmen were clearly out of reach, but he held off his teammate with the #1 plate for the bronze medal, amazingly tied on points but with 5 moto wins to Vehkonen’s 4, Massimo would wear #3 in 1987!
Before that however, a little MX pub quiz for you! Every MX fan of the time remembers Johnny O’Mara’s legendary showing on the 125cc Honda at Maggiora in the 1986 Motocross des Nations. Beating all of the 500s as well as all of the 125s, it was a very special performance. Now, who can name the 2nd & 3rd 125cc riders at the event?
OK, this is Contini’s feature, so yeah it’s obvious that he was in there, and he was a solid 2nd 125cc in front of his home fans as together with Rinaldi & Maddii, Massimo helped the team to 3rd overall behind the Americans and the Brits. It was a very loudly-hailed home podium! The Cagiva man noticed that his lap times in qualifying weren’t far off from O’Mara’s. However, “the race was a different story!”. The Italians went 2-2 in race one and looked as close as anyone to the mighty Americans.
Race two was not an easy affair, a poor start amongst the 500s left Contini with a lot of work to do, but with the partisan crowd urging him on he took vital positions from the likes of future World Champion Andrea Bartolini (riding for San Marino!), Aussie Glen Bell, and Britain’s Nations debutant Rob Herring! He ended up 17th on-track but 5th 125, good for 3rd in class overall. Who was in front of him? 4th 125 was double world champion Eric Geboers, 3rd was a Kawasaki ridden by a 17-year-old future icon – Jean-Michel Bayle! The Maggiora Nations was remarkable for more than just the Americans’ dominance. And I’ll put you out of your misery if you’ve been trying to suss out who was 2nd 125cc overall…. Little-known Yamaha rider Mika Kouki went 3-2 in class and helped Finland towards the sharp end – but Contini’s recovery gave Italy the podium finish by a single point from Kouki and his crew!
1987 saw Contini with the #3 on his Cagiva, as well as sporting a decidedly dodgy-looking white Nava crash helmet – seriously, have a search for that pic! He was all business again, however, and despite scoring zero points again at the Dutch GP – Valkenswaard this time! – he took his final ever GP overall win with another great showing on home hard-pack, this time at Arco di Trento. He mounted the rostrum at Switzerland, Finland, and finally at Schwanenstadt in Austria, where he shared moto wins with Bayle but lost out in the overall. His inconsistency cost him a real title challenge however, and he ended 5th in the series. That final moto of the season was also the final GP moto win of his career.
The beautiful red Cagivas would turn an equally-attractive shade of blue and white for 1988, but Contini’s mojo seemed to fade with the change. As he approached the age of 30, he was more consistent but the race-winning pace had gone, mainly due to the blazing speed of title combatants Strijbos & Bayle. He took 2nd overall behind the Frenchman in the Honda man’s home round, but 6th in the championship behind new teammate Mike Healey (neither scored points in the Netherlands, by the way!), was again without a taste of victory.
Now in his 30s, Conte stayed on the diminishing Cagiva machines for two more years, with a final top 3 moto finish behind Bartolini and Healey at Holice in the 1990 Czech GP. His final points came on a Kawasaki in the 1991 season opener, on home soil of course.
Hardly ever appearing on Biritsh shores, because 125s just didn’t much in the 1980s, he will not be well known to many fans. But Massimo Contini is still adored in his homeland, where he appears at many classic events. As a lover of hard-pack I’m sure the VMXdN at Foxhill would be to his liking! Worth a phone call Mr King?
Massimo Contini did not race for as long as our #50 rider Corrado Maddii, so although he won a GP less – just the 4 – he did so over a shorter time span. Only 4 Nations appearances – not many Europeans were helped by those – also means he only had 88 events counting to Maddii’s 129. True, he didn’t challenge for a title like Maddii and his hatred of sand partly led to that, but he had pure race-winning speed at his best and is therefore a worthy inclusion in our top 50. Next time, we delve into the world of early 1980s AMA 500cc Nationals, for the first American racer to be featured!
GPs counted: 84 – 4 Wins
Nations Events: 4 – 0 Individual Wins
Total: 88 Events, 4 Wins, Winning Percentage 4.5
Season By Season:
Year Class Record Champ Pos Nations Individual Finish
1982: – 0 races, 0 wins – 15th MXdN
1983: 125cc GPs 12 races, 0 wins 14th 14th Coupe dN
1984: 125cc GPs 12 races, 0 wins 8th 20th Coupe dN
1985: 125cc GPs 12 races, 0 wins 10th –
1986: 125cc GPs 12 races, 3 wins 3rd MXdN, 3rd 125cc Class
1987: 125cc GPs 12 races, 1 win 5th –
1988: 125cc GPs 12 races, 0 wins 6th –
1989: 125cc GPs 12 races, 0 wins 10th –