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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-10-2005, 12:44 AM Thread Starter
 
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MotoGP: Yamaha’s history from 1955 to 2005

Part 1

History, 08/03/05

1955: Yamaha’s glorious Mount Fuji debut



On the morning of July 12th 1955, a handful of Yamaha YA1s were kick-started into like on the foothills of Mount Fuji, Japan’s holy mountain, ready to start the gruelling Mount Fuji Ascent race. These pretty little 125 two-strokes were the first Yamahas ever to compete in a race, hardly surprising since the Yamaha Motor Company had been officially in existence for less than a fortnight. Despite this, company president Genichi Kawakami was determined that they should succeed and thus provide vital publicity for the new-born company.

To be precise, Yamaha Motor Company had been established on July 1st 1955 by parent company Nippon Gakki, best known for the manufacture of Yamaha musical instruments. The first YA1s had rolled off the production lines in February 1955, the bikes’ maroon and cream fuel tanks polished to perfection by workers from Yamaha’s piano division. The five-horsepower YA1s were prepared in almost standard trim for their Fuji race debut, though they were equipped with knobbly tyres for the slippery dirt tracks, covered in compacted volcanic ash.

And the YA1s did more than just succeed on Mount Fuji. After a month’s intensive training over the steep, muddy 27 km / 16.7 mile course, they ran away with the race, winner Teruo Okada destroying the old race record by more than four minutes. Okada’s team-mates didn’t do so badly either, the other YA1s finishing third, fourth, sixth, eighth and ninth. The first chapter of Yamaha’s long and illustrious racing history had been written…
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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-10-2005, 12:47 AM Thread Starter
 
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Part 2

History, 05/08/05

1955-1957: Yamaha conquers Japan at its first attempt

Yamaha’s remarkable debut victory in the 1955 Mount Fuji Ascent Race was no one-off fluke. Encouraged by its success on the dirt tracks around Japan’s most famous volcano, the factory entered four revised YA1s in the Asama Highlands endurance race four months later. Yamaha surpassed its Fuji performance at Asama, filling the first four finishing positions and routing the opposition, including official entries from Honda, this commencing an inter-factory duel that continues to this day. In just a few months Yamaha had come from nowhere to establish itself as the force to beat in Japanese racing.

In fact the company’s roots date back to the late 19th century when Torakusu Yamaha began producing musical instruments, hence the company’s famous triple tuning forks logo. After the Second World War, company bosses wanted to expand into other markets to ensure Yamaha’s future. Cars, three-wheelers and sewing machines were considered but finally it was decided that Japan’s burgeoning motorcycle market offered the best prospects, even if there were more than 100 Japanese motorcycle brands at the time. Of course, some bike dealers didn’t take the first Yamaha too seriously; “So Yamaha built a motorcycle” they’d say. “Does the engine go ‘do-re-mi-fa-sol?’.” After Fuji and Asama, there were no more jokes.

About 1,000 YA1s had been produced by the time of its glorious race debut, establishing the strong link between Yamaha road and race bikes that continues to this day. “These first great victories gave us precious technical data to develop better machines as well as the finest publicity,” said Yamaha’s first race team manager Zenzaburo Watase.

Two years later Yamaha returned to Asama with the YA2, a much-improved version of the YA1, and the YD1, the marque’s first 250. The YD1 was an air-cooled, piston ported twin, good for 115 kmh / 71 mph. Once again Yamaha reigned supreme, scoring a one-two in the 125 race and a stunning one-two-three in the 250s. Yamaha had conquered Japan, the world was next…
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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-10-2005, 12:50 AM Thread Starter
 
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Part 3

History, 08/07/05

1963-1964: Yamaha’s first Grand Prix and first World Championship



If Yamaha’s rise to dominance of the Japanese racing scene had been meteoric, the factory didn’t take much longer to conquer the 250cc World Championship – taking its first GP win in 1963 and its first world title the very next summer.

Yamaha made its GP debut at Clermont-Ferrand in May 1961, scoring eight-place finishes in the 125 and 250 GPs, with the rather basic RA41 single and RD48 twin. Not bad, considering that this was the factory’s first serious outing on a full tarmac course and that this initial foray into GP racing was a humble affair. Yamaha’s first GP team had no European workshop, just three trucks chugging around the Continent, carrying 13 riders and crew, plus bikes and spares. And communication with the other side of the world wasn’t easy – the home-sick team’s only links to Iwata were dodgy phone line and telexes; parts were ordered and collected at airports across Europe.

Yamaha sat out the 1962 season, returning the following spring with an all-new 250. Developed from the RD48, the RD56 was Yamaha’s first fully competitive GP bike. The air-cooled, disc-valve twin produced an impressive 55 horsepower at 11,500 rpm and used a twin-loop ‘Featherbed’-style steel chassis.

It was both lightning quick and a good handler. Fumio Ito took second place finishes in his first two outings, then scored Yamaha’s first GP win at Spa-Francorchamps, leading home team-mate Yoshikazu Sunako for a one-two.

The victory followed an all-night session that solved a carburetion glitch, which had afflicted the RD56 on Spa’s flat-out straights. Ito, who had first proven his skills on the Fuji and Asama dirt tracks, went on to win at an astonishing 189 kmh / 117 mph. After the race, team manager Hiroshi Naito said: “Engines are living things, I’ve come to feel this more than ever.”

A few months later Yamaha took the next step to global glory, hiring hard-riding Briton Phil Read for the 1964 250 series. The new relationship quickly blossomed, Read winning five GPs to comfortably wrest the riders’ crown from Jim Redman and the constructors’ title from Honda, repeating both successes in 1965. Yamaha was now very much a world force.
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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-10-2005, 12:54 AM Thread Starter
 
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Part 4

History, 08/09/05

1967-1968: Yamaha’s 60’s ‘Techno Legends’ – The 125 & 250 V4s



The late 60’s was a period of outrageous technical innovation in motorcycle racing, the like of which has never quite been seen since. In a desperate quest for increased horsepower, manufacturers created wondrous engines with more and more cylinders to allow dizzyingly high rpm for more power and speed. Yamaha’s contribution to the golden era of unbridled technology was the RA31 125 V4 and the RD05 250 V4.

The RD05 came first. Yamaha’s first water-cooled race bike used a twin-crank, disc-valve V4 with eight-speed gearbox that shrieked out 73 horsepower at 14,000 rpm and nudged 241 kmh / 150 mph. Initially the V4 was shoehorned into an RD56 chassis, so it took a brave man to race the bike at full pelt, the race-hardened Phil Read calling the 05 ‘extremely boisterous’. Yet Read fought an enthralling duel for the ’67 250 title with Mike Hailwood, riding a six-cylinder Honda four-stroke. Read thought he’d won the title because he’d scored the most points, but due to an FIM rulebook mix-up the title was awarded to Hailwood.

Yamaha at least had the consolation of taking its first 125 crown with Bill Ivy and the RA31, a miniaturised version of the 250. The RA31 made more than 40 horsepower at a wild 17,000 rpm, and featured a nine-speed gearbox to keep the engine spinning in its narrow powerband.

The following year Yamaha ruled the 125 and 250 World Championships, Read and Ivy first and second in both categories. But Yamaha’s most successful season yet wasn’t without controversy. The factory had planned for Read to win the 125 title, Ivy the 250, but Read reneged on the deal and stole both. “I did what I thought was right, I have not changed my mind,” he said some years later.

Having fully proved its engineering prowess on the world stage, Yamaha withdrew from GPs at the end of 1968. Worried that spiralling technology might bankrupt some factories, the FIM had announced a swathe of new regulations that imposed technical limitation on GP bikes, making the RA31 and RD05 obsolete overnight. So Yamaha returned to Japan to focus on the next challenge – the 500cc premier class.
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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-11-2005, 03:26 AM Thread Starter
 
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Part 5

History, 08/11/05

1973-1975: Premier class glory for Yamaha with Saarinen & Agostini



Yamaha’s glorious record in the premier class, which Valentino Rossi continues to this day, began with Jarno Saarinen and Giacomo Aogstini in the early 70s. And in 1975, just two years after entering biking’s toughest arena, Yamaha became the first Japanese marque to win the 500 World Championship.

Always alive to the greatest challenges, Yamaha had developed its two-stroke racing technology in the 125 and 250 classes, but always knew where the biggest prize was to be won. With this in mind, Yamaha entered the 1973 500 World Championship with Finnish genius Jarno Saarinen. The YZR500 (or OW19) and Saarinen won their very first race together, the 1973 season-opening French GP. In doing this they defeated Giacomo Agostini and his MV Agusta four-stroke, the partnership that had totally dominated GP racing since the mid-60s. “Yamaha has built a beautiful machine,” said the 15-time World Championship early in 1973. “Saarinen and the bike are fantastic together, we cannot hope to compete with them.”

The world had never seen a bike quite like the OW19, a water-cooled, inline four cylinder two-stroke that produced 80 horsepower in a controllable manner, thanks to reed valve induction technology, used for the first time by Yamaha on a roadracer. Saarinen continued his runaway domination of the 1973 500 GPs until he was tragically killed in a multiple pile-up during May’s Italian 350 GP.

Stunned by his death, Yamaha withdrew its official team and returned to Japan to prepare for the 1974 season, for which they courted Giacomo Agostini. The Italian heart-throb knew that Yamaha’s two-stroke technology was becoming unbeatable and joined Yamaha for the 1974 season. Ago won only two GPs that year aboard the 90 horsepower OW20 and OW23, which featured Monocross rear suspension (as used on Yamaha’s world title-winning motocross bikes), but the factory did win the constructors’ World Championship.

The following year Ago and his OW26, now featuring a cassette-type gearbox for rapid ratio changes, swept all before them, winning four GPs and the world title. It was Ago’s last but the first of many premier-class crowns for Yamaha…
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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-13-2005, 06:18 AM Thread Starter
 
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Part 6

History, 08/13/05

1978-1980: King Kenny and Yamaha score a triple crown



Grand Prix racing had always been dominated by European riders until King Kenny Roberts came along in the 70s. Trained in the hard knocks of US dirt track, in which he’d won two titles riding Yamaha XS650/750 twins, King Kenny changed the face of GP racing with his radical sideways riding style. At the same time he introduced new levels of professionalism to the GP circus and did great work fighting for riders’ rights.

Roberts’ immediate success in the 1978 World Championship surprised many GP insiders, who had predicted it would take him several years to learn the intricacies of the European circuits. In fact Roberts comfortably defeated reigning champ Barry Sheene aboard his YZR500/OW35, the fastest bike in the Championship.

Roberts used this improved rideability to astonishing effect, laying down just enough power to spin the rear tyre through corners. “When I started sliding out of turns, everyone said ‘you’re crazy, you’re nuts’,” he recalls. “But I’d been a dirt tracker, so I had the feel for it.” This radical technique improved his trajectory out of turns and helped Roberts retain the 500 title in 1979 and 1980, even though he began the ’79 season injured after breaking his back in winter testing. Pretty soon many rivals were employing similar riding techniques, training on the dirt to learn the art of riding sideways. Nowadays this ability is a prerequisite in road racing.

Roberts won 12 GPs during his three-year reign and a further ten over the next three seasons, when he only narrowly missed winning more world titles. During this period he did important development work for Yamaha. A renowned test rider, King Kenny helped develop Yamaha’s aluminium chassis technology in 1980, began working with suspension specialists Ohlins and in 1982, raced the factory’s first 500 V4, the forerunner of the YZRs that would take Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey to six 500 titles.
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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-15-2005, 09:43 AM Thread Starter
 
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Part 7

History, 08/15/05

1980-1984: The Yamaha TZ – race bike of the people



Yamaha has scored most of its GP victories with its own factory teams, just like most other racing marques. But Yamaha has also achieved a remarkable of success with two-stroke production bikes sold to privateer racers. Yamaha’s TZ750 four and TZ350 and TZ250 twins all won World Championship crowns in the hands of privately-entered riders who bought their bikes and honed them into world-class winners.

Indeed the TZ was motorcycle racing in the late 70’s and early 80’s, packing GP grids and national grids the world over. These relatively simple but highly effective machines gave talented but no-so-wealthy racers the chance of competing with the best in the world; a 1976 TZ250C cost just 1,500 pounds, including a generous spares kit! Tuned and modified TZ twins took no less than four 250 and 350 world titres in the early eighties; French privateer Jean-Louis Tournadre winning the 1982 title, Venemotos-backed Carlos Lavado the ’83 crown and Gauloises-backed Christian Sarron the ’84 championship.

In 1980, gritty South African privateer Jon Ekerold defeated factory rivals to take the 1980 350 crown, while slightly over-bored versions of the TZ350 won several 500 GPs in the 70s. Indeed, many poorer club and national-level racers used the same TZ350 for both 350 and 500 races, just replacing blue 350 number plates with yellow 500 number plates and entering the bike as Yamaha 351 or 354! These bikes were wryly christened ‘Three-Five-Fablons’. At the same time, Yamaha’s TZ750 four (a cousin of the YZR500) monopolised the short-lived Formula 750 series from 1977 to 1979.

The reed-valve TZ250 and 350 had their origins in the early TD1 and TD2 racers of the late 60s and 70s, themselves derived from streetbikes initiated by the RD56. The TZs were developed year by year, gaining water-cooling in 1972, disc brakes and monoshock rear suspension in 1976, YPVS power valves in 1981 and so on.

And just as the TZs had been derived from streetbikes, so did Yamaha create the legendary RD250LC and RD350LC streetbikes from the TZ. The LCs dominated club racing during the early 80’s and were also converted into successful Formula Two and Three racers, proving once again the perpetual link between Yamaha road and race bikes.
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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-17-2005, 07:13 AM Thread Starter
 
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Part 8

History, 08/17/05

1984-1988: The YZR takes three more titles



Eddie Lawson inherited King Kenny Roberts’ mantle for spearheading Yamaha’s 500 World Championship squad. He was a quick learner, winning the title in only his second 500 season, in 1984, and again in 1986 and 1988.

Lawson spent much of his time in 500 GPs fighting some unforgettable duels with Honda’s Freddie Spencer – the cool Californian versus the God-fearing boy from Louisiana. He was very much an intelligent motorcycle racer, nicknamed Steady Eddie for his deceptively smooth but electrifyingly quick riding style. Brought up on US dirt tracks and in American Superbike racing, Lawson brought unerring consistency to GP because he was clever enough not to make mistakes.

During his first five seasons in GPs he won 26 GP victories, all the while presiding important technological improvements to Yamaha’s YZR500. These included the introduction of reed-valve induction (used for the first time on a Yamaha V4) and the Deltabox twin beam aluminium chassis required to handle the rapidly spiralling power outputs. By 1988 the YZR500 was pushing out more than 150 horsepower, with plenty more to come. But further detail improvements ensured that the YZR kept getting better during the late 80’s, becoming known as the most rider-friendly of the now crazily quick 500s. Upgrades included a wider-angled vee engine for smoother carburation and the creation of the so-called ‘gull-wing’ swingarm, which allowed better exhaust pipe routing.

During Lawson’s era Yamaha also leased a growing number of YZR500s to so-called ‘semi-factory’ teams. These outfits were financed by a new generation of multinational sponsors, attracted by bike racing’s growing TV audience, which helped them to afford machinery that was almost identical to the full-factory bikes ridden by Lawson. Yamaha’s leasing policy worked beautifully – the factory won a hat trick of constructors’ titles from 1986 to 1988. In ’88 five of the first six men in the riders’ World Championship were Yamaha mounted!
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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-19-2005, 06:07 AM Thread Starter
 
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Part 9

History, 08/19/05

1990-1992: Wayne Rainey takes another triple crown for Yamaha



Wayne Rainey and Yamaha ruled bike racing’s premier class during one of its most intensely competitive eras. The former dirt track star and his YZR500 won the 1990, 1991 and 1992 500 World Championships against white-hot competition, defeating a posse of rock-hard fellow former-dirt trackers from the USA and Australia, legends like Mick Doohan, Kevin Schwantz, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner and John Kocinski.

At the same time Rainey ushered in GP racing’s modern era, taking commitment, professionalism and riding technique to new levels. He was helped in his endeavours by King Kenny Roberts’ factory Yamaha squad, which brilliantly prepared his YZR500s. The YZR was at the cutting edge of racing technology – a 170 horsepower, 130kg two-stroke V4 with Deltabox aluminium chassis that could nudge 321kmh/200mph. Team Roberts Yamaha had a relentless enthusiasm for introducing new technology, so Rainey’s outfit was the first to make serious use of data-logging, carbon brakes and so-called ‘upside-down’ front forks.

Of course, despite rapidly advancing technology, the 500s of that era were fiery beasts which demanded a firm hand and a brave heart; as Roberts said at the time: “You’ve got to have the talent to ride these things out of control.” Rainey was definitely the man for the job: big handfuls of throttle, big handfuls of opposite lock, and yet somehow his riding was stunningly smooth and unerringly accurate. As Rainey remembers: “The racing was fierce back then, the riding too, and if my rear tyre wasn’t spinning, I didn’t fell right.”

Rainey raced his entire GP career with Yamaha, winning 24 500 GPs between 1988 and late 1993, when an accident left him paralysed from the chest down. He bravely moved into team management, fronting Yamaha’s factory 500 effort for several years. During Rainey’s title-winning era, Yamaha also broke new ground for the Japanese motorcycle industry, supplying YZR engines to less-well-off privateer racers to increase the quality of the 500 grids. As always, Yamaha was putting something back into the sport.
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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 08-27-2005, 09:09 AM Thread Starter
 
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Part 10

History, 08/21/05

250cc domination



When Frenchman Olivier Jacque won the 2000 250 title, beating team-mate Shinya Nakano at the season-ending Australian GP, he brought to a close three decades of Yamaha factory involvement in the 250 World Championship. OJ’s world title was Yamaha’s 14th 250 riders’ crown and also helped secure the factory’s 14th 250 constructors’ title.

Jacque won the championship riding a YZR250, a fine-handling machine powered by a V-twin engine that originated in the mid-80s as half a YZR500. Like its half-litre brother, the YZR250 featured a Yamaha Deltabox chassis for maximum rigidity. Yamaha introduced the YZR once factory involvement from rival factories had ensured that its TZ250 production machine was no longer up to winning the quarter-litre world title. The first YZR250s were ridden by mercurial Venezuelan Carlos Lavado, nicknamed Careless Bravado for his dramatic win-at-all-costs riding style. Lavado had won the 1983 title aboard a TZ, rode the YZR to the ’86 title despite crashing out of several races.

Four years later another amazing talent returned Yamaha to the top in 250s. American John Kocinski had first come into GPs in the late 80’s under the tutelage of King Kenny Roberts. Hard-riding, big-talking Kocinski won the title in 1990, his first full GP season, to give Yamaha the 250/500 double. He then moved onto the 500s.

In 1993 Japanese ace Tetsuya Harada repeated Kocinski’s rookie success, recovering from a midseason tumble to clinch the title at the final round aboard his V-twin, now renamed the TZM250. Yamaha then took a sabbatical from the class, returning in 1999 with Frenchman Olivier Jacque and team-mate Shinya Nakano. The pair dominated the 2000 season, going into the final round just two points apart. Jacque shadowed Nakano throughout the race, bravely leaving his move to the final few hundred metres, when he drafted past the Japanese to win the title by 0.014s and five points.

Not always the quickest 250 in a straight line, the YZR was successful because it was a superbly user-friendly package that allowed its riders to get away with things that were virtually impossible on other bikes.
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