MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Happy 50th MotoGP birthday to Ducati and two-stroke 500s!
MotoGP has two big 50th anniversaries coming up: the first two-stroke 500cc GP win and Ducati’s MotoGP debut
This Friday, August 14, it will be 50 years since the two-stroke’s first MotoGP victory. And four weeks later, on September 12, it will be 50 years since Ducati entered its first MotoGP race.
Both these anniversaries are significant landmarks in the history of motorcycle grand prix racing, signalling a generational change in technology, just as we are currently seeing a generational change of riders in MotoGP.
The first two-stroke MotoGP success followed a decade of two-stroke victories in the smaller classes and signalled three decades of domination by 500cc two-strokes, the most demanding and downright dangerous grand prix bikes of all time.
The rudimentary Suzuki XR05 that made history in August 1971 therefore blazed the trail for machines like Honda’s NSR500, Suzuki’s RGV500 and Yamaha’s YZR500. These motorcycles will forever be legends of the sport, but we shouldn’t forget how many bones and riders they broke.
Ducati’s first MotoGP machine might have been more successful if it hadn’t been created at the very moment the two-strokes stormed the premier class. But the fact that Ducati decided to build the bike in the first place probably saved the Italian marque from extinction, so it’s another hugely important motorcycle.
Suzuki was the first Japanese two-stroke brand to make it in GPs – winning the 1962 50cc and 1963 125cc world titles – after stealing the secrets to two-stroke success from East German marque MZ. But the Hamamatsu brand didn’t take its first MotoGP victory (of 95, so far) with a high-tech GP bike.
The XR05 that Australian Jack Findlay rode to victory in the Ulster GP on August 14, 1971 was nothing fancy. It was basically a Moto2 bike in concept: a piston-ported twin-cylinder T500 road bike engine in a rudimentary race chassis. In other words, not much of an eXperimental Racer – the origin of the XR prefix.
The XR engine made around 70 horsepower – about 200 less than Suzuki’s current GSX-RR MotoGP bike – but that didn’t mean it didn’t scare the living daylights out of its riders.
When the XR05 made its debut at Daytona three years before Findlay’s breakthrough success, factory rider Dick Hammer was so shellshocked by the machine’s malevolence – top-speed tank-slappers on the banking and frequent piston and crankshaft seizures – that he parked the bike after qualifying and raced his old Triumph twin. Suzuki sacked him a few days later.
However, the fact was that if you wanted to succeed in this brave new age of grand prix racing there was nothing else to do than leave your plodding old four-stroke in the garage and risk life and limb on a fast but fragile ‘stinkwheel’.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.