Retrospective: Suzuki in MotoGP
Suzuki has delighted fans (and likely frightened rivals) by announcing that it will return to MotoGP in 2015. The Japanese company withdrew from the sport in 2011, citing the onset of the global financial crisis for its decision to stop racing. With six championships under its belt, Suzuki has long been a formidable force in MotoGP. Onlookers will be watching closely to see whether they can repeat their previous success in 2015.
For now, let’s take a look back at those championships and the drivers who won them.
1976: Barry Sheene
1976 was a good year for Suzuki. Not only did they win the championship with British rider Barry Sheene, they took out 11 of the top 12 final positions. Riding Suzuki’s RG500, the then 26-year-old rider recovered from a disastrous collarbone injury the previous year to win 11 GPs. 1976 also marked the year MotoGP agreed to take the Isle of Man off the calendar after years of protest from riders such as Giacomo Agostini, who had long held the opinion that the track was too dangerous.
1977: Barry Sheene
And then he did it again – only faster. The British rider hit average speeds of 213.37 km/h to win the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps. To put that in perspective, an average speed for a MotoGP event at the time would have been around 175km/h. 1977 saw Yamaha bikes begin to filter though the winners circle, however the year remained an overall success for Suzuki.
1981: Marco Lucchinelli
1981 was a 1-2 year for Suzuki, with Italian rider Marco Lucchinelli going head to head with Randy Mamola for the length of the season, pushing through to the final round where he managed to snatch victory, and claim the overall points championship. Known by his nickname ‘Crazy Horse’ as a result of his wild approach to racing, Lucchinelli rode the new RG500 to a full five victories on behalf of the Roberto Gallina backed team in 1981, including the prestigious San Marino Gran Prix.
1982: Franco Uncini
At the conclusion of the 1981 season Lucchinelli decide that he’d end his time with Suzuki on a high and move to Honda, this opened a spot at the Roberto Gallina team which was ultimately offered to Franco Uncini. After a number of slow years, Uncini welcomes the opportunity to ride a highly competitive, factory backed bike and went on to take out five GP wins in 1982, as well as the championship. Uncini’s victory was the last Italian riders would see for almost two decades.
1993: Kevin Schwantz
1993 saw Texan Kevin Schwantz win 4 races, claim three runner-up slots and take home the championship aboard Suzuki’s RGV500 in the year would mark the end of American dominance in the MotoGP. Many will remember Schwantz’s 1993 MotoGP victory as having been marred by the tragic accident of rival American rider Waine Rainey, who was paralysed after falling whilst in the lead at the Italian Grand Prix.
2000: Kenny Roberts Jr.
When Kenny Roberts Jr. won Suzuki’s most recent MotoGP title in 2000, he became the younger half of the only father and son duo to have ever won a 500cc World Championship each. Roberts took four race wins and 9 podiums in 2000, blitzing his closest challenger (a young Valentino Rossi) by nearly 50 points. The following season saw the two-stroke, 500cc machines bow out of contention and into the history books, along with Suzuki’s final MotoGP Championship victory.
For 2015 the history book has been re-opened and the pen has been inked – Suzuki is back.