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The Joy of 60

by editor

Yamaha celebrates 60 years of Grand Prix racing in style.

Six decades ago Fumio Ito crossed the finish line of the French Grand Prix on his 250cc Yamaha twin – the first time the Japanese manufacturer had entered premier class racing. Ito-san finished eighth on an air-cooled two-stroke against a sea of dominant four-stokes.

That race kickstarted development of some of the most successful road racing motorcycles of all time – machines that proved attractive to the world’s best riders. Names like Bill Ivy, Phil Read, Jarno Saarinen and Giacomo Agostini raced and won on the red-and-white coloured Yamahas from the mid-1960s. From the mid-’70s, talent like Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson became synonymous with Yamaha and racing success with the now familiar livery.  

As a happy coincidence, Yamaha recently marked its 60th year of GP racing by adding to its world champions in the form of flying Frenchman Fabio ‘El Diablo’ Quartararo.

Incredibly, despite there being many talented French riders in the last 60 years, 22-year-old Quartararo is the first to win the world championship. Anyone considering following in Fabio’s footsteps is advised the young starlet from Nice started motorcycle racing from the age of four.

In the same race, at Misano in Italy, Valentino Rossi – arguably the greatest ever road racer – hung up his leathers. Tears were shed in the pits in a genuine handingover- of-the-baton occasion from the grand master to the future star.

Quartararo joins fellow Frenchman and Yamaha rider Dylan Ferrandis at the top of their craft. Ferrandis recently became US motocross champion, while Aussie Luke Clout took out the shortened local ProMX title this year. Swiss rider Dominque Aegerter was also crowned World Superspor t champion on his YZF-R6, making 2021 one of the most successful race seasons ever for the tuning-fork brand – including the World Superbike world championship won by Turkish star Toprak Razgatlioglu in spectacular fashion.

Current domination both in the dirt and on the road is a fitting tribute to Yamaha’s long involvement in Grand Prix racing. And 60 years is a special occasion. In Japanese culture 60 is an even more significant milestone than 50. So to celebrate Yamaha’s experience in top level competition, the range of R-Family supersports models has been revealed in the classic red and white colours, complete with yellow number plates. A visual reminder of the two-stroke era, the bikes are sure to appeal to those who remember Yamaha’s lightweight TZ twins taking on – and winning against – larger-capacity four-cylinder bikes.

With skinny tyres, flexible steel frames, drum brakes and lightswitch on/off power bands, those early two-stroke racers are a far cry from today’s modern bikes, many of which come with electronic control technologies that inspire confidence in the riding experience. Grand Prix riders of the early 1960s were not certain of finishing a race, let alone winning – particularly around long circuits such as the Isle of Man where a seized engine could spell disaster. The legendary Mountain Course track is fully 60kms long and runs through villages via real roads with kerbs and drystone walls and over a mountain, where even in June you can experience four seasons on one lap… unsurprisingly, the mortality rate at the Isle of Man was high, which led to the venue’s World Championship status being removed in 1976.

The riders who piloted those early twostrokes earnt every accolade the hard way. Bill Ivy, for example, died in 1969 when the Jawa 350 he was riding seized at the Sachsenring in East Germany. Finnish ace Jarno Saarinen perished in 1973 when another motorcycle hit a guard rail and bounced into him at Monza, Italy. Two talented racers whose lives were cut tragically short in accidents unlikely to happen today because race safety has improved so dramatically. Race bikes have not only become faster but also more reliable and safer – benefits that are soon passed down to production bikes. Race tracks and safety equipment are also vastly improved, with inflatable race suits, air fences, gravel traps, improved surface grip and increased track run off just some of the developments introduced to combat the dangers of road racing. 

Today’s bikes are also virtually unrecognisable compared to those 1960s pioneers.

Yamaha’s top supersports model YZFR1M features technology that starts at a fly-by-wire throttle and runs through the entire suite of control technologies that use a six-axis IMU to detect wheel spin, frontwheel lift, slide control, brake control and traction control. You can now dial in exactly the amount of human input versus machine control you want.

Yamaha’s 2022 YZF-R1 will be available in the iconic 60th anniversary red-andwhite colours next year, as will the learnerapproved YZF-R3 321cc parallel twin.

The third model in the range is Yamaha’s YZF-R7. It’s all new, powered by the popular 689cc parallel-twin engine used in Yamaha’s MT-07 and Ténéré 700 models, and sits smack in the middle between the R3 and R1, with a LAMs 655cc version also available.

This new supersports model is plenty fast enough, with 270kph on tap down the main straight thanks to a new lightweight chassis promoting a tucked-in sports riding position. Fierce brakes aided by a Brembo radial front master cylinder and multi-adjustable KYB suspension also feature on the new YZF-R7 – a bike that looks set to re-invigorate the road race scene. Accessible, affordable and super controllable – the R7 will be available from December 2021 and ready to introduce new and returning riders to the thrill of today’s much safer race circuits.

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