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6 days ago
By Nick Harris

Happy 100th anniversary Suzuki

Former MotoGP? commentator Nick Harris takes a trip down the Hamamatsu factory's memory lane

It’s an amazing racing heritage that has played such vital part in that 100-year Suzuki success story. As the Japanese factory celebrated its one 100th anniversary last week just reflect what an impact and influence, they have had in their 60 years of Grand Prix racing. Like all the major Japanese factories their success on the racetrack has enabled them to lead the world in innovative motorcycle manufacturing.

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What makes for Suzuki success?

Suzuki followed Honda by understanding that success in the ultimate challenge, Grand Prix racing. They travelled to the legendary TT races in the Isle of Man. Just one year after Honda they competed for the first time in the 1960 three lap 125cc race. Two years later they took their first ever Grand Prix victory when Ernst Degner won the 50cc TT race round the infamous 60.721 kms mountain circuit. Since that day on the Isle of Man Suzuki have won 157 more Grands Prix. Including that first victory, they have won 30 in the 50cc class, 35 in the 125 and 93 in the 500cc/MotoGP? classes. Degner followed his 1962 TT win with further victories in Holland, Belgium and West Germany bringing Suzuki their first World title the same year.

Suzuki led the revolution in bringing their two-stroke expertise into the premier 500cc class that had been dominated by the British and Italian four-strokes. In 1971 New Zealander Jack Findley re-wrote the history books at the Ulster Grand Prix. Not only did he bring Suzuki success for the first time in the premier class but also the very first two-stroke victory against the all-conquering four-strokes. The floodgates opened with a long haired loud British legend Barry Sheene spearheading the Suzuki onslaught riding the magnificent RG 500 four-cylinder rocket ship. Sheene brought Suzuki the 500cc World titles in 1976 and 77. He was followed by Italian’s Marco Lucchinelli and Franco Uncini in the early eighties.

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Kenny Roberts Jr. on winning the 500cc World Championship

Then Honda and Yamaha dominated before a hard riding rear tyre smoking Texan won back the title in 1993. Nobody embodies the Suzuki spirit of racing these incredible frighteningly fast and unpredictable two-strokes than the 1993 World Champion Kevin Schwantz. Once again Honda fought back but as the two-stroke stroke era was coming to a close the son of a rider who’d so often been the thorn in the side of Suzuki brought them their last World title. Kenny Roberts Junior closed the chapter on the all-conquering RG 500 story with a successful conclusion. The American clinched 2000 World 500cc title before Valentino Rossi and then the four-strokes took over.

Australian Chris Vermeulen brought Suzuki their first four stroke win at Le Mans in 2007 but these were tough times. After a brief respite Suzuki returned to the fray and were rewarded four years ago when Maverick Vinales brought them their first win for nine years. Last year in Austin Alex Rins put Suzuki back on the top step of the podium fighting off nobody less than a certain Valentino Rossi. The Spanish rider repeated their success at Silverstone with a famous win over World Champion Marc Marquez to add to the list of Suzuki Grand Prix winners.

Heading the honours board are New Zealander Hugh Anderson and Schwantz with 25 wins apiece. Schwantz took all his wins in the 500cc class but Anderson, on route to two 50cc and 125 cc World titles, won eight 50cc and 17 125cc Grands Prix. Sheene won 21 Grands Prix for Suzuki. Three in the 125cc class and 18 and two World titles on the 500

Suzuki embark on their new decade in great shape on the racetrack that has played such a major part of their history. Rins and Joan Mir look certain to continue that winning tradition embodied by Anderson, Degner, Sheene and Schwantz over the last 60 glorious years.

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