So who’s the greatest motorcycle grand prix roadracer of all time? We recently asked ourselves that question, and as MotoGP’s first round in America (Laguna Seca, July 25; Indianapolis is scheduled for August 29) approaches, we thought it would be interesting to have Cycle Guide Magazine readers vote to see who they feel is Number One.
To that end we’ve concocted a fantasy elimination bracket that contains what we feel are the top 16 500cc/MotoGP riders of all time. Our panel of judges considered all of the class champions since the Grand Prix World Championship began in 1949 to select the Sweet 16 for this ballot.
You’ll note that one of the entries—Randy Mamola—never won a 500cc world championship (or in any other displacement class for that matter). The American rider finished second in the points four times, however, and stood on the podium 57 times in his 151 races; he’s considered to be one of the most talented riders to never win a world championship. Since this is our party, we elected to make him a “promoter’s choice.”
Here’s how you’ll decide the winner: We’ve placed the riders into four qualifying “heat races.” You’ll vote for your favorite rider in each heat race. The ballot boxes are in the column on the right side of the page. Voting for the qualifying heat races ends July 8. We’ll post the three riders in each heat the following day, July 9, after which you can vote again to eliminate one more rider from each heat, with those results posted July 13. Think of the next go-round as the semis because there will be only two riders in each box for you to vote for. Voting closes July 17 for the semis, and then we’ll place the final four into the main. The winner—The Greatest GP Racer of All Time—will be announced July 21.
Here are a few historical facts and figures about 500cc/MotoGP class champions to help you make your selections in the first round.
• Englishman Les Graham was the first class champion, riding for AJS in 1949.
• The first rider to win multiple 500cc championships was Italian Umberto Masetti (1950, ’52), riding for Gilera.
• Englishman Geoff Duke was the first to win four world titles, and the first to win successive championships (1953-’55 respectively after winning his first in 1951). Duke rode for Norton in ’51, and for Gilera the remaining three championships.
• Englishman John Surtees did the same thing in 1956 and 1958-’60, riding for MV Agusta.
• A bit of trivia: Italians Masetti and Libero Liberati, both riding for Gilera, broke up Duke’s and Surtees’s championship strings respectively.
• Englishman Mike “The Bike” Hailwood was the first rider to win four championships in a row, doing so for MV Agusta during the mid-‘60s.
• The man to win the most championships to date is Italian Giacomo Agostini, taking home seven titles for MV Agusta and one for Yamaha.
• Italian Valentino Rossi is next with seven 500cc/MotoGP titles.
• The youngest racer to win the world championship was American Freddie Spencer. He was 21 years old when he won his first title in 1983.
• Agostini, Duke, Surtees, and Spencer were double champions at least once during their racing careers. Agostini, Duke, and Surtees won 350cc class championships and Spencer won the 250cc/500cc titles in 1986.
• American Kenny Roberts won the title in 1978, his first year of full-time GP racing in Europe. By 1980 he was a three-time champion.
• Surtees was also a Formula One Grand Prix world champion in 1964, driving for Ferrari.
• Hailwood followed in Surtees’s draft, and after winning four 500cc motorcycle world championships —all for MV Agusta, although he earned equal fame racing for Honda—switched to cars. In fact, he drove formula cars built by Surtees, but it was in a McLaren that Hailwood experienced a crash that essentially ended his driving career.
• American Wayne Rainey’s career was cut short by a crash that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He won three straight titles before that, and was headed for his fourth.
• Rainey is the only champion to not win a pole position during one of his championship seasons. That was in 1992.
• Australian Michael Doohan’s career was cut short by a serious leg injury. He had won five straight titles before that happened.
• Kenny Roberts and Kenny Roberts Jr. (Suzuki, 2000) are the only father and son to win the 500cc world championship.