When the first formal World Championship was held in 1949, Grand Prix racing comprised four solo classes, with the inaugural ‘premier class’ 500 title being won by British rider Leslie Graham on AJS machinery.
MotoGP™ is the oldest motorsport World Championship; its first annual competition having been held in 1949.
THE EARLY DAYS
THE SWINGING SIXTIES
During the ‘60s, the Japanese motorbike industry began to boom and during that decade many of the manufacturers that participate in modern day MotoGP™ racing, such as Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha, arrived to pick up their first World Championship title wins across the 125, 250 and 500 categories, as they announced their arrival in Grand Prix racing.
The late ‘60s brought the start of the glory days for MotoGP™ Legend Giacomo Agostini – the most successful rider so far in the history of World Championship competition. Agostini took 10 of his 15 titles in five successive seasons as double champion in 350cc and 500cc – a golden period commencing in 1968, riding for MV Agusta.
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
After a break of almost 12 years from racing, Honda re-joined the World Championships in the late 1970s and by 1983 they had changed their philosophy from using 4-stroke machinery to build the V3 500cc two-stroke, known as the NS500, on which Freddie Spencer took the 500cc World title – his first championship win and the first for Honda since their return to Grand Prix.
The 1980s and 1990s saw some superb quality racing in the premier class in particular, with fierce competition between Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha and some great battles between American stars such as Eddie Lawson, Randy Mamola, Freddie Spencer, Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz. In the late 1990s, the 500 class was utterly dominated by Honda hero and MotoGP™ Legend Mick Doohan, who took five consecutive titles before a combination of racing injuries brought the Australian’s career to a premature end in 1999.
THE MODERN AGE
Before the revision of regulations which brought about the move to 990cc four-stroke competition in the premier class – in line with modern engineering and production trends – a young Italian rider called Valentino Rossi took the last ever 500 title in 2001 on Honda machinery, having won the 1997 edition of the 125 championship and the 1999 quarter litre crown with Aprilia.
After the re-branding of the World Championship as MotoGP™ in 2002 and the introduction of 990cc racing, Rossi went on to win four further consecutive titles, two with Honda and two after a sensational move to Yamaha.
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