Suzuki, 50 Years of Racing
In 1960 a little known Japanese motorcycle company entered the 125-cc TT in the Isle-Of-Man (it was the company’s first international race). However, the record books do not show Suzuki because, due to a misunderstanding during registration, the bikes were entered as Colleda ‘s.
Although that 1960 TT race didn’t take the world by storm (the bikes finished 15th, 16th and 17th taking the manufacturers bronze award), it was the start of an illustrious international racing program that continues to this day.
Along the way, Suzuki has produced some outstanding (classic) racing motorcycles, taken 15 constructors’ world titles and 155 victories in the various classes.
From an engineering perspective, the 1967 RK67 was outstanding. The 50-cc water-cooled 2-stroke produced an incredible 17.5 hp. To put that into perspective, this level of power in a 1000-cc bike would be 350 hp!
Narrow Power Band
To get such a huge power output, the engine had a very narrow power band–reportedly around 500 rpm. This narrow rpm range necessitated a 14-speed gearbox. Weighing just 128 lb.’s (58kg’s), the bike had a top speed of more than 109 mph.
After Ernst Degner defected from Eastern Europe in 1961, Suzuki was quick to employ the talented German rider and engineer with experience of the factory MZ racers. His talents were behind a new generation of 2-strokes developed during the winter of 1961/2 which brought Suzuki 7th place in 125-cc World Championships and the World title in the 50-cc class. The 50-cc bike was ridden by Degner, and the 125-cc machine by New Zealander Hugh Anderson.
Although Suzuki was very successful in the 50 and 125 classes; it was the 500-cc class (the blue ribbon of motorcycle racing championships) that the company wanted to win. But it would be 1974 before Suzuki started a serious challenge in the top class.
The new for 1974 RG500 Suzuki (code name XR14) ridden by Barry Sheene, took second place at the opening round of the world championships at Clermont-Ferrand in France. Sheene went on to finish 6th one place behind his teammate, Australian Jack Findlay.
1975 saw Sheene become the star rider for Suzuki. After a near death crash at Daytona on a 750, Sheene was racing in less than seven weeks. After early teething troubles, the RG500 (with Sheene riding) finally came good in the Dutch TT at Assen where Sheene scored the first win of his career in the 500-cc class, and also the first win for Suzuki in the big class.
Sheene and Suzuki went on to win the World 500-cc championship in 1976 and 1977.
Suzuki‘s racing success has not been restricted to 2-strokes. The company has won many international races, especially in the 750 to 1000-cc production-based classes with their GSXR machines. They have won national championships in America, Britain, Australia and their own in Japan; along with the world Superbike championship in 2005 with rider Troy Corser.
The company’s involvement in international motorcycle racing was to promote their brand name; taking them from a little known company in the 1960s to the household name it is today. Their participation seems to have worked.
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