Tag Archives: Honda

From Russia With Love – The Vostok Racers

Endel Kiisa aboard the 500cc Vostok four-cylinder S-565.

At the end of the Second World War former allies, the United States of America and the communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics entered into a period that was aptly described as “the cold war”. Both superpowers, armed with ideological distrust and a large arsenal of atomic weapons, knew that a direct confrontation would only bring about mutually assured destruction.

Each side fought the other indirectly by trying to influence foreign countries politically and economically while also aspiring to claim global prestige on the high ground of advanced technology – in particular, what became known in the 1960’s as the “Space Race”.

It was no doubt a rude shock to America when in 1961 the Soviets put the first man into space to orbit the earth in the spacecraft Vostok 1. Vostok (meaning Orient or East) became a household name around the world and one that was adopted by the communists for a little-known foray into World Championship Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

Although the former eastern block countries of Czechoslovakia and East Germany are better recognised for their motorcycle production and Grand Prix prowess, thanks to CZ, Jawa and MZ, it was in the town of Serpukhov 99km south of Moscow that these not so widely known Russian racers were built.

In 1942 the Central Construction and Experimental Bureau were established in Serpukhov with the aim of providing research and development for the numerous mass production motorcycle factories dotted around the USSR, in a bid to help the Soviet war effort during the Second World War.

Single cylinder engine of a 125cc S-157 racer.

At the end of the conflict German motorcycle manufacturer, DKW fell into the hands of the Soviets. In the1930’s DKW had been the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. The Russians plundered the Zschopau factory confiscating its technology and taking it to the Serpukhov Bureau,

Unsurprisingly this spawned blatant copies of the two-stroke DKW racers. The S1B, the S2B and the S3B were all reproductions of pre-war DKW’s with capacities of 125cc, 250cc and 350cc while the “S” (sometimes referred to as “C” which translated from the Russian Cyrillic alphabet stands for “S”) in the acronym stood for the town of Serpukhov.

Motorcycle competition and record-breaking took place post-war in the USSR but there was no participation in international events. The Soviet motorsport governing body the URSS was not affiliated with the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) but by 1954 the communists became interested in competing on the international stage. The Central Automobile and Motor Cycle Club of Moscow joined the FIM two years later on the 1st of January 1956.

But in 1954, in preparation for entry into international road racing, the Serpukhov Bureau designed (believed to be by Evgenij Mathiushin) a new series of four-stroke racers simply designated “S” for Serpukhov. The classification of these racers was quite simple. The S-154 had a 125cc capacity represented by the “1” and “54” was merely the year it was designed.

Its architecture was double overhead camshaft driven by shaft and gears on the right-hand side. The single cylinder was slightly inclined with a “square” bore and stroke of 54 x 54mm giving a capacity of 123cc and an output of 12.5hp. The chassis resembled a smaller version of the Norton Featherbed frame while the overall weight was approximately 80kgs with a top speed around 140kph.

S-254 was designed as a 250cc twin cylinder four-stroke racer with the same “square” dimensions of 54 x 54mm as the S-154 and also used double overhead camshafts, this time driven by an inclined shaft on the right hand side of the engine to the inlet camshaft which in turn on its left hand end used gears and a pinion to turn the exhaust camshaft. Ignition was by coil while twin carburettors supplied the fuel and final drive was by a five-speed gearbox. Weight was 126kg and with 23bhp available, at 8,200rpm it boasted a top speed of 150kmh. For the chassis, a Featherbed type frame with earls type front forks was utilised and initially, a dustbin fairing was supplied.

Serpukhov’s 350cc machine was the S-354 and of the same design as the S-254 but with the bore and stroke taken out to 60 x 61mm for 348cc. Power was initially 33bhp at 8,200rpm and with a weight of 144kg was capable of 165kph. It used a duplex cradle frame was best described as a cross between a Manx Norton and a BSA Gold Star design and utilised earls type fork. A “bikini” fairing provided the aerodynamics.

The twin cylinder engine of the S-254 250cc racer.

Then came the S-555, a 500cc version basically a bored out version of the 350cc S-354. With a bore and stroke of 72 x 61mm giving short stroke engine a capacity of 498cc with a claimed power output of 47bhp at 7,400rpm and a top speed of 190kph.

There was also a 175cc machine simply designated the S-175. This was not a bored out S-154 or half of the 350 twin and had a bore and stroke of 64 x 54mm for 174cc. It utilised a vertical cylinder like the later version of S-154, the S-157, and also boasted a twin-plug cylinder head, which became a feature of the S range in 1960. Although it was not an eligible capacity for international racing, a 175cc category was introduced into Soviet national competition.

With no official factory based team running on a permanent basis the Bureau loaned the “S” racers to preferred motorcycle clubs in the major cities. These machines were made accessible to promising road racers as they were well in advance of the out-dated two-strokes and altered road bikes that were available to the majority of competitors in national events.

Although these machines competed with a certain amount of success in race meetings mainly in the USSR, it was the Czechoslovakian manufacturer Jawa that in 1957 appeared to have a machine capable of competing at an international level bringing a halt to the development of the Serpukhov factories middleweight DOHC racers the S-257 and S-358. Czech racer Franta Stastny had ridden a Jawa 250cc racer to 12th place in the 1957 Lightweight TT on the demanding Isle of Man Mountain Course. This brought about a closer collaboration between the Serpukhov Bureau and Jawa. It effectively saw replicas of the Jawa 250cc, and 350cc racers re-badged as S-259 and S-360 Serpukhov machines, although a number of components were made in Russia.

These two “S” racers used twin overhead camshafts driven by a vertical bevel shaft positioned behind the two cylinders, driving the inlet camshaft and a horizontal shaft across the top of the engine to drive the exhaust camshaft. The cylinders were inclined at 10 degrees and a heavily finned wet sump held the engine oil. The cylinder head sported two valves per cylinder and twin spark plugs with a battery and coil ignition. A pair of Amal carburettors provided the fuel and final drive was via a six-speed gearbox.

The frame for the two racers was conventional tubular construction either diamond or Featherbed with 19-inch wheels. The 248cc version had a bore and stroke of 55 x 52 mm and produced 38bhp at 11,000rpm. With a weight of 128kgs, a top speed of 190 km/h could be reached. It’s thought the 350cc version had a bore and stroke of 62 x 57.6mm and approximately 46bhp 10,300 rpm with a weight of 130kgs. 210 km/h was thought to be the top speed.

Endel Kiisa aboard the S-360 350cc racer.

The Jawa replicas were a step in the right direction for the Serpukhov Bureau. Russian rider Nikolai Sevostianov on the S-360 claimed third place in May 1961 at the Djurgardslopper international race meeting held at Helsinki in Finland.

It should be noted that the Jawa 350cc “version” did considerably well over the course of the 1961 Grand Prix season with factory riders Franta Statsny and Gustav Havel claiming a double 1st and 2nd places in the German and Swedish Grand Prix’ eventually finishing 2nd and 3rd in the 350cc World Championship

More progress came when the Soviet team made their debut in the World Championships at the East German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring in August 1962. By now the “S” racers were sometimes entered as CKB or on occasion as CKEB in reference to the Central Construction and Experimental Bureau in Serpukhov. Again it was Russian rider Sevostianov that provided the results finishing fifth in the 250cc class and in the 350cc category a fine sixth place.

The team returned again in 1963 to the East German Grand Prix taking fifth place for Sevostianov riding the S-360 in the 350cc class. Sevostianov accomplished an even better result at the Finnish G.P. held at the Tampere circuit coming home in fourth in the 350cc category, although there is a side story to this result as the outcome may have been a Podium. The following is the doyen of motorcycle journalists Chris Carter’s recollection of the event published in his book “Chris Carter at Large.”

Carter, “Mike Hailwood was there on his 350cc and 500cc MV Agusta’s, and there was a Russian guy on one of these Russian four-cylinder Vostoks (authors note: in fact a twin cylinder S-360). Down the straight, he kept looking across at Hailwood, and he wouldn’t brake for the first-right hander until Hailwood did. Hailwood became furious with this man, so in the end, quite deliberately, he didn’t brake at all. They both shot up the slip road, and then Hailwood … put his foot on this man’s petrol tank and shoved. The poor Russian and his Vostok went crashing to the ground.” Hailwood went on to win the race. Sevostianov was also entered in the 500cc class and took sixth place on a bored out S -360 twin.

Cutaway drawing of the Vostok S-364 350cc four.

As the results of the “S” racers in the World Championship improved the head of the Serpukhov Bureau, Ing. Ivanitsky, and the Deputy Director of Laboratories at the Vniimotopram Institute, V Kuznetsov, decided it was time to take on the European and Japanese factories at their own game with a completely new design. The 1964 S-364 was a 350cc four-cylinder four stroke and the first from the Serpukhov Bureau to be entered as a Vostok. The ambitious project also included a 500cc version to challenge for the blue riband class but was still on the drawing board.

The Vostok’s engine architecture took its design cues from the Italian multi’s and the Honda’s with double overhead camshafts being driven by a central gear train. Bore and stroke were oversquare with dimensions of 49 x 46mm for a capacity of 347cc. Ignition was by magneto and coil while four 30mm carburettors supplied the fuel and the final drive was via a dry clutch and six-speed gearbox. The first Vostoks used the frame and suspension units of the Jawa/CKB racers. Weight was around 130Kgs with a top speed of 230km/h.

It was at the East German Grand Prix in July 1964 that the Vostok S-364 made its international debut. causing a flurry of interest, as these were the most technically advanced Grand Prix racers to come out of the Soviet Union. It was not to be the introduction though that the Serpukhov Bureau would have hoped for as both the entries of Sevostianov and Estonian rider Endel Kiisa retired with mechanical problems after holding third and fourth place behind Jim Redman on a Honda and Gustav Havel on a Jawa. Sevostianov also raced in the 500cc class on a bored out version of the CKB S-360 twin and managed a fourth-place finish.

In August at the Finnish Grand Prix Endel Kiisa recorded the Surpokhov racers best result in the World Championship so far with a podium third place behind Redman and Beale on Honda’s. But it was not on the Vostok four but the CKB S-360 twin cylinder.

However, the Vostok four did appear again in September at Monza in the Nation’s Grand Prix. Unfortunately Sevostianov and Kiisa both retired with mechanical problems, which was said to be with the ignition, but in reality, the S-364 was destroying its pistons as it had done on debut in East Germany.

Cutaway drawing of the Vostok S-364 crank conrod pistons and overhead camshafts.

The four-cylinder reappeared again in 1965 at the first round of the championship, the West German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. The Soviet team arrived a day late and Endel Kiisa could only manage one practice session. On the starting grid for the mandatory push start the Vostok refused to fire, but once he got on his way, Kiisa managed to fight his way through a pack of privateers to finish in fifth place. In a field that included riders of the calibre of Agostini and Hailwood on factory MV Agusta’s, it was a promising result. Only a week later at the non-championship Austrian Grand Prix, he very nearly gave the Vostok its maiden international triumph only to retire a just a kilometre short of victory.

Before the East German Grand Prix later that year major changes were made to the Vostok S-364. A new frame based on the Norton Featherbed design was employed and the power unit was modified with a new cylinder head and an oil cooler mounted in front of the engine.

Unfortunately, both Vostoks retired from the East German race but only a week later, at the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix in Brno, Sevostianov took the honour of a 3rd place podium behind Jim Redman on a works Honda and Derek Woodman on an MZ. This was the best result so far for a Russian rider on a Russian designed and built racer in the classics.

The Vostok did compete at the Nations Grand Prix at Monza in Italy in September with Kiisa finishing in eight spot, and again later that month for a meeting organised by the Automobile Club of Milan as an Italy vs USSR match race series. Italian riders filled the first six places of both races, and sadly this was also the last international event for the Vostok S-364.

Endel Kiisa at the 1965 Austrian Grand Prix on the Vostok S-364 four.

There was to be however one last hurrah for the Vostok racers. A 500cc version of the four-cylinder machine had been built with the designation S-565 presumably making it a1965 design although it was based on the 350cc model. With a bore and stroke 55 x 52mm for a capacity of 494cc the engine produced a reputed 80bhp at 12,400 rpm. Weighing in at 155kgs it was good for 250 km/h. There were some minor visual differences to the 350cc version with more fins to the cylinders a deeper sump and more fins on the front of the crankcases.

In 1968 the Vostok team turned up for the Finnish Grand Prix just over the Soviet border at Imatra. With Honda and Mike Hailwwod’s withdrawal from the World Championship, it was assumed the race would be a cakewalk for Agostini and the MV Agusta triple. As expected “Ago” took the lead with Kiisa and the Vostok glued to the back wheel of the MV. Three laps in, and to the amazement of the crowd, the Vostok accelerated past the 500cc World Champions out of a slow corner. This was the first time a Soviet machine had led a 500cc Grand Prix. It was not to last with Kiisa experiencing ignition problems and retiring from the race. Sevostianov saved some face for the Vostok team by finishing in fourth place.

For 1969 some improvements were made to the S-565 Vostok, with a new four-valve head and huge drum brakes fitted that were developed originally for the Jawa V-four 350cc two-stroke.

Jewel like Russian engineering on Vostok S-365 four.

The upgraded machines were entered in the East German Grand Prix at the Saschenring. It was not to be a good meeting for the Vostoks. During the wet race, Kiisa returned to the pits to change a spark plug finally managing tenth place, while his teammate fellow Estonian Juri Randla had held third place but a misfire and carburettor problems forced him to retire. Seven days later at the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix, both Vostoks retired on the second lap. It was a humiliating conclusion to an endeavour that held so much promise but was defeated by lack of an adequate budget to fully develop these fascinating Grand Prix racers.

Words © Geoff Dawes 2018. Images courtesy http://www.b-cozz.com, http://www.cold-war-racers.com, http://www.fim-live.com, Twitter.

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Honda Celebrates 50 Years Of MotoGP

Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez pose with the 1966 Honda RC181 and the 2016 RC213V.

Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez pose with the 1966 Honda RC181 and the 2016 RC213V at Motegi in Japan.

It was perhaps fitting that Marc Marquez collected his third MotoGP World Championship at Honda’s own circuit at Motegi in Japan, as 2016 celebrates 50 years since Honda first entered the premier class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

What is also appropriate is the fact that Marquez achieved this on the recalcitrant 2016 RC213V. Although an improvement over the 2015 edition, a change to the new Michelin control tyres as well as the new control software, tossed in, even more, variables for the Repsol Honda team to equate. But the key this year to Marquez’s success has been his determination to finish every race and has shown the kind of maturity, at just 23 years of age, that no doubt is worrying to his rivals. Honda’s first foray into the 500cc (MotoGP) class with the RC181, coincidentally suffered handling issues as well.

Honda's weapon of choice to enter the 500cc war.

Honda’s weapon of choice to enter the 500cc war.

Honda, of course, was the first Japanese motorcycle manufacturer to enter into the Grands Prix in 1959 at the Isle of Man TT in the 125cc category. After considerable success in the lower capacity classes, Honda then took the plunge by entering a 500cc machine in the premier class for 1966. Although rumours in the paddock suggested that like the multi-cylinder four-strokes Honda had produced in the smaller capacity classes, the 500cc machine could potentially have a six-cylinder or even a V-8 power plant.

However, it was a more conventional transverse air-cooled four-cylinder engine, with twin overhead camshafts and four-valves per cylinder, that fronted the grid. The RC181 boasted a very competitive 85hp at 12,000rpm and weighed in at 154kg using the engine as a stressed member. It was entrusted to Rhodesian, Jim Redman, Honda’s six times world champion (two 250cc and four 350cc class titles) to take on the might of MV Agusta and the talents of its rising star Giacomo Agostini.

Honda used the engine as a stressed member for the chassis of the RC181.

Honda used the engine as a stressed member for the chassis of the RC181.

Redman took the RC181 to a stunning victory on debut at the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim and followed that up with a win at the next round in Holland at the Dutch TT. Honda had also enticed its former 250cc World Champion, Mike Hailwood, back to the fold, and although his priority was to be the 250cc and 350cc categories, Hailwood rode the new machine for the first time in Holland and was leading the race when a false neutral caused him to crash. Nonetheless, it appeared MV Agusta’s monopoly on the class was about to end.

The RC181 though flattered to deceive, and Redman crashed in atrocious conditions during the next round at Spa in Belgium. He badly broke his arm and promptly retired from racing, leaving Hailwood to try and retrieve the championship challenge. Although Hailwood notched up three wins in Czechoslovakia, Ulster and the Isle of Man and a second place in Finland, mechanical problems at the other four rounds handed the riders title to Agostini and the new three-cylinder MV Agusta. Honda was left with the consolation of winning the manufacturer’s trophy with a motorcycle that Hailwood could only describe the handling as, “Bloody awful!”

Hailwood's Honda wore the number 1 plate in 1966 after winning the 500cc crown for MV Agusta in 1965.

Hailwood’s Honda wore the number 1 plate in 1966 after winning the 500cc crown for MV Agusta in 1965.

Both Honda and Hailwood returned for the 1967 season with an updated RC181. The off-season saw the Honda now developing a healthy 93bhp at 12,650rpm with its weight reduced 13kg to 141kg with the extensive use of magnesium in the engine. Mike had flown to Japan during the off-season to test the 1967 machines and was horrified to discover the promised new chassis for the RC181 was non-existent and demanded to take an engine back to England to have a chassis built in Europe that might solve the severe handling problems.

The Japanese though refused to let Hailwood race the new chassis in the Grands Prix, but instead “beefed up” the existing RC181 frame which used the engine as a stressed member. Mike did enter the HRS (Hailwood Racing Special) at some non-championship races and even practiced on it for the first Grand Prix of the season at Hockenheim but reverted to the factory RC181 for the race and was leading when the crankshaft broke handing Agostini the win.

Hailwood (left) and "Ago" prepare to do battle on the starting grid.

Hailwood (left) and “Ago” on the starting grid as they prepare to do battle.

The next race was the TT at the Isle Of Man, a race that became one of the all-time classics in Grand Prix racing history. During their titanic struggle, the lead swapped back and forth for five of the six laps of the 37.5mile course (60.3km) until the chain broke on Agostini’s MV. Hailwood cruised to victory and had set a new outright lap record of 108.77mph (175kph), which stood for almost a decade.

The next weekend Agostini and the improving MV outpaced Hailwood and the Honda at Spa in Belgium, and at the Sachsenring in East Germany, gearbox problems forced Mike to retire with Agostini claiming victory. The Brno circuit in Czechoslovakia was next with Hailwood finishing 17.8 seconds ahead of his nemesis on the MV Agusta triple. But a fall at Imatra in Finland on a wet track shifted momentum once more to Agostini.

The roles were reversed again at the Dundrod circuit in Ulster with ‘Ago” retiring and Hailwood winning. The whole season now pivoted on the penultimate race of the season at the Nations Grand Prix in MV Agusta’s own backyard at Monza in Italy. At last, it looked like Honda would achieve their ambition as Hailwood led Agostini by 16 seconds with three laps to go only to have certain victory stolen from him by a gearbox that became stuck in top gear. Agostini flashed by to win by 13.2 seconds and take the title a second year in a row.

Although Hailwood won again at the final round at Mosport in Canada, beating “Ago” home by a massive 37.7 seconds, it was of no avail. Both riders had accumulated five wins apiece, but “Ago” took the title due to three-second place finishes to Hailwood’s two. There was no consolation prize for Honda either as MV Agusta also took home the manufacturers title.

Hailwood chases "Ago" in 1967.

Hailwood chases “Ago” at the Dutch TT in 1967.

Honda withdrew from the Grands Prix at the end of 1967, but this was just a prelude of what was to come. The Japanese company returned to the premier class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in 1979 with the ill-fated NR500 four-stroke racer and won the first of their many rider’s titles in 1983 with Freddie Spencer and the NS500 two-stroke.

Those frustrating seasons of 1966 and 1967 for Honda, must now seem a lifetime away. As this is written, the Japanese manufacturer has accrued a staggering 279 race victories and 39 riders and Constructors World Championships.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2016.Images courtesy of Honda and http://www.formulamoto.es.

YouTube Video courtesy of Pathe.

 

A Legendary Champion

Marq03

Perhaps the only surprise surrounding World Champion Marc Marquez securing his second MotoGP championship was the fact that he did not accomplish it with a win at Honda’s own circuit of Motegi. After dominating the class from the opening round in Qatar to notch up ten consecutive wins by Indianapolis, which equalled the great Giacomo Agostini, it was quite clear that the 2014 championship trophy already had his name partially engraved upon it.

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Marquez celebrates his back to back MotoGP World Championships.

The 21-year-old became the youngest rider to win back-to-back Premier class championships since Mike Hailwood achieved it as a 23-year-old in1964. Marquez is also the first Spaniard to accomplish this feat. After finishing fourth in Czechoslovakia to the winner and Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa, Marquez won again in England at the British Grand Prix. But mistakes at Mugello in Italy and Aragon in Spain kept the title tantalisingly out of reach until a tactical 2nd place to Jorge Lorenzo in Motegi secured the crown.

After a crash in Australia, Marquez still has two more races, in Malaysia and Valencia, to equal or beat Australian Mick Doohan’s record of 12 victories in a premier class season.

But although Marquez continues to set and break records, there is, maybe, one record he will be unable to achieve.

Fifty years ago on the 25th of October this year, John Surtees O.B.E. secured the Formula One World Championship for Ferrari, becoming the first and only man to win a Grand Prix World Championships on two wheels and four. Surtees had already won the premier 500cc Grand Prix crown on four occasions (1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960) and the 350cc G.P. title on three times (1958, 1959 and 1960) for a total of seven World Championships on two wheels. Surtees then clinched the Formula One title at the last race in Mexico in 1964.

John Surtees rides his MV Agusta to victory at the 1958 Isle of Man TT.

John Surtees rides his MV Agusta to victory at the 1958 Isle of Man TT.

It’s interesting to note that Surtees won his World Championships on two wheels and four with Italian racing royalty, Ferrari and MV Agusta. But remarkably Surtees had never raced a car until a non-championship meeting at Goodwood in 1960. Surtees put his F2 Cooper-Climax on pole and finished an incredible second to Jim Clark in a Lotus. In only his second F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone Surtees, driving a Lotus finished second to World Champion Jack Brabham. It was just his eighth car race.

At the Portuguese F1 Grand Prix, he put the Lotus on pole giving the team their very first pole position. This was all in 1960 while he was on his way to winning both the 500cc and 350cc World Championship on two wheels with MV Agusta.

Other examples of John’s versatility was to win the inaugural 1966 Can-Am Sports Car Championship in America driving a Lola T70 while another was taking Honda’s second F1 win in 1967 by driving the Honda Racing RA 300 to a fantastic victory on its debut at Monza in Italy.

Surtees pushes the Ferrari 158 to second place behind Jim Clark’s Lotus at Zandvoort in Holland 1964.

Surtees pushes the Ferrari 158 to second place behind Jim Clark’s Lotus at Zandvoort in Holland 1964.

In today’s world of specialisation in Motorsport this type of versatility is unheard of. Surtees, like most riders in the 1950’s and 1960’s, also rode in more than one Grand Prix class during a championship meeting: a concept that would be alien to today’s MotoGP heroes. Yet there is still even more to Surtees’ accomplishments.

Surtees also became a racing car manufacturer in 1970 forming the Surtees Racing Organisation with his cars competing in Formula 5000, Formula 2 and Formula 1. Surtees most significant success as a manufacturer came with another former motorcycle multi-world champion, Mike Hailwood, who won the European F2 championship for Surtees in 1972.

Surtees in discussion with "Il commendatore" Enzo Ferrari.

Surtees in discussion with “Il Commendatore” Enzo Ferrari.

The prodigious talents of John Surtees have created a unique chapter in the history of Motorsport and one that is unlikely to be repeated. Although Surtees has already been awarded an M.B.E. and an O.B.E. in the Queen’s honours list, many feel that a Knighthood would be a more appropriate recognition of this great man and his ongoing contribution to Motorsport. Surtees turned 80 this year.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014. Images http://www.commons.wikimedia.org, http://www.ilpost.it, http://www.performanceforums.com and the Repsol Honda Team.

Life Without Rossi

It was not that long ago that the very thought of MotoGP without Valentino Rossi was almost heresy.  Although Rossi’s eventual retirement was an inevitable reality, there was some consternation about the future popularity of the sport and its existence as a saleable commodity without him.  Rossi’s ability to engage such a broad demographic of fans, from children to retirees has given Grand Prix motorcycle racing the kind of exposure that other forms of motorsport would dearly love to have had. His post-race antics, charm and humility, coupled with an amazing ability to push a Grand Prix racing motorcycle to the very limit, using racecraft so ruthless it enabled him to regularly outwit his many opponents is legendary.

Rossi on his 2001 Championship winning NSR500 two-stroke.

Rossi on his 2001 Championship winning NSR500 two-stroke.

Rossi is arguably the greatest rider of all time, having won a record 80 MotoGP compared to the 68 of the great Giacomo Agostini.  But next month, on February 16th Valentino will celebrate his 35th birthday, and after three years with only one win, Rossi has given himself six races before he decides whether he will continue in MotoGP in 2015.  That sixth race will be his “home” Grand Prix at Mugello a race he has won a record seven times.

The surprise sacking of longtime crew chief, Jeremy Burgess, at the 2013 season-ending race in Valencia, sent shock waves through the paddock.  As Burgess pointed out at a pre-race press conference “I’ve read many sports biographies and quite often the top sportsman in the latter part of his career will have a change of caddy or a change of coach, and this is what we’re working on. We worked on fixing the problem for four years, and this is part of that fix, and this is the next step to try and get Valentino back on top.” But is there more to Valentino’s lack of form since his last championship in 2009?

Valentino on the 990cc RC211V Honda 5 cylinder four-stroke.

Valentino on the 990cc RC211V Honda 5 cylinder four-stroke.

Burgess has also mentioned the “survival gene” that kicks in when a rider reaches their thirties and can erode a competitor’s ability to push to the absolute limits on a Grand Prix motorcycle.  Micheal Scott, a longtime Grand Prix journalist and the editor of the authoritative annual Motocourse, had previously noted in his column, that during his long career Rossi had always possessed that bit of luck which saved him from serious injury when involved in a practice or race crash.  That was not the case however in 2010. Rossi suffered a pre-season Motocross accident that severely affected his right shoulder and was not rectified until after the season had finished. But more tellingly a practice crash at Mugello, a circuit that Rossi had so much success on, bit back, giving the Italian a broken leg and for the first a time in his career caused him to miss not just one race, but three. Was the magic waning?

Rossi after winning the 2010 Malaysian GP aboard his beloved 800cc four-stroke Yamaha YZR-M1.

Rossi after winning the 2010 Malaysian GP aboard his beloved 800cc four-stroke Yamaha YZR-M1.

Dealing with a recalcitrant Ducati in 2011 and 2012 did little to admonish the growing number of doubters that believed Rossi’s star was on the decline. Perhaps more tragically though was the effect that Valentino’s innocent involvement in Marco Simoncelli’s fatal accident in Malaysia may have had.  I for one cannot comprehend how difficult it must have been for Valentino to deal with.

The most reassuring thing about Rossi though is his love of racing and commitment to the sport. As the owner of a new Team Sky- VR46 Moto3 team, which he formed in a bid to help cultivate young Italian talent for the Grand Prix, there is no doubt that Rossi’s presence and star quality will thankfully be around the paddock for many years to come.

Words Geoff Dawes ©2013. Images http://www.sportrider.us, http://www.hdwallres.com and http://www.yamaharacing.com

The Honda CB1100R Series

The fully faired 1982 CB1100RC Honda.

It ‘s an understatement to suggest that racing success helped build the very foundations of the Honda Motor Company.  It was the driving force to win, instilled by corporation founder Soichiro Honda that the company’s engineering capabilities be proven in the white heat of competition. The forays, starting in 1959 to the Isle of Man TT, to take on the best in the world in Grand Prix racing, proved pivotal to the success of the fledgeling motorcycle manufacturer.

But in 1970’s production racing, and in particular the prestigious Australian Castrol Six Hour production race, this philosophy was faltering. In a class of racing that pitted showroom floor models against each other under racing conditions, Honda had tasted success but once, in the 1971 event, with the venerable CB750.

The unfaired CB1100RB explicitly built for the 1980 Australian Castrol Six Hour race.

The Castrol Six-Hour had become the jewel in the crown of endurance production racing that enjoyed live television coverage in Australia and immense media exposure all over the world.  It was a class of racing with a huge following as it allowed motorcycle owners to see how “their” bike performed against machines from the other manufacturers.  And in an era of unprecedented motorcycle sales, the old adage, “what wins on Sunday sells on Monday”, had never been more true.

Honda held great hope for success in 1979 with the RCB endurance racer inspired CB900FZ, but it was unable to be fully competitive against its larger capacity rivals from Suzuki and Yamaha. Although claiming a creditable third place the previous year, Honda’s own CBX1000 six-cylinder flagship did not have the success that Honda desired.

And the war for production racing supremacy was not just being waged in Australia, but also South Africa, New Zealand and the U.K which was also a part of Honda’s dilemma.  This required contemplation and a new approach to the race, or rather, the regulations.

The 1979 CB900FZ

The CB1100R series of motorcycles was created out of production racing necessity.  Honda became the first Japanese manufacturer to build a production homologation special for the road,  manufacturing enough road-registerable models to stay within the rules.

In a clever bit of reverse engineering Honda looked to its CB900FZ road bike, which had been based on the highly successful RCB1000 endurance racer.  It used lessons learnt from the RCB to transform the CB900F into a specialist endurance production racer. There was some irony here as Honda was also developing in parallel the RSC1000, by necessity based on the CB900F, to meet the regulations for the new prototype World Endurance Championship of 1980.

Honda Australia rider Dennis Neil was recruited by Honda Japan to develop the new machine and was responsible for testing it in both Australia and Japan. One hundred of the CB1100RB were fast-tracked and registered by Honda to make the September cut off deadline for entry into the 1980 Castrol Six Hour.  This was an unfaired version of the bike, which was unique to the R series.  European models and those released in most other markets were fitted with a half fairing.

The faired version of the CB1100RB sold in South Africa the UK and New Zealand.

The faired version of the CB1100RB sold in South Africa the UK and New Zealand.

The evolution of the CB900F to transform it into the CB1100R, though, was quite extensive.

Although the engine shared the same 69mm stroke of the CB900F, the bore was increased from 64.5mm to 70mm to give an engine capacity of 1062cc, the same as variants of both the RCB and RSC endurance racers. The cylinder block was solid, doing away with the air gap between the two outer and two inside cylinders. The compression ratio was increased, up from 8.8:1 to 10:1, and many of the engine internals were beefed up, including a wider primary drive chain, strengthened clutch, conrods, big end bearings and gudgeon pins while the pistons became semi-forged items and the camshafts had sportier profiles. The standard gearbox was retained, although final overall gearing was raised by ten percent, and carburation also remained the same as the CB900F using four constant velocity Keihin VB 32mm units. This resulted in CB1100RB producing 115hp (85kw) at 9000rpm and 72ft.lb  (98N-m) of torque at 7,500rpm, compared to 95hp (69.8kw) at 9000rpm and 57ft.lb (77.4N-m) at 8000rpm of the CB900FZ.

The chassis was strengthened with extra gusseting and the detachable lower frame rail of the CB900F, designed for ease of engine removal, now became a solid part of the frame.  The front engine mounts were also heavy-duty alloy items, which no doubt all helped to improve the rigidity of the chassis.  The 35mm CB900F front forks were replaced with new 38mm units that used air assistance to adjust the spring rate via a linked hose from each fork and the rear shock absorbers carried a finned piggyback reservoir to help cool the damping oil.  Honda reverse Comstar wheels were fitted although the diameters remained the same as the CB900F, with an 18inch rear wheel and a 19inch front. But the rim widths were wider, up from 2.15 inches for both the front and rear of CB900F to a 2.75 inch rear and a 2.5 inch front for the CB1100RB. This was to accommodate the new generation tyres developed for the race due to the intense competition between tyre manufacturers. Honda also introduced for the first time their dual twin-piston floating calipers that gripped solid 296mm disks.

A single fibreglass seat unit that also housed the toolkit took the place of the CB900F’s dual seat. The fuel capacity was increased from 20 litres to 26 litres with a massive alloy fuel tank.  The instruments and switchgear were taken straight off the CB900F, but the duralumin handlebars were changed to multi-adjustable items that could be replaced quickly in the event of a crash. The exhaust system was visually similar to the CB900F, being a four into two, but on the CB1100RB it was freer flowing and utilised a balance pipe just ahead of the two mufflers. It was also finished in matt black as opposed to chrome and was well tucked in. The pulse generator and ignition cover on either end of the crankshaft were reduced in size and chamfered to also help improve ground clearance.  The foot pegs were rear-set and raised slightly on new lighter alloy castings. Honda was quite proud of achieving a fifty-degree angle of lean for the RB without anything touching down. This was extremely important at such a tight circuit as Amaroo Park where the Castrol Six Hour was held.

Single seat unit housed the toolkit.

Single seat unit of the RB housed the toolkit.

However, the Willoughby District Motorcycle Club did not welcome the appearance of the CB1100RB at the 1980 Castrol Six Hour.  The organisers of the event argued that the CB100RB did not conform to the rules for a touring motorcycle, as it had no provision to carry a pillion passenger. Honda quite rightly pointed out that this was not written into the supplementary regulations for the event and indeed the organisers had to yield. It should also be pointed out that the organisers had turned a blind eye in previous years to entries such as the 750 and 900 SS Ducati’s that also could not carry a pillion passenger.

It’s history now that Wayne Gardner and Andrew Johnson on the privately entered Mentor Motorcycles CB1100RB won the race, held in wet conditions, ahead of the Honda Australia entry of Dennis Neil and Roger Heyes.  But it was a controversial win and not the clear-cut victory Honda would have hoped for. Suzuki Australia claimed that a lap scoring error had taken the win away from John Pace and Neil Chivas on a GSX1100.  After three appeals the Suzuki team were eventually awarded the win, only for Mentor Motorcycles to appeal against the ruling and be reinstated just four weeks before the 1981 race. To top all this off, the WDMC released the supplementary regulations for the race, which specifically banned solo seats.  Honda turned its back on the 1981 race and once again studied the rules.  Some solace was sought when the CB1100RB won all of the eight 1981 MCN Streetbike series in the UK, with seven victories going to series winner Ron Haslam.

The end result of all of the above culminated in the 1982 CB1100RC, which came equipped with a dual seat and rear footpegs – and also a full fairing. A removable cover was used to give the appearance of a single seat, while the tools were moved to a lockable toolbox that was hung off the seat subframe just behind the left rear shock absorber.  The rear suspension units were now inverted reservoir gas charged FVQ units with four-way compression damping and three-way adjustable extension damping with five spring preloads.  Front fork diameter was increased from 38mm to 39mm with separate air adjustment on the top of each fork leg.  The forks also boasted a new innovation from Honda, Torque Reactive Anti-dive Control or TRAC. This was a mechanical four-way adjustable system that utilised the pivoting torque of the brake calipers to close a valve in the fork leg, under braking, to increase compression damping which limited front end nose-dive.

The fully faired 1982 CB1100RC Honda.

The fully faired 1982 CB1100RC Honda.

The front brake disks now became ventilated while 18-inch “boomerang” spoked Comstar wheels graced both ends of the RC.  The rear rim width was now 3.0 inches, up from 2.75 on the RB, while the front rim width remained 2.5 inches but on an 18 instead of 19-inch wheel.  Steering rake was increased by half a degree to 28 degrees and trail was shortened from 121mm to 113mm mainly to accommodate the effects of the new 18-inch front wheel.  The wheelbase also became slightly longer from 1488mm of the RB to 1490mm for the RC but still 25mm shorter than the CB900F.

The instrument “pod” now was now mounted in the nose of the full fairing, and the tachometer became electronic as opposed to the cable driven item of the RB.  There was also the inclusion of an oil temperature gauge mounted with the warning lights on the top steering yoke.  The full fairing was lightweight fibreglass, reinforced with carbon fibre, and its lower half was quickly removable utilising six Dzus type fasteners and two screws.  In the engine department, the only significant mechanical change was a stronger cam chain tensioner and 1mm larger Keihin VB 33mm CV carburettors. Claimed horsepower and torque remained the same as the CB1100RB, although South African and New Zealand models were recorded as giving 120hp.

Honda dominated the 1982 Castrol Six Hour even though Suzuki unleashed its 1100 Katana with special wider wire wheels.  Wayne Gardner and Wayne Clarke took the top place on the podium with three other CB1100RC’s finishing behind them.  The nearest Suzuki Katana was a lap down in fifth. Honda again dominated the British MCN Streetbike series winning all the races with Ron Haslam and Wayne Gardner sharing the spoils and series title. For 1983 new restrictions were put in place for production racing, which limited engine capacity to 1000cc and effectively made the CB1100RC redundant.

The Honda CB1100RD. Note the nose of the fairing in line with front axle line.

The Honda CB1100RD. Note the nose of the fairing in line with front axle line.

Honda still produced one more model in the series, the 1983 CB1100RD, the main differences from the RC being a rectangular tube swingarm, which was slightly wider for the new fatter tyres, and it also carried upgraded rear shock absorbers. The nose of the fairing was also pulled back to be in line with the front axle to meet racing regulations.  Aesthetically the blue stripe ran up the sides of the headlight and not underneath it while the blue and red paintwork appeared almost metallic in its finish. The Honda winged transfer on the tank was grey, black and white as opposed to yellow and white of the RB and RC.

The overall finish of the RD appeared a notch above the RB and RC, and it was suggested that Honda did not have the capacity on its production line to cope with the limited number run required to homologate these two models.  Honda’s Racing Services Centre (which became the Honda Racing Corporation in 1982) was said to have been responsible for assembling both the RB and RC.  An upgraded production line in 1983 enabled Honda to accommodate the RD.  This does make sense and a good reason for the better quality of finish of the RD. It also makes the RB and RC somewhat unique as they would have been assembled by Honda’s racing department.

How limited in numbers was the CB1100R series?  1,050 of the 1981 RB were reported to have been built, although whether this figure includes the 100 fast -racked unfaired machines for the 1980 Castrol Six Hour is unclear.  It seems that 1,500 of both the RC and RD were made, giving a number of 4,050 in total.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2013. Photograph Geoff Dawes (C)1982. Images http://www.nirvanamotorcycles.com, http://www.mctrader.com.au, http://www.worldhonda.com, http://www.carandclassic.co.uk, http://www.flkr.com.

The Changing Of An Era For MotoGP ?

Honda’s new “Open Class” production racer the RCV1000R.

The final MotoGP of the 2013 season at Valencia brought with it a remarkable conclusion to the championship, with Marc Marquez clinching the title to become the youngest ever MotoGP World Champion and the first “rookie” to do so in 35years.

There were, however, a number of other events surrounding the race that also announced the changing of an era.

Honda unveiled its RCV1000R “Open Class” racer (formerly CRT), and it is the first production racer to be sold to private teams by Honda since the NSR 500V two-stroke V-twin in 2001.  That in itself is a boost for the category, but when HRC revealed that Casey Stoner tested both bikes at Motegi on the same day, on the same tyres, and the difference between the production racer and full factory RC213V was only 0.3s,  it shone a spotlight onto what may be the future of MotoGP. More significant though, was the time set on the softer compound rear tyre only available to the ‘open’ class riders, dropping the gap down to just 0.17s!

Hiroshi Aoyama on the RCV1000R at the Valencia tests.

The production racer is a “toned down” version of the full factory RC213V. The main differences being steel sprung rather than pneumatically operated valves, and a conventional rather than seamless shift gearbox. The 1000cc 90 degree V4 engine will still produce ‘over 175KW’ (235hp) at 16,000rpm with Öhlins suspension and Nissin brakes fitted as standard.

The price tag to buy the Honda is believed to be around 1.2million euros. However, an upgrade package for 2015 means that the cost, when spread over two seasons, is likely to be approximately 800,000 euros a year, which is more in keeping with Dorna’s policy on pricing for the newly named category.

Four machines so far have been purchased; two earmarked for the Aspar Team to be ridden by 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden and Hiroshi Aoyama. MotoGP rookie Scott Redding at the Gresini Team and Karel Abraham of the Cardion AB Team will ride the other two machines.

Nicly Hayden on the RCV1000R production racer in testing at Velencia.

Nicky Hayden on the RCV1000R production racer testing at Valencia.

Yamaha will also supply “Open Class” machinery to the NGM Forward Racing Team for both Colin Edwards and Aleix Espargaro.  This is the first time since the early 1990’s that Yamaha has offered competitive machinery for sale to private teams in MotoGP.  At that time Yamaha supplied complete engines and technical information to specialist chassis manufacturers Harris and ROC.  For the new “Open Class” Yamaha is supplying the MI engine, frame and swingarm.

Not to be left out, Ducati will also supply a complete “Open Class “ machine to the Pramac Ducati Team.

Aleix Espargro on the Yamaha production racer at the Valencia test.

Aleix Espargro on the Yamaha production racer at the Valencia test.

All of these production racers will have the benefit of 12 engines per season as opposed to 5 for the full factory prototypes and four litres more fuel, 24 compared to 20 for 2014, and there is also a greater choice of tyres for the riders as well.  All of these machines will use the officially supplied MotoGP ECU and software.

The other major event at Valencia was the “sacking” by Valentino Rossi of long-serving Crew Chief Jeremy Burgess.  The announcement was made at a press conference held on the Thursday before the Valencia MotoGP at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo.

Valentino Rossi' Crew Chief, Jeremy Burgess, talks about their parting of ways.

Valentino Rossi’ Crew Chief, Jeremy Burgess, talks about their parting of ways.

“It was my decision because we had already spoken with the team about next year,” explained Rossi. “Jeremy said that he wanted to stay. [But] Jeremy had some question marks for the future [beyond 2014], and he didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, just that he wanted to wait for next year [to decide].

“I also want to wait until next year, and I will decide after the first races if I want to continue. So it was more my decision and yesterday we spoke together to explain that I needed to make a change and try something different. It’s a new boost to get more motivation, so we decided to do this.

“The level now has raised a lot with the top three riders, and they are able to ride these bikes very fast and the lap time has improved a lot. It’s a great challenge for me and for us, and we know that it is difficult, but I don’t have any regrets or problems with how the team has worked and especially with Jeremy.

I know that this is a key moment because I have in mind that I want to try one time in another way and that this is the moment for that.”

After Rossi had given his reasons for the parting of ways the 60-year-old Burgess commented, “It blindsided me, and I didn’t expect it whatsoever,” he said. “I knew yesterday afternoon when Valentino invited me into his trailer that we weren’t going in there for the Christmas bonus!”

“I haven’t made any plans for the future at this stage. My intention originally was to continue next year and depending on results and desire I would make a call. We’ve been chasing rainbows for four years and haven’t nailed anything decent, and these are long periods in racing, and it becomes more difficult [to win].

“I’ve read many sports biographies, and quite often the top sportsman in the latter part of his career will have a change of caddy or a change of coach, and this is what we’re working on. We worked on fixing the problem for four years, and this is part of that fix, and this is the next step to try and get Valentino back on top.

“Obviously I’m disappointed, but I understand that some change was necessary and only history will determine the outcome of this adjustment. It’s an adjustment to improve the package for Valentino and if this does it then it’s been a success.”

Burgess added: “I prefer how this happened and think that it was a far better way to do it rather than showing up on Sunday night and just saying ‘Ciao it’s all over’.”

During their 14 seasons together Rossi and Burgess have won a record 80 Grand Prix races, using 500cc Honda, 990cc Honda, 990cc Yamaha, 800cc Yamaha and 1000cc Yamaha machinery. As a Crew Chief Burgess has won 13 MotoGP World Championships, 1 with Wayne Gardner, 5 with Mick Doohan, and 7 with Valentino Rossi since starting his career as a mechanic in the 500cc Grand Prix class with Heron Suzuki in 1980.

Indeed the end of an era.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 2013. Photographs courtesy of Repsol Honda and MotoGp.com

Going Seamless

When Casey Stoner won the final 800cc MotoGP World Championship for Honda in 2011, many a finger was pointed at the seamless gearbox Honda had developed as being a significant factor in the RC212V’s reinvigorated performance.  Shuhei Nakamoto, vice-president of Honda Racing Corporation,  believed it was more a matter of refinement in many areas of RC212V that had brought about the championship winning performance.

HRC Vice-President Shuhei Nakamoto

HRC Vice-President Shuhei Nakamoto.

But the seamless gearbox did raise the ire of the MotoGP commercial rights holder Dorna, who with the FIM, was on a crusade to cut costs and to close the performance inequity between the CRT teams and the factory prototypes.

Yamaha, however, is the last of the factory teams to adopt the technology as Ducati had already introduced their version of the seamless gearbox in late 2011. To the delight of its Grand Prix World Champions Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, the M1 went seamless at Misano for the San Marino Grand Prix. It was a concerted effort by Yamaha to try and bridge the technology gap to Honda and to help Jorge Lorenzo claw back lost ground in the MotoGP World Championship battle.

So what are the benefits of this new technology? According to Valentino Rossi, “The bike is more stable in acceleration so it’s less demanding, so you can be more consistent and more precise, with less effort,” he added. “The only difference in setup is the electronics: you get less wheelie, so you need less wheelie control [which means more horsepower and more acceleration].”

Rossi and Lorenzo were glad to have the seamless gearbox at Misano

Rossi and Lorenzo were delighted to have the seamless gearbox at Misano.

The fact that gears can be shifted without the split second loss of torque through the transmission that occurs with a racing speed shifter,  which momentarily cuts the ignition as another gear is engaged,  is the primary benefit.  With a conventional gearbox when the torque is reintroduced, it can load up the rear tyre and cause wheelspin or wheelies. which may also unsettle the front end of the bike. Also with a seamless gearbox down, changes are smoother helping engine braking with a more controlled front end under brakes.  Greater stability while changing gears mid-corner is another big benefit of the system.

How does it work? To put it in simple terms two gears are engaged simultaneously.  The torque is transmitted through the lower ratio, but as engine torque rises, the higher gear ratio is gradually engaged. When the higher gear is selected, the torque is transferred seamlessly to it.  The reverse is true of down changes. There are many subtle benefits of the gearbox.  Shorter gear change time, Improved tyre wear, more precise handling and less fatigue on the rider.

Yamaha managed to close the technology gap at Misano

Yamaha managed to close the technology gap at Misano.

The cost of developing the seamless gearbox is a mute point with Dorna who thought that they had all the bases covered when they outlawed automatic, CVT and twin-clutch transmissions, which is also the case in F1.  There is a certain amount of irony here concerning F1 which I will refer to shortly.

Lin Jarvis Managing Director of Yamaha Factory Racing towed the Dorna line initially saying that Yamaha would not have invested in the technology if Honda had not.  This in some ways is a strange approach as most manufacturers justification to go racing is to develop new technology that can eventually filter down to their production motorcycles.

Yamaha Factory Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis.

Yamaha Factory Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis.

Honda has quite openly been accused of spending a vast amount of money on their seamless system. But is this purely speculation?  This brings us back to Formula One.  The FIA outlawed automatic, CVT and twin clutch transmissions in the 1990’s, but for the 2005 season, the governing body deemed seamless gearboxes legal. One of the first cabs of the rank was the BAR Honda Formula One team who promptly announced they had developed such a gearbox for an introduction that season.

So seamless gearbox technology is not new to Honda having introduced it in F1 some six years before it appeared on the RC212V of the Repsol Honda Team in 2011.  It would, therefore, be safe to suggest that the cost to Honda for using existing technology would not have been as extreme as some would have us believe.

Considering Dorna’s close links with F1, it’s a surprising oversight that the move to seamless technology by Honda was not anticipated.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 2013. Photographs courtesy of Repsol Honda Team and Yamaha Factory Racing.