MotoGP turns 20: numbers, riders, victories, history

On April 7, 2002, the first MotoGP race took place in Japan with the new name MotoGP. Technical changes, major sponsors, superstar characters: motorcycling has not lost its identity

Massimo Falcioni

– Milan

Twenty years ago, on 7 April 2002, in the first seasonal world championship Grand Prix on the Japanese circuit of Suzuka, the new premier class of the MotoGP world championship made its debut, replacing the 500 class present since 1949. It is the year of revolutions with the ” abolition of national currencies including the Lira (duration 141 years) and the introduction of the Euro and in motorcycling, in fact, with the technical breakthrough characterized by the introduction of “thousand” four-stroke engines, to be precise 990 cc .

the judgment of rossi

The novelty divides the environment and does not convince all the riders, starting with Valentino Rossi, already dominator of the 2001 world championship (11 victories) with the Honda 500 NSR 2-stroke, which however makes an encore in 2002 with the new Honda RC211V 5-cylinder 4-stroke of the House of the Golden Wing. “RC” represents the sporting prefix of Honda-Casa, “211” stands for the first world bike of the 21st century, “V” stands for V engine. The sound of the new 4-stroke 990 cc forces the Tavullia ace to use earplugs for the first time: the new racing cars compared to the sibilant 2-stroke “half-liter” not only roar to send the ears of the runners into a tailspin, thrilling the aficionados of “old time” singing but they have more power, more acceleration , more speed on the forehand. In the first test in Barcelona, ​​Rossi burns everyone down by eight tenths of a second from his pole of the year before trimming on the straight 10 km / h to his closest opponents. Valentino will then win seven consecutive GPs and admit: “I was convinced that the 500 was faster, I was blatantly wrong”. It was the beginning of a new era.

the motogp and the numbers

The new Honda RC211V 5 is a 200 Hp racing car, weighing 145 kg and a top speed of over 330 km / h. The latest version of the NSR 500 2-stroke 4-cylinder reached 180 hp with a weight of 135 kg and a maximum speed of 320 km / h. The “Doctor” will demonstrate, like the other riders, that he increasingly likes the 4-stroke Grand Prix by winning 76 GPs with the bikes equipped with the new engines (more than one race out of four disputed) ahead of Marc Marquez (59 triumphs out of 142 GP) but with a record ratio of one victory for every two races, with Jorge Lorenzo in third place with 47 GPs won. With the bikes of the MotoGP era, Honda is at the top of the standings with more titles and with more races won (155): in 20 years it has won an average of almost 8 races per season, remaining dry-mouthed only in 2020, with Marquez out since the second race. Yamaha follows with 122 triumphs and, further away, Ducati with 58 victories. Out of 20 driver titles, 17 went to the poker of aces Rossi, Marquez, Lorenzo, Stoner. To these are added another three, world champions at least once: Hayden, Mir, Quartararo. Since 2002, thirty have been the winners of at least one world championship round. The absolute record of seasonal victories belongs to Marc Marquez who in 2014, in his second season in MotoGP, won 13 races, 10 of which in a row. Second is Rossi, with 11 wins, third is Stoner with 10 wins.

motogp duels

The hardest-fought championships were that of 2013, if we consider the final gap between the first two classified (Marquez ahead of Lorenzo by only 4 points: 334 against 330), and that of 2016 if we consider the number of riders in able to win at least one race (Lorenzo, Marquez, Rossi, Miller, Iannone, Crutchlow, Vinales, Pedrosa, Dovizioso). On the contrary, 2012 was the year with the fewest winners: only Lorenzo, Stoner, Pedrosa on the top step of the podium. It is obvious to affirm that, especially in the highest category, the World Championship, from its origins to today, has totally changed in all respects.

the differences with the past

Just think, for example, of certain seasons in the late 60s and early 70s when Giacomo Agostini on the MV 500 (3-cylinder 4-stroke 120 kg, 90 hp over 280 kmh) won all the races, often doubling even the second. arrived while today, in the first three races of the MotoGP 2022 (1000 cc motorcycle of 160 kg with powers just under 300 hp and speeds of over 350 km / h) there were three different winners with nine different riders on the three steps of the podium. In the early 1970s, the 4-stroke engine that had dominated the 500 since 1949 underwent the arrival of the new 2-stroke multi-cylinder engines, so much so that at the end of ’73 Agostini left MV Agusta and moved to Yamaha on the YZR500 0W20, the 4-cylinder in line from over 95 HP at 10,000 rpm from 155 Kg. and speeds above 290 Kmh. Performance increased gradually with new models, up to 2001. At the same displacement, the 2-stroke engine was switched for greater power and greater speed, especially in acceleration, compared to the 4-stroke, even if the 2-strokes were mechanically more delicate and more difficult to push to the limit without real traction control (as well as launch control and wheelie control) and not yet equipped with electronics. Then, after various “tweaks”, with differently multi-fractionated engines (from 2 to 6 cylinders), from 2007 the 2-stroke engine was abandoned, definitively put out of the MotoGP regulations also in the wake of the new environmentalist push and the needs of international markets. After 2007, the forced choice of 4-cylinder 4-stroke engines with V or in-line trim and weight or tank capacity limits in a tangle of regulations that have the main objective of technically “flattening” the motorcycles to lower costs and , above all, to bring the contenders closer by making the races more competitive and heated, in the logic of sport show-business.

motogp and entertainment

The first three world championship rounds of 2022 confirmed that MotoGP is the premier class of the World Championship with ultra-powerful and fast bikes of different brands, racing shows and the alternation of winners and protagonists. Never, in the top class of motorcycling, have official motorcycles from six manufacturers competed (Aprilia, Ducati, Honda, Yamaha, Ktm, Suzuki) and never have riders scored such close lap times in qualifying, the same in racing and never, as already mentioned, there was so much alternation of winners, ditto on the other two steps of the podium. So far only three Grands Prix have been disputed but the top 10 drivers in the general standings are enclosed in the space of 25 points, the first 5 within 10 points. In the first five places of the championship there are bikes of five different brands, out of the six participants. In short, there is a great balance that will likely continue throughout the season.

the opinions on the motogp

There are those who say that this is the best motorcycling ever and who, on the other hand, say that today MotoGP is the copy of Moto3, with bikes obviously bigger and much more powerful and faster than the single-cylinder 250 but equally “anonymous”, even if if from different brands: racing cars without character, now the same even in sound. In short, a hyper-technological premier class (extensive use of precious materials such as titanium and carbon fiber and aeronautical aerodynamics) and super powerful and at the same time never so safe (also due to the conformation of the circuits without barriers and with large escape spaces. ) but with little identity. To produce this type of racing and this type of championship are mainly the limiting regulations with technically “equal” motorcycles (today compared to the engines the most significant difference is in the 4-cylinder in-line or “V”) supported by “unique” electronic systems from to allow the enormous power of the engines to be unloaded on the ground and to many, if not all, pilots to take these highly sophisticated racing cars to the limit. If we then add the imposition of the single tire and the system of technical “concessions” (ie favoring those behind in order to make up for the gap), we arrive at the current situation where all the manufacturers present in MotoGP have won at least one race. However, it is not true that these bikes go… “alone” and that everyone can win a world championship so much so that the two champion-leaders of these twenty years have been Rossi and Marquez. However, the question arises: is this “premier class” better or worse than the top class of the past?

the advantages of motogp

For 20 years, MotoGP has been at the center of a strong evolutionary process where the technical aspects of motorcycles (engine, frame, materials, electronics, aerodynamics, tires) are part and parcel of a new racing system summarized in the concept of the sport show. business. The promoter Dorna deus-ex-machina of the World Championship, with the “powers” he had from the FIM, does and undoes as he wants to pro domo him. But for years, in fact right from the 2002 watershed, Dorna has not been “suffered”, but accepted, when not openly supported, by all the protagonists of the Circus – houses, teams, drivers, organizers of individual GPs, sponsors – who benefit from how never in the past financial benefits and various supports as well as strong media coverage drive that show-business never enjoyed by motorcycling before. The data of the public present on the world circuits and of those in front of the TV, as well as the presence of the sponsoring companies, show that this MotoGP makes sense and makes a business run like never before. Put on the scale with its pros and cons, this motorcycling, and in particular this MotoGP, is neither worse nor better than the decades of the 20th century: it is a different motorcycling because the whole sport is different and the whole society is different. From show business, in this globalized and hyper-technological society, one cannot and perhaps must not leave even if excesses are to be avoided. If anything, a question arises: the current technical regulations created to offer racing-shows do not risk in the end flattening races and championships by offering a “fake” show and therefore, in the long run, repetitive, washed out, without characterization, identity, without heart and soulless? Facts, already from the 2022 World Cup, will answer this question.

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