Ex-grand prix legend turned super-fast roadtester Niall Mackenzie laments the loss of really vicious two-stroke machines. But help is at hand.
As time rolls by the chances of any of anyone out there being given the opportunity to ride a 500cc GP bike are now virtually zero. The few of these 170bhp,130kg beasts still in existence that used to wriggle around with legends like Rainey, Schwantz and Doohan at the helm are nearly all mothballed, with only the odd one occasionally making an appearance at major classic events.
But despair not, because for around nine grand I believe I’ve found a modern day alternative. Back in February I had my first ride on the 2008 ZX-10R round the Catalunya GP circuit near Barcelona in Spain. After half a dozen laps I truly felt like I had been transported back to the early nineties when I was riding a factory YamahaYZR in 500cc GPs. Although 40kg heavier (the bike, not me), its modern chassis and suspension technology make the handling feel every bit as positive and nimble as the GP bike. And housed in that chassis, is the sweetest 1,000cc engine ever to hit our streets.
Its crisp, free revving feel also reminds me of the V4 two-stroke, both sitting in the pit lane and out on the track. Many think the old 500s had about 500rpm of useable power and were totally unrideable should you not be in that tiny power band. In fact, there was around 3,000rpm of useable power with good carburation from quite low down.
But of course it was only the demi-gods that could be consistently on lap record pace. The ZX-10R accelerates with the same YZR surge, will nudge 180mph, so I reckon with slicks fitted it wouldn’t be far away from Rainey & Co’s lap times. After that tease in a chilly Barcelona I can’t wait to relive more of my GP career with the green meanie when the summer finally arrives.
And if I was ever looking for inspiration to carry on in the bike industry then I found it recently at a freezing March club meeting at Donington Park. Now in his eighties, I came across, circuit owner Tom Wheatcroft, the man that re-opened Donington for racing in 1977. After running a successful building business Tom’s boyhood passion for racing drove him on to make his mark pretty much everywhere in the four wheel racing world. So then he bought a race track, as you do.
As a circuit owner his best moment would probably be bringing F1 to Donington in 1993 where the late Ayrton Senna had one of his greatest races ever.
That one wet race may have been special but there have been countless other bike duels involving the likes of Sheene, Haslam, Doohan and Rossi that many would argue were equally as exceptional. I’ve also had many special races at Donington including finishing 3rd in the 1993 British 500GP when Tom dropped and smashed my glass trophy just as he was about to present it to me. I really didn’t care as I was already planning the post race party.
On that March morning, Tom could have chosen to relax in his plush suite, but instead chose the Pit Stop Diner to have his breakfast and enjoy the cafe banter with family and punters. He was also there to support his young grandson, Acea Webb, who lined up on the grid later in the day for the Aprilia Superteen race. Should Acea have a fraction of his Grand-dad’s passion and vision he might just be a name to watch.
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