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1983 San Marino GP - Down to the Wire

The San Marino Grand Prix, 4 September 1983

After deposing Barry Sheene for three straight championships, Kenny Roberts stopped winning the 500GP title after 1980. He remained King Kenny nonetheless. In racing terms, his status equalled that of Valentino Rossi.

In 1982, injury at the British GP meant Kenny missed the latter part of the year, and finished fourth. One place behind a newcomer, fellow-American Freddie Spencer, riding the new, lightweight Honda triple.

The next year, the Californian racing legend and the fresh-faced newcomer from Louisiana made the 500cc class their own, taking their battle to the very last lap of the last of 12 rounds. Just to make it really tense, it was to be Kenny's last ever GP.

Freddie had seized the early lead in the series with three straight wins. But he only added two more. Roberts, gaining strength, took three wins straight in Belgium, Holland and Great Britain. With two races left, he was two points down.

Roberts's style was scientific, considered and forceful; Spencer's somehow lighter, in tune with his nimble triple. Roberts would take long lunges, spinning the rear to steer the lazy-looking Yamaha; Freddie would skitter through, the Honda fluttering under him. They traded blows all year long.

As in 2006, the penultimate round proved pivotal. At Anderstorp, they were at each other. It came to the last run down the airstrip straight, and neither would give way under braking. They both ran off. Spencer
recovering first to take a crucial win, by less than two-tenths of a second.

They arrived at Imola for the final round with Freddie on 132 points to Kenny's 127. Kenny needed to win with Freddie third or lower. It was down to Kenny's rookie team-mate Eddie Lawson to beat Freddie back.
The race attracted unprecedented attention and live TV coverage - even in the USA. The atmosphere in a packed and sun-soaked Imola that September day was electric.

The race was a battle of tactics. Freddie made his usual lightning start, but Kenny took two seconds off the lap record as he caught and passed him on the eighth of 26 laps. But where was Lawson?

Battling through from tenth on lap one. He did get to third with eight laps to go, and closed the gap to less than five seconds. Roberts was doing all he could to slow the pace to help him, but Spencer got the message, and used his nimble handling to take the lead again, forcing Roberts to open up once more to get back in front. Lawson could do no more than match the pace.

The job was done. King Kenny won his last GP, but Freddie Spencer won his first title. It would be another 23 years before two riders fought it out for the title all the way to the last race again.


The 12 round championship was back and forth between Roberts and Spencer with the two riders sharing all of the wins between them. The closing points tally resulted in Freddie beating King Kenny by a miniscule two points, 144 to 142. Impressively third place was a distance behind the top two in the rankings with Randy Mamola bringing home 89 points at the end of the season.

A breakdown of the wins per round:

Kyalami - Spencer
Le Mans - Spencer
Monza - Spencer
Hockenheim - Roberts
Jarama - Spencer
Salzburgring - Roberts
Rijeka - Spencer
Assen TT - Roberts
Spa-Francorchamps - Roberts
Silverstone - Roberts
Anderstorp - Spencer
Imola - Roberts