Four-stroke GP retrospective

MotoGP is about to see another change with a move to a 1000cc engine limit, this change is seen with excitement. Here we look back at the trepidation of the four-stroke GP before the class changed in 2002

Back in 2002 MotoGP shifted away from the 500cc two-stroke that had been the mainstay of the class for many years. From their introduction the 990 four strokes put on an exciting show for the adoring audience, but following safety concerns the 990s were downgraded to 800s. What took precedent in the MotoGP class since the decrease is engine capacity and increase in rider aids has been a monotonous spectacle.

Unlike the excitement of the incoming move to 1000cc for 2012 the motorcycling world were uncertain of the original four-stroke change. This feature from 2001 sums up the intrigue, distaste and excitement before the MotoGP class was born.

Why? Well the GP people have been addicts to the smell of two-stroke pre-mix and the sheer purity of an engine type which gives a power stroke each cycle since the days of Barry Sheene. Almost exclusively four-stroke in the 1950s and '60s, 500GP racing soon came to love its voraciously thirsty but volumetrically efficient two stroke-engines, which were well suited to racing and expert DIY tuning. So, in a crank-shell, GP people grew to hate (I mean really hate) even the idea of four-strokes.

So when GP promoters Dorna announced that four-strokes were going to be brought back into the World Championship fold as of 2002, it did more than raise a few eyebrows.

But times and opinions can change very quickly and everyone, it seems, is gung-ho for it now. Even SBK stalwarts and GP outsiders, Kawasaki and Ducati, have joined the Motorcycle Sport Manufacturers' Association (MSMA), previously the Grand Prix Manufacturers' Association, simply because they can sniff a chance to pit their four-stroke race departments and established technology base against the Big Hitters in the GP world.

Some of the manufacturers have been very sharp out the blocks with their new four-stroke challengers - to the point whereby here we are in late 2001, with four full-on entrants from three existing bike factories and one from the fabled land of Formula 1 - plus Ducati, who have made public their full intent to build their own all-new twin. How could anyone not be bowled over with excitement with the whole idea?

Well despite any journalist's sense of natural scepticism, I have to confess a certain frisson of excitement at the prospect, tempered with a dread at what would become of the sport if it all fell flat. Although yours truly plies his trade of wordsmiffery mainly in the WSB paddock, I am as keen as anyone in the world to have a technologically interesting GP class once more.

I will, like most, be sad to see the eventual demise of the savagely-powerful 500 vee-four strokers that only a few men on this planet can rightfully be able to claim to have mastered, but you could argue that advancing technology, lead-free gas and a 15kg weight add-on had chased the most ferocious fires from the dragons' bellies long ago.