It gets dark pretty early at this time of year in Japan, and dusk was already settling in the wooded hillsides surrounding the Motegi circuit in 2001 when the peace and tranquillity was suddenly shattered by a roar that sent the MotoGP fraternity running to the pit wall to witness history in the making.
Two amazingly small red and black motorcycles suddenly emerged into view and fittingly signalled the end of an incredible era for grand prix motorcycle racing. There was no high-pitched scream of two-stroke power but the growl of a four-stroke monster that was to change the face of racing forever - The RCV211V was born (pictured).
Three years ago on the eve of the Pacific Grand Prix at Motegi, Honda finally revealed the motorcycle they'd built to compete in the 2002 MotoGP World Championship. Regulations would permit 990cc four-strokes in the arena for the first time.
It was the end of the all conquering Honda NSR 500cc two-strokes and two riders who'd brought out the very best and a much more, from the screaming two-strokes were quite rightly asked to perform the task of handing over power to four-stroke engineering.
Five-times 500cc World Champion, Australian Mick Doohan, and two-times 500cc World Champion, American Freddie Spencer, blasted the V5 990cc four-strokes down the 760-metre main straight with the sound reverberating back off the thousands of seats in the towering grand stand. It was a sound and sight that was going to dominate grand prix results sheets for the next two years.
Speculation was rife once the change of regulations was verified. Honda had dominated grand prix racing in the sixties with range of multi-cylinder four-stroke machine in all classes. Never before or since had racing witnessed or heard such success and sounds.
They adapted to two-stroke success in all classes just as quickly, but deep down you always felt Honda's racing heart was in four-stroke engineering that had brought them onto the World stage over forty long years ago. After all they'd tried to take on the 500cc two-strokes in the late seventies with the NR 500cc four-stroke but the regulations were against them.
This time they knew they could do it but with what configuration and with how many cylinders?
Rumours circulated about a six cylinder engine but, typically, Honda chose something completely new. They opted for a V5 engine that had never been used in a motor cycle before.
The 990cc engine featured three cylinders forward and two up. With five main bearings, the outer cylinder pairs ran on common big-end crankpins, similar to vee-twins, with the central cylinder independent in between. The compact motor was housed in a conventional twin-beam chassis.