26 June 2006
Honda: 200 MotoGP wins.
Nicky Hayden made Honda history on Saturday at Assen when his dramatic last turn victory gave the Japanese giant its 200th premier-class grand prix victory.
While grand prix motorcycle racing first began in 1949, Honda only entered the premier class for the first time in 1966 - and from the end of 1967 season until 1982 Honda's early 500cc GP winning ways were curtailed - meaning that Honda's 200 wins have effectively been claimed in less than 27 years.
The first two years of full factory Honda involvement, in what was then called 500cc Grands Prix, began with a debut victory by Rhodesian Jim Redman - a proven champion in the middleweight categories for Honda - on the four-cylinder RC181 at Hockenheim, West Germany, on May 22 1966.
The Redman/RC181 pairing also triumphed at the next race at Assen, before a heavy crash at the fearsome Spa-Francorchamps circuit ended his season prematurely. Redman was immediately replaced by the ever-rising brilliance of former 500 champion Mike Hailwood (lower pic) for the remainder of '66, but despite winning three of the seven available races, he did not win the championship itself.
The combined efforts of Redman and Hailwood, and the remarkable air-cooled in-line-four cylinder RC181 did, however, deliver the 500cc Constructors' Championship to Honda at the first time of asking. In the following year, Hailwood tied with Agostini on points, but on count-back, Hailwood and Honda lost out on their much-desired crowns. Nonetheless, another five race wins accrued towards the current 200.
After some brave experimentation with the oval-pistoned NR500 four-stroke project (which was, however, to prove prescient in terms of future MotoGP racing formulae) the first ever two-stroke Honda 500 GP machine was such an instant success in 1982 that Honda did not take long to get on the winning trail once more.
Conventional wisdom says that the more cylinders the better, and even Honda's early four-stoke racers adhered to that edict with an array of immaculately conceived fours and sixes. Never ones to tarry too long on the safe side of the leading edge, however, Honda realised that a manoeuvrable, light and relatively torquey three-cylinder two-stroke would be more than a match for everyone else's fours, over a season at least. Enter the water-cooled NS500.
In its debut race in the top class, Freddie Spencer scored third in Buenos Aires, took pole in race three at Jarama, and took his and the NS500's first GP win at Spa Francorchamps, round 7.
Spurred on by this success, Takazumi Katayama notched up a win at Anderstorp, Sweden, as Spencer added another at the San Marino GP held at Mugello, Italy.
Click on relevant pic to enlarge
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