MOTOGP » Kenny Roberts
Career 500cc/MotoGP world championships:
3 – 1978, 1979 and 1980.500cc/MotoGP race wins:
Few are held in such high esteem within MotoGP circles as 'King' Kenny Roberts, who not only won three consecutive 500cc World Championships, his first at his very first attempt, but is also credited with introducing the modern 'knee down' and 'rear wheel steer' technique still seen today.
Roberts learnt his highly skilled rear-wheel sliding style during a successful career in AMA dirt track racing and - after occasional road racing appearances - the then 27-year-old made a much anticipated move, with Yamaha, into the 1978 500cc World Championship.
Suzuki’s reigning double world champion Barry Sheene won the season opener, but Kenny won round three - and then the next two events. Both Sheene and Roberts would win just one more time in the remaining six rounds, but it was Kenny who prevailed - by 10-points - to become the first ever American to win the world title.
With a season under his belt, 1979 should have been an easier prospect, but Roberts was badly injured during testing and missed the season opener, which Sheene again won. A partially recovered Kenny returned for round two, and took an against the odds victory, before capitalising on bad luck for his rivals to take three wins and a second from the next four outings.
Roberts concluded the season with a thrilling victory over Sheene at the British Grand Prix and a third at the Le Mans finale to claim his second world title by 24-points over Virgino Ferrari. Amazingly, Roberts was the only non-Suzuki rider in the end of season top ten.
1980 saw fellow American Randy Mamola step-up as Roberts’ nearest rival, but three wins from the first three rounds put Kenny firmly in control and three further podiums from the final four rounds gave the Yamaha star what would be his third and last world crown, by 15-points. The next best Yamaha was seventh in the championship standings.
A new engine for 1981 offered the potential of a more level technical playing field, but - despite two wins from the first three rounds - Roberts and Yamaha were soon forced to watch factory Suzuki riders Marco Lucchinelli and Mamola battle it out for the world crown.
1982 again saw Roberts again take an early championship, but an injured Kenny would finish the season just fourth overall before regrouping to launch a title assault in 1983, his final year as a GP rider.
Honda star Freddie Spencer won the first three races, but Roberts put together a brilliant mid-season - winning five of the next seven races. The deciding moment came at the penultimate race in Sweden, when Spencer pinched a last gasp victory, enabling him to win the crown by 2-points despite Roberts winning the final round - and his last ever 500cc race - at Imola.
After retiring, Roberts formed his own GP team - and would win three 500cc world titles with Wayne Rainey and Yamaha - before bravely taking on the Japanese racing giants with his own motorcycle, built at the team’s Banbury headquarters. A battle he is still fighting today.
Meanwhile, Roberts' eldest son, Kenny Jr, would win the 500cc World Championship with Suzuki in 2000.