Honda reached a glorious landmark with its 500th Motorcycle Grand Prix victory in Suzuka last Sunday, setting a record unmatched by any manufacturer since the world championships began in 1949.

The long story of Honda's success began with its first GP racing venture at the 1959 Isle of Man TT when four out of five twin-cylinder RC142s entered in the 125cc race finished, gaining Honda the manufacturer's team prize.

In 1960, Honda fielded its first state-of-the art GP racer, the 250cc four-cylinder RC161 and in 1961 Australian Tom Phillis scored the company's first GP win in the Spanish 125cc round on the RC144 twin. He became 125cc world champion, while Mike Hailwood, winner of both the 125 and 250cc TTs on Hondas, took the 250 title.

The most ambitious GP campaign ever saw Honda race to a unique sweep of all five manufacturers' solo titles in 1966, won with highly innovative four-strokes like the six-cylinder 250cc RC166 and the five-cylinder 125cc RC149. From 1962 to 1967, the champions were Hailwood, a full team member from 1966, Jim Redman (45 wins), Luigi Taveri and Ralph Bryans.

After winning 17 races in 1967, Honda withdrew from the GPs. FIM rule changes then limited the number of cylinders, penalising four-strokes. Honda met this challenge on its return to the 500cc championship in 1979 with the revolutionary oval-piston, 32-valve NR500 V-four. But when it failed to win a GP, two-stroke technology was adopted.

Nimble rather than hugely powerful, Honda's unusual three-cylinder NS500 suited US rider Freddie Spencer, who took it to a 1983 championship. In the next year Honda unveiled the potent NSR500 four to speed Spencer to a 1985 500cc title. Amazingly, he also won that year's 250cc title on Honda's new NSR250 V-twin.

By the late 1980s, Honda was winning on three fronts. Australian Wayne Gardner took the 500 crown from Yamaha in 1987 and his rival Eddie Lawson joined Honda to win it in 1989. Honda 250cc titles went to Anton Mang in 1987 and Sito Pons over the next two years, while the 125cc manufacturer's title was regained in 1989.

Mick Doohan and the legendary NSR500 dominated the 1990s, when the brilliant Australian scooped five world championships from 1994 to 1998, raising his total of Honda wins to 54. Inter-marque 250cc battles resulted in Honda titles for Luca Cadalora and Max Biaggi while two of Honda's 125 successes went to Haruchika Aoki, one of the emerging Japanese GP stars. In 1997, Honda won 31 GPs to beat its own 1966 record of 29 in one season.

Victories kept coming in 1999, when Alex Criville retained Honda's 500 championship and in 2000 Valentino Rossi brought the magic number nearer with a fine 500cc British GP victory in his debut season on the legendary NSR500.

Honda teams entered the first meeting of the 2001 season needing only three more wins to reach the 500th GP win milestone.

Following victories in both the 125cc and 250cc classes the chance of making history fell to the Italian prodigy, Valentino Rossi, in the premier 500cc class. At Honda's home circuit of Suzuka, in Japan, Rossi won a hard fought race achieving the landmark 500th Motorcycling Grand Prix win.

Honda's outstanding achievement reflects a philosophy first laid down by the company's founder Soichiro Honda: that success in competition at the highest level proves the excellence of what you make and sell.



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