Kawasaki's first racing victory came in 1963 when a 125cc single, called the Kawasaki B8M and known as the Red Tank due to its distinctive coloring, dominated the Japanese motocross championship. But most of the company's competition success has been in road racing and, since the early 1970s, the color strongly linked with Kawasaki has been green – specifically lime green.
After entering Grand Prix in the 125cc class in 1965, at the Japanese GP, Kawasaki had their first major success four years later when factory-backed British rider Dave Simmonds won the 125cc world championship on a disc-valve parallel twin. One of Simmonds' eight GP winds that year was also Kawasaki's first Isle of Man TT victory.
The early 1970s saw the arrival of the 'Green Meanies', as Kawasaki's fearsome two-stroke triple racers became known. The 500cc Kawasaki H1 roadster was developed to create the H1R racer, on which New Zealander Ginger Molloy rode to some impressive results, including finishing second in the 500cc world championship in 1970. Simmonds, later to die tragically in a caravan fire, won the marque's first 500cc GP at Jarama in Spain the following year.
Kawasaki's 750cc H2R was also successful on both sides of the Atlantic. Yvon DuHamel scored some big wins in the States on the 100 PS, two stroke triple, which earned its Green Meanie nickname by being fast, but difficult to ride. Mick Grant won the 1975 British Superbike championship and Senior TT on its KR750 derivative. Australian ace Greg Hansford and American Gary Nixon also scored some notable wins on the Kawasaki KR750. Kawasaki's greatest Grand Prix era began in 1978, when Kork Ballington won world championship on the Kawasaki KR250 and KR350 tandem twins, then repeated the achievement in the following season. The South African was succeeded by German ace Anton Mang, who rode the Kawasaki KR250 to the title in 1980, won both classes the following year and added another 350cc championship in 1982, making a total of eight for the beautifully engineered two-stroke twin.
In the early 1980s Kawasaki introduced the KR500 two-stroke square four, whose engine was essentially two side-by-side KR250 units. The Kawasaki KR500 also featured an innovative monocoque aluminum frame. Ballington scored GP podium places on the Kawasaki KR500 and won the British championship on it in 1982, but the motorcycle was never truly competitive at Grand Prix level.
Kawasaki then qui two-stroke racing to concentrate on four-strokes, which would bring much success, including world endurance title for Raymond Roche and Jean Lafond in 1981, followed by Jacques Cornu and Jean-Claude Chemarin's win on a similar Z1000 in 1982. The factory team would also dominate endurance racing in the 1990s, taking five championships in six years between 1991 and 1996 on the Kawasaki ZXR-7 and ZXR750R.
Among Kawasaki's most famous racing successes were Eddie Lawson's AMA Superbike titles in 1981 and '82 astride a lime green, unfaired, 150PS plus Z1000, Lawson's wins, which followed Reg Pridmore's double in 1977 and '78, led to a replica Z1000R roadster and production race motorcycle.
Wayne Rainey won the AMA championship on an air-cooled Kawasaki GPz750 in 1983 before following Lawson to Grand Prix. Doug Chandler won three AMA titles on Rob Muzzy-tuned 750cc Kawasaki's in the 1990s.
Kawasaki has had less Superbike success at world level, despite race wins for factory riders, including Rob Phillis, Aaron Slight and Anthony Gobert. The highlight came when Scott Russel, who had won the 1992 AMA Superbike title,, followed it by riding a 750cc Kawasaki ZX-&R to the 1993 world championship. The Texan also took five Daytona 200 victories. Kawasaki's highlight since then was Australian Andrew Pitt's World Supersport title in 2001, astride a ZX-6R.
MotoGP proved a difficult class for Kawasaki, whose under-funded efford between 2002 and 2008 resulted in now wins, just four podium finishes and a best championship finish of tenth (by Shinya Nakano, in 2004 and 2005). Kawasaki's World Superbike effort has also faded in recent years. But the latest Kawasaki ZX-10...