MotoGP History, 2-strokes vs 4-strokes


There was a time back in 1986, when there were really were only about half a dozen bikes on the 500 grid, and one of those was a Cagiva which was sorely off the pace. It was obvious drastic action needed to be taken to re-bridge the gap between privateers and factory machines, which had grown in an unprecedented manner, so that the win of Jack Middleburg over Kenny Roberts in 1981 was, but a distant memory by the time Barry Sheene was back on privateer Suzuki RG500s in 1985.

To this end Yamaha agreed with the other factories, who all concurred but didn't in fact do anything about it, to build works privateer engines for sale to the proprietary teams who would be supplied the necessary know-how to build their own 'kit works' bike.

From this small beginning were the careers of John Reynolds, Sean Emmet, James Haydon, Juan Borja, Jeremy McWilliams, Fred Protat and many other great riders born, riders who could regularly challenge for the top eight and some of whom, like Mackenzie who made the podium, Fogarty who was in 5th 'till he sliped on oil at Redgate corner and McWilliams who hassled the top eight every week on his ROC Yamaha, could give the real works boys a chase.
It seemed the ideal racing 2-stroke formula was safe and the grid would be filled to brimming again.

Then, following the golden era of GP racing when Lawson, Garner, Schwantz, Rainey and Doohan slugged it out in 5-way battles every week, along came the drole spell, created not by 2-stroke's technological stagnation, but by the mediocrity of the human field compared to the incomparable Mick Doohan. At the same time, in the new 4-stroke World Superbike Championship, the most incredible dog fights were going on between similarly talented riders such as Russell and Fogarty, Falappa and co., on comparable and ingeniously pitted machinery whose lap times were getting ever and ever closer to the once revered GP class. It seemed the racing world had found a dream new formula.

It's obvious then, that the Grand Prix's ruling masters had looked at the 4-stroke option for GP bikes as long ago as the mid 90's. In what was the beginning of the metamorphosis in motorcycling generally from genuine life style to occasional leisure pursuit, the governing bodies of both series had correctly identified that owners really did get turned on by seeing riders win races on tuned versions of their own machines.

At the same time, the ever increasing European green movement had begun to ring the alarm bells for big capacity 2-strokes, and suddenly it seemed the formula could not only become politically ostracized but, most importantly to the factories having to invest two huge budgets of R&D for the separate formulas, technologically irrelevant. After all, what was the point in devising ever cleverer and more ingenious 2-stroke induction, ignition or management systems if they were never going to see the light of day on a road bike?

For one it appeared as though the factories were in agreement over where they were going next with racing, and when in 1999, it was officially announced that GP1 would be open to bikes of all formulas 500cc 2-stroke or 1000cc 4-stroke, it seemed that at the same time the writing was on the wall both for the established 500cc V4 2-strokes, and the production derived transverse fours and vee twins that made up the world Superbike grids and who would eventually be relegated to the status of Superstockers.
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