When sourcing fresh MotoGP starlets, most teams look towards the 250cc ranks for inspiration. Why is a GP education so essential?
Take a good look at the top ten finishing order in MotoGP from the last few years. What do you see? If your answer is The ten best motorcycle racers in the world' you'd probably be right, but most of them have something in common. With the exception of Nicky Hayden, Colin Edwards, and John Hopkins, all the rest were weaned at world level on 250cc's.
For European GP racers the 125cc and 250cc classes have long been a traditional feeder for the premier MotoGP class. However, the last European before Alex Criville to win it was Italy's Franco Uncini, way back in 1982. This is when there were national and continent-based 500cc championships running.
By the mid-eighties they'd finished, and as 500cc evolved so did the riders. With power rising faster than tires and chassis could cope with, Americans and Australians with dirt racing backgrounds ruled the roost.
Then the introduction of 'Big Bang' engines, and brut horsepower-sapping unleaded fuel in the nineties made 500cc's more accessible, and by the time of the four-stroke MotoGP revolution, most of the grid were 250cc graduates. Understandable, the first thing they wanted to do with their big bike was make them handle like 250cc's. Slipper clutches, clever electronics, and 250cc mimicking geometry helped achieve the highest premier class corner speed ever.
A quick look through history gives the 250cc evolution theory weight. Dani Pedrosa, and Toni Elias scored wins, and Casey Stoner did take the crown last season and Jorge Lorenzo is the latest to switch from 250cc to MotoGP. Many believe the quarter-liter class is the future for MotoGP, at the expense of Superbike riders. Even American 2 times World Superbike champion Colin Edwards stated that he must change his style, and ride his Yamaha M1 like a 250cc.
If this is generally the case, are 250cc riders the future of MotoGP, full stop? Just exactly what makes them so suited to the most extreme racing motorcycles on the planet? And, will Superbike riders ever be able to cut it in MotoGP?
All we can say is that Ratthapark Wilairot is a 250cc class rider, will he be the next rider to switch to MotoGP.. who knows..