As closed-door racing commences in a few weeks’ time, Team Suzuki will finally be able to show off their retro-inspired livery, which gives a nod to their rich heritage, to celebrate their 60 years of racing this year. In anticipation, we take a look at the manufacturer’s milestones over the last six decades.
Making its racing debut at the infamous Isle of Man TT in 1960, Suzuki contested three riders and all finished the race. Two years later, at the same event, came Suzuki’s first victory with German rider Ernst Degner behind the handlebars of a 50cc prototype – the RM62. With a host of mechanical knowledge, he joined the team to develop their two-stroke machines, leading to success in other events. In the same year, New Zealander Hugh Anderson gave Suzuki their first win in the 125cc class at the final event of the World Championship.
In 1963, development engineer Mitsui Itoh brought Suzuki another extraordinary victory and became the only Japanese rider to conquer the Isle of Man’s notoriously dangerous roads. In the following years, Suzuki proved to be unstoppable in the lightweight classes, with wins from Hugh Anderson, Hans-Georg Anscheidt and Dieter Braun.
In 1970, Englishman Barry Sheene and his father, Frank, purchased a Suzuki RT67 from ex-racer Stuart Graham for just £2,000. The following year, Sheene rode the bike in the 125cc World Championship and finished second behind fellow legend Angel Nieto.
Sheene continued to excel alongside Suzuki’s change of direction, which saw the manufacturer begin developing larger motorcycles after success in smaller classes. Australian rider, Jack Findlay brought Suzuki their first victory with a 500cc machine in 1971, and five years later, racing royalty Barry Sheene took the 500cc title with the RG500. The bike dominated the first six positions in the championship that year, and led Sheene to win another championship title in 1977.
Against the odds
Around the same time, Team Gallina was born, a successful private Italian team running Suzukis. By 1981, Marco Lucchinelli had become Barry Sheene’s successor, claiming the crown with the RG500. Lucchinelli fought hard against Suzuki-bound Randy Mamola, battling it out to the final race of the season. The following year, another Italian racer, Franco Uncini, came up the ranks to take five race victories and claim Suzuki’s second consecutive world title.
Like Lucchinelli and Mamola, Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey were the next fiercely competitive rivals to take to the track in one of the most competitive eras of GP racing. In a field rich with talent, Kevin Schwantz made history by defeating Yamaha and Wayne Rainey and winning the 500cc 1993 world championship on the Suzuki RGV500.
With the millennium came the sixth and most recent premier class title for Suzuki, putting an end to the manufacturer’s 7-year stint without the crown. The 2000 Grand Prix championship saw ‘King’ Kenny Roberts Jr challenging fresh faced Valentino Rossi to the title.
After a break from the world championship racing, Suzuki returned to the paddock in 2015 with Team Suzuki Ecstar. 2017 proved Suzuki were up to the test once more when Maverick Viñales claimed a win at Silverstone. In 2019, Alex Rins replicated this by defying the odds to challenge and beat Marc Marquez at both Silverstone and Austin, setting out to be another exciting talent nurtured by Suzuki.
From its origins in the lightweight classes to seizing six 500cc world championships, Suzuki’s important past is set to be commemorated over the course of the remaining 2020 MotoGP season and we hope to see more wins to accompany this.