Records are made to be broken and, generally, they are. For example, it seems inevitable that even Usain Bolt´s record of 9.58 from 2009 will eventually fall, given the progress of sprinters since Jim Hines won the 100 meters in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics in 9.95 seconds, a record that lasted 15 years.
Someone someday will probably break Lionel Messi´s 2012 record of 91 goals in a calendar year, although I can´t imagine anyone ever beating Will Chamberlain´s 50.4 points per game from the 1961-62 NBA basketball season. That record just might deserve the adjective “unbreakable.” In FIM Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing, there are several records that stand out, some that promise to be around for a long, long time.
Back in 2012, just before Marc Marquez entered the MotoGP class, I was discussing with MotoGP statistician Dr. Martin Raines which important records were the most unlikely to be broken, at least in the short-term future. I recall that seven of the most impressive were:
- Giacomo Agostini’s record of 122 overall wins (all classes).
- Agostini’s record of seven consecutive titles in the premier class.
- Agostini´s record of 20 consecutive wins in the premier class.
- Valentino Rossi’s record of 23 consecutive podium in the premier class.
- John Surtees’ career premier class race-winning percentage of 64.7%
- Kenny Roberts’ feat of winning three titles in his first three years in the premier class.
- Wayne Rainey’s career podium appearance percentage record of 77.1%
Only one of the above records seemed to be in any immediate danger at the start of the 2020 season. Marc Marquez, coming into the opening round at Jerez this year, was closing hard on Rainey’s podium appearance percentage record. Marquez was at 74.8% with 95 podium appearances in his 127 premier class starts, and his pace over the two previous seasons was 86.5% (32 podium in 37 starts). In 2019, he was either first or second in every race he finished…18 podium in 19 starts. A perfect 19 for 19 season for podium appearances was marred only by crashing out of the lead at COTA in Texas while holding a 3.7 second lead after eight laps. He came into 2020 riding a string of 16 consecutive podium appearances, just seven short of Rossi’s 23 in a row. (Agostini held the previous record at 22 in a row. His MV Agusta was, from 1968 until 1973, without a true factory-level rival and the fifteen-time World Champion’s podium run could have been a much longer had he not chosen to sit out the final two races of 1969 before chalking up another ten podiums in a row…all wins.)
For Marquez to have provisionally overtaken Wayne in 2020, however, he would have needed to have podiumed in at least 19 of the 20 races of that pre-Covid calendar that was shortened to 14.
With Marquez’ condition now in question as he recovers from yet a third operation on the humerus bone of his throttle and brake arm, we can only wonder if the young man from the town of Cervera, (District of Segarra, Province of Lleida, Autonomous Region of Catalonia, Spain) will recover the amazing form of that scintillating 2019 season. If he comes back strong in 2021, he will certainly be on course to threaten at least two of the most prestigious current records…Rossi’s 89 (or more) premier class wins and that amazing 77.1% podium percentage mark of Wayne Rainey. If Marquez is as strong and fast when he returns as he was before the injuries in Jerez, he is likely to beat Rossi’s win total, but Rainey’s podium appearance percentage record will be more difficult to surpass.
The following tables put Wayne Rainey’s record into historic and contemporary context.
Top Ten All Time Premier Class Podium Percentage
There are only five riders above 70% and only ten above 60%, all of them multiple world champions, and only Marquez is currently active. (Rossi currently has a career podium appearance percentage of 56.2%.) John Surtees only made 34 starts before leaving moving to Formula 1, but he won three 350cc titles to go with four in the 500cc class at a time when complete seasons were as short as six races. Marc Marquez is the only active rider in the top ten and the only rider among these great champions who could move up (or down) in the future.
|7||Kenny Roberts (Snr)||58||39||67.2%|
Premier Class Podium Percentage Leaders in the “Modern Era”
(1973 to end of 2020 MotoGP Season)
If we consider the “modern era” to have begun in 1973 when Yamaha entered true, factory two-strokes to the 500cc class, previously dominated by four strokes, we limit ourselves to rider’s statistics garnered from over the last 47 years. It is interesting to note that Mark Marquez needed ten less starts than Mick Doohan to achieve 95 podium appearances. That is largely due to the fact that Doohan had only one podium in his first season compared to Marquez’ 16.
Rossi sits poised to take his 200th podium after 354 starts in the premier class. We have included Freddie Spencer and Pat Hennen who tie for eleventh. Although outside the top ten, both riders won half their starts.
Premier Class Podium Percentages for Current Riders
Marc Marquez is clearly the top podium finisher among his contemporaries. Rossi has seen his podium percentage fall over recent seasons, but no other rider is even close. We are seeing a new generation of riders at the beginning of their careers, but all are off to relatively slow starts if we compare their results with Marquez who was on the podium 30 times in his first 36 starts (83.3%) over his first two seasons.
Assuming Marc Marquez makes a strong return and races for another five seasons (to the age of 32) and that there are 20 races per season, as Dorna intend, Marc, to beat Rainey’s record, would have to finish top three a minimum of 81 times in those hundred races…and that, if he retired then, would see him edge Rainey 77.19% to 77.11%. That conveys the idea of just how difficult it will be for whoever, if anyone, eventually surpasses Wayne Rainey in career-long consistency.
This Just In…Rossi could be in the hunt for yet another all-time record
And, just as I was finishing this, Dr. Raines suggested one additional “unbreakable” record that might become unexpectedly vulnerable…one more record that could fall to Valentino Rossi. Back in 1953, the final race of the season was held at Montjuic (Barcelona). With the 500cc title already won by Geoff Duke on his Gilera, the World Champion stayed home, leaving Reg Armstrong, already confirmed as second in the class for 1953 and three other Gilera riders to try and add a final win to close the season.
There was also a surprise starter. Recently-proclaimed 350cc World Champion Fergus Anderson of Great Britain, riding a single-cylinder Moto Guzzi “Gambalunghino” 350cc, was entered in the 500cc class. Since there was no 350cc class at Montjuic that year, Guzzi sent what was said to be a slightly over-bored 350cc. Anderson got the holeshot from the second row and led for eight laps until Armstrong blasted past on the four-cylinder Gilera.
And then the rains came. The Gileras and Carlo Bandirola’s MV Agusta, all inline fours, became handfuls on the slippery surface. Armstrong crashed, letting Anderson on the little Guzzi single back into the lead and he battled to hold off Bandirola on the MV and three other Guzzi to—wait for it!—become the oldest rider ever to win a premier-class World Championship race, a record that stands to this day. Anderson was 44 years 237 days old.
Rossi, who will be 42 on February 16, 2021 just might have a shot at that “unbreakable” record if he signs on for another two years beyond the coming season.
All data courtesy of Dr. Martin Raines.
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