MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
900 MotoGP races – a quick history of the class of kings
Sunday’s Styrian Grand Prix was motorcycle racing’s 900th premier-class world championship GP. Time for a little history and a few memories
I wasn’t around for the first premier-class GP, which took place on the Isle of Man in June 1949. The winner of that race was bespectacled Londoner Harold Daniell, who had been turned down for military service during the war because his eyesight was too poor.
Things have changed a lot since then. Daniell was overweight, smoked and drank, and took his only exercise while riding his factory Nortons or walking to the pub.
He retired from racing at the end of the 1950 season and did what most racers of the time did when they put away their leathers: he opened a motorcycle dealership and did a bit of car racing.
World championships weren’t as big a deal then as they are now. Seven or eight races were enough for a season, most of them around lethal street circuits, because purpose-built circuits weren’t yet a thing. During the first decade of world championship racing the TT alone claimed the lives of 14 riders.
When Mike Hailwood won the 100th premier-class GP at Sachsenring in 1962 he was still mourning the death of his friend Tom Phillis who had been killed at the TT a few weeks earlier. The 5.5-mile Sachsenring street wasn’t much safer than the Isle of Man, sending riders hurtling through villages and across one part of the circuit that was still paved with cobbles, not asphalt. On race day Hailwood rode 244 racing miles, in the 500cc, 350cc and 250cc classes.
That year’s East German 500 GP was the usual MV Agusta walker. Hailwood and his 75-horsepower MV four took the chequered flag one minute and 37.3 seconds ahead of second-placed Alan Shepherd, riding a 50-horsepower Matchless G50 single. Hailwood’s MV was good for 150mph on the straights – 15mph quicker than a G50 or Norton Manx.
One hundred races later MV Agusta was still in charge. Giacomo Agostini – Hailwood’s successor in the Italian stable – won the 200th 500cc GP at Assen. But the world was changing. The two men that joined Ago on the podium rode two-strokes, a Suzuki twin and a Kawasaki triple.
Dutchman Rob Bron finished the race in second place on Suzuki’s first premier-class GP bike, the XR05, built around a T500 road bike engine. A few weeks later Suzuki made GP history, when Jack Findlay and an XR05 scored the two-stroke’s first premier-class victory at the Ulster GP.
Five years later something really, really important happened. A spotty youth and his mates turned up at their first grand prix, the 1977 British GP at Silverstone, the 258th premier-class GP.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.