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Special Feature: A Review of Yamaha's Racing Legacy

After 60 years in the motorcycle racing industry, the company has earned 500 victories and 82 titles.

2021 marks a major milestone for Yamaha. The Japanese motorcycle manufacturer has commemorated its sixth decade of competing in the world stage of grand prix racing, and they have done so with style. This year saw the company release a complete lineup of new motorcycle models dressed in their traditional red and white livery—a homage to their motorcycle racing heritage.

Yamaha proudly marked this achievement by gracing their current professional competition superbikes, headlined by the R1 and the performance model M1, with the aforementioned livery. Both models are set to compete at the highest levels of MotoGP in their respective classes.

The company also released the same colorway for the R3 and R7 models to cater to the enthusiast market. Meanwhile the underbone category, led by the new Sniper and Aerox models, would also be minted with the same touch for a proper salute to the sub 200cc motorcycle models that set the foundation for the Yamaha’s racing pedigree.

The red and white colors were not simply meant to showcase classic design or an appeal to nostalgia marketing. As mentioned by Hiroshi Ito, General Manager of Motor Sports Development Division, Motor Sports Section of Yamaha, the traditional red and white livery signifies the rich racing heritage of Yamaha that still continues today. These colors represent the company's historical races, its victories, and all the people that helped establish Yamaha's strong reputation in the world of motorcycle racing. Above all, they serve as a reminder of the 500 wins with a combined number of 82 riders’, manufacturers’ and teams’ titles. Needless to say, riding with a Yamaha donning this livery carries a lot of prestige and historical significance.

Six decades back

The motorcycle division of Yamaha was founded in 1955, led by its first president Genichi Kawakami. It was a pivotal year for Yamaha as it launched its first motorcycle model equipped with a humble-yet-capable 125cc engine, the YA-1. With high hopes and complete confidence, the novice Yamaha Motor Company immediately entered the racing scene that year, snatching the 125cc class of the Mount Fuji Ascent race with the YA-1. That same year, Yamaha followed through with their success and competed at the All Japan Autobike Endurance Road Race. The company won the first three places in the 125cc class with the YA-1 model. Yamaha introduced itself and the YA-1 was the new dog in the yard.

The YA-1 continued its dominance in 1956 when it successfully placed leading positions at the Mount Fuji Ascent Race. Two years later, the racing division of the company decided to test itself in the international racing events when they competed at the Catalina Grand Prix in the United States.

Yamaha only placed sixth. But despite not having a podium victory, the company earned a respectable run. Moreover, the experience gained them proper insight of what it takes to compete with the big dogs—and it was what mattered then.

In 1961, the company had earned enough resources to enter the world stage of professional racing, so it finally debuted at the World GP and pursued the Isle of Man TT race where it ranked sixth.

It was only in 1963 when Yamaha had its first taste of international victory when it won the Belgium GP in the 250cc class. But the first major success came in 1964, when Yamaha gained the first manufacturer and rider titles in the same class.

These successes in the international racing circuit translated to the expansion of the company as a global supplier of motorcycles. New offices and dealerships sprung like mushrooms from different parts of the globe. As the business grew, the racing division also developed. This growth led to the advancement of Yamaha’s motorcycle models, as more funding went to research and development.

Eventually, Yamaha became a global player in the motorcycle industry, more so in racing. The manufacturer started competing in other race categories, like the Motocross World GP, where it won multiple titles.

The first manufacturer and rider title for Yamaha came in 1977 for the 500cc class. From then, it continued to dominate the races the next few years which were a testament, not only to the quality of motorcycles the company produces, but its commitment to racing success, as well.

Decades passed and Yamaha still works with the same ethos. In 2004, the company won the MotoGP rider championship title with Valentino Rossi. Its successful relationship with the famed MotoGP World Champion won them two titles.

Fast forward to today, 2021, Yamaha decided to have its two teams and four riders compete in the MotoGP World Championship. Yamaha’s racing teams in different championships across multiple race categories around the world are also busy with preparations, each aiming to contribute to the already-stacked win record of the company.

The decision of the company to compete with its traditional livery aims to pay respect to the passion for racing and the spirit of challenge of the many Yamaha riders and pioneers over the past 60 years. It reflects a return to where the company started, and a firm commitment to continue its challenge going forward.

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