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Yamaha's history from 1955 to 2005 – Part 6

Yamaha's history from 1955 to 2005 – Part 6

Yamaha's history from 1955 to 2005 – Part 6

1978-1980: King Kenny and Yamaha score a triple crown

Grand Prix racing had always been dominated by European riders until King Kenny Roberts came along in the 70s. Trained in the hard knocks of US dirt track, in which he'd won two titles riding Yamaha XS650/750 twins, King Kenny changed the face of GP racing with his radical sideways riding style. At the same time he introduced new levels of professionalism to the GP circus and did great work fighting for riders' rights.

Roberts' immediate success in the 1978 World Championship surprised many GP insiders, who had predicted it would take him several years to learn the intricacies of the European circuits. In fact Roberts comfortably defeated reigning champ Barry Sheene aboard his YZR500/OW35, the fastest bike in the Championship.

Roberts used this improved rideability to astonishing effect, laying down just enough power to spin the rear tyre through corners. "When I started sliding out of turns, everyone said ‘you're crazy, you're nuts'," he recalls. "But I'd been a dirt tracker, so I had the feel for it." This radical technique improved his trajectory out of turns and helped Roberts retain the 500 title in 1979 and 1980, even though he began the '79 season injured after breaking his back in winter testing. Pretty soon many rivals were employing similar riding techniques, training on the dirt to learn the art of riding sideways. Nowadays this ability is a prerequisite in road racing.

Roberts won 12 GPs during his three-year reign and a further ten over the next three seasons, when he only narrowly missed winning more world titles. During this period he did important development work for Yamaha. A renowned test rider, King Kenny helped develop Yamaha's aluminium chassis technology in 1980, began working with suspension specialists Ohlins and in 1982, raced the factory's first 500 V4, the forerunner of the YZRs that would take Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey to six 500 titles.

Tags:
MotoGP, 2005

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