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Since the first win for Yamaha in the 1963 Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps – a 250cc victory taken by Japanese rider Fumio Ito – an incredible list of winners has unfurled for the Japanese factory. After Maverick Viñales’ win in the #QatarGP, we take a look through that list of names the Spaniard’s now joins.
Highlights: Viñales wins thrilling debut race with Yamaha
Soon after the first win 1963, the first World Champion for Yamaha was Phil Read, in 1964. The Englishman took the 250 crown and followed it up with a stunning title defence the following year. Back on the top step for the factory again in 1968, Read won the 125cc title and then went on to beat his teammate to the 250 throne that same season.
After Chas Mortimer took the first 500cc win for Yamaha, Jarno Saarinen - as yet the only Finnish World Champion - took over on the top step of the podium, before Giacomo Agostini was the next victor in the class. The legendary Italian won his first 500 race for Yamaha 1974, alongside taking the 350 crown for the Japanese manufacturer in the same year. ‘Ago’ then won the premier class title in 1975 – after also coming out victorious in the season opener in France.
It wasn’t long before another legendary name joined the Yamaha list of winners and an American invasion began. Kenny Roberts took the 500 title in 1978 – the first of three in a row – before a final, stunning battle against Freddie Spencer in 1983 that saw him just lose out. Then it was Eddie Lawson and Randy Mamola, two more from the US of A, before John Kocinski and Wayne Rainey put Yamaha and the stars and stripes on the top step of the podium. The next premier class winner was another familiar name but back on European soil – Luca Cadalora, now a prominent member of Valentino Rossi’s team.
The nineties saw incredible names such as Tetsuya Harada, Norick Abe, Loris Capirossi and Shinya Nakano continue winning for the Japanese manufacturer on the world stage. Nakano won into the new millennium alongside Champion Olivier Jacque in 250s, before Max Biaggi took more victories in the premier class for Yamaha following his first in 1999. After further wins for Biaggi in 2001 and 2002, a new name opened the 2004 season in style: Valentino Rossi.
MotoGP™ Classics: South Africa GP 2004
Rossi’s first win for the factory, at Welkom in South Africa in 2004, is a unique piece of history in itself – as the ‘Doctor’ had also won the last race of previous season for Honda. That makes him the only rider to win back-to-back premier class races with two different manufacturers. Racing with Yamaha from 2004 to 2010 and then back with the factory since 2013, the Italian is still winning – most recently at the 2016 Catalan GP – and has taken four premier class titles with Yamaha so far: 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009.
The 2010 MotoGP™ World Champion is another man with a big part of Yamaha history – Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo moved up with the team as a rookie in 2008 and took pole in his first race, then won in Estoril in only his third appearance in the premier class. Between then and his final win in blue at the end of 2016 – a lights-to-flag stunner at the season finale in Valencia – Lorenzo totaled 44 victories with Yamaha, and three crowns: 2010, 2012 and 2015.
Now, the ‘Doctor’ remains and Viñales joins him in the pit box. Taking the victory in Qatar, the Spaniard made good on his incredible preseason form and held off Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Yamaha teammate Rossi - crossing the line to add another little bit of history to the factory’s record on the world stage. Winning the first race of the year has often been a good omen for previous Champions for Yamaha, and after ticking that box, Viñales now faces down the rest of 2017 with a new target: the title.
Next up is Argentina and Termas de Rio Hondo, from the 7th to 9th of April – where the rider from Roses will be gunning for two in a row.