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At the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya this weekend MotoGP™ celebrates its 70th birthday, making it the oldest World Championship motorsport. But how did it all begin?
The idea of a Road Racing World Championship cropped up quite a while before 1949. The first use of the term ‘Grand Prix’ for a motorcycle race was in 1904 for the Paris Coupe Internationale des Motocyclettes, with riders from France, Denmark, Germany, Britain and Austria. The Fédération Internationale des Clubs Motocyclistes (FICM) was founded the following day and this organisation regulated European racing competitions for over 40 years.
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Racing Together: the history of the World Championship
During the inter-war period (1919-1939), the FICM launched its first official Championship: the European Grand Prix. Held between 1924 and 1939, the European Grand Prix was a title bestowed to an individual Grand Prix which rotated each year. Then, after 1938, this became the European Championship. This included several races and three distinct, competitive classes: 250cc, 350cc and 500cc.
European Championship competition resumed after the Second World War in 1947, but it only consisted of a single race, the same as it was in 1924. However, in November 1948 at the London Congress, the FICM took the decision to replace the European Championship with a World Championship. And so, in January 1949, the official rules for the motorcycle Grand Prix World Championship were written, with a six-race calendar published the following month.
These races were:
1. The Tourist Trophy races, Isle of Man: 13, 15 and 17 June
2. The Swiss Grand Prix, Berne: 2 and 3 July
3. The Dutch TT, Assen: 9 July
4. The Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps: 17 July
5. The Ulster Grand Prix, Belfast/Clady: 21 August
6. The Grand Prix of Nations, Monza: 4 September
So, what were the rules? An extract from the report written by the ISC secretary, Mayor T.W. Loughborough said: “The FICM will award the title of World Champion a) to the best rider and b) to the best constructor, in the classic road racing events of the year, in each of the recognised classes where are least three races have been held: 125cc, 250cc, 350cc, 500cc solo and 600cc side-car.
“The minimum distances for the races in each of the various classes shall be: for the 125cc solo and the 600cc side-cars: 100 kilometres; for the 250cc solo: 125 kilometres; for the 350cc solo: 150 kilometres; for the 500cc solo: 200 kilometres.”
No special registration was required to race, with the titles being awarded according to the number of points gained at each of the events. The scoring system was very different to what we see in 2019, with the winner getting 10 points; P2 = eight; P3 = seven; P4 = six points; P5 = five points. The rider with the fastest lap, as long as they had finished the race, would be awarded a point. In addition, only the three best results across all the events would count.
From a manufacturers Championship point of view, only the best-placed machine for a particular make would score points - a rule we still see today. For example, if Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez won from teammate Jorge Lorenzo and LCR Honda Castrol’s Cal Crutchlow at the Catalan GP, Honda as a manufacturer would gain 25 points, not the total points scored by Marquez, Lorenzo and Crutchlow.
Talking of winning, first ever 500cc race – the 1949 Isle of Man of Senior TT – was won by British Norton factory rider Harold Daniell, but the inaugural Championship would be contested between AJS factory rider Leslie Graham and Gilera factory rider Nello Pagani. Graham won the Swiss Grand Prix held in Geneva and the Ulster Grand Prix in Belfast-Clady, while Pagani won the Dutch TT in Assen and the Nations Grand Prix in Monza. In the end, despite not scoring any point in Spa and Monza, Graham was the first FIM Grand Prix World Champion, with 30 points, one more than Pagani.
And ever since, the motorcycle Grand Prix World Championship has been running and evolving into the sport we love today. You can celebrate MotoGP™’s 70th birthday and join the conversation by using #MotoGP70 on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!