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GP Week : Issue 70
IXTY-one years of history comes to an abrupt end next weekend. The first 250-class GP was the Isle of Man TT on June 17, 1949. The last will take place on Sunday, November 8, 2007. As the flag drops, the last of the quarter- litre generation motorcycles will at that instant become redundant museum pieces. Fittingly, this is the only two-wheel championship left unresolved. Honda's Hiro Aoyama has a 21-point lead over defender Marco Simoncelli (Gilera), and has the upper hand. But anything can happen in racing, most especially in this classic class. What is certain is that the name of the ultimate winner will be the last on a list of 37 riders, starting with Italian Moto Guzzi rider Bruno Ruffo. The death of the 250 class was brought on by a number of factors. The most crucial was that the Japanese manufacturers turned their backs on the two-stroke engine that had come to define quarter- litre racing. When the support and supply of machines from Honda and most particularly Yamaha withered away, it left Aprilia in more or less complete control of an orphan class. The engine size has always more-or-less corresponded to that of light-weight sports bikes of the day. There is some symmetry in next year's replacement Moto2 class: using 600cc production engines -- close to the current iteration of the light-weight sports bike. In the early days, it was dominated by manufacturers which had a special interest in such a class. At first it was almost all-Italian: Moto Guzzi and Benelli shared the honours until the mid- 1950s, when the high-tech NSUs took over for a spell. When the German factory's interest waned it was back to Italy, with feisty single-cylinder lightweights from MV Agusta and Moto Mondial taking their turn. But soon the technical landscape would undergo profound changes. East German engineer Walter Kaaden learned how to treat the valve-less two- stroke as a resonating device, and to harness the resulting pressure waves to turn it from a utility engine into a snappy sporting terror. His MZ team operated under strict Iron Curtain control and on very slender resources, but the fast new two-stroke won a GP in its first season, when Horst Fügner beat Mike Hailwood's NSU by almost 90 seconds at Hedemora in Sweden. Two-strokes took over for good in 1970, but only after a spirited struggle for supremacy through most of the 1960s ... and after Suzuki and then Yamaha had adopted Kaaden's technology, obtained by very dubious means. Honda's defence of the four- stroke eventually had no less than six cylinders. The RC166 is still one of the most legendary racing bikes of all time, and the howl of its pipes one of the most evocative sounds, to rank with the much less successful V8 Moto Guzzi. But by then the Yamaha and Suzuki two-strokes had four cylinders. And as two-stroke tuning techniques were refined still further, the simple fact of firing twice as often as a four- stroke meant that, as long as engine size was the class Typical 250s: 2009 championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama heads the pack at Sachsenring, while mayhem breaks out in his wake ... Breeding champions: THE 250 class, more than ever, became a conduit for talent on its way to the top 36