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GP Week : Issue 118
Every season asks the same championship question: Who will it be? It takes a special significance in 2011. This year marks the end of three racing eras. The champions will join a short but rapidly growing list of The Last of their Kind. Two of the three coincide. The 2011 125 World Champion will not only be the last in an unbroken line in the capacity class since 1949. He will also be the last-ever motorcycle world champion to be riding a two-stroke. At least for the foreseeable future. The third era is shorter-lived: demonstrating how eras come thick and fast in these days, with commerce making the rules. The 800cc MotoGP bikes only arrived in 2007, and their time is over. They have won few friends in their five-year term, though ironically their final year is set to be a good one Looking at this ‘last-ever’ category gives an interesting trawl through the development of motorcycle GP racing. So let us begin. The World Championship officially kicked off in a much realigned sporting world in the years of rebuilding following the Second World War. The 1949 series was now sanctioned from Switzerland: but it was a continuation of the European Championship that had preceded the 1939-45 war, run out of England. There were four categories: 125, 250, 350 and 500. And that’s how it stayed, with the addition of 50cc tiddlers in 1962. In that class in the same year came the first two-stroke title, won by Suzuki. It was still like that in 1974, when in the premier class Phil Read managed to put up a final last-ditch resistance to the two- stroke tide – including former MV Agusta hero and team-mate Giacomo Agostini, now switched to Yamaha and angry at being ousted. The writing was on the wall: Read was the last four-stroke 500cc champion. It was not for another eight years that there was a major structural change: the 350cc class was axed. The one -time middleweights had become redundant. In practice, they were identical to the 250 two-strokes, mostly Yamahas, but for the extra 100cc. So much so that in the last five years they had three times shared the same champion: in 1978 and ‘79 the double went to factory Kawasaki rider Kork Ballington; and in 1981 to Anton Mang, on the same bike. Mang won it again in 1983 to become the last of the 350 champions; and it signalled an end also to an era of Kawasaki factory involvement in bike GPs. The green bikes returned in the MotoGP era only for four years officially, and rather half-heartedly at that. The next change came only a year later, and hardly made a ripple: the 50cc class was given a capacity boost to 80cc. It speeded things up somewhat, but changed little. The last 50cc champion of 1983 had been Swiss specialist Stefan Dörflinger on his highly specialised little monocoque. The bike was named