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GP Week : Issue 124
Moto GP FEATURE >> class race winner aged 20 years and 196 days; in 1983 he became the youngest champion, aged 21 years and 258 days. And Kevin Schwantz. He’d run a handful of GPs in 1986 and 1987, but in his first full-time season he won the opening round at Suzuka. He would win another race that year, in a total of 25 overall. But precocious success doesn’t always prelude greatness. Kevin Magee won his third GP as a full-time rider defeating Eddie Lawson at Jarama in 1988. The bluff Australian would never win again. And, proving the exception from the other side, his compatriot Mick Doohan ran 28 grand prix before he took his first victory, in Hungary in 1990. And just look what happened to him. Hah. One important difference. All of these were in the 500cc class. The kid Viñales is only on a 125. So let’s compare him to another rider who started at just 17 in the 125 class. Valentino Rossi won only once in his first season, and had to wait until the 11th race to do so. The last two examples, Doohan and Rossi, rather argue against the flash- in-the-pan fast starter. But there is another who stands alongside Spencer in achieving success very fast, and who towers above him in having sustained that success for years, including a double TT-winning comeback well into his forties. Most of the earlier names of racing have been wiped off the ‘youngest-ever’ top ten charts because of the modern penchant for starting out much younger. That of Mike Hailwood survives. He is still number six in the list of 250 champions – a list headed by Dani Pedrosa. Hailwood was 21 years and 168 days when he won the 250 championship on a Honda in 1961. Prior to Spencer, Mike was the youngest-ever champion from 1962 until 1983. He was just 22 years 160 days when he took his first premier-class title. Since then, Stoner has slotted in between the two to put Mike third. He remains sixth in the list of youngest 500-class race winners, taking the Senior TT on a Norton in 1961, aged 21 years 75 days. He was only deposed from that position in 1980, by Randy Mamola. Mike had already achieved 250 records. At 21/168 he’d become the youngest- ever 250 champion on a Honda. He was deposed in 1999 by Rossi: the two now lie fourth and sixth overall, with Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Melandri all ahead. Viñales has a lot to live up to. By making such an impressive start he has shouldered a heavy burden. It should be worth watching how well he carries it for the rest of his first year. It’s not too far-fetched to imagine he might even become the first debut-season World Champion since Kenny Roberts in 1978.