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GP Week : Issue 137
Grand Prix stalwarts Suzuki – competing since 1960 – are on the brink. From both outside and inside, it looks very much as if the third Japanese factory is to follow come-and-go Kawasaki out of MotoGP. Yet there are signs of ... indecision at least. A 1000cc MotoGP prototype is on test, and no firm answer has yet come from above. The England-based team waits on tenterhooks. Elsewhere in England, there’s a strong sense of déjà vu, among the remnants of a previous all-England Suzuki factory team. It has all happened before. And the current Suzuki squad, run by Paul Denning, can take heart from one of racing’s most robust stories of survival. Suzuki had come later to the 500 class than the first two-stroke winner Yamaha. But the square-four RG500 was a design classic, and the compact and powerful disc-valve took Barry Sheene’s consecutive titles in 1976 and 1977. The same basic design was good enough to win again in 1981 and 1982, and at the same time had become the privateer’s must-have, selling in large numbers and helping to put a stranglehold on the constructors’ championship from 1976 to 1982. In 1983 the stakes got higher. Honda was back with Freddie Spencer on a new- generation two-stroke; Yamaha had a new V4. Involved since the early glory days with Sheene, by 1983 Garry Taylor was managing the factory team, in HB colours with Randy Mamola on board. Both had a contract for 1984. The Suzuki factory had other ideas. And the England-based factory team only heard about them on the grapevine. “ We were racing in Italy when someone from the Suzuki Motocross team, based in Belgium, came over and said: ‘It’s a shame about next year, isn’t it.’ That was the first we heard that the factory had decided to pull out. “Randy was snapped up by Honda,” said Taylor. But the team was left high and dry. What happened next offers more echoes today. It is an early example of an independent GP racing enterprise, and it has strong parallels for an ambitious CRT team. Having decided to carry on regardless of the factory decision, Taylor credits British Suzuki importers Heron-Suzuki chief Dennis Rohan for the means of survival. “He persuaded (Heron Group big chief ) Gerald Ronson to write the cheque to support an independent team.” This was the start of three years of not just battling against the odds but of high adventure, and of technical innovation that was not all successful, but all far ahead of its time. Crucially it was made possible by one key factor, which no longer applies today: “ The engine side wasn’t a big cost item. Being two-strokes, they were much simpler than a MotoGP engine,” confirms Taylor. In a new-century CRT team, even using production-based motors, the opposite is true. Although the factory had officially withdrawn, Heron Suzuki did get some support when it came to a continued supply of factory-spec parts and engines: “ The racing department was still active, and there were a lot of private RG500s still in use, so they were making spares. Whether it was sanctioned by the board or not I don’t know, but they managed to include enough engine parts to keep us going.” As for the rest of the bike, the team was able to go its own way, with a big enough budget and a blossoming world of racing developments from which to draw. The Left: The Suzuki RG500 that took Sheen to his two titles in 76-77 Below: The famous Heron Suzuki colours 40