1992 ROC Yamaha 500cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle
With the arrival of the all-new Moto GP four-strokes in 2002, the previous generation of 500cc two-strokes was rendered obsolete overnight, thus bringing to a close one of the most dramatic eras in the history of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. The screaming multi-cylinder strokers had dominated racing's premier class for the preceding quarter-century, providing spectacular action for race-fans while breeding a succession of hard-as-nails World Champions. And you had to be tough to withstand the punishment that these machines could dish out. With only very limited electronic aids available to ameliorate the strokers' often vicious power delivery - and these only in the class's final few years supreme throttle-control skill was required to avoid the sickening high-sides that were an all too regular occurrence. Get it wrong and the result almost always involved a painful close encounter with the tarmac and a trip to the Clinica Mobile. By comparison, today's Moto GP stars have it relatively easy thanks to a combination of electronic traction control, 'ride by wire' throttles and other computer-controlled devices.
By the early 1990s though, the 500 class was in difficulties. In the 1970s and 1980s, grids had been swelled by privateers on Suzuki's affordable RG500 production racer but with the latter's passing there was nothing to fill the void apart from Honda's expensive RS500. The result was an increasing gap between the factory riders and privateers, and a drastic reduction in entries. Responding to an initiative by Kenny Roberts, Yamaha addressed this problem by making a significant number of its works YZR V4 engines available to European chassis builders for the 1992 season, principally Harris in the UK and ROC in France. But whereas the Harris Yamaha was based on the 1990 YZR, Serge Rosset's ROC was modelled on the 1991 works bike and thus offered the advantage of adjustable engine and swinging-arm positions. A total of 14 machines was constructed six Harris and eight ROC and while these extra machines made for healthier looking grids, the performance gap between the factory and privateer bikes remained undiminished. Contributing to the works bikes' continuing superiority were the newly developed 'big bang' engines, which fired the cylinders closer together, thus giving the rear tyre an easier time. This idea was first tried by Honda on the factory NSR and later taken up by the Suzuki and Yamaha opposition, though it remained unavailable to the private runners.
The ROC Yamahas were entered by a number of different teams whose riders included Frenchmen Dominique Sarron and Thierry Crine, Aussie Peter Goddard, New Zealander Andrew Stroud, Toshiyuki Arakaki from Japan, the Italian Corrado Catalano, Austrian Sepp Doppler and the Swiss racers Serge David and Niggi Schmassman. Peter Goddard's 5th place at the British Grand Prix was the best result among the privateers during 1992 but at least the majority managed to complete the season without financial ruin thanks to a restructuring of the start and prize monies.
The ROC Yamaha offered here is one of the eight constructed for the 1992 season, although its team, sponsors and rider(s) are as yet unknown. Purchased in Switzerland by the immediately preceding owner in 2000, it was brought to this country and restored by Martin Newnham of Sabre Sports Ltd. The machine was in good condition at the time but nevertheless was stripped and rebuilt, the pistons, rings and crankshaft bearings being renewed, the gearbox taken out and checked, and all worn parts replaced. Restored to race condition, the machine was repainted in Gauloises colours prior to the 2003 Post-TT meeting at Mallory Park, which is the last occasion it was used. Subsequently displayed in a private museum, it was offered for sale and purchased by the current owner at Bonhams' Stafford auction in October 2007 (Lot 426), since when it has again been on private museum display. Customary safety checks and re-commissioning are recommended before use.
With all the full works bikes of the 500cc class either in factory or private museums, and thus extremely unlikely ever to be offered for public sale, this machine represents a possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire a Grand Prix motorcycle dating from one of the sport's most heroic and fondly remembered eras, presented in excellent condition throughout.