The ex-Fred Merkel, World Superbike Championship
1989/90 Honda VFR750R RC30 Production Racing Motorcycle
Frame no. HMRC30-2000429
Like many American champions before and since, Fred Merkel proved more than capable of competing with the world's best on the international stage. His rise to fame was meteoric, starting with a record 10 wins in his debut year of AMA National Championship racing. Between 1984 and 1986 he won three AMA Superbike Championships for Honda before being inexplicably sacked, hence the move to Europe. Settling in Italy, Merkel bagged a ride with the Rumi team for the inaugural World Superbike Championship in 1988. He brought much needed star quality to the fledgling series, being the only really big name competing apart from ex-500cc World Champion Marco Lucchinelli. His hair a cascading mass of golden curls, Merkel looked more like a heavy metal rock star than a motorcycle racer.
Rumi were running Honda's new RC30 superbike, though there was no factory support for any of the Honda teams in WSB, and, like most of the other RC30 runners, they experienced reliability problems initially. Nevertheless, Merkel's consistency was rewarded with a win in Hungary and points at every round except super-fast Hockenheim where the Hondas were outclassed by the fuel-injected Bimotas and Ducatis. By the final round, held at New Zealand's Manfield Park, the championship had boiled down to a three-horse race between Merkel, Davide Tardozzi (Bimota) and Fabrizio Pirovano (Yamaha). Keeping his nerve in wet conditions, Merkel won the first race and finished 5th in the second to become superbike racing's first World Champion.
Now carrying the 'No.1' plate, Merkel stayed with Rumi and the RC30 for the 1989 season. Once again the championship went down to the wire in New Zealand, by which time Fred had won three times: twice in Hungary and once in Canada. When the only other contender, fellow Honda rider Stephane Mertens, crashed out of the first race, all Fred had to do was bring the RC 30 home near the front in race two to clinch his second World Championship, which he did with 272 points to race-winner Mertens' 265.
It was business as usual at the start of 1990, Merkel and the Rumi-backed RC30 finishing on the WSB podium's top step in Great Britain, Hungary and Germany before a practice crash at the Suzuka 8 Hours race effectively ruled him out for the rest of the year. Ranking third at the time of the accident, he ended up sixth in the Championship at the season's end. Merkel stuck with the Honda for another year but by this time the Ducatis were all but unbeatable. He switched to Yamaha, then joined a private Ducati team part way through 1993 before returning to the AMA Championship, resuming his winning ways in the 750 Supersport category. He retired from racing at the end of 1995 following another serious crash.
Last used during the 1990 World Superbike season, this ex-Merkel RC30 was sold by the Rumi team in October of that year to Roberto Patrignani, who in turn sold it to the current vendor in July 1991 (see confirmation letter on file).