Skip to Main Contents

Column vol.04

View our column profiling Yamaha's 50 years of involvement in racing. Vol.4 Yamaha's first World GP campaign - Resourcefulness in the face of the unknown

vol.04 1961⁄RR⁄World Grand Prix Yamaha's first World GP campaign - Resourcefulness in the face of the unknown


The Yamaha factory riders of the first World GP campaign in 1961. From left they are Fumio Ito, Hideo Oishi, Taneharu Noguchi, Hiroshi Hasegawa and Yoshikazu Sunako

"What's happening here?" someone said in a frustrated outburst. None of the men gathered in the small hotel room had an answer. They just sat in silence, staring at the floor or the ceiling or out the window.
The first five members of the Yamaha racing team had left Japan on May 11, 1961. If things had gone according to plan, they would have arrived in Paris, picked up the team's luggage and machines sent by air freight and begun making preparations to move out to Clermont-Ferrand, site of the French GP, once the second group of eight team members arrived. According to their original schedule, they would have had the race machines assembled by now and been preparing for the race. But here they sat, waiting day after day for their shipment to clear French customs.


Tanehara Noguchi waits for the start of the 1961 Isle of Man TT on his RD48. At the Dutch GP he finished 8th

This was the Yamaha team's first expedition to the World GP in Europe and plans had been made carefully to cover every possible need that might arise once they were here in Europe. All the spare parts and tools they might need to keep their machines running had been packed, along with emergency parts and materials. They had packed electric hot plates for boiling water for instant noodles and first aid kits with medicines and supplies to treat every possible illness or injury. Everything they thought they could possibly need had been packed in wooden crates that numbered more than a hundred when they were through. The one thing they hadn't taken into account was how complicated the French customs process would be.
Every day the team manager went to the customs office first thing in the morning to negotiate the release of their shipment, but all that the rest of the team staff and riders could do was to sit and wait in frustration. By the time all the crates had finally cleared customs, the first group of the team members had already been in Paris for a week. Now it was a mad rush to get out to Clermont-Ferrand and get to work.
As soon as they arrived at their hotel near the circuit, the engineers and mechanics were down in the garage starting to assemble the team's five race machines. They had just two days and two nights to assemble and tune the machines. There was barely time to eat and sleep. Somehow they managed to get the machines ready before the official practice began, but then they realized they had no number plates. Fumio Ito quickly hand-painted his own number. As for Tanehara Noguchi, they say he ran with a blank white number plate.
Somehow, both riders managed to qualify, and when the racing was done, Ito had finished 8th in the 250cc class and Noguchi was also 8th in the 125cc class. It had not been an easy start to Yamaha's first World GP campaign, but the team had proven it had the right to compete with the world's best.


The Isle of Man TT hill course at the time in 1961

The team's troubles were far from over, however. The next round was the Isle of Man TT with its notorious 60.7 km/lap hilly course. None of the Yamaha riders had any experience on this difficult course. To enable the riders to practice on the course-with its public-road sections-on days other than official practice, a special race machine with a production engine had been prepared. It would not be of much use, however, as the course was fogged in day after day with such a heavy mist that visibility was severely limited. That didn't seem to bother the European riders, who were used to these conditions, as they tore around the course at breakneck speeds.
The team knew that they were thoroughly unprepared for such race and could expect nothing but defeat at this race. That indeed might have been the result had not one experienced MV Agusta rider, Gary Hocking, agree to help the desperate Yamaha team out. Driving his own car, he took the Yamaha riders around the course, showing them in detail the braking points for the important curves and where they should run full throttle. Thanks to that advice, Ito was able to place 6th in the 250cc class race. The championship points he got for that finish would be Yamaha's first in the World GP racing.
There was little time to rejoice in that first success, however. After chartering a plane to move the team to the Netherlands for the next round, the Dutch GP, the team manager took stock of the 13 team members, the 100 crates of luggage and supplies they had brought from Japan, the parts they had procured in France and Britain, and when it was all added up he realized that it would take three flights to get it all to there. That's when he realized just how much work and what expense a World GP campaign involved.

In all of that luggage, however, there wasn't anything that the team didn't in fact need for the campaign. Take for example the hand-made "starter" that consisted of a revolving drum that was put against the rear wheel to start the engine. In confined spaces like the paddock and the parking lots of their hotels where there wasn't room to push-start the machine, it was a very useful item for preparing the machine. Things like the Girling suspension the team bought in Europe would prove to be an important item for research once they got back to Japan.
The experience and new technology Yamaha would garner from this first World GP campaign would prove invaluable two years later, when Yamaha returned to the World GP and won their first race in only the eighth round they had contested.


prev column

next column

Back to