View our column profiling Yamaha's 50 years of involvement in racing. Vol.24A breakthrough first GP win for Tadahiko Taira in a challenging year
If you turn west at Riccione, a town on the Adriatic Sea coast of Italy, you find yourself in a green, idyllic pastoral landscape that delights the eye with its beauty. Here lies the Misano World Circuit, surrounded by a broad vista of peaceful villages. This was the venue for the final round of the 1986 San Marino Grand Prix.
With a time of 1 minute 21.67 seconds in the GP250 qualifying, Tadahiko Taira took 2nd place on the starting grid behind the Yamaha ace, Carlos Lavado. To add to the achievement, 3rd place was occupied by Martin Wimmer, giving Yamaha YZR250s a sweep of the top three positions on the starting grid.
The opening round in March had also seen a 1-2-3 Yamaha start. That was the Spanish GP on the Jarama Circuit. For Taira, who had dominated the 500cc class of the All Japan Road Race Championship for three years in a row, the 250cc category was not his class of choice. Nevertheless, this was an important race that marked the beginning of his dream of full-time participation in the World GP. In the final session of the qualifying, Taira had secure 2nd position, just 0.02 seconds behind Wimmer in pole position and pushed Lavado back to 3rd in the process.
However, at that time, GP races were started the engine off and the riders had to push-start their machines on the signal. The 1986 model of the YZR250, which used a simultaneous firing sequence to reduce the vibration of the V-twin engine, was hard to start. What if Taira, who had worked so hard to get into second position on the grid, missed his opportunity? Burdened by this knowledge, he may have been a little too much on edge.
In the opening round, Taira's bike had failed to fire during his push-start, while Lavado and Wimmer had gotten off to trouble-free starts. As a result, a bike behind him had crashed violently into him and badly hurt his left leg.
"Everything went dark in front of my eyes. Pushing the bike was so painful it brought tears to my eyes. And even after I started riding, there was no strength in my leg and I had trouble getting around the turns. But I had come all the way to Europe especially to ride and to race. I just couldn't afford to give up."
In the Italian GP ― the second round ― Taira had finished 10th in the preliminaries while doing all he could to protect his unresponsive leg. In the race he had finished 22nd after starting nearly 30 seconds late. Taira later commented in a magazine interview that this incident had given him back the courage to continue racing.
Taira finally got his first points in the third round of the GP at Nurburgring in West Germany. He had qualified 6th and got off to a late start, but he steadily worked past rider after rider to complete the German GP in 9th place. He also performed well in the Dutch GP with a 3rd in the qualifying and a 6th in the race. However, accidents in the 5th round in Yugoslavia and the 9th round in Britain hurt his right leg.
Then, on August 24, it was time for the final round at San Marino.
The injuries in both Taira's legs had not yet healed and the YZR250 still had its bad habits. Like it or not, however, this was the last round of the season. After that, it was just home to Japan for Taira. A feeling close to 'what have I got to lose?' may have helped focus his mind. With a 2nd place in the qualifying, the same as in the opening round of the season, his mindset going into the race had somehow changed.
His start was again poor and he was quickly engulfed by riders coming from behind. There was a moment where the rest of the team held its breath, but this time was all right. Although he had fallen back to nearly 30th position, he went into the first corner with no problems.
Everyone was hoping he could just finish the race in the points. Contrary to what the watching team may have been expecting, however, Taira showed a spirit and urgency in his riding that was not in evidence before and rapidly moved up through the field. Then, in the closing stages, he finally reached the top group of four NSR250s strung out in a line and furiously attacked. He cut into them without a moment's hesitation, and was soon past.
By the finish, Taira had gained a two-second lead over 2nd-place Anton Mang to reach the finish line the winner.
"It was certainly a hard season. But what I gained was beyond measure. I learned the important lesson that even if I miss my line through the turns once or twice, I can still ride to a best time."
Taira return to Japan with this new-found self-confidence and rode a YZR500 for the first time in a long while in the Japan GP (All Japan Road Race Championship, final round) and in the TBC Big Road Race. In the TBC, he waged a fierce battle with Wayne Gardner and Eddie Lawson that ended in a dead heat and gave Taira impressive back-to-back victories.
This was autumn, one year before the GP500 race of the first Japan GP to be held in 20 years.