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Jun 17, 2019

Racing History: When Eddie Lawson Left Yamaha, Won On A Honda, And Changed Everything

American Eddie Lawson on the Rothmans Honda NSR500 At Donington Park, where he finished second behind Suzuki's Kevin Schwantz and ahead of Yamaha's Wayne Rainey for an all-American podium. Photo by Shigeo Kibiki.

Featured in the June 2019 Issue of Roadracing World:

     It was 30 years ago this summer that American Eddie Lawson became the first rider to win back-to-back 500cc World Championships on different brands. Premier-class Grand Prix bikes were never nastier than in the 1980s—two-stroke power was pushing them towards 200 mph, overpowering tires, frames and suspension.

     Honda’s NSR500 was the nastiest of the nasty. The single-crank V4 had a precipitous power curve that was too much for any chassis, let alone the strange things HRC engineers created at the time. HRC tried to tame the NSR with weird geometry, frame rigidities, and centers of gravity, none of which worked.

     The bikes were fast—quick enough to take Freddie Spencer and Wayne Gardner to the 1985 and 1987 World Championships—but they were hellish to ride and not getting any better. “The 1988 bike was a piece of s***—it was just an evil thing,” recalls Gardner.

     Thus when Eddie Lawson quit Giacomo Agostini’s Marlboro Yamaha team to join Erv Kanemoto’s Rothmans Honda team for 1989, most of the paddock thought the Californian had lost his mind. Lawson’s first few outings on the 1989 NSR500 suggested they might be right ...

-Racing History by Mat Oxley, in the June 2019 Issue of Roadracing World

Legendary tuner and crew chief Erv Kanemoto was responsible for transforming the vicious Honda NSR500 into something that World Champion Eddie Lawson said finally "felt like a motorcycle." In doing so, Kanemoto and HRC started down a path of chassis development still followed by the very latest Grand Prix machines. Grand Prix Editor Mat Oxley details the pivotal 1989 500cc Grand Prix season in the June 2019 issue of Roadracing World!

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