It was arguably the highest profile one-make race series since the days of the Yamaha Pro-Am Challenge and made stars out of the likes of Cal Crutchlow and Tommy Hill. So what became of the Virgin Mobile Yamaha Mobile R6 Cup that pitted promising young riders against each other on identical, and standard, YZF-R6s?
Years run 2003-2008
Most famous graduates Tommy Hill, Cal Crutchlow, Tommy Bridewell
Mastermind Rob McElnea
Whose crazy idea was it?
Virgin Yamaha superbike team boss Rob McElnea masterminded the R6 Cup. A former GP and TT rider, McElnea’s team had also won three BSB titles so he knew the sport inside-out and was perfectly placed to know how to bring young riders along.
What was the format?
It was a 12-round series open to riders aged between 18 and 22 (though this was later raised to 25) who had no more than three years of national racing experience. Each rider was issued with a standard YZF-R6 road bike on road tyres at each round to ensure parity. The races were run as part of the support bill for the British Superbike championship and were televised on Eurosport.
How much did it cost riders to compete in the R6 Cup?
Each rider paid £15,000 for the entire season, and that included crash damage, running costs, mechanics’ fees, tyres, the lot. McElnea even brought in former GP star and triple BSB champ Niall Mackenzie to act as mentor to the youngsters and they were given guidance on everything from nutrition and training to dealing with the media. No wonder the series was such a success.
What was the prize for the winner?
It was a prize beyond price – a seat in McElnea’s Virgin Yamaha team to race a full season in BSB. The winner also had his £15,000 fee refunded and was awarded with a clothing contract for leathers, helmet, boots and gloves. Not bad, eh?
Which Cup riders went on to make names for themselves?
Cal Crutchlow reached the highest level. He finished second overall in the inaugural R6 Cup in 2003 and this year became the first British rider to win a MotoGP race for 35 years. The 2003 Cup winner, Tommy Hill, went on to become British Superbike champion in 2011 and last year ran the ePayMe Yamaha team. Other notables include current BSB stars Billy McConnell and Tommy Bridewell, as well as Tommy’s late brother Ollie.
Didn’t it run at MotoGP level, too?
Yes. It ran as a support race at the British GP at Silverstone, so young riders could gain the experience of racing in front of the biggest crowd of the season and also display their talents in front of big team bosses.
When and why did it all end?
The last championship was run in 2007 and was won by BJ Toal. At the end of that season, BSB organisers announced a shake-up and the R6 Cup was replaced by the Superstock 600 championship which still runs today. The Cup had run for five years and, according to BSB boss Stuart Higgs, had achieved its aims. “Virgin Media, Yamaha, and Rob McElnea had fantastic vision with this project and clearly it is responsible for fast-tracking some of the best young riders for a generation to the next level,” he said as the curtain came down.
Is there a modern-day equivalent of the R6 Cup at BSB level?
Not really. The Ducati Tri-Options Cup and KTM British Junior Cup are both one-make series which give youngsters an affordable way into national racing, but the prize of a factory-supported Superbike ride with a top BSB team for the respective winners is not an option. The Virgin Mobile Yamaha R6 Cup was truly unique in offering that.
R6 Cup champions
2003 Tommy Hill
2004 Richard Wren
2005 Billy McConnell
2006 Tom Grant
2007 BJ Toal
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