Rubbing shoulders with Grand Prix royalty at the Goodwood Festival of Speed
It’s petrolhead’s paradise here at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed. I’ve been here since Thursday and been punch drunk drinking in the sights, ear-splitting sounds and getting star-struck at just about every corner I’ve turned.
My highlight is seeing Eddie Lawson’s 1989 Honda NSR500 being ridden by Mick Doohan and spotting Casey Stoner just hanging in the paddock, in unassuming black Alpinestars leathers, happily chatting to fans. Retirement for a racer that could probably still win MotoGP races, is suiting the still-young Aussie.
There are so many motorcycling legends and famous racing machines here they’d fill Wembley Stadium, or an area the size of Wales, probably… Check out our online gallery, if you fancy a bit of star spotting.
I also got to ride three very special Grand Prix machines up the mile-long hillclimb and below is my take on each of them.
1974 Suzuki RG500
Famous for: being the first ever racing RG500 produced by Suzuki
If it wasn’t for this angry, square four two-stroke monster, there’d be no Barry Sheene, Kevin Schwantz or Kenny Roberts world titles, or feisty 80s road bike of the same name.
It’s tiny by today’s standards - designed in a time where riders never hung off. Squeezing myself into the seat my backbone is wedged against the tail unit and gentleman’s parts squashed up against the tank. I don’t think I breath for my entire run up the hill. It also has a right-hand, upside down gearshift (rear brake on the left) and the crackling din from its four pea-shooter exhausts has slowly hacked away at my eardrums, even through earplugs.
There’s bugger-all power down below, before 100bhp explodes in one brain-fizzling razor-sharp hit – chassis flexing and twin pistons brakes barely able to contain its speed when the next corner arrives. It’s hard to ride, but that just serves to remind you how lucky we are to have such refined, polished bikes today.
This RG500 is also as new, perfectly restored live at last year’s Motorcycle Live by bike-building supremo and former Suzuki race technician Nigel Everett.
1993 Suzuki RGV500
Famous for: taking Kevin Schwantz to the 500cc GP world title
Kevin Schwantz was the Rossi of his day and for most race fans growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, he was the man. A supersonic blur of gangly fluorescent arms and legs he was the most exciting of the ‘unrideables’ generation to watch and his Suzuki RGV500 was always one of the prettiest.
I had all the usual super-fan accoutrements – the replica Arai, lumo boots (which I still wear – once a superfan…), RS Taichi gloves and two RGV250s. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wishing Suzuki had make an RGV500 road bike.
This is the bike he used in 1993 to win the championship, owned by Gary Taylor – the boss of the Suzuki Grand Prix team at the time and to ride it is beyond amazing, not so much for how it goes, but for what it is.
Like the '74 RG500 it’s relatively cramped for a normal-sized rider (Schwantz was tall, but beanpole-skinny) but it’s actually a lot easier to get on with than you’d imagine. It starts with a quick bump and doesn’t overheat when you’re in a queue of motorcycling legends ready for the off.
Suspension is remarkably soft and it’s lighter than any 180bhp road or race bike made today, so there’s plenty of go below the powerband and it leans into Goodwood’s gnarly curves before you’ve even thought about it. Carbon brakes don’t heat up enough to work during my entire run, which is a bit scary.
A tall first gear takes the edge off the V4’s savagery, but still gets accelerates like a wild thing, in a smoky haze of sweet two-stroke fumes, while a zingy, warbling, quad-piped wail provides the unmistakable 500cc GP soundtrack. What a bike!
2018 Triumph Moto2 Engine Development Prototype
Famous for: developing the control engine for this year’s Moto2 championship
Strictly speaking this isn’t a GP bike. It’s the development mule that’s helped Triumph turn its Street Triple 765 motor from road to Moto2 race.
The rolling chassis is a common or garden Daytona 675R, which is no bad place to start for a test bike – it was one of the sweetest-handling machines you could buy before it was axed a few years ago. It’s fitted with a K-Tech shock, fork internals and lightweight OZ wheels, shod with Dunlop slicks.
It’s been used for testing by official Triumph riders and Moto2 racers since the end of 2017, to develop the 765’s engine spec and electronics. I also tested it back at the beginning of last year at Calafat for an MCN feature – one the highlights of my year.
You could count the number of finer-handling, more exciting sportsbikes on one hand. The Triumph has the perfect balance of rasping power, handling, confidence and fun, as all 750s tend to deliver. It’s powerful, without being unmanageable and it flatters you, rather than try to flatten you, pulls amazing wheelies and sounds fantastic.
Triumph’s new motor has made Moto2 faster, louder and more exciting, but it could be good news for us too, with the eagerly awaited announcement of the Daytona 765 road bike and if it’s even half as good as this development mule, it’s going to be an absolute belter, just like Suzuki’s GSX-R750 was in its prime.
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