Motorcycle Racing History
As Yamaha celebrates 50 years in Gran Prix racing, it has released snapshots of motorcycle racing legends, including the below piece on Phil Read, a four-time World Champion. To delve further into the rich heritage of two-wheeled history, check out our Motorcycle History section.
In 2002 Phil Read was granted the status of "MotoGP Legend" by Dorna. To Yamaha he has carried this distinction for numerous decades and will be forever recognised in Iwata and by Yamaha racing fans across the globe as the very first rider to capture world championship success for the company.
Read operated on the international stage in an era when motorcycle racing was making important technological evolution and in a time when true stars were being created on the track.
He made his debut in 1961 and two years later he was impressed by the speed of some new 250cc machines carrying a tuning fork logo. Read approached Yamaha at the ’63 Isle of Man TT (then a world championship event) and they partnered at the Suzuka GP that year where the British rider from Luton impressed with third position. Immediately after the race a deal was inked for 1964.
Yamaha had only entered the Grand Prix world championship in 1961, taking their first points in that debut campaign. 1962 was dedicated to development and competition in Japan and in 1963 they gained their maiden triumph thanks to Fumio Ito’s 250cc success in Belgium.
Read climbed on the 250 RD56 in ‘64 and the combination gelled instantly, grabbing five wins to lift Yamaha’s first title; a true milestone in the firm’s racing history and less than ten years since the company’s first motorcycle – the 125cc YA-1 – climbed the gradients of Mount Fuji to win the popular ascent contest.
Read would defend the crown in 1965 but 1968 would be a defining season with success in both 125 (RA31A) and 250 classes after a fraught tussle with team-mate Bill Ivy on the RD05A quarter-liter two-strokes. 1968 would be the last time that a rider took two world championships in the same year until Freddie Spencer managed the feat in 1985.
Read would win again with Yamaha, in 1971 on a 250 TD2, and by hoisting the 500cc World Championship in 1973 become the very first holder of 125, 250 and 500 titles. He will also be the most decorated 250cc rider ever in terms of world championships (tied on four with Max Biaggi) as the category was transformed to Moto2 in 2010.