Yamaha clinched their first premier class world championship in 1975 and a few years later a fiercely talented Californian placed the United States on the Grand Prix map from 1978-1980 with three consecutive titles to make Yamaha a major player in the 500cc category.
Roberts’ legacy is felt on several levels but was concreted in two ways. The first is through his feel and sensitivity for machine set-up that honed Yamaha’s two-stroke technology and through subsequent upgrades (Deltabox frames) and models until Yamaha adopted its historic V-twin engine configuration. Yamaha essentially became a world-force in racing thanks to the Modesto-based athlete. The second is the impact he had on style, race-craft and professional standards within the GP paddock. Roberts’ prolificacy in the AMA Grand National series (on the feared TZ700) meant that he brought a distinct dirt-track approach to his riding which helped revolutionise motorcycle racing through his body positioning, attention to set-up and methods of steering the bike that were largely contrary to a great many of his peers.
Roberts’ eight podiums and four wins (from ten Grands Prix) during his first season in ’78 – where he also competed in four 250cc rounds taking four podiums – still ranks as one of the best rookie campaigns of all-time. Roberts enjoyed era-defining rivalries with the likes of Barry Sheene and Freddie Spencer before making a successful move into team management where he continued to bring trophies to the Iwata hallways by overseeing countryman Wayne Rainey’s ascension and eclipse of his achievements. The vitality of Kenny’s competitive ‘genes’ were put beyond doubt when both of his sons, Kenny Jnr and Kurtis, became MotoGP racers; the former taking the penultimate 500cc championship in 2000. 24 wins (at least two in each of his six seasons), three championships as a rider, three as team manager underpin his profile as one of the GP’s flagship stars. As champion, ambassador, pioneer, trend-setter and Yamaha legend, Kenny Roberts is still one of the company’s most famous road-racing sons.
To find out more about Yamaha’s Racing history, you’re kindly invited to read through Yamaha’s dedicated anniversary website.