20 years ago, an ambitious plan was hatched by the Moriwaki company in Japan to launch a class to promote future road racing stars. The class was immediately popular in Japan and quickly spread to Europe and America.
Of course Moriwaki was already famous for their involvement in the careers of several riders who went on to world fame, including Wayne Gardner, Peter Goddard and Graeme Crosby. Under the stewardship of Tony Hatton, another former rider with a Moriwaki background, Motorcycling NSW launched the concept in Australia under the name of GP80, catering for 14 to 16 year old riders. The bikes were able to make use of tracks not normally used for road racing, such as go kart circuits and training tracks. The MH 80 used a modified Honda CR80 engine, producing 25hp at 12,000 rpm, in a specially modified NS-1 chassis, adapted by Moriwaki with revised engine mounts and special attention to reducing vibration to a minimum. Moriwaki also built the aluminium petro tank, handlebars, expansion chamber exhaust and provided a specially tuned carburettor for the reed valve engine, and provided the tachometer and water temperature gauge. Brakes came straight from the CR80 motocrosser and proved to be entirely adequate for road racing. The complete machine tipped the scales at just 80kg. Tony Hatton imported the machines, which sold for $6,800 ready to race. Hatton, along with Wayne Holland, Warren Brooks and Peter Forst, launched the Australian Junior Road Racing Association in January 1998. A Gold Cup event was staged at the Kart Circuit at the Honda-owned Suzuka circuit in Japan in 1997, with the winner being 14yo Anthony West, who would go on to become a star on the world scene. The GP80 series kicked off in July 1998 at Wakefield Park, Goulburn and as more bikes were imported (a total of 60), the ranks of the riders swelled and the scope of the meetings expanded. Joshua Brookes, Anthony West, Chris Vermeulen, Broc Parkes, Josh Waters, Shannon Ethridge and Blake Leigh-Smith all went on to much bigger things, including MotoGP, World Superbikes and World Endurance racing.
Sydney dealers Procycles in conjunction with Willoughby Motor Cycle Club, began to promote the GP80 Masters Series at the Eastern Creek Kart Circuit, which became the breeding ground for a new crop of road racers. The 2002 series winner was Jason O’Halloran (currently starring in the British Superbike Championship), with Michael Leslie the winner the following year. The series continued for several more years, but Honda’s decision to discontinue production of 2 stroke engines unfortunately saw it come to an end. The basis of the GP80 series is still in existence however, now run as GP Juniors Australia with 150cc four-stroke engines. The MH80 that carried Anthony West to so many successes is still owned by the West and Coombe families, and was subsequently ridden by Matty Coombes and Brendan Clarke. The actual bike was loaned to The North Coast Road Racers club by Shark Leathers, Gold Coast, and is still in regular action, ridden by Jordy Thomas.
Anthony West, winner of the 1998 Gold Cup at Suzuka, Japan, on the MH80.
ABOVE LEFT Mitchell Hatton testing the new prototype Moriwaki 80 on the kart track at Suzuka. ABOVE At Coffs Harbour in 1997, 14 Year old Anthony West (right) with Bernie Hatton (left) and Japanese Moriwaki test rider ‘Kaz’ Suzuki seated.
Jordy Thomas on the MH80 (wearing his grandfather’s racing number 68) at a North Coast Road Racers short course coaching day at Raleigh Raceway, Coffs Harbour.