Classic Racer

Road rockets!

- Words: Photograph­s:

Niall Mackenzie and Alan Carter – two of the biggest names to come out of the Yamaha Pro-am championsh­ip – also rode RD350LCS on the road – fast! “The RD350LC moved the game on massively when it came out in 1980,” Carter says.

“The air-cooled ones were lovely – the 250 and the 400 – but when these came on the market they were just second to none. I used to ride on the road a lot from about 16 until I was 18 until I got into Grands Prix. I used to rip round Halifax, pulling wheelies and just riding the wheels off the thing, day and night. Basically being a hooligan.”

Mackenzie wasn’t exactly a respectabl­e citizen on his LC either. “My mates and I had a circuit that ran round Denny and the official start line was at The Pines pub. On a flying lap, we’d ride past there at over 100mph and I did my first through-the-box wheelie on that circuit too, which was one of my best moments in biking. I’ll never forget the feeling of changing right up into third gear on the back wheel. I was ‘the daddy’ that night and I remember stepping off the bike and passing all the girls going into the chippie trying to act all cool about it. But inside I was bursting with pride and

Iwas that night.” Little wonder that Niall still has an RD350LC in his collection today… So what made the RD350LC such a good race bike?theyamaha Pro-am series might never have worked if the RD350LC hadn’t been the bike it was.

James Whitham puts it succinctly: “The thing is the LC would have been spoiled if it had more power as that would have upset the chassis and handling. It was just perfect as it was.”

Weighing in at just 154kg/339lb it was light enough and nimble enough to allow riders to change lines at the last possible moment and could be flicked through corners effortless­ly. Handling was good too and with just 47bhp on tap – which was just good enough for 110mph – it gave time to get up to all sorts of crazy on the straights as they desperatel­y for another mile-an-hour over opponents. The series brought the of biker hooliganis­m that was all the on the streets of early 1980s Britain national race tracks and put it in front a national TV audience, and the results electrifyi­ng.

So good, in fact, that we’re still talking it almost 40 years later.

It was a costly operation but it was a win-win situation for everybody involved.”

Despite many attempts to repeat the success of the most famous of all one-make race series none has ever taken off quite like the original and Niall Mackenzie thinks the credit for that belongs to the RD350LC itself. “The RDS were so light that you could change your line mid-corner and they were pretty good on the brakes too, so they made for great racing and I think that’s why the series was such a success where other one-make championsh­ips haven’t done so well. Big heavy bikes like Triumph Triples just aren’t suited to close racing. Pro-am was the maddest race series ever held.”

“I think it worked so well because they were just such standard road bikes being ridden by young crazy kids,” Alan Carter adds. Like most riders who took part in the series, he has nothing but fond memories of it, some 40 years down the line. He sums up the Yamaha Pro-am series in his own inimitable style. “All the lads who raced in the series were pals so we’d have a few pints, try to chat up a few birds, and race our motorbikes. I mean, what more could you want from a weekend? It was like the pinnacle of life.”

TStuart Barker Double Red he Yamaha R6 Cup was the highest profile one-make race series since the glory days of the Yamaha Proam Challenge in the early 1980s. Held for five years between 2003 and 2008, it was responsibl­e for breeding a whole new generation of racing talent, including Motogp winner Cal Crutchlow, British Superbike Champion Tommy Hill, British Supersport Champion Billy Mcconnell, and current British Superbike contender, Tommy Bridewell.

The series was the brainchild of former TT winner and 500cc Grand Prix star Rob Mcelnea who was, at the time, running the Virgin Yamaha team in the British Superbike Championsh­ip. “Me and Andy Smith from Yamaha were having a beer and we just came up with the idea based on the old Pro-am series and then just added things to it,” Mcelnea explains. “Yamaha was well up for it and it worked out really well for them. The deal was that Yamaha would supply the bikes and all the support then, at the end of the year, I would buy all the bikes and sell them on, so it worked for everybody.”

It was a 12-round championsh­ip 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, as well as having its own late-night spin-off TV show called Natural Born Racers.

Each rider paid £15,000 for the entire season and that included crash damage, running costs, mechanics’ fees, tyres – the lot: an absolute bargain. Mcelnea even brought in former GP star and triple British Superbike champion Niall Mackenzie to act as tutor and mentor to the youngsters who were given guidance on everything from nutrition and training to dealing with the media. It was, in so many ways, a perfect stepping-stone.

The series even ran as a support race at the British Grand Prix at Silverston­e so young riders could gain the experience of racing in front of the biggest crowd of the season and also have the chance to display their talents in front of Motogp team bosses.

“The whole thing was amazing really,” says Mcelnea. “That £15k covered everything, so if a rider totalled a bike they’d get another one. Tyres, fuel, parts – everything was included in that price. The money the riders paid went towards the prize fund and Virgin put a big chunk in too. They did really well out of the TV show that followed the riders in the Cup and really showed their personalit­ies. It was on

 ?? I knew (or thought) that bout ?? Mackenzie with his current LC!
A gaggle of crazy Pro-am racers! riders ntics earched heir ind age nto f ere
I knew (or thought) that bout Mackenzie with his current LC! A gaggle of crazy Pro-am racers! riders ntics earched heir ind age nto f ere
 ??  ?? Mackenzie with his first LC.
Mackenzie with his first LC.
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