Onboard with Randy Mamola - Honda NS500 - GP500-1985

For 1985, Randy Mamola rode the 3 cylinder  Honda NS500 for team Rothmans Honda. The results were not spectacular but Randy (as always) was.

The 4 cylinder NSR500 was the new weapon for Honda, and it was a serious contender for that year, making the dynamic duo of Mamola and NS500 more of a grid filler.

That didn't mean that Randy cruised that season. On the contrary he rode maybe more aggresively than ever.

Enjoy this litte time travel  to an era that GP riders slept on the paddock and the most advanced electronic device was a digital stopwatch.


Randy Mamola - Honda NS500 - 1985
Randy Mamola - Honda NS500 - 1985


About the Honda NS500:

Shinichi Miyakoshi's (NS500 project leader) original concept at the beginning of development was to make the NS500 a "compact, lightweight machine." Thus, once he had received the assignment to design a 2-stroke GP machine, Miyakoshi visited the Netherlands in June 1981, so that he could watch the Dutch TT Race held in Assen. There, he confirmed that there was basically very little difference in the lap times of 500 cc machines and 350 cc machines. The fastest bike in the 350 cc class could have started the 500 cc race from a position in the second row.

Accordingly, Miyakoshi envisioned a machine that, though it was a 500 cc unit, had the compact size of a 350 and a smaller frontal projection. Moreover, it would be equipped with an engine designed for optimal control rather than higher top speed. It would be a machine built to achieve total balance, and the idea had Oguma's full agreement.

Miyakoshi quickly aligned the vectors of staff members, each of whom was experienced at weight reduction through involvement with the NR500. From that point on, development would proceed rapidly. For reduced size, the engine would feature a unique 2-stroke, 3-cylinder V layout. With regard to the intake valve, the team chose a lead valve used for motocrossers rather than the usual rotary type used for road bikes. The lead valve was considered advantageous since it demonstrated no loss in power and pushed-started more easily. After all, a head start could give the machine a lead of at least three seconds, and those three seconds could well determine who crossed the finish line first.

The effort to reduce size went well beyond the confines of the engine. Having succeeded in getting a partner supplier to shorten the sparkplug, Miyakoshi then reduced the wheelbase by 25 mm. This made it possible to handle the 500-cc machine as easily as one would a 350. Furthermore, the NS500 incorporated the suspension technology Honda had accrued through the development of motocross bikes, greatly enhancing the combativeness and maneuverability of this new roadracer.

"A racing machine doesn't just consist of an engine and frame, " Miyakoshi recalled, " it's supported by the peripheral technologies of partner manufacturers. In developing our new machine, we learned a great deal from the advice given by the engineers at Mugen, an engineering company specializing in racing technologies. If the source of ideas had been limited to our staff members, omissions might have prevented us from achieving the right balance."

Although it was just behind Honda's 4-cylinder machines in terms of brute power, the NS500 had a maximum output of 120 ps at 11,000 r.p.m. and a maximum torque of 8 kg-m at 10,500 r.p.m. Additionally, the superb total balance of the machine fully compensated for any gap in power. Ultimately, the completed NS500 represented a cross between a roadracer and a motocross bike.


1985 GP500 - Randy and the NS500 in the middle of the pack
1985 GP500 - Randy and the NS500 in the middle of the pack


The NS500 team assembled to fight the 1982 season included Spencer, Katayama, and Marco Lukineri, who was the 1981 champion. Although the team regarded as their key force the NS500 machines powered by 2-stroke engines, they continued to race an NR500 under the ridership of Ron Haslam. Moreover, Honda refined its definition of responsibilities for the team manager, appointing Oguma to the post.

Oguma, upon his appointment as team manager, promptly conducted a complete review of the team's organization. He was well aware that the successful management of his team, which included riders from overseas, mechanics and Honda staff from four or five different countries, would play a part in the results achieved on the circuit.

Oguma himself supervised the overall settings of machines. It was a process in which he had the support of Kiyoshi Abe, then chief research engineer at HGA's NR Block, who was a veteran of Honda's journey with the NR500s. Abe took charge of the carburetor settings, which in any racing machine required the greatest care. To better manage the team, the two promoted a sense of unity by communicating the originality of Honda's approach to all the staff members.

Knowing that the machine was not all that racing was about, Oguma encouraged his staff to see the races more often. So that they could thoroughly observe these events, he made sure the staff brought with them what he called the "Three Sacred Treasures" of racing: a camera, stopwatch and binoculars.

These things allowed them to measure not just the lap time but the running time at specific intervals, a practice that helped convey the relative characteristics of competing bikes. They even studied the compositions of rival teams and the roles of their members, along with how the other teams controlled their parts. They examined their rivals in many other respects, including how they set up their machines within a limited time so that the bikes would be in top condition when lined up on their starting grid. Oguma believed that in order for his staff to understand what Honda needed they would have to develop a critical perspective from which to analyze the actual race. In this way, Oguma aimed to create the strongest possible racing team.


Randy Mamola - Honda NS500 - 1985
Randy Mamola - Honda NS500 - 1985


When the 1982 season began, the fans found a completely different kind of team wearing the Honda emblem. In fact, the team scored a podium finish in the very first Grand Prix in Argentina, with Spencer getting third place. It was the first time since Honda's GP comeback in 1979 that a team rider had stood on the podium. In the seventh Grand Prix of Belgium held in July, Spencer again led the race, going into the final lap with a four-second lead over his nearest competitor. The staff watched nervously as his tricolor NS500 came out of the last corner. In answer to their hopes, Spencer rode to victory. He had given Honda its first win in the four years since its comeback.

It was also Honda's first GP victory in the 15 years since its retirement from the World GP. Then, in the tenth race held in Sweden that August, Katayama got the checkered flag. A critical factor in the rider's impressive performance was the collaborative effort of all staff members and support from Yoshio Haga, then chief research engineer in the Testing Block at Honda Carburetor Research Center. A specialist in carburetor operation who had tuned Honda's previous GP racing machines, Haga served as the team's advisor at the urging of Miyakoshi. Following the Grand Prix of Argentina, Haga became a real point man for the team. Along with Abe, he became the engine for the ideal team management that Oguma had so eagerly promoted.

The 1982 season ended with Spencer and Katayama finishing third and seventh overall, respectively. The NS500s won two races, and Honda finished third in its race for the manufacturer's title. Finally, it was a possibility that the NS500 could go all the way to the championship. Therefore, amid all the attention received by Honda's new 2-stroke bikes were getting, the NR500 retired from the World GP circuit. It was the end of the 1982 season, a year in which it had competed in two races.

Honda put major organizational changes into effect in September of that year. It integrated RSC(Honda Racing Service Center), which had been established in 1965 within Honda's Corporate Service Division in order to provide service for Honda owners participating in racing. Moreover, it had become independent in 1973, taking with in the NR Block and several functions of Motor Recreation Promotional Headquarters. The newly founded HRC(Honda Racing Co., Ltd.), which had a total of 203 employees and headquarters in the city of Niiza, Saitama Prefecture, thus became the world's first motorcycle racing company.

Honda's former European base of operations in the English town of Slough was relocated to Aalst, Belgium. The new office reflected the company's plan to facilitate team management by way of a European base for World GP activities. Hence, all preparations were in place, and Honda could fight for the championship title in the coming 1983 season.

Oguma spent as many as 210 days overseas during the 1982 season, and through the exertion of it all his weight dropped from 67 kg(147.7 lbs.) to 49 kg(108 lbs.). Over the course of his time abroad, Oguma analyzed the race circuits, dividing them into those that were advantageous and those that would be possibly troublesome to the NS500s, which were less powerful than their rivals but superior in cornering performance.


Randy Mamola and Christian Sarron - 1985
Randy Mamola and Christian Sarron - 1985


He also studied the ways in which the machines won and lost. Of the victories, some might fall from the sky due to other rider's mistakes. A win by default was essentially different from a perfect victory. The same was true with the losses. He analyzed the details and summarized the results. The data clearly showed the weaknesses of NS500s and their degree of compatibility with each succeeding track. Therefore, to HRC, the year 1983 was to play a critical role, in which not only the result of each race but the result of the entire season would be scrutinized. Oguma wanted to help his machines earn higher positions through the effective use of strategies, as substantiated by data. He believed this would be the key to Honda's championship victory.

The championship race in the 1983 season ended up a dead heat. After beginning the season with three consecutive victories, Spencer continued to win on technical tracks. Although he was not able to beat Yamaha rider Kenny Roberts and his YZR on high-speed tracks, with each succeeding race Spencer accrued more championship points. When all but the final race had ended, Spencer had 132 points, while Roberts was close behind with 127 points. Spencer could win the championship title if he finished at least second in the last race.

The twelfth and final race was the San Marino Grand Prix. Yet, even amid the pressure of this important event, Spencer finished second to win the championship title. That race also secured the manufacturer's title for Honda. Therefore, even though the NR team was not able to keep its original promise of becoming world champion in three years, Honda had at last conquered the World GP series. It had taken five long, arduous years, but the smell of victory was sweet nonetheless.

The 1984 season saw Honda fighting it out with 2-stroke, 4-cylinder NSR500s as its key entries. Then, in 1985, the company competed in the 250 cc class with RS250RWs (a name that was changed to NSR250 the following year), which were commonly described as pint-size NSR500s. Crossing over with an RS250RW, Spencer became the first rider in the history of World Motorcycle GP racing to win two classes-the 250 and 500-in a single season.

Honda went on to win numerous manufacturer's championship titles in the 125, 250, and 500 classes of the World Grand Prix and big-name riders like Wayne Gardener and Eddy Lawson dominated the tracks with their Hondas. In 1989, Michael Doohan was welcomed as the team's newest rider. Doohan subsequently won the 500 cc championship title for five consecutive years, from 1994 to 1998.


The bike can be found today at the Motegi Honda Collection Hall, where it sits restored at its former glory.

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