This video explains why Honda developed a V5 engine for MotoGP
2002 was a pivotal year for motorcycle Grands Prix. For decades, race teams have turned to two-stroke race machines for their compact construction and favorable power-to-weight ratio. Emissions standards nearly killed street-legal two-strokes in the mid-’80s, but Grand Prix racing clung to the tradition until the 2001 season.
In 2002, the organizing body Dorna Sports adapted to the changing consumer landscape by upgrading the premier class from 500cc two-stroke machines to 990cc four-stroke machines. Dorna marked the four-stroke era by renaming the top class MotoGP and allowed manufacturers to produce the 990cc engines with three to six cylinder configurations.
Many factory teams such as Repsol Honda, Marlboro Yamaha, Suzuki and Aprilia converted to four-strokes in 2002, while most satellite teams remained on two-stroke machines. Among factory outfits, four-cylinder (inline-four and V4) configurations remained popular. Honda went in a different direction. Instead, developing a water-cooled, DOHC, 20-valve V-5 mill to power his legendary RC211V.
Valentino Rossi won the last 500cc Grand Prix title aboard Honda’s NSR500 two-stroke in 2001, and 2002 marked the Doctor’s first year with the Repsol Honda team. The introduction of the RC211V forced the 23-year-old budding superstar to adjust his styling to the new four-stroke platform, but the race rig also improved Rossi’s shot to back-to-back championships.
In sixteen races, number 46 won 12 and finished second in the other four. Rossi easily retained his crown with a 140 point advantage over his closest competitor, Max Biagi of Marlboro Yamaha. Repsol Honda rider Tohru Okawa also scored a victory that season, taking Honda and the RC211V 13 wins and a constructors’ title in 2002.
The V-5-powered rider didn’t improve on his driving record until 2003. Besides Rossi’s nine wins, Telefónica Movistar Honda’s Sete Gibernau and Camel Pramac Pons’ Max Biagi also contributed with four wins and two wins, respectively. . The RC211V’s 15 wins topped the field in 2003, with only Ducati taking a single win with Loris Capirossi.
However, that all changed when Rossi transferred to Yamaha in 2004. Big Red repeated as constructors’ champion that season, but the doctor won his fourth consecutive MotoGP title with the YZR-M1. The RC211V enjoyed its swansong in 2006, however, when Nicky Hayden and Honda reclaimed the MotoGP rider and manufacturer titles.
New class-leading regulations forced Team Red to design an 800cc V-4 for the RC212V and the manufacturer is maintaining that V-4 setup with their current RC213V race machine. However, with a 58.5% win rate (48 wins out of 82 starts), three Drivers’ World Championships (2002, 2003 and 2006) and four Manufacturers’ crowns (2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006), the V- 5 -bound RC211V will always remain a fan favorite.