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Kawasaki KR250 History

Kawasaki KR250KR250

Kawasaki's in road-racing go all the way back to 1965 with Dave Simmonds on a 125cc watercooled disc-valve twin. This may seem faintly exotic bearing in mind the basic aircooled piston-ported road bikes of the time but in 1967 a watercooled V4 125 (the 'KR-3') was experimented with. Dave won the 125cc World Championship for Kawasaki in 1969 and later campaigned the 250 (A1-R) and 350 (A7-R) aircooled twins. Throughout the 70's, riders like Ginger Molloy, Yvon DuHamel and Barry Ditchburn raced the 500 (H1-R) and 750 (H2-R) aircooled triples with great success and these were subsequently developed and watercooled to create the H1-RW and the mental KR750 as raced by such riders as Gary Nixon, Paul Smart and Mick Grant. With a view to capturing the last-ever Formula 750 World Championship, an experimental trapezoid '602S' (think normal inline-four but with the outer cylinders offset forward) was tested in 1978 by Gregg Hansford but abandoned shortly afterwards without being raced.

In 1978 and 1979, Kork Ballington won the World 250cc & 350cc Grand Prix Championships for Kawasaki on disc-valve watercooled tandem-twins. In 1980 and 1981, Anton Mang repeated the same success. The bikes were designated KR250/KR350 and utilised the latest in chassis and engine technology. One of the benefits of the tandem-twin design was a much slimmer engine allowing improved aerodynamics. First appearing in 1975, each cylinder had a separate crank and though initially phased at 180º, were later retimed to 360º to prevent vibration and give more power. As well as Grands Prix, the bikes were raced in the US AMA series, British and Australian Championships and the TT. The KR250's first GP entry at Hockenheim in 1977 saw Akihiro Kiyohara miss out on a debut win by only 0.1 second. Mick Grant took it to its first GP win at Assen a few weeks later. In 1978, the KR350 was introduced and the Kawasaki UK team managed by Stan Shenton and Ken Suzuki pitted Ballington and Grant against Hansford on a Kawasaki Australia KR in both classes and Mang on a 250. Each team gave much credit to its race technicians, Kork in particular attributing a great part of his success to the tuning skills of his mechanic brother Dozy.

In 1980 Kawasaki released the square-four (twin-crank) KR500, the engine looking much like two 250's side by side but the chassis being an unusual semi-monocoque design. It was shelved after the 1982 Grand Prix season following poor results, followed a year later by it's much-more-successful little brother. In 1989 Kawasaki made a brief return to racing two-strokes with a new experimental reed-valve upside-down V-twin 250 (the 'X-09') complete with KIPS powervalve system. It was tested in Japan that year but did not re-appear until Daytona in 1992, raced by Aaron Slight and Trevor Crookes in a team managed by Kork Ballington, who also acted as development rider. Despite a capable chassis, the radical engine design proved too troublesome and competitive power was never achieved.

Of course, Kawasaki has successfully raced four-stroke engined bikes in various classes over the years. From the Z1-based racers of 1973 with Christian Leon and Jean-François Baldé, through the Godier/Genoud endurance bikes and Eddie Lawson's iconic Z1000R Superbike, right up to the 750cc endurance bikes and Scott Russell's WSB ZXR-7, there's always been a splash of lime-green somewhere near the front of the grid. And now of course, with the switch from 2 to 4 stroke in MotoGP, Kawasaki's back once again in the premier class. Though let's face it, if you're reading this, like me you're not really interested in the 'diesels'...

Some of the old race bikes still exist in museums and private collections around the world and ocassionally come up for auction - you'd better have deep pockets though ! They sometimes get a run out at events like the Goodwood Festival Of Speed and the Montlhery Coupes Moto Legende in France and some are even still raced properly in classic events. The pictures below show journalist Chris Pearson testing Kork's 500 for an article in the Feb 2005 issue of Classic Mechanics magazine. Now how do you get a job like that ?...