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The Start of the 500cc Motorcycle /MotoGP World Championship

Motorcycle racing stopped in 1939 but was revived after the Second World War. In 1947 six international races were held, but there was no championship title awarded. Two years later, the governing body, the Federation of International Motorcycling (FIM), launched the World Speed Championship for 125 cc, 250 cc, 350 cc, 500 cc and a sidecar category.

The winner was awarded 10 points, 8 points for second, 7 points for third, 6 points for fourth, 5 points for fifth and a point for the fastest lap of the race, provided the rider finished. The points system was only modified slightly over the next few years. Until 1976 not all races counted towards the championship, only the best 50% plus one of a rider's performance were considered.

Year The Early Years
1949 First World Championship. Leslie Graham becomes 500 cc Champion
1950 Umberto Masetti wins on a Gilera
1951 The Championship grows to eight Grand Prix races. Geoff Duke wins the 500 cc category on a Norton

In the early years of the Championship, the bikes were largely the same as the pre-war models, although the supercharged German bikes wre prohibited. The supercharged engines were very popular during the 1930s and 1940s. The Italians and Germans had favoured this route to extra power but the regulation led to closed racing, it enable the large single-cylinder British bikes to compete on the same level as the multi-cylinder bikes from the Continent.

The first 500 cc World Champion was the British rider Leslie Graham in 1949. The following year the same six Grand Prix were held and the World Champion was the Italian Umberto Masetti riding a Gilera. In 1951 the Championship expanded to eight races with the addition of the Spanish Grand Prix, held at Montjuic city park in Barcelona and the French Grand Prix, held at Albi. The winner of the 500 cc class was Brit, Geoff Duke on a Norton, recognising him as the first international star of motorcycle racing

The World Championship reached a turning point at the end of the 1957 season. Several motorbike manufacturers abandoned competition to focus on commercial interests, while rule changing and the imminent arrival of two-stroke machines opened the doors to a younger generation of companies.


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