Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing, also known simply as MotoGP, has produced some memorable champions since it began in 1949. The motorcycle drivers race purpose-built bikes with four-stroke engines that are not available for purchase by the general public. The season sees them race them across 18 circuits in 13 different countries, including the United States, Italy, and Australia, to name a few.
It’s a grueling, dangerous, and difficult race system. It requires single-minded focus and dedication on the part of the racers. Yet over the more than 60 years that MotoGP has existed, a few premier riders have risen to the top of the sport. Here is a list of the ten greatest MotoGP racers of all-time.
Kenny Roberts was the youngest person to have won a MotoGP premier class championship. Amazingly, he did it in his first year participating in the event. He was also the first American to win a world title in the 500cc championship. From 1978 to 1980, Kenny Roberts won three MotoGP titles. However, it wasn’t just the trophies and titles that made Roberts a racing star.
His riding style was very influential, and arguably made him one of the greatest of all-time. He was the first to pull off the cornering method of hanging off the bike with his knees extended. It worked like a charm, and lead to major changes in how the motorcycles were ridden in Grand Prix races.
He’s still young — just 22 — but Spanish motorcycle racer Marc Marquez has already made an indelible impression on the sport. Turning professional in 2010 at age 17, Marquez won the MotoGP title that year, followed by another title in 2012. Then he claimed two back-to-back premier class MotoGP titles in his first two years as a professional racer, making him the youngest ever to accomplish that many wins.
In the 2014 MotoGP season, Marquez went on to win the first nine Grand Prix events of the season. Many observers of the sport say that Marquez could end up as the most decorated and accomplished MotoGP rider of all-time if he continues on at his current clip. Indeed, at age 22, he has many years of racing ahead of him. Who knows what Marquez may eventually accomplish.
A great British racer in every respect, John Surtees dominated the sport of motorcycle racing during the 1950s. A four-time World Champion in the 500cc category, Surtees also won three titles in 350cc class, That’s a grand total of seven world titles in motorcycle racing.
However, Surtees was not just a motorcycle racer. He also raced cars, competing in multiple Formula 1 events. In fact, he won the F1 World Championship in 1964, becoming the only person to have won world titles on both two- and four-wheeled vehicles. Not surprising that many people consider Surtees the greatest racer in British history — regardless of what he was driving.
“Mike The Bike,” as Hailwood was known, is the other British rider who challenges John Surtees in the debate for greatest racer of all-time. Hailwood dominated the sport of motorcycle racing between 1958 and 1967. He won a total of four world championships, and nine other championships in different classes of motorcycles. Like Surtees, Hailwood transitioned from motorcycles to Formula 1 racing.
However, any hope he had of becoming a F1 champion were dashed by his death in 1981. Ironically, Hailwood did not die on the track. He was killed driving to get fish and chips with his children when a truck made an illegal turn and collided with his car. His daughter Michelle, aged nine, was also killed in the tragic accident. Hailwood’s son David survived the accident. The truck driver who made the illegal turn was fined £100 for the incident.
Australian rider Michael Doohan is considered one of the best riders of all-time. He won five consecutive MotoGP titles from 1994 through 1998. Only Giacomo Agostini (with eight titles) and Valentino Rossi (with seven) have won more premier class MotoGP titles. Doohan rode for the Honda race team throughout his career, and it proved to be a dominant era for them. He left a legacy which only a couple of riders have come close to matching.
Doohan was more than your typical motorcycle rider. He had a knack for setting up his own bike and had a great insight into the 500cc class of motorcycles. Many people consider Doohan to be a premier mechanic as much as he was a great rider.
He retired relatively young and only won two world championships, but Australian racer Casey Stoner is still considered to be one of the greatest motorcycle drivers in history. A two-time MotoGP World Champion in 2007 and 2011, Stoner was known for his ability to ride any motorcycle beyond its limits. He produced wins on the seemingly inferior Ducati bike, after both Honda and Yamaha had made major advancements in developing their motorcycles.
Stoner was also known for having exceptional control of the motorcycles he drove, even at breakneck speeds. On May 17, 2012, at the French Grand Prix, Stoner announced that he would retire from MotoGP at the end of the 2012 season. He simple said he no longer enjoyed competing in the sport. Many people felt that he retired too soon, or could have accomplished more had he raced for a better team.
Arguably the best American motorcycle racer to ever do it, Wayne Rainey dominated the sport in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He won the MotoGP World Championship three times and the Daytona 200 once. A calculating and deliberate rider, Rainey was praised for his smooth racing style and cool demeanor.
Rainey probably could have won more championships if not for the 1993 accident that ended his career. He was leading in championship points during the 1993 MotoGP series when he crashed at the Italian Grand Prix. He slid into the gravel trap at high speed and broke his spine against the raked surface designed as a safety feature for race cars. The crash left Rainey permanently paralyzed from the chest down.
MotoGP is arguably more popular in Spain than anywhere else. In that country, everyone knows the name Jorge Lorenzo. The 2010, 2012 and 2015 MotoGP World Champion, Lorenzo is like royalty in his native Spain. Riding for Team Yamaha in 2012, Lorenzo became the first Spanish rider to win multiple premier class titles. With 61 career wins to his name, Lorenzo is already fifth on the all-time wins list. All of that before his 30th birthday.
This phenomenally talented racer could end up as the best motorcycle racer ever when all is said and done. Lorenzo began his professional racing career at age 15 and has been a sensation ever since. To date, he is the most successful Spanish motorcycle rider of all-time.
Italian motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi is still racing today, but he is already one of the most successful racers ever. He has nine Grand Prix World Championships under his belt, seven of which are in the highest premier class. He started his motorcycle career by winning two titles at the lower levels of MotoGP before moving into the higher premier class. Once there, he won seven world titles in quick succession.
Rossi has led the way in the current modern era of MotoGP, and is still going strong heading into the 2016 season. He brought not only success but excitement, thrills, and glamour to MotoGP. Rossi is viewed by many fans as the “rock star” of the sport. In his native Italy, Rossi is one of the biggest celebrity athletes, arguably on the same scale as the country’s beloved soccer stars.
The greatest motorcycle race driver of all-time is Italian rider Giacomo Agostini. Nobody has equaled his success in MotoGP. During his career from 1964 to 1977, Agostini tallied 122 Grand Prix wins and 17 World Championship titles. Even more, most of those were in the 500cc class. Seven of his world title wins were in the 350cc class, too.
Regardless, the 17 championships make Agostini the most successful rider in the history of two wheels. Indeed, his 122 Grand Prix wins is a record that will be hard to break for anyone. Today, Agostini is a legend of the sport and an ambassador for MotoGP.