Last month MotoGP bosses announced a new one-make racing series, called the British Talent Cup, is to be launched in 2018.
The series will see Britain and Ireland’s best teenagers specially selected to battle it out for a shot at world championship glory and it promises to be exciting stuff, both for the young racers and trackside spectators.
One-make race series are nothing new and have proved popular over the years for their low entry costs and equal equipment. The theory is that the best riders can shine, knowing that it’s them that’s making the difference and not their bike or team.
Some of today’s best racers have started out in these mono-marque series so, to see what we’ve got to look forward to with the British Talent Cup, we’ve taken a look at 10 of the best championships to have graced these shores over the years.
KTM RC390 Cup
Austrian brand KTM declares itself ‘Ready to Race’ and the company is the only manufacturer to offer young competitors a direct route from entry level racing to MotoGP.
The RC390 Cup is open to riders from 13-years-old and costs less than £10,000 a year, including the cost of the bike (although not tyres and crash damage). Bikes are based upon the RC390 road bike and make 38bhp. The British series takes place alongside the British superbike championship and gets live TV coverage. At the end of the year, the best riders from all the RC390 Cups around the globe get together for a one-off World Cup race, which is usually utterly bonkers. Three riders also get automatically selected for the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies try out, making it a great starting point for talented young racers.
Moriwaki 250 Junior Cup
If there’s a criticism of production-based championships like the RC390 Cup then it is that the heavier and less precise road bikes don’t prepare youngsters for the step up to prototype style Moto3 bikes.
The brainchild of the Dutch Ten Kate organisation, the people behind Honda’s world superbike team, the Moriwaki 250 Junior Cup addressed all of that. Introduced in 2011, the bikes were identical Moriwaki MD250Hs. These ‘pre Moto3’ bikes featured a Honda CRF250X enduro engine in a bespoke Moto3 style frame. Entry was available from 12 years old and although the first seasons were mainly confined to northern Europe, guest races took place at British superbikes in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The series saw a steady stream of riders progress to the Red Bull Rookies and Moto3 world championships, but 2016 was to prove the last year of the 250 Junior Cup after the FIM, the sport’s governing body, tried to raise the minimum age limit to 13.
Triumph Speed Triple Challenge
Not all one-make races are about giving young racers a platform on which to demonstrate their talent.
Triumph’s Speed Triple Challenge of 1994 was one of the most unlikely races but was all about showcasing the revived British company’s wares on the racetrack.
Back then, the new Bloor-era Triumph had only been open for business for some five years. The bikes were sturdy and appealed to traditionalists and although the first generation Speed Triples did nothing to change that massively, they certainly had more attitude about them than the dowdy Tridents, Trophys and Daytonas.
Grand Prix god Ron Haslam did the development work to turn the 900cc triple from roadster to racer and he lined up alongside an all-star grid that included John Reynolds, David Jefferies and Brian Morrison, who battled for a £10,000 prize fund at the 1994 British Grand Prix.
That one-off race became a full–series in following years. Still with a generous prize fund, it was won by top national racer Mark Phillips in 1995 and future Isle of Man TT legend David Jefferies in 1996. Stories of illegal engine tuning became the stuff of legend, but the series ended when Triumph brought in a new Speed Triple, the T509, for 1997.
Perhaps taking their lead from Triumph, BMW created its own one-make series when it wanted to turn around its own dowdy image around the turn of the millennium.
Starting as a national championship covering Belgium and France in 1999 and 2000, the BoxerCup went international in 2001 – running alongside MotoGP as well as prestigious national events like the Daytona 200 and British superbikes.
Bikes were BMW’s shaft-drive, boxer-engined R1100S, the sportiest model in the Bavarian’s range back then, and the field included everyone from promising teenagers fighting it out for the ‘YoungStar’ category (and the end-of-season prize of a new Mini Cooper), crusty journeymen and a sprinkling of bona fide legends (such as Kevin Schwantz, Randy Mamola and Luca Cadalora) who made high profile wild card appearances.
Like Triumph, the Boxer Cup attracted talent with the lure of filthy lucre. In addition to a generous prize fund, the BoxerCup offered plenty of flash cars wearing the famous propeller badge to the top riders in the championship.
Ducati TriOptions Cup
The great thing about one make racing is that it allows a fun yet cost effective option for hobby racers, guys who know that they’ll never make it to MotoGP but want to go racing without mortgaging the house.
The best of these today is the Ducati TriOptions Cup, which takes place at British superbike races and is even shown live on TV. All competitors run Ducati 899 Panigales, with only allowed the most basic modifications allowed. Competitors have to buy their own bike (at around £10,000) but entry fees of £300 per round mean that a full weekend of racing can be had for little more than the cost of a track day. It’s hardly surprising that grids are regularly 30 deep.
Honda CB500 Cup
Sometimes the most unlikely bikes form the basis of one make championships. Over the years we’ve seen Harley-Davidson XR1200s, BMW Boxers and early Triumph Speed Triples, most of which you can read about here.
While most of these bikes have a real novelty factor about them, the same can’t be said about Honda’s dowdy CB500 commuter.
With less than 60bhp, basic brakes and a sit up and beg riding position, the CB is the complete antithesis of a race bike. Despite that, the little Honda provided an entry into motorcycle racing for several top racers in the late 1990s, including James Ellison, Leon Haslam and two-time world superbike champion James Toseland.
But what really makes the Honda CB500 a worthy name on this list is its longevity. The series started out as a British superbike support class in 1997 and, some 20 years on, CB500s are still being raced at club races up and down the country. Thundersport GB, the club that’s generally regarded as one step below British superbikes, runs its ‘Thundersport 500’ class and regularly gets fields of almost 60 CB500s fighting it out in the hands of clubman racers who enjoy super competitive racing on a shoestring.
Virgin Mobile Yamaha R6 Cup
Some eyebrows were raised when it was announced that a new, one-make, championship would replace the Junior Superstock class at British superbike races from 2003.
The recipe was typical one-make stuff, with age limits, fixed costs and a ‘turn up and race’ philosophy. The championship was run by ex-racer Rob McElnea, owner of Yamaha’s British superbike team, and first prize was a ride in the following season’s British superbike championship – quite a prize for a 17 year old.
That attracted quite a field, including some of the top riders from the previous year’s Junior Superstock series. The racing was frantic, in year one at least, and top two in that debut championship were Tommy Hill and Cal Crutchlow. Crutchlow won four of the 13 races but failed to finish three times. Hill stood on top of the podium twice and won the superbike ride. He went on to become British superbike champ in 2011, retiring at the end of the following year. Crutchlow, meanwhile has gone on to even greater things, becoming Britain’s first premier class Grand Prix winner in 35 years with two MotoGP victories in 2016.
As well as the talent that went through its doors, the R6 Cup was notable for the cable TV series, Natural Born Racers that accompanied it. The fly on the wall documentary followed the trials and tribulations of the riders and staff and gained cult following among race fans.
While the R6 Cup spawned a British superbike champion and MotoGP star, the Aprilia Superteens’ alumni list is even more impressive – including a rider who made it to the very pinnacle of the racing world.
Starting out in the late 1990s, the Aprilia Superteens allowed riders as young as 12 to take part on race prepared Aprilia RS125 road bikes, meaning that the series was the first time most youngsters took to the track on a big bike.
Riders who started out in superteens and went on to become world champions include Cal Crutchlow, Chaz Davies, Sam Lowes and Danny Kent, while Australian rider Casey Stoner won the series in 2000 – just seven years before he would win the first of his two MotoGP world titles.
These days the series is run by the Thundersport GB club, although with the impending extinction of the two-stroke RS125, superteens is no longer an Aprilia only affair from 2017, with bikes like the KTM RC390 and Kawasaki Ninja 300 allowed in along with the Aprilias.
The daddy of British one-make series, the Yamaha Pro-Am remains probably the most famous of them all, even more than 30 years on.
Yamaha UK introduced the Pro-Am in 1981 and the series lasted for a total of three seasons. The concept invited 12 amateur racers (the ‘Ams’), mostly from the highly competitive Marlboro Clubmans’ series, to race against 12 Pro racers – all on identical versions of the beloved RD350LC two-strokes.
Prize money was generous and the racing was free. It was also broadcast on ITV’s World of Sport, giving good exposure to a generation of rookies that included an up-and-coming Niall Mackenzie.
The racing was stunning and the amateurs frequently handed the star names a bloody nose. It proved an intoxicating mix and the series gave a whole generation of racers and race fans an introduction to the world of two-wheeled motorsport. In fact, such is the allure of the Pro-Am, a revival race has been held at the British Grand Prix for the last two years, pitching ex-racers from the era against each other on rebuilt RD250LCs.
Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup
This is the one that every young teen racer aspires to. Now in its 11th season, the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup takes place as a support race at most European Grands Prix.
Entry to the Rookies comes only by being picked at an X Factor style selection event held each autumn. Riders as young as 13 can take part and riders compete on identical KTM RC250R Moto3 bikes.
Riders come from all around the world, with two of the 24 youngsters in this year’s cohort coming from the UK. Success in the Rookies is no guarantee of future success, but it’s a pretty good barometer of a rider’s potential. In 2016, both the Moto2 and Moto3 world champions were Rookies alumni, making it no surprise that a spot on the Rookies grid is so highly coveted by the stars of tomorrow.