Kawasaki Came to Town
1992 daytona 250 grand prix
by Dean Adams
Although you wouldn't know it by
watching a 250 race now, Kawasaki was once a huge power-house in 250 racing
in America and abroad. Future four-time world champion Eddie Lawson won
the AMA 250 Grand Prix championship in both 1980 and 1981 on the Kawasaki
KR250, a bike tuned for most of that period by Steve Johnson. In international
Grand Prix, Kawasaki won five world 250 titles in succession between 1978-1981
with riders Kork Ballington and Tony Mang riding the green works bikes.
Not any more. Now the AMA and international
Grand Prix classes are dominated by Aprilia, Honda and Yamaha. Kawasaki
dropped out of Grand Prix in the early 1980s after plenty of 250/350 world
championships and has not been back, preferring to concentrate on Superbike
KHI (Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Kawasaki's
Japanese parent company) seemed to be thinking of a two-stroke return at
one point, and built a modern KR250 and raced it at Daytona in 1992, but
the bike was never seen again after that.
What beget what? In the early 1970s
Kawasaki used a roadrace version of their 350 F5 enduro bike as a 250,
a machine known the world over as the Bighorn (in its knobbie tire form)
fitted with slicks, big brakes, and a fairing. Yvon DuHamel and others
raced this bike. Prior to that, Kawasaki used the thin and spindly A1-R
twin to combat the Yamaha TD1s and other early two-stroke 250cc production
In 1975, Kawasaki introduced the
first KR250 race bike, which featured an in-line twin cylinder engine,
with twin cranks that counter-rotated. After vibrating everything--seemingly
including the fingerprints off the rider's hands--with this engine configuration,
Kawasaki then built the second version of the KR250 as a Twingle (both
pistons rose and fell together) and with this machine they had great 250cc
success. This version of the KR250 is the one Kork Ballington and Mang
won world championships on, and Mick Grant, Mike Baldwin, Gregg Hansford
and Eddie Lawson rode as well.
The latter KR250s were known for
their novel technical advances: the eighties bike had belt final drive,
a single rear shock on one side of the swingarm, some had steel rotary
valves, some fiberglass. There was even a special Daytona-only seven speed
gearbox to fight the wind on one side of the banking and get a few more
hundred rpm with the wind at its back on the other side. Gregg Hansford
(78) and Lawson (80-81) both won Daytona on KR250s. Anton 'Tony' Mang tried
several times to win it for Kawasaki, but never saw the checkers first
until he swapped to Honda in 1986.
built and sold hoards of KR250 streetbikes for the home market and in Canada.
Great Britan and Europe. They were powered by a peppy Twin engine and are
known now for their rarity.
abandoned Grand Prix racing after the 1982 season and turned their focus
to Superbike and production racing, entering a wide array of bikes and
riders in Superbike and World Endurance racing (including Carl Fogarty).
Then, in 1992, Kawasaki Japan unexpectedly showed up at Daytona with a
new KR250, surprising some even at Kawasaki USA who had no idea they were
coming. No matter, green team fans were ecstatic to see two-stroke Kawasakis
back on the grid.
Riders for this new effort were South
African Trevor Crookes and current Honda World Superbike star Aaron Slight.
Former world champion Kork Ballington managed the team, which at Daytona
anyway, almost set a new standard for secrecy. Ballington's Japanese bosses
didn't want anyone to see anything inside the experimental KR250 fairing
and kept the bike covered nearly anytime it wasn't being ridden. Including
in the pitlane, and while the little green and while bikes were in the
garage. When the KR250 went through AMA tech inspection, the Japanese seemed
incensed that the technical inspectors wanted to see what was inside the
fairing. After a little standoff, they were granted a peek.
Aaron Slight said then that he never
even asked what the engine configuration was when he realized how secretive
the Japanese were with the bikes. "I don't even ask questions. They make
changes and ask me if it's better and I tell them," he said.
What were they hiding? The rumor
had it fuel injection and a strangely configured V-Twin engine. After the
dust cleared and some who knew talked, what was in those green and white
fiberglass panels was indeed a carburated (twin downdraft carbs with reed
valves feeding directly into the crankcase) V-Twin all right, but an upside
down V-Twin, with both cylinders pointing down. Because of this design,
the bike had serious exhaust system configuration problems as the exhaust
exited the rear of the cylinder and had to snake around the engine to exit.
At Daytona you'll bring your horsepower
and gearing on a 250, or you'll stay home. For a first time effort the
1992 KR250 was fairly fast and seemed in the hunt. Slight did not finish
the race, and Crookes, who disappeared right after this event never to
be heard from again, finished a pretty remarkable sixth after being in
the hunt for third-fourth. (Colin Edwards won the race, Chris D'Aluisio
in second, Kenny Roberts Junior third, Robbie Peterson fourth, Jon Cornwell
Rumor had it that the KR250 would
be seen next at the Japanese Grand Prix later that month at Suzuka, but
it was actually never seen again. Kawasaki later said that the 1992 effort
was simply a design exercise and nothing more. Ballington and Crookes vanished,
and Slight went on to help Scott Russell win the first Suzuka eight hours
for Kawasaki in 1993, then abdicated to Honda.
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