When Hiroshi Aoyama crossed the line in Valencia in 2009 to take the final 250cc World Championship, he did so on what was essentially a two year old bike after Honda had stopped all 2-Stroke development in 2007.
This achievement should not be understated, when you consider the specs of the Honda compared to the Factory Aprilia machines of that era, making less power while weighing almost the same. By rights, the Aprilia (and Gilera of Marco Simoncelli, but this was a full Factory Aprilia in a different dress) should have made the Honda obsolete. Except it didn’t quite work out that way. Aoyama finished every single race of the 2009 season in the points, and almost all of them were inside the top 8. This consistency is what won him the title, he was intelligent and gained a hatful of points when he could not win. He beat Simoncelli at Sepang in a straight fight, and came to Valencia with a healthy 21 point lead. Simoncelli had to win, and hope Aoyama finished 12th or below.
What happened next was a truly fitting way to sign off the intermediate class 2-stroke era. It seemed Aoyama had decided the best defence was offence. He could have ridden around to a safe 11th, knowing that would have been enough. But he took on Simoncelli at his own game, sticking in second behind Hector Barbera and forcing the Italian’s hand. Simoncelli made a couple of hard (but fair) moves on Aoyama, but the Japanese rider was not fazed, despite being inches from being taken out by Alvaro Bautista as a knock on effect of being run wide on two separate occasions! The racing was extremely frantic, with Cluzel, De Rosa and Faubel all putting passes on both title contenders and upsetting their rhythm, increasing the pressure on both men.
Aoyama made it very difficult for himself halfway through the race though. Simoncelli had taken the lead, Barbera was 2nd and Aoyama was safe in 3rd. At the end of the straight Aoyama misjudged his braking marker, almost hitting Barbera and going off the track into the gravel. The Scot Honda team had hearts in mouths, but Aoyama kept it upright and emerged back on track in 11th, which was still enough. It became irrelevant a few laps later anyway, as Simoncelli was clearly pushing to take the win he thought could give him the title. He had just upped the pace to try and break Barbera, and had a huge moment at turn 2, which unsettled him for the the very tricky turn 3, the front folded and down he went. The Gilera was stuck in the gravel, and could not be retrieved, meaning Simoncelli was out of the race. In that moment, Honda and Aoyama went down in history, as even though he would cross the line in a muted 7th, the Japanese combination could not be caught. The final 250cc World Championship had been decided.
The winning bike itself was still a very capable machine, despite being considered the worse machine of the top bikes. It just did everything well, being the tried and tested reed-valve, 2 cylinder, V-Twin engine with a 75 degree angle, slotted into an aluminium twin-spar frame. The problem was, by 2009 the 250cc 2-stroke had been taken as far as it could (barring direct injection, but that was some way off), so this represented the culmination of 50+ years of development. It made 92hp at it’s peak power, which was made at 12,00rpm and weighed only 101kg. It ran on Honda’s own Showa forks, another great source of pride for the Japanese manufacturer. It’s crazy to think that the bike made less power than the comparable Aprilia, as the RSA made 110+hp and weighed only 9kg more, and yet Honda still won the title.
The class would be replaced in 2010 by the far cheaper Moto2 class, and the smell of premix would only remain in the MotoGP paddock for 2 more years, as the 125cc class would be replaced with the Moto3 class. The 250cc class was getting out of control with costs, with Aspar paying 3m euros simply to lease the Factory Aprilia RSA250 for a year. Something had to be done, and the Moto2 class was the way to do this. But for some people, they still go misty eyed when you talk about a well-sorted 2-stroke machine, proving legends never die.
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