The Harris YZR500 two-stroke GP machine was part of an effort to keep up entry numbers in Grand Prix racing. Back in the 1970s and 1980s the gap between a factory bike such as a Yamaha TZ500 and those that went into privateer hands was small enough for non-factory riders to get an occasional chance to shine, alongside the non-works Suzuki RG500s.
But by the 1990s costs had escalated and the gulf between factory and privateer machinery, plus the associated money needed to turn up, meant that grid numbers were diminishing fast.
The answer was for Yamaha to produce some engines for privateers, which had a few cost effective modifications, such as aluminium crankcases, rather than magnesium. But after all, the Yamaha YZR had been evolving since the 1973 OW20, and dominated the first 3 seasons of the decade with the 1990,1991 and 1992 world championships all going to Wayne Rainey, following in the footsteps of Eddie Lawson, who took the ’84, ’86 and ’88 titles on a YZR, and Kenny Roberts who also did a Yamaha triple in ’78, ’79 and ’80. The Yamaha OWC1 was the basis for the factory engine and chassis data made available.
But an engine is pretty redundant without a chassis to put it in. So in 1991, two companies were chosen to build frames for the motors to race in.
The two builders were England’s Harris Performance Products and Serge Rosset’s French ROC outfit, who both went on to field riders in the Grand Prix championship, amongst an estimated 30 or so machines which competed over the years for various organisations.
This particular example is a Harris framed YZR500 which was one of handful made in Hertford. It was ridden by British GP rider Kevin Mitchell, who had previously raced in 250GPs, and went on to claim a 10th place in the Dutch TT at Assen that year. He was competing for the MBM Racing team (Team Medd), alongside the Shell Team Harris riders (Including the likes of Sean Emmett and Darren Dixon in 1993, and Neil Hodgson in 1994), the Padgett’s bike of John Reynolds, Jeremy McWilliams and a host of ROC Yamaha riders.
Famously in 1993, Niall Mackenzie claimed a podium on his ROC Yamaha at the British GP as he took third from the Cagiva-riding Carl Fogarty who ran out of fuel just before the finish line to finish fourth.
The Kevin Mitchell Harris YZR500:
Once this particular bike had finished racing, it slid off the radar and was later restored before coming back onto the market about 5 years ago. It was picked up by Bike-enders007, who aren’t strangers to race bikes, so have made a few quality changes. From the ground up, the original Marvic wheels have been replaced by a Marchesini set. Next was replacing the Yamaha speedblock paintjob which bizarrely came with Rossi 46 stickers on it?
Happily the YZR500 is now wearing Harris items based on Wayne Rainey’s fibreglass from the 1992-1993 seasons. And in the interest of safety, the carbon fibre discs pictured have now been replaced with 320mm steels.
The motor is seriously trick – it’s blessed with the works magnesium carbs which alone cost around £12,000 back in 1992. In fact, the list price for the engine was around £50,000 before you even started working on the frame. All of this added up to a low weight of 130kg considering the 155bhp power output.
And as you look over the bike, you keep noticing more and more details. The carbon handlebars are just plain rude for example. It’s somewhat ironic that the current MotoGP grid is being boosted by the CRT machines which often feature factory power and non-factory chassis and frames. For some of us, modern four-stroke racers will never be as fascinating as the likes of Suzuki’s RGV500, the Honda NSR500 and the Yamaha YZR500, but everyone can probably agree that bikes like this combine history, art and music all in one.
Here’s a recent video of the bike:
This bike is actually for sale at the moment, check it out on eBay.
And here are some more pics to enjoy…