A History of Castrol's Passion for Racing
Castrol has consistently been at the forefront of motor racing since the sport began in the early 1900s.
Our long term technical partnership with motorcycle manufacturers and the use of the highest level of motorcycle racing as a testing ground is a very important part of our never-ending development of high quality products, both for competition racers and enthusiast bikers around the world.
Castrol’s success in motorcycle racing goes back to the very beginnings of racing at the Isle of Man TT in 1907 through to the bikes in today’s powerful MotoGP series.
Throughout the 1920s and 30s the sport began to gather momentum across Europe but the onset of World War 2 meant that official racing was suspended, and it wasn’t restarted until 1949 when the new World championship was created. Yet throughout this time Castrol had remained close to the heart of motorcycle racing, and between1922 and 1947 all bar two Isle of Man TT winners used Castrol oil.
The 1950s are widely regarded as the ‘Golden Age’ of motorcycle racing and as the decade began, the works teams of Norton and Gilera set the standard for others to follow, both using Castrol lubricants.
The Gilera team won six 500 titles in the mid 1950s using Castrol oil. However as the decade began to draw to a close virtually all the Italian factories were forced out of racing during the late 1950s because the arrival of low cost cars had destroyed the market for road bikes. The exception was MV Agusta, which became the pre-eminent name in Motorcycle racing winning 139 grand prix races in the 500cc class from 1952 to 1976.
Castrol and Honda start their highly successful partnership. Honda contacted Castrol prior to their debut in the 1959 Isle of Man races. Using Castrol lubricants, Honda went on to win the manufacturer’s team prize at their first attempt.
Just as the Italians had used racing to prove their technology, the Japanese motorcycle industry was beginning to establish an international reputation and, as ever, racing was the perfect way to demonstrate their superiority. Using Castrol R30 Honda won 10 manufacturer’s championships and 17 individual World titles between 1959 and 1967.
Engine development and complexity reached new levels with 20,000 rpm 250cc four stroke sixes battling it out with two stroke square fours. The technology race exploded as engines designers were persuaded to develop ever-higher power outputs using more and more cylinders.
The cost of staying competitive on the racetrack began to take its toll on the Japanese manufacturers and only Yamaha were left in 1968. The Italian works team, MV Agusta capitalised on the absence of Japanese competition, lifting most of the 500cc titles for a decade.
MV Augusta was continuing to enjoy racing success with its star rider, Giacomo Agostini becoming the most successful rider in World Championship history. In total, Agostini won 15 World Championships, 7 of them in the 500cc class on a three-cylinder four-stroke MV Augusta.
Agostini sensationally switched from MV Agusta to Yamaha. The Yamaha team asked Castrol to develop a synthetic oil that would beat Castrol R by lubricating the engine more effectively, adding power and helping to combat engine detonation. Castrol A747 was the result, an oil still considered the best over 30 years later.
After an absence of 10 years Honda re-entered the World Championships and Castrol was involved in the development of one of the most influential race bikes of modern times; Honda’s amazing oval pistoned eight valve per cylinder NR500. At Honda’s request Castrol produced a specialised racing lubricant for the 22,000 rpm engine. The machine was influential in educating Honda’s engineers and paved the way for a series of innovative Honda racing bikes.
The American rider Freddie Spencer claimed the 500cc World Championship on his Castrol lubricated Honda. At 21 he was the youngest rider to win the title and his bike, the NS500 three cylinder, two-stroke was an evolution of the NR500 that Castrol had helped Honda develop.
Honda joined Suzuki and Yamaha with a four cylinder two stroke, creating a regular three-way fight. Occasionally other players, the Italian Cagiva team being one of the main ones, would join in at the top. The quality of the racing was superb but from a technical view little real progress was being made. At the same time emissions laws were working against the two stroke and GP racing was losing it’s value as an arena for developing new technologies for road bikes.
Whilst the manufacturers and governing bodies debated the future direction of the sport, Castrol continued to support some of the most successful riders. For example, in 1986 the Venezuelan Carlos Lavado took the World championship with his Castrol lubricated Yamaha 250.
At the end of the 80s the manufacturers continued to search for a way to re-establish the link between their racing activities and their day-to-day road going products. GP racing is expensive and needs justification and, while most technologies can be developed without going near a racetrack, manufacturers gain valuable insights from the racing environment.
Throughout the 1990s Castrol continued its association with the sport’s biggest names. When Wayne Rainey rode to victory during the 1993 season, his Yamaha YZR500 was lubricated with Castrol oil. Other high profile World Championship winners using Castrol in the 1990s and 2000s have included John Kocinski, Colin Edwards and Sete Gibernau.
Discussions held in the late 1990s led to a proposal from Yamaha and Honda that the 500cc GP class should be changed to a new formula that would allow the manufacturers to develop new technologies that would be useful on the road and that would keep the spectacle on track. As a result it was announced that the top-class of motorcycle racing would change from being a 500cc, by default a two stroke only class, into a combined 500cc two-stroke and 990cc four-stroke class in 2002. By the end of 2003 all the two strokes were gone, overpowered by the powerful, and easy to ride, four strokes.
After a very successful long-term relationship with Honda in World Superbikes, Castrol returned to GP racing in 2003, producing special Castrol Power1 lubricants for the Honda RC211V 990cc V5’s of Team Gresini Honda.
…upgrading its two stroke technology with the introduction of Castrol XR77 for racing two strokes running on unleaded fuel and Castrol Power1 technology for the new breed of four strokes.
A winning record – Castrol lubricated bikes in Grand Prix racing