WCM – underdogs and on top
World Championship Motorsports (WCM) was formed with a partnership between American racing enthusiast Bob MacLean and British born engineer and journalist, Peter Clifford.
The partnership began in 1992 when Yamaha made it possible for independent teams like WCM to purchase a V- four disc-valve two stroke engine. With little money and big ambition Bob and Peter's team lined up on the 500cc grid alongside the finest factory Grand Prix machinery in the world.
Peter Goddard was the first rider that WCM engaged and he rode the ROC–Yamaha, the machine that became synonymous with WCM over the next 5 years. The team quickly established itself as the top private squad with riders like Niall Mackenzie, Andrew Stroud, and Neil Hodgson all keeping the factory guys honest.
Ultimately though the results reflected the fact that the team did not have access to factory bikes... a limitation that was virtually impossible to get around even though Mackenzie's brilliant third in the British Grand Prix at Donington in 1993 was the exception to that rule.
Without the factory bikes WCM was, for most of the time, a step outside the limelight but in 1997 that changed and WCM was given an opportunity to compete as a factory team.
The year began like many others with the team campaigning the ROC-Yamaha and Australian Kirk McCarthy riding. After 2 races one of the factory Yamaha teams withdraw from the Championship leaving 2 bikes and 2 riders without any direction. Yamaha invited WCM to take control of the team and by the next race in Spain, WCM had taken over the management and riders Cadalora and Corser were now a part of the Clifford and MacLean WCM stable.
By the following round at Mugello in Italy the team was branded Red Bull Yamaha WCM and Luca Cadalora bought home immediate results for the team, on the podium in second place. Meanwhile McCarthy continued to compete on the ROC-Yamaha until the British GP when he joined Cadalora on the factory bike following the earlier departure of Corser. Cadalora finished the year in 6th place and WCM were recognised as potential Grand Prix winners.
Having picked up the pieces of a team in '97 and gained some success WCM completely reorganised the structure for '98 and moved the Red Bull Yamaha Team into a brand new headquarters in Strasswalchen, Austria. The facility was built at the instigation of the teams title sponsor, Red Bull, who were demonstrating their long term commitment to the team in constructing this workshop facility.
The popularity of Red Bull was well established in Austria and Germany markets and the energy drink was gaining popularity worldwide. The association with WCM’s race team gave Red Bull and international exposure to a growing global audience.
Through the year, the efforts of WCM started to bear fruit with New Zealand rider Simon Crafar winning the British Grand Prix in WCM – Red Bull Yamaha Colours. The team had secured it's first Grand Prix win.
Crafar's team mate was the young Frenchman Regis Laconi who had less experience but was able to learn from Crafar and the rest of the team. Laconi and Crafar had both insisted that the team would be better off with Michelin tyres despite Crafar's success on Dunlops in '98.
The tyre swap was made for '99 but Crafar found the change to be disastrous for him. Despite 21 days of testing he never overcame a feeling of insecurity with the Michelin front tyre. Unable to tackle the problem and get up to a competitive speed Crafar was replaced mid season by the feisty Australian Garry McCoy. McCoy was impressive from the beginning and secured third in Valencia. Red Bull Yamaha team-mate Laconi was on top of the Podium with his first GP victory.
In 2000 McCoy and Laconi remained with WCM and McCoy's impressive results continued. His "speedway" racing style attracted enormous media attention and fans worldwide admired his sideways slides. The first race of the season was absolutely sensational with McCoy racing through the pack to gain the lead at the last moment. Garry won 3 Grand Prix that year and was on the podium to collect a further three, third-place finishes. Overall McCoy finished fifth in the World Championship, the best results that WCM had achieved to date whilst Team Mate Laconi finished 12th.
By 2001 Garry McCoy was synonyms with the Red Bull Yamaha Team and was joined by Superbike sensation Nori Haga. McCoy's attack on the 2001 title was wrecked by a practice crash at Le Mans while battling for pole that resulted in a broken scaphoid. He finished 12th in the World Championship with a second in Suzuka, Japan and two 3rd place finishes (Portugal and Malaysia). Haga finished the season 14th, never really at home on the YZR 500.
The following year McCoy was joined by American GP newcomer John Hopkins. The young 18-year-old American teenager came to the team with an impressive record in US racing, having won the AMA 750 Supersports Series and the Aprilia Challenge Championship but was unknown outside the US.
Hopkins came with skill and youthful enthusiasm and soon got to grips with the 500 two stroke, thanks in part to having tested the bike a number of times prior to 2002 as WCM prepared him for the effort. Hopkins finished the year in 15th place overall and built up a tremendous following. With his family coming from Britain he was able to call on a larger fan base.
McCoy's 2002 season was even more disastrous than 2001 as he broke his leg while he was the fastest man on the track pre season testing. Though he rode the injury dogged him through the year and at times he was replaced by Alex Hoffman and Jean-Michele Bayle.
2002 saw the end of two stroke domination and a new four stroke era. With a real shortage of factory four stroke machinery and the decision of Red Bull to support no team in the MotoGP class WCM were suddenly very much on their own.
It was a case of either quit the sport or fight on... no choice really. There was little time to regroup and find alternative machinery and sponsor. With no factory bike available there was no major backing either and WCM poured all their energy into building a completely new bike over the short winter break.
Forming a partnership with Harris Performance Products from the UK and signing young English racer Chris Burns and German legend Ralf Waldmann was the core plan.
Harris built the rolling chassis suggesting that the best way to have something effective in the very limited time available was to base the bike around something they already knew, i.e. the Yamaha R1 Superbike.
If Harris and WCM designed something from the ground up it would never be ready in time. The across-the-frame layout of the R1 made sense, it was the same choice made by Yamaha themselves. WCM would design a four with the same layout and engine mounting points etc. so that Harris could start work immediately on their side of things and both engine and chassis construction could proceed independently.
It quickly became clear that designing and building the engine would take longer and that much modified R1 engines would be needed for testing.
There was another setback when 250 Grand Prix winner and past championship contender Waldmann tested the bike and decided that big four strokes were just not for him. An enthusiastic replacement was found in Spaniard David de Gea.
Trying to play catch up against the major manufacturers and build a new engine in a few months proved impossible and when WCM turned up at the opening rounds with the much modified R1 engines in the Harris chassis the FIM were prompted to protest thanks to some behind the scenes politics.
A legal battle ensued with the MotoGP paddock wanting the WCM bikes to run and the FIM fighting against it. The FIM won.
With the WCM engines still being built the team air freighted some of their old ROC-Yamahas from New Zealand and the USA. By combining these bikes with ROC-Yamahas from Sabre Sport they were on the grid at the British Grand Prix ridden by Burns and de Gea.
It was a stop gap measure and after using the two strokes in Germany and the Czech Republic a WCM engine was ready for testing in the bike on the Monday after the Grand Prix in Brno. With a cassette gearbox and four instead of five-valve head it was a pukka MotoGP power plant. Both de Gea and Burns raced the WCM four strokes at the next round in Portugal and the rest of the season.
For 2004 WCM signed Italian youngster Michel Fabrizio. He raced alongside Burns with the Italian causing a sensation in the rain during the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez. He embarrassed many of the factory stars by racing through to 12th, sliding off then remounting 16th and fighting through again to finish 10th.
Burns was not so lucky, struggling to enjoy the MotoGP WCM he got injured. For the Czech GP at Brno James Ellison was given the chance to make his MotoGP début after some great rides in British Superbike races. Ellison immediately took to the Harris WCM.
Another major step was taken at that GP when WCM forged an agreement with the Czech pocket bike manufacturer Blata to join forces in a 5 year agreement starting in 2005. Coen Baijens had been working on a V6 engine design for WCM having designed the cylinder-head for the four and seen Peter Clifford's design for the crank cases from initial CAD drawings through to finished metal.
With WCM supplying their considerable accumulated knowledge Blata would manufacture the V6 MotoGP bike for the 2005 season.
Meanwhile WCM raced on with the Harris WCM and completed 2004 without a single mechanical failure during any race. A great testament to both the team of WCM guys in the garage and Roelofs Racing Services in Holland who, supported by WCM staff, built and prepared the engines.
All the elements seemed to be there to take a step forward technically. WCM and it's technical partners had built and successfully raced their own MotoGP four stroke. Blata was a manufacturer who should have been able to make use of the available expertise and build the next generation of race bike.
The Blata V6 slipped further and further behind schedule through 2005 and even 2006. The V6 engine never even made it to the test bench despite promises from Pavel Blata well into the second half of the 2005 season that the bike was only a few weeks from completion.
WCM kept up their side of the agreement and raced through 2005 in the name of Blata, scored more World Championship points and gave James Ellison a good enough mount so that he could show his skill and secure a factory Yamaha ride for 2006. Team mate Franco Battaini did not enjoy the four-stroke as much, wishing perhaps he had stayed with the 250s on which he had done so well.
Ellison could go on but WCM could not having exhausted both the machinery and the money supply racing virtually unsupported by Blata through 2006. There was nothing left to work with for 2007 so WCM was forced to stand down.
With a Grand Prix history running back to 1992 WCM was not happy with inactivity. Director of Racing Peter Clifford continued to attend all GPs making every effort to find a way for WCM to restart its Grand Prix racing activities.