Red Bull Yamaha WCM – 1997-2002
1997 begin like many others for the MacLean, Clifford ROC – Yamaha team with Kirk McCarthy riding the bike. After only two races into the season 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 riders Cadalora and Corser now as part of the Clifford and MacLean WCM stable.
At the very next race in Italy, WCM had re-branded the team Red Bull Yamaha WCM and the team was presenting as a full factory team with a new naming rights sponsor.
Luca Cadalora brought home immediate results for the team, on the podium with second place in Mugello and in his second race for WCM and the first for Red Bull beaten only by Mick Doohan. Meanwhile Kirk McCarthy continued to compete on WCM’s ROC Yamaha until the British GP when he joined Cadalora on the factory bikes following the earlier departure of Corser. Cadalora finished the year in 6th place and WCM were recognised as potential Grand Prix winners.
WCM had taken over much of an existing Italian based structure when taking on the factory Yamahas in 1997 and it was essential to rebuild it to make progress. It was decided to almost completely re-staff the team and move to a brand new facility in Strasswalchen, Austria. The workshop was established at the instigation of the team's naming rights sponsor, Red Bull, who were demonstrating their long term commitment to the team.
The popularity of Red Bull the energy drink was by now well established in the Austrian and Germany markets and the brand association with the race team gave Red Bull international exposure to a growing global audience.
Throughout the year of 1998, the efforts of WCM were recognised with New Zealand rider Simon Crafar winning the British Grand Prix in WCM – Red Bull Yamaha Colours. The team had secured itself a Grand Prix and success bought more success.
In ’99 Crafar and was joined by French star Regis Laconi who rode with the team for the following two years. Crafar began to experience enormous problems insurmountable problems with the Michelin tyres on the YZR500 and he was replaced mid Season by the slightly built Australian Garry McCoy. McCoy was impressive from the beginning and secured a third place result in Valencia and his team-mate Laconi 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 he was crowned "The Slide King" by the international media and fans worldwide who admired his sideways slides.
McCoy 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 just outside the Top Ten in 12th place.
By 2001, Garry McCoy was synonyms with the Red Bull Yamaha WCM Team and Superbike Sensation Noriyuki Haga joined him in the garage. McCoy finished 12th in the battle for the 2001 World Championship with a second in Suzuka, Japan and two 3rd place finishes (Portugal and Malaysia). Haga finished the season in 14th position and never really adapted that well to the YZR 500.
The following year McCoy was joined by American unknown John Hopkins. The young 18-year-old American teenager comes to the team with an impressive record in US racing, having won the AMA 750 Supersports Series and the Aprilia Challenge Championship but with no GP experience at all.
Hopkins was a solid racer, with a focus and dedication rarely seen. WCM made a calculated gamble on Hopkins which paid off. He finished the year in 15th place overall and built up a tremendous fan base with his family being from the UK. Hopkins had four top-ten finishes, a fantastic year's result for a newcomer to MotoGP.
McCoy's 2002 season was fraught with injuries and several times through the year he was replace by Alex Hoffman and the Red Bull Yamaha team test rider Jean-Michele Bayle.
With two year's badly effected by injury leaving McCoy winless since his stunningly successful 2000 season Red Bull decided nt to continue supporting the team. The change of rules from 500cc two-stroke to 990cc four-stroke was set to ramp up budgets considerably and reduce the number of bikes the factories could make.
Without a major sponsor or machinery for 2003 WCM's future did not look so good. Yet out of disaster so often comes opportunity.