American Riders in their MotoGP Debuts: How’d We Do?

Perhaps surprisingly, the American rider with the second best premier class GP finish was John Kocinski

Dean Adams
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It isn’t talked about a lot, but it is interesting to look back at the qualifying and finishing positions for leading American and AMA Pro riders in their MotoGP/500cc debut.

A lot of pundits say that Steve Baker is one of the most underrated stars and he holds one distinction all to himself. Baker is to date, the only American rider to score a podium finish in his 500cc/MotoGP debut, by finishing second at the 1977 Venezuelan GP.

Interestingly, no American has earned the pole in his debut, although Baker, Kenny Roberts and Eddie Lawson all qualified on the front row (2nd) in their respective debuts.

Perhaps surprisingly, the American rider with the second best premier class GP finish was John Kocinski, who finished sixth in a one-off ride at Spa in 1989, the same year he was back in the U.S. winning the AMA 250 Grand Prix Championship.

Eight riders suffered DNFs in their debut, including Roberts, Freddie Spencer and Kevin Schwantz, who of course went on to become World Champs. Oddly, Nicky Hayden had the worst qualifying position of these riders, but the future world champ rallied quickly and finished a solid seventh in the 2003 Japanese Grand Prix.

Here’s a list of the results of top American or AMA Pro riders in their 500cc/MotoGP debut in order of their finishes:

MotoGP Debuts
First Last Year Event Finish Qualifying Reason Out
Steve Baker 1977 Venezuela 2 2  
John Kocinski 1989 Belgium 5 8  
Buddy Parriott 1964 USA 6 na  
Wayne Rainey 1988 Japan 6 6  
Colin Edwards 2003 Japan 6 9  
Nicky Hayden 2003 Japan 7 22  
Josh Hayes 2011 Valencia 7 16  
Eddie Lawson 1983 South Africa 8 2  
Roger Hayden 2007 USA 10 16  
Doug Chandler 1991 Japan 11 17  
Scott Russell 1995 Italy 11 13  
Kenny Roberts, Jr. 1996 Japan 12 13  
John Hopkins 2002 Japan 12 18  
Randy Mamola 1979 Netherlands 13 na  
Mike Baldwin 1979 Austria 14 na  
Ben Spies 2008 Britain 14 8  
Pat Hennen 1976 France DNF na mechanical
Kenny Roberts 1978 Venezuela DNF 2 Piston on lap 2
Freddie Spencer 1980 Belgium DNF 12 mechanical lap 5
Dale Singleton 1980 Belgium DNF 21 unknown

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