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:
|Kenny||Roberts||1978||Venezuela||DNF||2||Piston on lap 2|
|Freddie||Spencer||1980||Belgium||DNF||12||mechanical lap 5|