Twenty years ago, Max Biaggi made his 500cc debut and, at Suzuka, he was victorious.
April 5th marks twenty years since Max Biaggi’s stunning debut. It was 1998, and the Roman arrived in 500cc as the 250cc Champion. Riding the Honda NSF, the two-stroke machine was exceptionally more difficult and powerful to handle compared to the 250cc bike that he’d taken to the World Championship the previous season.
But it was, nevertheless, a debut that will go down in history – and has. In his first Grand Prix at Suzuka, riding for Team Kanemoto, Biaggi won the race after starting from pole position. The Italian rider, who today is an ambassador for Aprilia, remembers that weekend.
“500cc was the most difficult class, where there was an established champion: Doohan,” begins Biaggi. “As a debut it wasn’t easy. I liked Suzuka, it was one of the most difficult tracks in the world but I was very excited. When we did the first tests I realized that I was comfortable on that track with that bike. Everything came to me quite naturally. I also put in a great time in qualifying, there was almost a second between me and Doohan. In the end, the race was starting from first and then staying at the head of the race until the victory.”
The Roman also reveals the masterstroke that helped him to the win. “I’d made a choice of softer tyres than the others. With a soft rear, managing it well gave me an advantage.”
Going deeper into the memories of that mythical race, other emotions also resurface: “I remember my senses were on red alert,” Biaggi says. “I was very tense and eager not to make mistakes. I felt the pressure because I arrived in the class as a winner of four consecutive world titles and debuted as 250cc World Champion. You feel the weight of not having to make mistakes.”
Finally, however, he crossed the line to take the flag – and the win. “I felt a lot of emotion when I saw the chequered flag but it’s only after that you realise you’ve done something crazy. Only Saarinen had succeeded before me. I realised that I’d set a record after more than 30 years of having followed that great rider. They’re unforgettable emotions.”