In 1978, the Bimota factory hired its first contracted racer, Frenchman Michel Rougerie. Rougerie raced the new YB3 chassis with a 350cc Yamaha TZ engine in the 350cc Grand Prix class. The YB3 was a further development of the YB2 (for Yamaha TZ racing 2-stroke engines – 250cc and 350cc) and featured a more direct longitudinal frame member connecting the headstock to the heavily gusseted swing arm pivot (the predecessor to the SB6 – Straight Line Connection) and a more triangulated swing arm structure.
Rougerie had been an official pilot for Harley-Davidson/Aermacchi in 1975, finishing 2nd to his teammate Walter Villa in the 250cc Grand Prix class. He won the Finnish and Czecho GPs and finished on the podium in the French, German, Nations, Dutch and Belgian GPs.
In 1976, he rode a privateer Suzuki in the premier 500cc Grand Prix class finishing 14th, behind the likes of Champion Barry Sheene, Pat Hennen, Marco Lucchinelli, Giacomo Agostini, Jack Findlay, Phil Read, and Chas Mortimer. He had two 4ths, in Austria and Belgium.
In 1977, he finished a position higher in the 500cc class, 13th, behind repeat Champion Sheene, Steve Baker, Pat Hennen, Johnny Cecotto, Agostini, Gianfranco Bonera, Lucchinelli, and Virginio Ferrari (who later rode the Bimota YB4-R (currently in the Bimota Spirit collection) to the 1987 TT F1 World Championship.) But more importantly, Michel also rode a privateer Yamaha TZ350 and finished 4th in the 350cc World Championship, behind Champion Takazumi Katayama, Tom Herron and Jon Ekerold (who would later win the 350cc World Championship on a Bimota YB3 in 1980.) On the Yamaha 350cc, he won the Spanish Grand Prix and was 2nd in the Dutch TT.
For 1978, capitalizing on his strong 350cc GP performances, Bimota offered him a factory bike – the the YB3 featured here, to compete in the 350cc Grand Prix. (He continued to race his privateer Suzuki in the 500cc class - finishing 10th behind Champion Kenny Roberts, Sheene, Cecotto and others.) For Bimota, he finished every race in the top 10, with two podiums – 3rd places in West Germany and the Czech Republic, and was 6th overall in the 350cc GP Championship.
In 1979, American Randy Mamola moved to Europe and joined Michel on the Bimota team to race a YB3-framed 250cc TZ in the 250cc Championship (the first GP experience of his very successful career!) Rougerie continued to race the YB3-350cc machine. Mamola raced in only four GPs, finishing in the top 10 in all of them – with two 2nd places in Germany and Italy. He left the team mid-season after a dispute with Massimo Tamburini, and was replaced by Eric Saul – who will play into the history of this YB3 later on. Rougerie was not able to match his 1978 results. In 1980, Rougerie left Bimota as well, moving to the French-based Pernod-Yamaha team to ride their 350cc Yamaha. His Bimota YB3 passed on to Thierry Espie, who raced it with some support from Bimota.
Rougerie continued to race in the GPs until 1981, when in Reijka, Yugoslavia, he was tragically killed during the second lap of the 350cc Grand Prix. He had fallen and gotten to his feet when his Pernod-teammate, Roger Sibille, came around a corner and was unable to avoid him – Sibille's motorcycle struck him directly in the chest at full speed and Michel died instantly.
It is interesting to note that until 1980, many Bimota-framed machines were raced in Grand Prix events, but the motorcycles were generally listed by the names of the companies who produced the engines – Yamaha and Harley-Davidson – as if the chassis was just a custom part like a shock absorber, wheel or front fork. In 1980, Bimota, through sponsorship of Jon Ekerold, (and Jon's dislike of Yamaha for their refusal to give him sponsorship) became officially listed as a Motorcycle Type. Jon Ekerold - the eventual 350cc World Champion, Johnny Cecotto (4th), Eric Saul (6th), Massimo Matteoni (8th), Jean Louis Tournadre (20th), and Loris Reggiani (21st) all raced Bimotas. Bimota had finally gained recognition as a legitimate motorcycle manufacturer – and Bimota YB3s were now Bimotas – not Yamahas!
The bike featured here was raced by Michel Rougerie in 1978 and 1979 and then by Thierry Espie. Espie eventually sold it to his friend, Eric Saul, (Rougerie’s teammate – the replacement for Randy Mamola) who raced it in Vintage Grand Prix events. I met Eric in Daytona during the 2002 Bike Week where he was leading a delegation of French riders coming to the USA to race in the Daytona Vintage Grand Prix. After the Week, Eric returned to France and the bike moved to North Carolina – Eric sold me the bike having just found the Chevallier 350cc machine on which he had won the Austrian Grand Prix in 1982! Soon after, Eric Saul created the International Classic Grand Prix organization. We have completely restored the bike to its original Michel Rougerie livery, based on archival photos. This bike was also featured in the Bimota 25th Anniversary Celebration, and can be seen in photos of the event in the yellow and blue Thierry Espie livery. We have also preserved the set of bodywork in Eric Saul livery (his Bimota factory colors) that he used while racing in the vintage series.