PLUNGE INTO ROTAX’ MOTOR RACING HISTORY
ROTAX MOTOR SPORTS INNOVATIONS
Rotax and motor sports. The two concepts are inextricably linked and over the last 100 years have continuously provided each other with new inspiration, insight and experiences.
SUCCESS IN MULTIPLE DISCIPLINES
Reciprocal development and application of such developments not only encouraged technological innovation, they have also enabled Rotax to enjoy success across multiple disciplines. Drivers have been victorious in every discipline, including karts, motorcycles and ATVs, thanks to Rotax powertrain systems.
POWER ON THE CIRCUITON-ROAD MOTORCYCLES
The 50sHOW IT ALL BEGAN
FIRST RACES ON PUBLIC ROADS
The German and Austrian economies slowly recover after the war. Rotax is under US administration and initially starts producing industrial engines. However, it’s not long before increasing numbers of people get the urge for mobility and vehicle engines start to be built.
“Citius, altius, fortius” (Latin for faster, higher, stronger) has long been one of mankind’s driving forces, and so we build engines for racing cars. It all starts with scooters, with a great wave of this kind of mobility spreading northwards from Italy. Speeds may be modest, but what counts is how they compare with each other. Races are often run to compare performance, taking place on racing circuits as well as on public roads that are not always asphalted.
ROTAX ENGINES IN DEMAND AT AN EARLY STAGE
Apart from Puch, nobody in Austria is producing engines, and so Rotax engines are in demand from everyone (such as KTM and Lohner) requiring powertrains. The simple two-stroke engine, using pre-war technology, dominates the scene. Rotax Type 98, for example, still has a deflector piston. Initially, the engines are Fichtel & Sachs units built under license, and it is not until the 1960s that Rotax builds on these and develops its own.
FIRST, SECOND AND THIRD PLACE WITH 5.6 HP
KTM’s type 98 wins first, second and third place in the 1953 Gaisberg race. The Rotax Type 125 used by KTM and Lohner delivered 5.6 HP – and as much as 6.1 HP without a fan. And with secretly traded tips and craftsmanship, this goes up to 7.5 HP. “Rotax engines outstanding” says a telegram from KTM after the 1,278 km non-stop run from Paris to Vienna in 1954 on the KTM Tourist 125.
- Mr. Binder-Jambor on a Lohner 125 at the high-altitude road race in 1953, wearing workman’s overalls. The wet cobblestone pavement requires maximum concentration. The driver is also successful on the Delta Gnom, which has a Rotax Type 98 engine.
- At a special race for Lohner Roller in Linz, anything that is motorized is raced – even the Lohner L 98 with a mere 2.25 HP. Seen here is journalist Dr. Helmut Krackowitzer.
The 60sTECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS
HIGHER PERFORMANCE WITH THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY
In 1963, Heinz Lippitsch, who has hitherto been driving a Puch, joins a circle of Viennese students who, like him, are interested in motorcycle racing. Rotax is already providing support with spare parts. The doctoral candidate contributes modern technology, such as an aluminum cylinder, which delivers higher performance.
He and Heinz Kriwanek join races in Austria and Germany. At a respectable 20 HP from 125cc, he is often faster than drivers on motorcycles in higher categories, especially in mountain races. At the Schauinsland race in 1966, a well-known Swiss motor sports journalist credits him with “staggering acceleration”. Lippitsch and Kriwanek recognize the importance of having the right mental attitude during races and develop a technique for remembering the course’s 170 bends. In 1966, 1967 and 1968, Lippitsch is Austrian state champion. These successes prompt Rotax Managing Director Helmut Rothe to offer the team further support in the form of body-mounted engines. Rotary valve control and a five-speed gearbox also advance the team and they trade under the name “Rotax Renngemeinschaft Austria” (Rotax Racing Alliance Austria). When the machines are presented at the Jochen Rindt Show in 1967, Jochen Rindt and Jack Brabham are among the admirers.
THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE
International races follow, and Kriwanek in particular achieves notable successes. Competing against the Japanese makes, he comes fifth in the 1969 World Championship, and, among other things, takes second place at the Sachsenring. Werner Schmied and Gerd Klimek are also among the Austrian state champions in 1969 and 1970.
In 1970, Dipl.-Ing. Dr.techn. Heinz Lippitsch ends his racing career and joins Rotax as Development Manager.
- Heinz Lippitsch on the Rotax 125 at the international Tulln-Langenlebarn airfield race in 1968, in front of a Honda. The double disc front brake is revolutionary.
- Alongside Lippitsch, Werner Schmied and Heinz Kriwanek are the two other successful Rotax drivers.
The 70sBOMBARDIER GETS ON BOARD
INITIAL RECOGNITION AND SUCCESS
Rotax supplies Bombardier with water-cooled 500cc snowmobile engines, which are suitable for installation in racing motorcycles – the double rotary valve control provides sufficient power. The engine is mounted on a console and connected to a five-speed gearbox via a dry clutch. The scope for entering it into World Championship races is limited, however, because it would be competing against four-cylinder engines. Nevertheless, there are notable achievements, including for Alois Maxwald, who gained seventh place in the GDR Grand Prix and became Austrian state champion in 1973.
BMW IS THE BE ALL AND END ALL
The engine is also used in the sidecar class. Siegfried Wartbichler provides the basic structure of the vehicle and achieves several national successes. The highest ranking in the World Championships is achieved by Herbert Prügl/Hannes Kußberger in 1975, who take third place on the Salzburgring. At that time, the BMW sidecars set the standard.
NEW DEVELOPMENTS FOR BOMBARDIER
With Bombardier wanting to enter the motorcycle market, Rotax develops a new engine series (125cc to 250 cc) – initially for off-road motorcycles. Modifying the engine to include a short intake and water cooling, they create a 125cc road race engine (Type 124), which is used successfully, by Johann Zemsauer among others. In 1975, Zemsauer finishes the World Championship in ninth place, making him the world’s best single-cylinder driver in a scene dominated by Morbidelli two-cylinder engines.
- In 1973, US rider Bob Barker sets a world speed record of 222.1 km/h for single cylinder 125cc motorcycles, with the Rotax engine in a Can-Am chassis at Salt Lake in Bonneville, Utah, a record that still stands today.
- Siegfried Wartbichler, the brains behind the transmission and vehicle construction. Shown here with passenger Hochhut, who himself is an active participant in the 1971 Behamberg race.
- Alois Maxwald in Aspern, 1973, intrepid on the heavy two-cylinder Type 498, derived from a snowmobile engine. He is also successful in the World Championships but is slowed down there due to occasional technical faults.
- The internationally successful Johann Zemsauer with the 125cc Rotax engine on a custom-built chassis, 1973.
The 80sRACE TO THE TOP
ENTRY TO THE 250 CC CLASS
Rotax enters the 250 cc class thanks to Swedish two-time world champion Kent Andersson. Rotax implements his proposal to build a tandem engine from two Type 124 engines, with the cylinders arranged one behind the other. The Type 256 is thus produced with an output of approximately 78 HP at 12,000 1/min. In the 1982 World Championships, Jeffrey Sayle is already a front-runner on the Armstrong Rotax. Manfred Herweh loses the World Championship title in 1984 due to an unfortunate crash in the final race and finishes overall second on a Real Rotax.
APRILIA WINS WITH ROTAX
From 1985 onwards, Aprilia successfully introduces Rotax engines and achieves some top results with Loris Reggiani. The European Championship titles go to Rotax drivers in 1983, 1986 (the Austrian Hans Lindner), 1987 and 1989.
BREAKTHROUGH WITH NEW SINGLE-CYLINDER ENGINE
In the Motorcycle World Championships, 125cc class, the FIM decides to only allow single-cylinder engines. Rotax therefore decides to build an all-out racing engine – the Type 128. Naturally, it’s water-cooled, and the engine features patented pneumatic exhaust valve control, rotary valves and a six-speed cassette transmission. The output is approximately 37 HP at 12,000 1/min. Renowned chassis builders such as Gazzaniga, Waddon and Bakker are interested in the engine. In 1984, Aprilia also begins test drives with Loris Reggiani. However, the engine doesn’t make the World Championship rankings until 1988, when it is used by Gazzaniga and Aprilia. JJ Cobas then have a sudden breakthrough in 1989. Àlex Crivillé instantly becomes world champion – the first to win with a Rotax engine in a class dominated by Honda.
- Loris Reggiani in Misano on the Aprilia test motorcycle, 1987
- Andreas Preining next to August Auinger and Hans Lindner, one of the successful Austrian drivers. Winner of the Jerez European Championship race, 1989.
- REAL-sponsored Rotax 256 by Manfred Herweh in the 1984 World Championship season
The 90sREFINEMENT FOR SUPERIOR PERFORMANCE
MULTIPLE 250 CC WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Aprilia’s suggestion, Rotax designs a new 250cc racing engine – the Type 258. The tandem principle is retained, and the cylinders are now arranged in a V. From 1994 onwards, prompted by strong Japanese competition, Aprilia Racing Service Manager Ian Witteveen takes over further development in addition to the fine-tuning of the engines. 1994 also marks the first of successive years that see Max Biaggi as world champion with the Rotax engine. He is succeeded by Loris Capirossi and Valentino Rossi.
FURTHER SUCCESS WITH 125 CC
In the 125cc class, too, the Rotax 129, which has undergone further development, proves successful. Alessandro Gramigni wins the title; the other world champions are Kazuto Sakata and Valentino Rossi. The most successful Austrian racer, Andreas Preining, achieves good rankings.
MASTER OF ALL CLASSES
The four-stroke 504 engine and its advances – above all the dual cam engine – offers many drivers the opportunity to compete. The relevant class, in which Team UNO is particularly active, is Sound of Singles (SoS). Thomas Körner wins the most important single cylinder race in the USA in Daytona, 1995, as well as the European Cup. The team wins countless national championship titles in Europe and the US –with Kent Andersson in Sweden, for example. Per Olov Ogeborn becomes European Champion in 1999, in the class renamed Supermono in 1996. Thereafter, the Rotax 654 takes over the success story seamlessly. Launched in 1993, it was discovered and modified by Gottfried Michels (Team PAMI). Dave Morris wins the Tourist Trophy in the Singles class from 1997 to 1999.
The 2000sEND OF THE TWO-STROKE ERA
FOUR-STROKE ENGINE REPLACES TWO-STROKE ONES AFTER 143 GP VICTORIES
In the 250cc road championship, Aprilia continues its successes with world champions Marco Melandri, Manuel Poggiali and Jorge Lorenzo. In 2010, this two-stroke class is replaced by the Moto 2 four-stroke class, which ends Rotax’s involvement. Aprilia has scored a total of 143 GP victories.
The two-stroke era is also coming to an end in the 125cc class, but Aprilia continues to have success with the Rotax 129. Roberto Locatelli, Arnaud Vincent, Alvaro Bautista, Gabor Talmasci and Julian Simon each win the title.
ROTAX HAS FIRM GRIP ON FOUR-STROKE SCENE
Type 654 has now arrived on the four-stroke scene. In the Supermono class, the European Championship is firmly Rotax’s hands, with the company achieving ever higher levels of performance. Steve Marlow, Benny Jerzenbeck, Mark Lawes and Manfred Kehrmann win the titles in 2001 and from 2003 to 2009.
The characteristics of the two-cylinder Type 990 engine, developed for Aprilia and put into series production in 1995, lead to it being used in the World Superbike Championships. In 2000 and 2001, Troy Corser attains overall third and fourth position respectively, after several victories against dominant brands Ducati and Honda.
TRADITION INSPIRES MODERNITY
Over the years, the old Rotax 604 engines continue to be successful in the world’s most famous hill climb at Pikes Peak, USA. In 2007, Davey Durell once again unloads his 1996 motorcycle and wins against many modern and highly sophisticated machines from other manufacturers.
In 2007, Rotax launches the Type 1125, a sporty V2 four-stroke engine, for Eric Buell. It is used for some of the AMA Pro American SB championship races. Taylor Knapp and others achieve remarkable successes during the short time these engines are deployed.
The 2010sEVENTFUL TIMES
WITHDRAWAL FROM RACING
From 2012, the Motorcycle Road World Championship regulations provide for 250cc four-stroke engines rather than for 125cc two-stroke engines in the Moto 3 class. The final title of the old class goes to Aprilia in 2011, after a total of 151 GP victories by Nico Terol. Maverick Vinales and Romano Fenati also win the 2010 and 2011 European Championships. Rotax then withdraws from this scene, too.
The Rotax 449, having originally been developed in 2008 for the Can-Am DS 450, finds an unexpected second application, with Gottfried Michels and Rainer Happeck building a light and agile motorcycle based on a Moto 3 chassis. Racing driver Jerry van den Bunt is consequently in the running with it against the powerful KTM with its higher capacity (the class allows 800cc) and he becomes European Champion in the Supermono class in 2016. Unfortunately, he is unable to take part in all the races for professional reasons and therefore scores few points.
THE FAMILY EXPANDS
In 2012, the Rotax 804 gets a powerful big brother, the Type 904, which is installed in the Husqvarna Nuda. Austrian Jürgen Schönleitner secures the FIM European Mountain Champion title 2013, in the Supermoto class.
The “somewhat bland” Type 804 from BMW F800 is used by Ron Wood for flat track racing in the USA, as is every motorcycle that bears the Rotax initials.
RELIABLE OFF-ROAD PERFORMANCEOFF-ROAD MOTORCYCLES
THE 50s & 60sTHE BEGINNING
COLLABORATION WITH KTM
KTM is the up-and-coming motorcycle brand in Austria and competes with Puch. Series production begins in 1953. Since the company as yet lacks its own engine production facility, it uses the tried and tested Rotax engines licensed by Sachs.
Races are primarily contested for the purposes of classification on unsurfaced roads, which leads to many classifications being contested. In 1955, KTM turns its attention to lower-lying off-road circuits. Erwin Lechner is this era’s all-rounder and has success on all types of terrain. It is mostly the air-cooled two-stroke 125cc engines and four-speed gearbox from the KTM Mustang model that are used, including in the 175cc class. The engine is invariably described as robust and reliable.
In addition to national competitions, the engine is used in classic international six-day races and European Motocross competitions, with good results. Eduard Beranek and Erwin Lechner finish 5th and 7th on KTM in the six-day race in Gottwaldov in 1955, for instance; the national team comes 4th.
SUCCESS AND WITHDRAWAL
During the six-day race in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1956, the only two gold medals won by the Austrian Trophy Team are on KTM machines with the Rotax 125cc engine.
In 1965, the Italian national team use KTM machines with the old 125cc Rotax engine for the Valli Bergamasche. Toni Kiemeswenger is the last internationally successful driver, and is also Austrian State Champion in 1965 in the 125cc class.
KTM is now reliant on Sachs engines and starts producing its own engines. Rotax is not yet involved with new developments in motorcycle engines and thus disappears from the results lists for the time being.
- Egon Dornauer on KTM 125 on his way to the gold medal at the 31st Six Days Trials in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 1956.
- Track racing at Salzburg Aigen on 06/26/1955, organized by the ARBÖ (Austrian Automobile Association): Erwin Lechner, winner on the KTM Rotax 125 of the handicap race for all classes, and of the under 125cc touring machines class.
- Paul Schwarz at the presentation of the KTM Mustang, 1957 model
THE 70sDEVELOPMENT & PROGRESS
CAN-AM IN THE FAST LANE
Bombardier enters off-road motorcycling with the Can-Am brand. US-American Gary Robinson takes over development management. Rotax develops Type 124, 174 and 244 engines, air-cooled single-cylinder two-stroke engines with six- and five-speed transmissions. The rotary valve control system with a narrow, rear intake duct leading to the rear is a new feature.
Gary Jones wins the AMA 250cc Motocross title as early as 1974. In off-road sports, the focus is on the International Six Day Trials; the Canadian national team wins a silver medal at the ISDT in Spindlermühle in 1972. Both Canadian and Australian racers compete on Can-Am motorcycles. In 1974, an attempt is made to enter the 500cc Motocross class. The Type 406 is introduced via the intermediate step of the Type 366 in 1978, with an output of approximately 48 HP at 6,700 rpm.
TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS AND NEW CHALLENGES
However, the increased engine power cannot offset the rapid developments in chassis and suspension, especially by the Japanese competition. Even the introduction of a water-cooled engine for the 250cc class – the 244LC – does not stop the decline.
STANDSTILL IN CANADA – SUCCESS IN AUSTRIA
Chassis development is always one season behind the competition. In 1980, declining sales lead to the cessation of motorcycle production in Canada and to relocation to the English motorcycle manufacturer CCM-Armstrong.
In Austria, Rotax establishes its own production team, which takes Michael to the 125cc and 250cc double State Championship in 1978.
ROTAX ENGINES FOR ALL
Can-Am’s exclusivity rights expire in 1976, allowing other companies to use the engines. Among these are Kramer, inventor of the cantilever swing arm, Puch (after they have given up producing engines themselves) and SWM. Guglielmo Andreini repeatedly becomes national off-road champion and European Champion and wins the Valli Bergamasche in several classes. Puch transfers vehicle production to the Italian family business Frigerio. The Italian team takes part in the 1976 six-day race – Sergio Belussi finishes second in the 175cc category.
- Gary Jones, member of the “Dream Team”, which takes the first three places in the 1974 US Motocross championship.
- Jeff Smith, sixties Motocross legend, who plays a decisive role in building up the Can-Am racing team. A rare photo showing Jeff Smith on a prototype 125cc machine in 1972.
- Michael Weiß, Austrian double state champion in the 125cc and 250cc class Motocross. He rides a Can-Am for the Rotax works team.
THE 80sNEW DISCIPLINES
GETTING INVOLVED WITH TRIALS
The development of an engine specially designed for “torque at low revs” marks the start of Rotax's involvement in trial racing. The air-cooled Rotax Type 281 allows drivers to ride skillfully on tricky and narrow courses. SWM deploy the engine and Gilles Burgat becomes Outdoor Trial World Champion in 1981, coming third in 1982. Bernie Schreiber is runner-up at the 1982 and 1983 World Championship.
The partnership with Aprilia leads to the TX trial series being equipped with Rotax engines in 1985. The Type 234 is used in addition to the Type 281. Works rider Diego Bosis becomes Italian champion in 1987, 1989 and 1990, and comes third in the 1989 World Championships.
From 1983, Aprilia also builds off-road and Motocross vehicles and is very successful with the GS 250 and MX 250 models, which are powered by Rotax 244 LC. However, driver Giuseppe Andreani starts in the 125cc class with the Rotax Type 124.
POWERFUL ROTAX ENGINES FOR CCM-ARMSTRONG
After the takeover of Can-Am by English motorcycle manufacturer CCM-Armstrong, high quality motorcycles are built there. Rotax offer the newly developed air-cooled Type 486 – with approximately 58 HP at 6,500 rpm, it is the world’s most powerful engine in the 500cc Motocross class. Frigerio uses the engine in its 500 MX model. With approximately 45 HP at 8,500 rpm, the water-cooled 244 LC engine is used in off-road events by CCM-Armstrong and Frigerio.
KTM SUCCESS WITH ROTAX
The Rotax four-stroke engine Type 504 und 560, 604 and 348 variants bring success for KTM in the European off-road championships. The innovative Horst Leitner is particularly active in the USA with his ATK brand; Brian Myerscough wins the title on an ATK in 1985. The Type 604 used above all by Ron Wood in flat track races.
THE 90s & 2000sNEW PRIORITIES
FINAL USE IN TRIALS AT APRILIA
Aprilia’s involvement with the trials ends with the Climber model. Rotax engines are converted to water cooling in Noale. Tommy Ahvala wins the Outdoor World Championship in 1992 and the Indoor World Championship in 1993.
Aprilia continues to compete in the European off-road championships in the 125 cc category using the Rotax Type 122, the successor to the 123. Stefano Passeri loses the lead in the Enduro European championship in 1993 due to injury and finishes third overall.
GERMAN CHAMPIONSHIP FOR BMW
Engine Type 654, previously successfully used in the BMW F650, is used in the sidecar combination. Norbert Degenhardt wins the German off-road championship in 1998 and Uwe Fleck wins the Motocross cup.
SINGLE-CYLINDER SERIES VICTORY WITH THE ROTAX 654
In 1999, BMW takes part in the Paris Dakar Rally on Rotax 654 with a four-man single-cylinder team and Richard Sainct wins the motorcycle category. Andrea Mayer, from the same team, wins the women’s category. However, the two riders on the 900RR Boxer model, sent along by BMW as a precautionary measure, are unsuccessful.
Richard Sainct repeats his success in 2000 on the Gauloise-BMW with the Rotax 654 – taking places two and four as well, a perfect success for the single-cylinder team.
In the side-car combination, Uwe Fleck wins the German off-road championship title in 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2004 with the 654 single-cylinder four-stroke engine.
BOMBARDIER TAKES OVER OFF-ROAD
Rotax’s involvement with motorcycle off-road events comes to an end in the early 2000s since there are no notable new engine developments and no suitable vehicle manufacturer as a partner.
Therefore, the off-road focus lies in the ATV and SSV sector and is taken forward with the Bombardier brand, eventually coming full circle with the Can-Am brand.
AN ACE ON SNOWSNOWMOBILES
THE 60sBUILT FOR RACING
CHALLENGE FROM THE VERY FIRST MINUTE
“As soon as the second snowmobile was built, the first race began” (Anon).
Organized races are held from 1962 onwards, with prizes such as coffee cups. Having identified Rotax as the engine supplier for his revolutionary snowmobile, Armand Bombardier orders 500 engines this year. In 1964, Monte Wight experiments with an expansion chamber exhaust system for the Ski-Doo Super Olympique model and achieves 10.5 HP.
Not the first ever, but the first “global Snowmobile Derby” to be widely advertised is held in Eagle River/Wisconsin in 1964. Rules are few and far between and there is a lot of cheating.
In 1965, the first cross country race is held, the Hodag 50, from Rhinelander to Eagle River. Jean-Luc Bombardier wins the open class on a Ski-Doo.
In order to regulate the growing racing scene, the USSA (United States Snowmobile Association) is founded. The rules are often changed, particularly in relation to the differences between Stock and Modified vehicles. One weekend, Luther Ison succeeds in winning all 16 classes by converting his Ski-Doo at lightning speed.
STEVE AVE IS THE FIRST WORLD CHAMPION
The first World Championship in Eagle River is won by Steve Ave on an Olympique, who has been persuaded to install the new Rotax 3700 the evening before the race by Laurent Beaudoin, now CEO of Bombardier.
In 1967, Steve Ave wins the Hodag 50, and Duane Frandsen is victorious in the Finals on a Rotax 494. Ave is again successful in 1968. It is interesting to note here that one week before the start of the race, the prepared snowmobiles are damaged by fire and Hans Holzleitner, who later spends many years as technical race supervisor at Rotax, has to prepare replacement engines.
Pauli Ahvonen has 100 snowmobiles with Rotax engines built in Finland in 1962 on his own initiative, and wins the Finnish Championships in 1969.
- Duane Frandsen wins the World Championship at Eagle River in 1967, on a Ski-Doo Olympique with the Rotax Type 494. (Copyright: Hal Armstrong)
THE 70sNEW DIRECTIONS
TAKEOVER BY BOMBARDIER
After Bombardier takes over the Lohner-Werke in 1970 – and with them, Rotax with its roughly one thousand employees in Gunskirchen – the number of engines Rotax supplies increases, as do the number of variants. So-called “free air” engines are used for the races because the cooling fan consumes too much power. The most powerful of these is the three-cylinder Type 797 with 65 HP in the TN’T (Track and Trail) and Blizzard chassis. Yvon Duhamel wins the four-day endurance race from Winnipeg/Manitoba to St. Paul/Minnesota on this machine in 1972. T
ENERGY CRISIS PREVENTS PARTICIPATION IN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Despite countless victories at other events, Rotax sees only one World Championship title at Eagle River this decade, won by Duhamel (later a motorcycle racer) in 1970. In 1974, Bombardier decides not to participate in the World Championships due to the energy crisis.
THE ERA OF WATER COOLED ROTAX ENGINES
The era of water-cooled Rotax rotary valve engines begins in 1975, with the two-cylinder Type 245 in the T’NT for the 250cc racing class. The Decker family, or Bobby Donahue and Doug Hayes, are well-known drivers. Rotax engineers work in close collaboration with the Ski-Doo teams. Even the US Navy starts to use Rotax engines and is voted Team of the Year 77/78.
The vehicles are built lower and wider now. In addition, the driver sits eccentrically on the inner caterpillar, so as to achieve better weight distribution.
In Scandinavia, the most famous championships take place in Sweden. Ski-Doo win many classes – both in Snowcross and on the oval tracks.
- Vehicles changed their shape and adapted to oval track racing. Pictured here is a Blizzard from 1978.
- Up to 1976, Artic Cat, Polaris and Bombardier set faster and faster snowmobile speed records, travelling well in excess of 200 km/h. Pictured here is a Ski-Doo X-4R with four three cylinder two stroke engines. The competitions were discontinued for safety
- RV 340 with the two cylinder free-air type 339
- The start of the Winnipeg – St.Paul 500 race in 1972, at minus 25 degrees Celsius.
THE 80sBECOMING A WINNING BRAND
CONTINUAL INCREASES IN SPEED
In 1984, Gaetan Duval, head of the Ski-Doo racing department, skillfully interprets the regulations and distributes the permitted caterpillar width between two external caterpillars. The drive axle is divided and only the outer caterpillar is powered on the bends. These special snowmobiles drive the average speed higher and higher, with the result that the WSRF lowers the allowable cubic capacity limit from 440 to 340 cc. Rotax then develops the Type 354 SP, which, with approximately 105 HP at 9,800 rpm, remains the snowmobile motor with the highest specific capacity for decades. Even after the change in regulations, the top speed on the straight of the half-mile track is 160 km/h, and in the bends it’s about 90 km/h. Ski-Doo wins eight out of ten World Championships this decade, three of which are won by Jacques Villeneuve, the uncle and namesake of the Formula 1 driver.
SNOWCROSS ESTABLISHES ITSELF
In 1981, a new type of competition is created in Sweden, known as Snowcross, which is initially held on the winding runs of an oval track’s “infield”. This is later also equipped with ramps, so that these courses generate a lot of excitement. All-rounder Brad Hulings becomes international Snowcross champion in 1983.
FIRST SUCCESSES FOR LYNX
The most successful snowmobiles in Scandinavia are the Ski-Doo Formula MX Pro Stock and the Lynx 3300 GLS, which are powered by Rotax 465, 583 and 643 engines. Under the leadership of Race Service Manager Bosse Strandberg, brothers Johansson and Börje Arvdal win many titles. The Lynx brand only appears in the results in 1985; Pauli Piippola develops a revolutionary chassis that he uses himself. It turns a former tractor factory into a winning brand.
- Brad Hulings on the revolutionary two-caterpillar snowmobile that assists the steering process.
- Brothers Johanson and Rickard on Ski-Doo; Krister on Lynx. Both use the same Rotax engines.
- Sylvain Laflamme after his victory at the Grand Prix de Valcourt in 1987. In the Pro Sprint class, series engines must be used. A Type 465 (a re-bored 454), which originates from the Formula models of 1984, is shown below.
- World Championship run at Eagle River. In order to achieve high turning speeds on the icy oval course, the vehicle's and body’s center of gravity must be low and far inside.
The 90sDOMINANT ON SNOW
SKI-DOO UNRIVALLED IN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Ski-Doo wins all the World Championships at Eagle River. Their advantage, gained from the Twin Track chassis and the powerful Rotax engines, leads to the diminished interest of competitors Arctic Cat, Polaris and Yamaha in competitions on the oval.
WINTER X-GAMES ARE BORN
From 1998 onwards, the Winter X-Games are held in the USA, with many attractive competitions. The very first winner of the Snowcross of this series is Toni Haikonen, on Ski-Doo.
In Europe, the main sporting focus is again on the Snowcross in Scandinavia. Krister Johansson, Mats Öhman and Janne Tapio dominate the national and European championships. The air-cooled 277, 503 and 552 engines provide a kind of entry-level class. Modifications such as increased fan speed or cylinder modifications are permitted. Some winners in this category will later become the greats of this racing sport.
LYNX TECHNICIANS RECOGNIZE CHASSIS AS KEY FOR SUCCESS
In Europe, Pauli Piippola sets the pace in this decade. This victorious racing driver, along with skilled technicians and inventors, motivates a powerful team. The chassis is recognized as an essential factor for racing success – especially on cross-country courses. The Lynx technicians develop ever better suspensions and frames during their nocturnal shifts, which they dedicate to painstaking work. Some of their groundbreaking modifications are incorporated into the series and make it easier to ride on the bumpy trails. Air-cooled engines are soon replaced by water-cooled ones. The Rotax 670 is used in the famous Lynx Cobra chassis, and its response is improved by modified carburetors with lighter sliders. Totaltec achieve highly competitive vehicles in this way.
- Toni Haikonen from Finland, flying on a Ski-Doo MXZ 670. He invents the double jump technique, jumping higher and further than the competition.
The 2000sNEW STANDARDS
PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES
Ski-Doo sets a new standard with the new REV series 2003. The vehicle allows an ergonomically favorable seating position and the center of gravity is further forward. The riding style is similar to Motocross now; the rider stands up and the jumps get bigger and higher. All the competitors follow suit and copy the technique. In Snowcross, FIM announce a World Championship, which Janne Tapio wins on Lynx in 2003. From 2004 onwards, the competition is called Snowcross Championship. Janne Tapio, Peter Ericson and Emil Öhman dominate as world champions until 2009.
SUCCESS WITH DIAPHRAGM-CONTROLLED ENGINES DESPITE RULE CHANGES
The new diaphragm-controlled Rotax 793 meets all the requirements for performance and durability. The earlier re-boring of the engines is therefore obsolete, and so are the double exhaust systems. As of 2007, the regulations limit capacity to 600cc. Rotax has the Type 593 at the ready, which seamlessly continues the successes.
FIRST SKI-DOO VICTORY AT IRON DOG
Ever since 1984, Alaska has been host to the toughest endurance race, the Iron Dog. Over two thousand miles of track lead through the arctic wilderness in deepest winter – hundreds of miles over the frozen Yukon. The Mark Carr/Dusty Van Meter team wins the Ski-Doo competition for the first time in 2004.
World Championship hill climb, 670 engine, Jackson Hole, first summit victory, Marc Thompson
In 2004, Ski-Doo wins three-quarters of the major competitions in the Snowcross, X-Games and King of the Hill events.
The 2010sMASTER OF THE CLASS
SKI-DOO DOMINATES SNOWCROSS COMPETITIONS
Ski-Doo dominates the much more interesting Snowcross competitions – which have a starting age of eight. Adam Renheim is world champion from 2013 to 2019. The engine is a Rotax 597, in the carburetor version until 2017, and thereafter in the E-TEC direct injection version. Drivers are able to use kits to convert their engines from Stock to Open Mod. In the grand finale of the Lake Geneva/Wisconsin 2019 competitions, Ski-Doo is on the podium in most categories. Rotax-powered Ski-Doos are also dominating the start of the 2020 season.
The reputation and market dominance of Ski-Doo and Lynx are not only consolidated by racing success; the brands are also boosted by popular figures such as “Iceman” Kimi Raikkonen, who uses Rotax engines, for instance when he wins his class at the King of Snowmobile in Tahko.
THE DRIVING FORCE OF THE RACING SERIESKART
The 70sTHE FOUNDATIONS OF LATER SUCCESS
WHAT DOESN’T FIT IS MADE TO FIT
With the entry of Bombardier into the motorcycle market, the Type 124 from the MX and TNT models becomes available. Private drivers such as Wels native Johann Urhofer start using the engine as early as 1972. The location of the tailpipe outlet at the front, having been designed for motorcycles, is only of limited suitability and thus the cylinder is rotated 180 degrees, enabling the tailpipe to be shifted backwards, saving space. Performance at over 10,000 rpm also needs to be addressed. So a rotary valve cover is constructed that significantly shortens the intake system compared with the motorcycle.
ITALIAN CHAMPIONS THANKS TO MODIFICATIONS
By 1975, the 125 model has a more efficient dry clutch and a water-cooled cylinder to protect the engine against piston seizure. Towards the end of the seventies, the engine is being used by many national and international pilots. Franco Baroni becomes Italian Champion in the 125 cc class - and in the country with the greatest competition, no less.
CHALLENGES OF THE CLASS
When people refer to karts in these years, they mostly mean the 100 cc class with an air-cooled two-stroke engine, which was the most widespread. It is a crowded field, with Italian brands to the fore. In the late seventies, Rotax begins to think about entering this class. The disadvantage here is its lack of partnership with a frame manufacturer. And besides this, the CIK (Commission Internationale de Karting) stipulates a homologated series of 100 engines. As a result of these risks, Rotax postpones its entry into karting.
- Beginnings in 1972 with the air-cooled Type 124 from the Can-am motorcycle
- The Type 125, specially modified for use in karts, with a short intake, dry clutch and water-cooled cylinder. Tailpipe at the back. Without RAVE, since this is not permitted by the CIK.
The 80sSTARTING AS TRAILBLAZERS
MOTORCYCLE ENGINE FOR KARTS
Water-cooled engines become popular in the 125 cc shifter kart class. Rotax has the Type 128 with dry clutch and six-speed cassette transmission from the motorcycle World Championship. The carburetor moves to the right hand side. The Formula C class permits the exhaust valve. Gianfranco Baroni becomes European Champion in 1981.
INTRODUCING THE ROTAX 100 DS
In 1983, Rotax enters the far less technically regulated Formula K with the rotary valve-controlled Type 100; however, the Rotax RAVE's modern exhaust control is immediately scotched by a change in CIK regulations. Tony Kart in Brescia becomes the first company to purchase the Rotax 100 DS.
This is the beginning, and in 1986, Rotax also homologates the diaphragm-controlled Type 100.
The DS is often faster than the competition’s 135 cc engines. In 1988 Emmanuel Collard becomes World Super-100 Champion.
SQUEEZING OUT THE COMPETITION
The premium karting class for engines up to 250 cc is also designated a “long-course” class, since it primarily races on automobile circuits at speeds of over 250 km/h. To start with, the class is dominated by Yamaha motorcycle engines. That changes when Rotax introduces the Type 256 tandem twin, whose performance and slimmer construction squeezes out the competition from the middle of the decade. However, the Rotax engine is soon copied by other producers. In the Superkart Formula E (later Division 1), Martin Hines becomes the first World Champion on a ZIP kart in 1983.
- Formula 1 driver Jan Magnussen, winning in the in the diaphragm-controlled Rotax 100.
- World Champion Martin Hines on the Superkart with full cladding.
The 90sAHEAD OF THE CURVE
REMARKABLE RACING SUCCESS
Renowned Dutch automotive racing driver Toine Hezemans takes over the homologation of Rotax engines and becomes a global distributor. He is also the driving force behind Rotax’ homologation of a Junior Class piston-operated 100 cc engine with centrifugal clutch.
We have considerable racing success: Jan Magnussen wins the Formula K World Championship in 1990, followed by Danilo Rossi in the now-renamed Formula Super A in 1992. From 1992 to 1994 the 100 cc Formula Super A title is won by Nicola Gianniberti, David Terrien and Marco Barindelli respectively. In 1993 and 1994, A Gianniberti and Alessandro Manett win the modified Formula Super A.
STANDSTILL IN REGULATIONS BRINGS ABOUT THE END OF THE CLASS
Over time, revs of over 20,000 rpm are achieved, leading to greater noise emissions from the pistons. In many CIK meetings, Rotax attempts to introduce modern technology, such as water cooling instead of vibrating fins, which would enable vehicles to have partial cladding, but keeps on failing due to the rigid approach of officials. Karting tracks are closed as a result of complaints from local residents, Hezemans homologates for the last time in 1995, and even Rotax loses interest in this class, ceasing production at the end of the decade. A final attempt is made to present another modern, water-cooled engine in 1999, but fails in spite of the homologation of 100 components.
THE ROTAX MAX CHALLENGE IS BORN
Rotax now goes its own way and develops a modern 125 cc two-stroke, water-cooled engine, derived from the Aprilia motorcycle Type 123, with RAVE, balance shaft and electric starter. Performance is around 21 kW at 11,500 rpm and a centrifugal clutch ensures easy starting. The Rotax MAX is born and is used by various frame manufacturers. Rotax’ own rules for the new class are approved by the CIK. The RMC (Rotax MAX Challenge) is founded after national races in 1999.
- Future Formula 1 driver Jenson Button on the road to the European Championships title with the rotary valve-controlled Type 100in 1997
- Renowned Formula 1 drivers started with Rotax karts, including Max Verstappen and Jensen Button. Kimi Raikkönen, seen here in the Rotax 100 DS in 1998.
- Flying start at the Assen Superkart.
- Attempting in vain to introduce a water-cooled 100 cc engine. (Copyright: Rotax)
The 2000sIN A CLASS OF ITS OWN
ROTAX MAX CHALLENGE BOOMS
After being tested at national level, where the best RMC pilots qualify, the RMCGF (Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals) are held for the first time in 2000. 66 drivers from 19 countries are on the start line in Puerto Rico. Following the success of this class, Rotax extends the range downwards the same year with the 125 Junior MAX engine. Without RAVE the engine delivers 15 kW at 8,500 rpm and can also be driven by inexperienced pilots. Progress continues in 2004 with the type 125 Mini MAX, whose throttle means it is restricted to 10 kW at 8,500 rpm and is intended to encourage beginners to try karting. Finally the Micro MAX for children is introduced in 2007, with 5 kW at 6,500 rpm.
INTRODUCTION OF THE DUALDRIVE 2 ENGINE
There are also innovations on top. The unpopular chain drive is replaced with a design in which the rear axle runs through the engine, enabling a two-speed transmission to be installed. The gears are operated via a paddle on the steering wheel. Performance is now 24 kW at 11,750 rpm. Rotax wins over the skeptics about this design (rear axle being damaged by “wheelbanging” would destroy the entire engine) by producing its own vehicle with an overload clutch in the axle. The RM1 DD2 (Rotax MAX1 DualDrive 2 gear) is produced from 2002 to 2007. Once it has gained acceptance, Rotax pulls back from vehicle manufacture again, supplying frame manufacturers with the DD2 engine.
- Andreas Mairzedt, Superkart World Series Division 1 Champion in 2000, with the Rotax type 256. Maximum speed logged in Monza: 307 km/h.
- Rotax MAX in use at the Rotax MAX Challenge Final 2007 in Al Ain, UAE
- Another kind of motorsport: At timbersports competitions, the Hallat company used the Rotax 257 kart engine, which had had success in the Superkarts Division 2.
- The revolutionary Rotax RM1 kart in action.
The 2010sPOWERED BY ELECTRICITY
ROTAX MAX CHALLENGE AT FULL THROTTLE
The Rotax MAX Challenge has consolidated its position as a manufacturers’ championship, the final events have reached a considerable size and are well organized. The Grand Finals always see more than 350 drivers from 60 countries on the start line. In 2015, Rotax presents a further development of the EVO model.
ELECTRIC POWER FOR KARTS
2018 sees Rotax enter uncharted territory: The small scale of karting racetracks and local pressure to reduce exhaust emissions make electrification of vehicles a necessity. So after a short development phase, Rotax presents its first electric powerpack for Rotax racing karts - the Rotax THUNDeR - to the public. The German eKart Championships (Deutsche E-Kart Meisterschaft, or DEKM) come into being. Under the auspices of the German Motorsports Association, renowned partners including Porsche Engineering and DEKRA come together for the first time from across the world to race on demanding circuits. Since this is a brand cup, it is a challenge for all participants to deliver the same engine performance. The combustion engine karts Grand Finals in Brazil in 2018 also include the first South Americas e-karts Cup, with the support of the FIA (Federation Internacional de Automobile).
In 2019 Rotax presents its new, lighter, second-generation eKart at the Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals - developed under the name of “Project E20” and with a greater range and higher performance than its predecessor. Its driving performance is close to that of combustion powertrains.
EKARTS FOR INDOOR USE
Rotax goes a step further in 2019, developing an eKart for indoor use. Engine performance is of course reduced - it’s all about bringing karting to a broader public. To this end, the first Rotax MAX Dome is constructed in Linz, where an appealing circuit also provides the opportunity to undertake tactical missions, and heralds a new era of eKart racing.
- The small class Micro MAX Grand Finals, held for the first time in Portugal in 2012.
- Successful Formula 1 driver Rubens Barichello continues to take part in the Grand Finals in 2015, seen here with members of the Rotax organizational team.
- The Rotax THUNDeR kart at the German eKart Championships 2019 in Ampfing.
RISING WITH THE TIDESSEA-DOO
The 90sTHE SUCCESS STORY BEGINS
After it becomes clear in 1969 that the easily overheated water cooled engine of the Buccaneer, the first Sea-Doo, is unsuitable for racing, and production of its water-cooled successor, the 373, has to cease in 1970 due to an inefficient jet pump, Bombardier begins producing boats. The SP boat is followed by the first real race-ready boat, the Type XP, in 1991, which initially has the Rotax 587 two-stroke dual carburetor. Up to 1990, watercraft races are only regulated by the APBA (American Power Boat Association), but due to high levels of public interest the more influential IJSBA (International Jet Sports Boat Association) brings them into its program from 1993.
SEA-DOO VICTORIOUS AT FIRST GO
The first Runabout Pro class World Championships and US National Championships are won by Bo Dupriest on a Sea-Doo XP. In 1996 and 1997, Sea-Doo wins 14 out of a possible 17 World Championship titles in the various classes - all held on Lake Havasu, Arizona. Franco Dettori, previously the Development Engineer, takes over responsibility for improving engine performance. The best-known drivers are Chris Fischetti and Dustin Farthing with Rotax 787 engines. Karine Paturel is unbeatable in the women’s class between 1995 and 1998 and even manages to give the men a run for their money
40 ENGINES A SEASON
In 1998 and 1999 the PWC market declines and companies that have put large sums into racing collectively decide to cut costs. Up to this point Rotax have been supplying the US team with 40 engines per season via Bombardier.
- Bo Dupriest on the Sea-Doo XP “sit-up” boat, at the start of a successful series.
- Chris Fischetti on the Sea-Doo HX at a photo shoot in Bradenton, Florida.
- Dustin Farthing
The 2000sSURFING THE WAVE OF SUCCESS
A CONTESTED FIELD
Due to the many international championships held by the UIM (Union Internationale Motonautique) and IJSBA, including the performance classes, and the nature of the competitions (offshore races and narrow courses marked by buoys), not all Sea-Doos powered by Rotax are able to achieve success here. The major competitors are Yamaha, Kawasaki and Polaris.
In order to remain competitive in the two-stroke classes, Rotax modifies the Type 947, creating a 1,050 cc variant, on which Rotax driver Jimmi Bosio wins the UIM World Championships in 2001 and 2002. The boats are constructed in Gunskirchen and financed by Bombardier Europe.
FOUR-STROKE ENGINE TREND TAKES HOLD
Rotax picks up on the emerging trend for four-stroke engines in 2002, racing the three-cylinder 1503 NA for the first time in the African rally raid. One year later comes the 1503 with mechanical supercharging and approx. 260 HP. In 2005, all two-stroke engines disappear from the racing scene.
Francky Zapata, who has previously had success with Types 787, 947 and 1015, twice becomes World Champion on with the 1503. Cyrille Lemoine is ideally suited to the Offshore and Closed Course competitions, winning 12 titles.
ROTAX ENGINES DOMINATE
2009 is the most successful year so far, with a double victory in the key Runabout Pro Open class at the IJSBA World Finals in Lake Havasu. Across this decade we win the majority of major titles. In the women’s class, Kylie Ellmers dominates from 2008 to 2010.
- The start of a Runabout race at Lake Havasu, with assistants holding their drivers’ craft in position.
The 2010sDOMINANT ON WATER
FURTHER SUCCESS WITH THREE CYLINDERS
The triumphal march of the Rotax three-cylinder continues. Cyrille Lemoine and Mattia Fracasso win the UIM Runabout GP1 World Championship in 2010 and 2011, still on the Type 1503 Booster with a cylinder capacity of 1500 cc. The hull is an RXP-X supplied by Sea-Doo.
In 2013, BRP supports many events and teams through its “Big Bucks” program. James Busell is particularly successful, becoming multiple world champion in the Runabout Pro class. Yousef al Abdulrazzaq acts as brand ambassador in the Arabian world, winning titles in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES
In order to take maximum advantage of the class’ capacity limit of 2,000 cc, Franco Dettori, the then Development Engineer, modifies the 1503, lengthening the stroke and creating a 1,600 cc prototype, on which Teddy Pons becomes 2014 UIM World Champion and Jean-Baptiste Botti wins the IJSBA Pro Open. 420 HP and a modified jet pump are enough to achieve a speed of 140 km/h. The prototype then also goes into series production as the Rotax 1603 in 2015.
A re-bored 1,700 cc variant, again based on this, is created, and Jeremy Perez clinches the 2018 UIM title on it.
And that’s not all: we also have race-ready 1,800 cc prototypes that get close to the 500 HP limit and are expected to achieve new records and successes.
SUCCESS ON ALL TERRAINSATV/SSV
The 2000sA BRILLIANT START
"The biggest, baddest, fastest, most powerful Quad ever"
In 1999, Bombardier enters the ATV sporting scene with a bang: “The biggest, baddest, fastest, most powerful quad ever”, is how the headline of Dirt Wheels magazine describes the DS 650 model with the Rotax 654. Greg Row wins the desert rally in Baja, California, on it in 2000.
Vikus van Deventer from South Africa uses the vehicle in the Paris-Dakar Rally in 2002 and is the only one in this class to finish the race. The following year, Bombardier takes second, third, fourth and fifth places. With the knowledge they have gained, the DS riders are unstoppable. Cornel de Villiers wins in 2004 and Antoine Morel in 2005; in 2006, a triple success follows, le above all by Joan Manuel Gonzales.
FURTHER USE OF THE DS 650
From 2009 onwards, the Dakar Rally takes place in South America and Marcos Patronelli comes second on a Can-Am Renegade. The Yamaha Raptor is unbeatable on the high-speed legs; Rotax has no further top results after the withdrawal of the DS 650.
The DS 650 is also used in the South African Enduro Championships. Their most famous race takes place in Lesotho and is known as the “Roof of Africa”. The Rotax logs racing and championship victories for several years.
CAN-AM VICTORIOUS WITH ROTAX
2005 sees the start of racing success for the Can-Am Outlander. In the USA, this Rotax 810- powered vehicle wins the GNCC (Grand National Cross Country) utility class titles for the rest of the decade. The most successful riders are Mike Penland and Michael Swift.
In 2007, Can-Am presents a sports quad with an aluminum frame and the fuel-injection Rotax 449, which has been radically designed, exclusively for cross competitions in the new 450 cc category. Josh Fredericks wins the WORCS series this year, the first time he competes in it. At the popular stadium events in 2009, Chad Wienen wins the Montreal Supercross ahead of his teammate John Natalie.
The 2010sCAN-AM DOMINATES
FURTHER ALONG THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
Can-Am wins every GNCC championship in the Utility Open and 4x4 Pro classes. Bryan Buckhannon und Kevin Cunningham take center stage. Can-Am riders win several ATV and side-by-side classes in Canada’s biggest Enduro race, the 12 hours of La Tuque.
In 2012, Josh Frederick wins the Pro ATV class at Baja, California for the team, on the DS 450. The four riders cover the 1,000 miles in 27 hours. They also win the prestigious Pont de Vaux.
The first victory in the Utility class comes in 2014 on a Maverick with the Rotax 1010 XDS. From then on, Can-Am dominates most side-by-side vehicles events, for instance the BITD (Best in the Desert) and the SCORE (Baja) World Championships.
From 2017 to 2019, the Maverick X3 with the turbo charged Rotax 903 emerges victorious in the Vegas to Reno rally. At his first appearance in the WORCS (World Offroad Championship Series), Cody Miller beats out two other Mavericks to take first place in the Pro Turbo class.
CONTINUING THE WINNING STREAK
After the reintroduction of the SXS class at the Dakar rally, Reinaldo Varela/ Gustavo Gugelmin are the undisputed champions in South America in 2018 on a Maverick X3 with the turbocharged Rotax 903. The following year, Francisco Lopez Contardo continues the winning streak and the first ten places are taken solely by Can-Am vehicles.
Can-Am riders win many races worldwide, in America, Africa and Europe. The robust turbo-charged Type 903 engine plays a significant role here, being a favorite with teams such as South Racing and Monster. In only a short space of time, Can-Am has established itself as a key presence on the winners’ rostrum and is on the road to success again.
- A remarkable combination – the boat engine 1503 with a Ski-Doo Variator, used in the Austrian Autocross Championship. Franz Kehrer is state champion in 2013, 2014 and 2018.
- Works rider Kyle Chaney on his Maverick at the Crandon International Raceway in Wisconsin.
- In 2012, Marko Jager wins several national championships as well as the ATV XC European Championship on Outlander 810.