Just what was going through Ray Battersby's mind when it occurred to him to race a Wankel-engined Suzuki RE5 he doesn't reveal. But in 1976, soon after he started working as Heron Suzukis technical representative, he reckoned it would be "novel, quirky and like its engine, a little eccentric".
Trouble was that the RE5 was no racer, by far. "It was underpowered and slow off the mark," recalls Ray. "It was heavy and bulky. It was complex, with a carburettor that had 117 jets and 15 air bleed systems. It consumed prodigious volumes of fuel and oil. The rotor tip seals wore out regularly.
"I recall Suzuki in Japan shipping me 112 wooden crates each containing a complete new rotor housing and rotor assembly. These were stored in the Heron Suzuki service department and were to be used to meet expected warranty problems.
"Finally, its handling was questionable, being based on the chassis of the GT750 which had never covered Itself in glory. And yet, despite these major issues, many people loved it."
Ray reckoned that despite all this it could have an edge in long-distance races, and with the British Formula Racing Clubs 600-mile two-leg race at Cadwell Park as a target he had his eyes on Suzuki's own demonstrator.
But Suzuki GB boss Peter Agg wouldn't let him use It, fearing that any bad publicity would further dent the already sluggish sales of the 108 machines that had already been brought to the UK. Agg wished Ray good luck if he could find an RE5 of his own.
The good luck arrived in the form of Suzuki dealer, one-time racer and ace sponsor Geoff Monty who was prepared to buy an RE5. He also just happened to be the landlord of friend and colleague Rex White, the Stzuki GP racer team manager,
Ray Battersby at Cadwell Park In 1976 on the RE5 he shared with Chris Wilkinson to win the 500cc class In a two-leg 600-mile production event who was renting an apartment behind Geoff's shop in Edenbridge, Kent.
Ray recalls: "I've never really understood how such a great sportsman as Geoff would be prepared to stump up a load of cash for tv/o relatively unknowns to buy an obscure Suzuki RE5 because he didn't have an RES in stock. But that was the nature of this great man."
"The race was run in two daytime stints, over two days, so I needed a riding partner. At the time, I was racing in Vintage Club events and had come to know and like John Wilkinson, a fellow racing committee member and maverick racer who took all of two seconds to agree."
Ray had the funds but still no bike until he found one at the Suzuki dealer In Bradford. "After collecting the bike on the return journey I was riding the bike ahead of John's Vauxhall. When we stopped for fuel, John remarked that its exhaust sounded like a WWII Flying Bomb. The RE5 became Dcodle-Bug at that point."
Another challenge was which class it was to be entered in because the ACU couldn't work out the correct swept volume of the engine and thought it was lOOOcc. With help from Rex White and his friends at the ACU it was classed as a 500cc machine which was how it was registered for road tax.
"Back in my Pershore workshop, I drilled and lock-wired the drain plugs and filler caps and made up the brackets for its racing number plates," says Ray. "I had arranged to meet John and Rex (our team manager for the weekend) at Cadwell Park. Matthew and Margaret Mason had offered to look after the pit-work.
"The rules allowed a maximum of one-hour stints between rider changes. This was fine because the RE5 consumed three gallons of fuel (almost a tankful) and one pint of oil every hour. We were lapping
Rotary Engine 500cc - geddit?
Cadwell's twisty Club circuit at around 65-70mph so that meant that the RE5 was doing around 22mpg and using a pint of oil every 65 miles. And boy, did it run hot!
"Despite its thirst for fuel and lubricant, the machine ran faultlessly for the 600-mile race and as the Sunday leg drew to a close, we were leading the 500cc class and were second overall to a 900cc Ducati Desmo SS ridden by Dennis Noyes.
"As the slower of its two riders, I was pleased that John was riding the final laps of the race and v/ould be taking the chequered flag. But then with only three laps remaining the rear tyre punctured. Amazingly, John continued to race on what we later found was a completely flat tyre. John was a gritty, hard rider...
"So. the RE5 finished second overall at an average speed of around 65mph and won its class in what I believed for 30 years to be the only time an RE5 has ever been raced."
More recently, Ray has been in contact with Swiss enthusiast Hans Reusser who has been vintage racing his Suzuki RES in Switzerland and Germany for the past 10 years. Reusser has modified his RE5 by fitting a 40mm Dell'Orto carburettor and a modified exhaust system and it develops 80bhp at 8500rpm. Reusser has two RE5 machines (an M and an Ai and tunes his engines with help from friend Hanspeter Gunthart, who owns a number of Russian motorcycles, some with Wankel engines.
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