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Full name: Kenneth Leroy Roberts Junior
Born: 25 July 1973
Years with Suzuki: 1999 - 2005
Fast fact: Suzuki’s latest World Champion.
Being the son of the highly successful champion, ‘King Kenny’ Roberts Senior, could have proved daunting for an up-and-coming Kenny Junior, but far from being intimidated by his father’s trophies, he was inspired by them. This determination took him, and Suzuki, to a very special crown in the millennium year.
In The Blood
The Roberts name is synonymous with circuit racing, and it seemed unlikely that young Kenny would take any other path than to follow in the footsteps of his famous father. Indeed, Kenny Roberts Sr is a three-time World Champion, and was the first American to win a Grand Prix title. He paved the way not only for his son, but for a whole legion of American racing stars. In the early 1970s, when Kenny Jr was born, his Dad was still a top level racer and the circuits of the world became a playground for the young pretender.
Grand Prix Debut
In 1993 Kenny made his debut in the top class, which at that time was the 500cc 2-stroke category, with a wildcard ride at his home circuit of Laguna Seca in California. The following season he took a full-time ride in the 250cc class. He began to slowly but surely make a name for himself, and despite a bumpy start which saw him without any podiums or victories, there was one team who had a keen eye on him…
Suzuki See Success
31 years after a teenage Kenny Roberts Sr rode a Suzuki in his home town, the brand saw promise in the young Californian Kenny Jr and in 1999 signed him up to the squad. His debut race for the Hamamatsu factory was in Malaysia and he stunned onlookers by taking a surprise win. As if to prove a point, he backed this up with another victory in Japan, and Suzuki knew they had made an excellent choice. Their confidence in him continued to build as ‘KRJR’ took the fight to GP legend Mick Doohan, and Spanish star Alex Crivillé, for the 1999 title. He finished the year 2nd overall with two wins and four podiums.
Kenny Roberts Sr and Jr remain the only father-son duo to have won World Grand Prix Championships, and their racing pedigree is still held in high regard by racing fans the world over.
The World Title
Kenny Junior was now a fully-fledged Grand Prix rider, and in 2000 he and Suzuki were well prepared to take the fight to their rivals with the RGV500 powerhouse. His main rival that year was a young upstart from Italy named Valentino Rossi! Consistency was key and after a brilliant nine podiums and four wins Kenny sealed the deal with the crown at the Rio Grand Prix in Brasil. Two years later, when the championship switched to 4-stroke machines, ’KRJR’ took Suzuki’s first podium with the GSV-R - the pre-runner to the current GSXR series. He remained with the team until the 2005 season.
Kenny Roberts Sr and Jr remain the only father-son duo to have won World Grand Prix Championships, and their racing pedigree is still held in high regard by racing fans the world over. Kenny Jr’s 2000 title allowed Suzuki to break a six year long championship winning stint by Honda, and gave the factory a much needed boost for future endeavours. In 2017 ‘KRJR’ was inducted into the FIM’s Hall of Fame, during his acceptance speech he said there were “no words to describe the feeling of a dream coming true”.
31 years after a teenage Kenny Roberts Sr rode a Suzuki in his home town, the brand saw promise in the young Californian Kenny Jr and in 1999 signed him up to the squad.