This is Yamaha's 50th anniversary livery for the 2011 Dutch TT and Laguna Seca races.
This is Yamaha's 50th anniversary livery for the 2011 Dutch TT and Laguna Seca races.
Half a centrury ago: Home-grown hero Shinichi Itoh on the 250cc RA41 at the 1961 Isle of Man TT.
Half a centrury ago: Home-grown hero Shinichi Itoh on the 250cc RA41 at the 1961 Isle of Man TT.

2011 marks the 50th anniversary of Yamaha's first involvement in Grand Prix racing and the Triple Tuning Fork team will celebrate with a special livery for the Dutch TT at Assen and the Laguna Seca MotoGP.

The red and white livery recalls Yamaha factory racing colours of the past, and will be used by reigning MotoGP World champion Jorge Lorenzo and 2010 Rookie of the Year Ben Spies, as well as the team's uniforms and pit décor.

There's also a special 50th Anniversary logo on the bikes, the team's uniforms and on the trucks that ferry the team between circuits in Europe.

Torakusu Yamaha started making musical instruments in 1887 - hence the company logo - but the company he founded didn't move into motorcycles until 1954, seven years after Soichiro Honda built the first Cub.

However, racing success came almost immediately. The fledgling bikemaker's very first model - the 125cc YA1 - won the 1955 Asama Volcano road race outright and by 1961 the Yamaha Racing Development team (that's where the letters RD come from) reckoned they were ready to challenge the world's best, starting at that year's French Grand Prix.

The first two seasons were disastrous - the team was inexperienced, underskilled and woefully underfunded - but with the advent of the sensational 250cc RD56 in November 1962, Yamaha became a force to be reckoned with.

Local hero Shinichi Itoh (who later became a New York cab driver) finished third in the inaugural Japanese 250cc Grand Prix at Suzuka on the new bike, behind Honda riders Jim Redman and Tommy Robb, after a race-long battle with Robb for second.

In 1963 the RD56 took a thrilling 1-2 in the Belgian 250cc GP at Spa and Phil Read gave the company its first World title in 1964 - just 10 years after the first YA1 came off the production line.

Since then motorcycles carrying the Triple Tuning Fork have won everything there is to win on two wheels, from Dakar to drag racing, making their riders household names along the way.

But Grand Prix is still, as the name says, the Big Prize, with Jorge Lorenzo proudly carrying the No.1 plate on his M1 in the team's fiftieth year.