HEAVEN AND HELL

Kevin Schwantz’s world ti­tle suc­cess 25 years ago was a ca­reer high­light tainted by a tragic event. Here’s his blow-by-blow ac­count of the 1993 sea­son

Classic Bike (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS: MAT OXLEY PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: BAUER ARCHIVE, GOLD AND GOOSE & GETTY IM­AGES

Snow-topped highs, des­per­ate lows – the 1993 500cc GP sea­son, by Kevin Schwantz

The 1993 500cc world cham­pi­onship was a clas­sic duel, like Agos­tini ver­sus Hailwood or Sheene ver­sus Roberts. And like all twoway fights the sea­son ended with joy for the win­ner and dis­ap­point­ment for the loser... ex­cept in 1993 those emo­tions were dif­fer­ent. Wayne Rainey’s Misano crash broke his back and ended his ca­reer. It also ended the ca­reer of ti­tle-win­ner Kevin Schwantz – it just took him a while to re­alise.

The two Amer­i­cans had been bat­tling for the 500 crown since 1988, Rainey tak­ing a ti­tle hat-trick in ’90, ’91 and ’92, while Schwantz mostly crashed too much be­cause Suzuki’s RGV500 wasn’t good enough.

The cru­cial mo­ment of Schwantz’s 1993 sea­son came in late ’91, when former Kawasaki and HRC tech­ni­cian Stu­art Shen­ton joined Suzuki to run Schwantz’s side of the garage. The RGV was poorly engi­neered, so Shen­ton set about bring­ing it up to HRC stan­dards, which took him all of ’92 and the next win­ter (see p48). Mean­while Yamaha went back­wards, build­ing a 1993 chas­sis that caused Rainey so many prob­lems he switched to a French-made Roc mid­sea­son. But enough com­men­tary, here’s how Schwantz re­calls 1993, in his own words...

PRE-SEA­SON TEST­ING

All through ’92 I was never con­fi­dent with the bike and that’s 90% of rid­ing. Stu­art kept telling me all we were do­ing was gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion for next year.

Af­ter the last GP we went to Jerez, did three days of test­ing, then got on a plane and went to Japan, where we sat down in a room and told the Suzuki guys: “This is what we need and this is what we want”. Three months later we went back to Jerez with ev­ery­thing that Japan could throw at us. We went back through what we’d done at the pre­vi­ous test, just to con­firm things.

I was like, just give me the new stuff! I want to see what it’s like! Stu­art said: “No, we want you to ride the 1992 bike to see what was bad and then I want you to tell me the im­prove­ments with the 1993 bike”. Three days later we were pretty set on what we wanted. Al­most ev­ery­where we went in ’93 the bike was good, the best I rode. All credit to Stu­art.

On Sun­day morn­ings he would never throw the kitchen sink at the bike – it was click, click, click... we’ve made this much progress, maybe it’s not quite where we want to be, but we’re not go­ing to try and rein­vent the wheel on Sun­day morn­ing and lose track of where we are; which is what we had been do­ing be­cause Si­mon Tonge [Schwantz’s pre­vi­ous crew chief] was as in­ex­pe­ri­enced as I was.

It was all look­ing good. Then on the way to the first race Stu­art took a whole bike on the plane, in two or three bags. On the Tokyo sub­way a bag strap broke and our best chas­sis went crash­ing down this es­ca­la­tor. Some­how it wasn’t bent.

The ’93 engine was bet­ter be­cause Suzuki had built a sec­ondary ex­haust power valve. It was a real com­plex sys­tem – it took the same time to build as it did to split the crankcases and put in a new crank, cylin­der and pis­tons. That’s about all I know about the engine. I didn’t even know the vee an­gle changed – I was read­ing a book about that re­cently!

ROUND 1 EAST­ERN CREEK, AUS­TRALIA

I was fastest in prac­tice and qual­i­fy­ing. But the Suzuki still wasn’t great on starts. When you got it off the line it would go ‘cough, cough, cough’. It al­most stalled this time – I’ve been stuck in the gates in mo­tocross and never been that far be­hind! I fi­nally got to the front and then it started rain­ing. I’d al­ready gapped Wayne and Doug [Chan­dler, Ca­giva], so I slowed down and let them lead for a while. Then it dried up and I checked out again. The big thing with the new bike was that it turned and fin­ished the cor­ner, in­stead of get­ting in, turn­ing… then fin­ish­ing. Through the first turn I was frig­gin’ half a sec­ond faster than any­body!

ROUND 2 SHAH ALAM, MALAYSIA

We fin­ished a dis­tant third, 18 sec­onds be­hind Wayne. It was like, ‘Woah! Hold on, we’re not that good af­ter all!’ The Suzuki was still that way a lit­tle bit – if you got the bike 97, 98 or 99% right, it was good enough to win on. But if you got it 95% right it wasn’t even a top-five bike. It might’ve been all the off-cam­ber cor­ner ex­its and lack of grip on the track, be­cause tyres seemed to af­fect the Suzuki more than the other bikes.

ROUND 3 SUZUKA, JAPAN

The race came down to four of us at the end – and I hap­pened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Hon­das had so much speed down the front and back straight­aways, but I fi­nally got clear of them on the last lap. I cleared off from [Shinichi] Itoh, then ran down Daryl [Beat­tie] and Wayne. I man­aged to get past Daryl, but came up a tenth short of Wayne. Af­ter the race I re­mem­ber Daryl say­ing to me: “Man, I didn’t think there was any way you were go­ing to make that turn!”

ROUND 5 SALZBURGRING, AUS­TRIA

The speed of the 1993 bike wasn’t hor­ri­ble, but on big, long straight­aways, like up the hill in Aus­tria, the Honda def­i­nitely had the legs up top. If I got off a cor­ner well, I could just about stay there in the draught. This time I man­aged to use some back­mark­ers and held off Mick [Doohan] by half a sec­ond.

ROUND 6 HOCKENHEIM, GER­MANY

I think we got a stiffer frame here. When­ever we went stiffer with the

‘WE RODE AWAY FROM WAYNE LIKE HE WAS TIED TO A POST’

chas­sis it was re­ally good, so long as the grip was great, be­cause it gave bet­ter feel. But when the grip went away the bike lost grip quicker, so you needed some flex to help that. The Hon­das had speed on us again, but Mick chun­ked a tyre, so it was Daryl who beat me. That sec­ond place was prob­a­bly the big­gest deal of the sea­son. I re­mem­ber cross­ing the line, look­ing back and be­ing re­ally ex­cited, be­cause Itoh was be­hind me, then [Alex] Criv­illé, which meant Wayne was fifth. That was a big mo­ti­va­tion!

ROUND 7 ASSEN, NETHER­LANDS

A lot of the places we went in ’93 we were al­ready test­ing race tyres by Satur­day morn­ing be­cause we were that com­fort­able with our set- up. We had never done that be­fore! Assen was an­other race where Bar­ros got in front, then crashed. He was a help to us at a cou­ple of tracks. We could over­lay our data: OK, he’s four miles an hour faster through that cor­ner; so I’ve just got to go faster! Af­ter Bar­ros crashed out, I beat Mick by a sec­ond. That was the last race I won all year.

ROUND 8 CATALUNYA, EUROPE

This was the first place since Malaysia where we’d had a prob­lem. We got to Catalunya and the front wasn’t right; I didn’t seem to have the bike un­der­neath me. The Suzuki still didn’t re­ally like turn­ing back on it­self. So long as the cor­ner was 45° or 90° you could drive through it, but if it was 180° you still had to use the throt­tle to fin­ish the cor­ner, so you’d lose cor­ner speed and burn the rear tyre. Plus Wayne’s team used Catalunya as their test track, so I knew we were go­ing to strug­gle with him at that place.

ROUND 9 MUGELLO, SAN MARINO

Mugello was the first place we raced with Miche­lin’s new 16.5inch front. That was a big thing for us be­cause it gave a big­ger foot­print, which helped over­ride some of our front prob­lems. We also used a new sys­tem on the warm-up lap, to help clean up the engine for the start – I’d hang back so I wasn’t sat on the grid so long. On the last lap I was right with Mick, go­ing for the win, when the car­cass in the rear tyre tore. Luck­ily for me, I had a big enough gap on Wayne to get sec­ond. Af­ter­wards [Kenny] Roberts walked over to have a look at the tyre. I said: “What the hell are you look­ing at?

Get out of here!” He sure could be an an­noy­ing lit­tle prick!

ROUND 11 BRNO, CZECH REPUB­LIC

I got my ass handed to me at Brno. If ei­ther the front tyre or the chas­sis set­tings were off, I could com­pen­sate to get around the prob­lem, but not when both weren’t right. Plus my hands weren’t per­fect af­ter the Don­ing­ton crash. I had a few bro­ken bones at the top of my right hand. In the race it was hard to watch the other guys go away from me – I would’ve crashed in the old days.

I for­get who I was rac­ing with. It may’ve been [John] Kocin­ski. I’d had a lit­tle con­fronta­tion with him in prac­tice. I was on a slow­down lap, so I was right by the side of the track, but he nudged me off the track. I went storm­ing into his garage and al­most killed him. I was the one that told Suzuki that they ought to give him a try on the RGV250. When he blew up the 250 at Assen, and Suzuki had ev­i­dence of it, I lost all re­spect for him. I wouldn’t have p*ssed on him if he was on fire.

ROUND 12 MISANO, ITALY

I’d gone from plus 23 points be­fore Don­ing­ton to plus three be­fore Brno to mi­nus 11 go­ing into Misano. It was like my whole world had fallen apart. I’d planned to go home af­ter Brno, but in­stead I went straight to Italy and spent all week rid­ing bi­cy­cles, try­ing to con­vince my­self things weren’t over.

My right hand was still bad, so by the time Wayne had crashed out of the race I was hav­ing to ride down the back straight­away crosshanded. I’d come out of that fast

‘I SHOULD HAVE BEEN BADLY HURT; IT COULD’VE BEEN THE END OF MY SEA­SON’

kink, shift gears, then reach over and hold the throt­tle with my left hand, so I could re­lease the right hand and shake it for a cou­ple of sec­onds, just enough to get some cir­cu­la­tion back. When­ever I tell peo­ple that story they’re shocked!

I was re­ally strug­gling and I was think­ing: ‘I need all the points I can get be­cause next we’re go­ing to La­guna Seca, which is Wayne’s track’. On Sun­day evening at Don­ing­ton Mick had said to me: “Man, I apol­o­gise so much for do­ing that [at Don­ing­ton]. If there’s any­thing I can do to help you get that cham­pi­onship lead back, I’ll help.” With a few laps to go at Misano he rides by and dis­ap­pears. I’m like: “You frig­gin’ liar!”

So now I’ve got a five-point lead and we’re go­ing to La­guna! It was all drama. Then an hour af­ter the race some­body told me Wayne was never go­ing ride again. I was like: “What?!” I thought it was a ploy to make me go home, re­lax for a week and lose my fo­cus.

Then we knew it was true about Wayne. It was one of those times where you go: “How much big­ger of a roller­coaster can this be?!” It will al­ways be one of the big un­knowns – if Wayne had fin­ished the race I don’t know if I could have beaten him for the cham­pi­onship.

ROUND 13 LA­GUNA SECA, USA

With­out Wayne I had the mea­sure of ev­ery­body for the first half of the race. Then my wrist started giv­ing me prob­lems – and there ain’t no place to go left-handed at La­guna. By the end of the race my right hand felt like a box­ing glove. That night the team had a party, then Kenny came in and de­flated ev­ery­body. It wasn’t like we were cel­e­brat­ing Wayne get­ting hurt, that’s for sure.

ROUND 14 JARAMA, SPAIN

By that point I was al­ready think­ing: ‘Let’s just be done with this and see how the off-sea­son goes’. I told Suzuki I’d do ev­ery­thing I could to go rac­ing next year, but un­til I tested and un­til I saw that first flag waved, I couldn’t guar­an­tee any­thing.

THE AFTER­MATH

I was def­i­nitely a changed per­son in ’94. Wayne’s in­jury changed my at­ti­tude to rac­ing. I had a big crash in test­ing at Phillip Is­land. The bike landed right next to me. I thought: ‘If I’d not rolled that last revo­lu­tion I’d prob­a­bly be dead. That crash wouldn’t have both­ered me in ’88.

I won at Suzuka and I was like: “See, I can still do it!” Then we got to Jerez and set a new lap record, only to have Doohan beat me. There was noth­ing we could do, no mat­ter how good we had our bike. Un­less Mick and Honda were a mile off, we weren’t in the hunt. Then I started over­rid­ing the thing and crash­ing.

The crash that fi­nally did my right wrist was at Assen. I’m slid­ing along and the bike comes down on me, so I’m still slid­ing but the hand stops, which mumbo-jum­bos the wrist. From then on, they had to re­set the wrist on the Sun­day night at ev­ery race. At Don­ing­ton [where he took the last win of his ca­reer] I’m hav­ing the bones in the wrist re­set and the Lucky Strike spon­sor­ship di­rec­tor walks in. I’m go­ing “Aaaagh!” – I’m so used to it, I told them not to deaden it, be­cause I al­ready knew how bad it’s go­ing to hurt. He goes white as a sheet, turns around and walks out. I come out and he says: “I don’t know how much we pay you, but it’s not enough”.

Schwantz con­tin­ued rac­ing into 1995, an­nounc­ing his re­tire­ment, with im­me­di­ate ef­fect, at Mugello in June. In his seven and a half years of full-time GP rac­ing he won 25 races and one world ti­tle.

LEFT: Friends, coun­try­men, ri­vals... Schwantz (right) and Rainey at the first round of the sea­son in East­ern Creek, Aus­traliaRIGHT: Schwantz at La­guna Seca, do­ing what he got used to do­ing dur­ing races: rid­ing through the pain of bro­ken bones

ABOVE: Schwantz was on the podium for 11 of the 14 racesRIGHT: Schwantz shows his colours cel­e­brat­ing vic­tory at the Dutch GP

LEFT: Rainey vs Schwantz duel de­fined the sea­son

ABOVE: Doohanin­duced pile-up takes out Schwantz at Don­ing­ton

LEFT: De­spite fi­nally win­ning the GP ti­tle, ’93 made Schwantz re­think his gung-ho at­ti­tude to rac­ing

BE­LOW: Schwantz’s team-mate Alex Bar­ros says it all at the US GP at La­guna Seca

BE­LOW: Schwantz had to over-ride the Suzuki to com­pete with Doohan in ’94. This crash in qual­i­fy­ing at Brno was one of many

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.