Kenny Roberts Ju­nior

There are two US 500cc world champions from North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Both are named Kenny Roberts. For Kenny Jr, be­ing the con­tin­u­a­tion of the Roberts Grand Prix dy­nasty was not or­dained from day one.

Classic Racer - - WHAT’S INSIDE - Words: Norm De­witt Pho­tos: Norm De­witt, Don Mor­ley & Mor­tons Ar­chive

What was it re­ally like to be named af­ter the most fa­mous racer on the planet and then be­come a racer your­self? Was it help­ful or harm­ful? How was it when you made it to 500cc GP and had to step into your dad’s mas­sive boots?

Kenny Roberts Jr: “My first race was at the Lodi Cy­cle Bowl on a mo­tocross bike, but I wasn’t re­ally se­ri­ous about it. I did maybe 10 races. It wasn’t un­til I saw John Kocin­ski at Sears Point in 1989, the year be­fore he went to the 250 World Cham­pi­onship. I knew John and rode with him, and then to see what he was able to do, I thought I would be able to do that my­self. To get the ex­pe­ri­ence with be­ing around one of the quick­est guys around, was in­trigu­ing. It kind of took off from there.” “I did some lo­cal stuff around But­ton­wil­low and Wil­low Springs, and from there it was on to WERA. I spent 1991 do­ing eight races in WERA, then in 1992 in the AMA rid­ing for Wayne Rainey’s team. I flew to most of the races, which back then wasn’t com­mon I guess, but I didn’t know any bet­ter. I’m sure I had ad­van­tages that most peo­ple didn’t have, but I as­sumed ev­ery­body did what I did and didn’t ask questions. If my dad had raced go-karts, I would have wanted to race go-karts. It was just want­ing to do what your dad did.” 1992 was a ban­ner year for the 250GP class in the AMA with Kenny run­ning against Colin Ed­wards and Jimmy Felice. “I had prob­a­bly 15 road races un­der my belt by then, so even by the time I got to Spain in 1993, I was still try­ing to fig­ure it out. I was al­ways in over my head with stuff be­cause of my name, so I never got to stay in one cat­e­gory to win and dom­i­nate the cat­e­gory and move up. In the AMA I never won a race, but if I fin­ished the race I was al­ways on the podium.” Kenny Sr had crossed paths with Señor Bulto while golf­ing in Spain and Bulto pressed the case for giv­ing an op­por­tu­nity to his grand­son,

Sete Giber­nau. Kenny Jr and Sete were to be­come team-mates for 1993. Kenny: “I was ready to go to Europe. When I got to the Span­ish Cham­pi­onship, I won the race at Al­bacete, and was lead­ing at Jarama by three or four sec­onds af­ter a cou­ple of laps and was pulling away quite rapidly. I pushed the front out of the last cor­ner and fell down on the sec­ond lap. I didn’t fully have the ham­mer down, but I should have been more cau­tious and that race cost me the cham­pi­onship. I com­peted for the cham­pi­onship all the way to the last race and ended up sec­ond.” In 1993 look­ing around the grid at his first 250 Grand Prix (La­guna Seca), one would think see­ing Bi­aggi, Capirossi and Harada could be a bit in­tim­i­dat­ing. “I was never affected by that kind of mind­set. I grew up rid­ing with Wayne, Ed­die, Kocin­ski, and all those guys, so it wasn’t as awe-in­spir­ing as it would have been for most peo­ple. The race at La­guna was sort of un­event­ful and I fin­ished 10th. I just kept do­ing my thing and fig­ured that at some point I would be able to com­pete at their level. If it had been the 500s with Wayne, Ed­die, and all those guys, it would have prob­a­bly been dif­fer­ent. I didn’t have to deal with mind games in my ca­reer that I vividly re­mem­ber.” It is a very dif­fer­ent re­al­ity for the top Euro­pean rid­ers, given the end­less me­dia cir­cus. “As an Amer­i­can, we don’t have the fol­low­ing and me­dia in­ten­sity that those guys have, so we get away with a lot more. When I leave and come back to the US, we don’t have any of that stuff. You fly into Europe and from the time you land, ev­ery­body knows you. The Euro­pean rid­ers are bom­barded from the time they get off the plane.”

“In 1994 I was go­ing to ride for Wayne’s team, but I ended up break­ing my arm in pre-sea­son train­ing at my dad’s ranch. That kept me out of racing for about three-quar­ters of the year on the 250s. For 1995 I com­peted in most of the 250GP sea­son.” Kenny was typ­i­cally run­ning be­tween fourth and eighth, which didn’t exactly set the world on fire. “There were a lot of strug­gles. The cor­ner speed and the power-weight ra­tio for me is not a real good mix. Some­thing with a lot of horse­power for me is a lot eas­ier to ride, than some­thing with­out a lot of horse­power and high cor­ner­ing speed. If you put me and Loris (Capirossi) on a 250, there is just no way, the cor­ner speed is just counter-in­tu­itive for how I went racing. But if you put us on 500s, I would be in­stantly com­pet­i­tive with him. I was just try­ing to get ex­pe­ri­ence at the tracks for get­ting onto the big­ger bikes.” 1996 brought Kenny onto the Roberts Yamaha 500cc Grand Prix team. Kenny: “There wasn’t a grand plan for any of that stuff. I tested in Malaysia and broke my right tib/fib so I missed the first two rounds of the sea­son. Fol­low­ing my doc­tor’s ad­vice, it was six to eight weeks of re­cov­ery. I don’t take pain med­i­ca­tion, I had taken it one time in 1993 from a bro­ken col­lar bone, and didn’t like the ef­fect. I think I had mor­phine on a drip sys­tem when I broke my tib/fib. When they changed the drip bag, the nurse pinched the line and I wasn’t get­ting any med­i­ca­tion. The pain was in­creas­ingly worse, and when they found the prob­lem I told them that ‘if this is the worst it can be, I can han­dle it and just get me out of here. It is very dif­fer­ent to­day, when Valentino broke it and raced 19 days later. Now you come out think­ing ‘I’m fixed, let’s go.’” At the end the sea­son there was a fourth in Brno, and fifths in Hol­land and Ger­many. For the next year it was on to the Mo­de­nas bikes, which ended up be­ing two years in the wilderness. “It had all its teething prob­lems, as one would think. We got through the 1997 sea­son and for 1998, half­way through the sea­son we were go­ing to get a new en­gine. We were hav­ing that en­gine made by a per­son who used to work at Honda. We were go­ing to get the new en­gine by the Czech Repub­lic Grand Prix, it had to be a sec­ond faster right away than what we had, as we were al­ready two sec­onds off the pace. Un­less it was a sec­ond faster, I was not go­ing to stay. Talk­ing with my dad and Chuck Ak­sland, it turned out that the new en­gine wasn’t as good as the one we al­ready had, so I went from there and signed with Suzuki.” To say that ev­ery­thing changed doesn’t quite con­vey the sit­u­a­tion. From a top fin­ish of fourth in 250GP and of fourth on the 500cc Roberts Yamaha in 1996, Kenny was to win the first two 500cc Grands Prix of 1999. This, was from a rider who hadn’t won a race since he was racing 250s in the Span­ish Na­tional Cham­pi­onship. “The cor­ner speed of the three-cylin­der Mo­de­nas was quite a bit higher than the V4, so when I got on the Suzuki it fit my rid­ing style. I was able to have a typ­i­cal en­trance speed for me, and a heck of a lot more exit speed with­out hav­ing to push it like crazy mid-cor­ner to make the lap time. The lap times were im­me­di­ately com­pet­i­tive. We tested dif­fer­ent en­gine con­fig­u­ra­tions, and we won the first two races. I got hit by my team-mate in the third one, pushed the front in France and crashed. From that point on I de­cided: ‘I’m not crash­ing any­more this sea­son.’” There were strong fin­ishes at al­most ev­ery race through­out the sea­son, such as a first in Ger­many, and sec­onds in Assen and Va­len­cia. Àlex Criv­illé struck back on the Honda af­ter Kenny’s sea­son-open­ing two wins with five wins out of the next six races. The Suzuki may

have been a good fit for Kenny, but in many ways the bike was lacking. “We didn’t have test rid­ers test­ing stuff for the pipeline. We strug­gled a lot with sus­pen­sion, as the Showa wasn’t as good at the Öh­lins, so half­way through the sea­son at the Czech Repub­lic we tested the Öh­lins. On my first fly­ing lap and for the fol­low­ing four, I went quicker than I’d gone at the pre­vi­ous GP week­end. We were sched­uled to test all day, and I told the Ja­panese en­gi­neers that there was no rea­son for fur­ther tests, the Öh­lins was bet­ter, and that with­out the Öh­lins sus­pen­sion, don’t ex­pect us to win an­other race, and I walked out of the garage. “We got the au­tho­riza­tion to switch for the Aus­tralian Grand Prix and I was a half a sec­ond faster than any­body else on the track. We picked a softer tyre over an­other and it ended up de-lam­i­nat­ing when I had a 15sec lead. The bike had Showa rear sus­pen­sion and they were so irate at us for hav­ing put on the Öh­lins they felt we made them look bad, and pulled the shocks from us af­ter the race. We thought they were just go­ing to ser­vice them and give them back, but they just said: ‘you’re on your own’. So we went to a lo­cal shop in Aus­tralia to get a Su­per­bike rear shock over-the-counter. We had link­ages made up in Aus­tralia for the next race. The shock over­heated and broke dur­ing the South African Grand Prix, so I fin­ished well down the or­der. Öh­lins was to have a cus­tom shock made for us at the last race in Ar­gentina.” Power was also be­com­ing a huge prob­lem with the 1999 bike. “In Brazil, we ran un­fil­tered air boxes as the fil­ters took away too much horse­power. So we broke a reed valve, one of the flaps on the reed, so I was down sub­stan­tially in horse­power. On the last lap I passed Max and Abe in the two cor­ners be­fore the back straight, but then pulled out of the way as they were 30mph faster. I ended up third there, but then in Ar­gentina we won.” At that last Grand Prix of the 1999 sea­son in Ar­gentina, Kenny was quick­est of all, but got caught out by the wet paint on the kerbs in the rain. As it turned out, it was a crash that was to have a great ef­fect upon Grand Prix racing safety. Kenny: “That was when we started the rid­ers’ safety or­gan­i­sa­tion. I was up­set that I’d fallen down and it wasn’t my fault, and Mick had got­ten hurt on the paint at Jerez ear­lier that year and his ca­reer was fin­ished. I went and got Valentino and a cou­ple of the other guys and we went to Dorna say­ing that we wanted a paint stan­dard.” In the end of the sea­son tally, Kenny had taken sec­ond in the World Cham­pi­onship to Criv­illé. Kenny: “I was never on some­thing that was the best bike. I was on a good bike with great en­gi­neers and we un­der­stood our po­ten­tial and how there were go­ing to be races where we weren’t com­pet­i­tive. We had engines break­ing, a rock in the air­box in 1999 at the Czech race that dam­aged the spark plug… we had a prob­lem dur­ing ev­ery race with one bike or the other. I re­mem­ber when Mick was hav­ing a lot of prob­lems when they changed in­ter­nal parts of the Honda gas tank and affected the bal­ance. That sounded like so lame of an ex­cuse to me, as we had tanks in all dif­fer­ent ca­pac­i­ties, shapes and heights, we weren’t that re­fined. The tanks with max­i­mum ca­pac­ity we would some­times have to use on race day be­cause we weren’t go­ing to make it on fuel. The Suzuki fac­tory, for some rea­son, were happy with be­ing com­pet­i­tive. They weren’t look­ing to be the best bike, or hire the best rid­ers. Honda and Yamaha spend money to win races.” For the Malaysian GP in 2000, the bike stalled on the start. “It had never done that, EVER. I had to come through the field to win.” This was fol­lowed by a sec­ond at Ja­pan and a win in Spain, where Kenny shared the podium with a charis­matic young Ital­ian by the name

of Valentino Rossi. The young Honda rider was to fin­ish on the podium in nine of the next 12 races. Kenny was to win two of the sub­se­quent races, as was Valentino, each also scor­ing three sec­ond place fin­ishes. “In 2000 we had a ton of is­sues. Aoki had a prob­lem with back shift­ing and over-revved the bike, so his bike seized in Malaysia. It turned out that there was a de­fect with the shape of the pis­ton. By the time we got to Hol­land, I was eas­ily faster than any­body in the wet or dry and when lead­ing the race the bike seized. The next race they had the fix for the shape of the pis­ton, and they had been work­ing on it since Malaysia. If Aoki hadn’t had that is­sue in Malaysia, who knows where we would have been. “My dad and I talked and it was ob­vi­ous this was the year we had to get it done. There was noth­ing in the pipeline. When we tested in 1999, at the first test in Jerez we tested 60 ˚ , 90 ˚ , and 120 ˚ cranks. We ended up with the 120 ˚ crank but they asked me if I wanted to test a 180 ˚ crank in two weeks in Malaysia. The en­gine guy had the crank in a clear bag of oil that he’d brought in his carry-on suit­case and I asked them how they got this done so fast? He said: ‘Oh no… this is Kevin Sch­wantz’s crank from 1993’ and it fit right into my en­gine. That’s how lit­tle the en­gine had changed since 1993. I went out and went fast on the 180 ˚ crank, but it had no bot­tom power, so that wasn’t go­ing to work.” It wasn’t just be­ing a decade be­hind on en­gine de­vel­op­ment. “You’d tell the Ja­panese that we we’re not go­ing to be com­pet­i­tive and needed more horse­power, but then I’d go out and win a race or get the podium, and they’d say ‘very good rider’. Yeah, but the prob­lem was that it was go­ing to catch up to us.” The race that could lock the cham­pi­onship for Kenny was Brazil. “We knew we needed sixth place, and in the first or sec­ond prac­tices on Fri­day, the en­gine was mak­ing crazy noises. I pulled over and looked in­side the fair­ing and the top left cylin­der was off the bike. It broke the studs that held it onto the crank­case. So that en­gine got changed out. We were go­ing through reeds like crazy, plas­tic or car­bon. War­ren Will­ing came in and told me that the #1 bike was done and the #2 bike had a cracked chas­sis. “Are we go­ing to weld it, and take a chance of screw­ing up the elec­tron­ics… or just drill a hole in it for crack con­trol and race?’ It was my de­ci­sion to make and so we drilled a hole. I was try­ing as hard as I could that race. We were in dam­age con­trol from the Czech Repub­lic on­wards.” The next drama would ar­rive cour­tesy of Miche­lin. “What killed Suzuki’s ad­van­tage was that in World Su­per­bike, Miche­lin were get­ting bet­ter re­sults from run­ning a 16.5in tyre, and they kept try­ing to push it onto the 500s. It wasn’t just me, but most of the guys said that it just didn’t turn and it took away all the agility. They kept work­ing on it, work­ing on the side­wall and con­struc­tion so that Garry Mccoy, who was a big fan of the tyre, won a few races with it in 2000. We switched to the 16.5in tyre three-quar­ters of the way through the sea­son. It had a ton more grip be­cause the con­tact patch was big­ger. As soon as we made that switch, the Suzuki was ba­si­cally un­com­pet­i­tive. With the 17s you’d be com­ing out of a hair­pin very del­i­cately ap­ply­ing power and the Hon­das would get wheel­spin but we wouldn’t be­cause we had 20-25hp less. I was on the 16.5in for a race or two, but the race at Motegi when I won, it was the last time that a 17in rear tyre ever won a Grand Prix. “It wasn’t the strong­est mo­tor, the elec­tron­ics were an­cient at best. We had no trac­tion con­trol, we had no abil­ity to switch power curves or take power away with­out chang­ing the ROM out of the ECU. On the Yamaha you’d just hook up the com­puter and change it, so we were quite a way be­hind. Not only was power lacking, but also it was lacking in torque curves, but it was still rid­able and we were able to get it done in 2000. “In the last race of 2000 in Aus­tralia, Valentino was al­ready run­ning the 2001 bike. You could tell it was a dif­fer­ent 500 as it sounded com­pletely dif­fer­ent and had this growl to it. I asked him: ‘Hey, what’s go­ing on with your bike?’ Valentino said: ‘Oh, that’s next year’s bike, we’re just get­ting a head start.’ I told him: ‘Yeah, that’s awe­some. We’re on next year’s bike too, and it’s 1999’s bike and it’s 1993’s bike.’ It was just a joke, we knew it was over. “We knew that we were screwed in 2000, as there was noth­ing in the pipeline to save us. We tested but they didn’t have the money or the ca­pac­ity to make it bet­ter. At Sete’s first test of the 2001 sea­son in Malaysia, he said: ‘This is great, it just needs more horse­power.’ I told him: ‘Good luck with that’. We can­celled the test for the last two days be­cause there was no rea­son to do it, there was noth­ing to test. We knew we were done.” 2001 was a dis­as­ter for Kenny’s at­tempted ti­tle de­fence. The one and only podium came at Va­len­cia, where he fin­ished third to team-mate Sete’s first 500 class vic­tory. “Ev­ery­body re­mem­bers that race as a great win for Sete. No­body un­der­stands that we were racing Alex Bar­ros (sec­ond place) with a Honda on in­ter­me­di­ate tires, on a com­pletely dry track. Sete and I were both on slicks, so Bar­ros was racing with about 30% less tyre.” 2002 was the de­but of Mo­togp, but it ap­peared that Suzuki would con­tinue to run the 500s in that first year. “Suzuki had al­ways said that if they got me a com­pet­i­tive bike, they knew that I would win races. We knew it would be crap in 2001, and that’s what it was. But, they al­ways treated me ex­tremely well, and I was al­ready on a two-year ex­ten­sion. Suzuki said they were go­ing to come in for 2003 with the Mo­togp bike and that there would be prob­lems with the Mo­togp bikes like en­gine fail­ures. That has some grav­ity to it, but I re­ally didn’t just want to ride around (on a 500). “De­cem­ber (2001) came around, Suzuki called and said: ‘Hey, sur­prise, come to Ja­pan, we de­cided to build a Mo­togp bike (990cc). Yamaha had been test­ing four-strokes in 2001 and we heard that they were ex­tremely fast, so we weren’t re­ally sure what was com­ing. Sete and I were al­ready con­tracted, so we were go­ing to ride what­ever they pro­vided for us. “At the time they thought that they had

‘ad­vanced four-stroke tech­nol­ogy’ based upon how Mat Mladin had dom­i­nated the se­ries in the US. We thought: ‘Hell yeah, this is awe­some’, and when we rode the bikes in Ja­pan for test­ing, they seemed great. They jumped tyre man­u­fac­tur­ers to Dunlop, and said that it would help us, as they had a great re­la­tion­ship with them, they were a Ja­panese com­pany, and we were go­ing to be their only team. They sold the idea to man­age­ment who had no idea about racing. When we got on the track with the com­pe­ti­tion, we weren’t even on the same level. By mid-sea­son we were back on Miche­lins.” Kenny man­aged a third in Brazil. In the end Roberts rode for Suzuki for seven sea­sons, the last three with but a sin­gle podium (sec­ond), in his fi­nal year, achieved at Don­ing­ton. “In 2004, I strug­gled with arm pump. We didn’t have auto-blip and on the four-stroke the gear­boxes were un­der a lot of torque. You’d have to blip the throt­tle to get it out of gear. In Eng­land I talked to the top bosses there and told them they were go­ing to fix this gear­box and get auto-blip, or I was go­ing to have to get arm pump surgery. They said: ‘Ah, can you please get surgery’, so I left and took a six-week va­ca­tion to get surgery. Af­ter three weeks they of­fered me a con­tract for 2005. I came back, but in Ja­pan John Hop­kins crashed into ev­ery­body and I dis­lo­cated my el­bow on Bi­aggi’s back tyre. I came back for Va­len­cia and was fastest in first prac­tice, but I wasn’t strong enough to race. “We didn’t have trac­tion con­trol, or speed lim­iters. Hop­kins and I were told by Suzuki to dis­re­spect the pit speed lim­its as we didn’t have speed sen­sors. So, ev­ery sin­gle time in and out of the pits, we would get speed­ing tick­ets and those would get passed on to Ja­pan. It was the team’s way of putting pres­sure on Suzuki to get us speed lim­iters.” There was one podium in 2005 and again it was in the wet. In 2006 Kenny was com­pet­i­tive again on his dad’s Kr-honda. Kenny: “From the be­gin­ning, there were things on the chas­sis

...WE KNEW IT WOULD BE CRAP IN 2001, AND THAT’S WHAT IT WAS...

that were wrong. It had a lot of prob­lems we didn’t know about, we had slop in the steer­ing head and had to re­in­force it. Where the rear sus­pen­sion link­age was con­nected to the chas­sis wasn’t cor­rect, and it threw all the link­ages off, but the Honda en­gine was like a sewing ma­chine and made up for the prob­lems the bike had. The num­bers weren’t mak­ing sense to War­ren and he found out that we were an inch off with the back tyre ver­sus where it should have been be­cause of the link­age prob­lem. When you get an en­gine, you have to fig­ure out where the cen­tre of grav­ity is and where you want that. “In 2006, Honda and Miche­lin were us­ing our bike as a test bed. Honda ap­proached us and said: ‘Kenny Jr is us­ing far more fuel, he’s got far more spin from the rear tyre, so he’s hav­ing to be smoother on throt­tle ap­pli­ca­tion than any other rid­ers. Some­thing is not right.’ HRC rec­om­mended chang­ing the steer­ing head to 20mm fur­ther down in China and that seemed to make a dif­fer­ence, but we still didn’t know about the link­age prob­lem then.” Once the link­age was fixed, the KR was a fac­tor at ev­ery race, tak­ing third in Catalunya, fol­lowed by a pair of fifths. When the team fig­ured out the magic set-up, they were fight­ing for wins dur­ing the last half of the sea­son. “We would use the strong­est trac­tion con­trol they had, and the strong­est wheelie power re­duc­tion they had at tracks like La­guna. Honda didn’t like the way I did that, as it was vi­o­lent the way it would cut the spark and back­fire. “In La­guna on the Fri­day time sheets, I was a sec­ond quicker than any­body else on ev­ery lap, and I was think­ing that I’d got this thing in the bag. On the Satur­day morn­ing I got to the track and Honda told me that I couldn’t use the en­gine set­ting for trac­tion con­trol, as I was us­ing too much fuel. I told them: ‘Don’t worry about that, be­cause af­ter 10 laps when I’m lead­ing by 10 sec­onds I’ll slow down, not a big prob­lem.’ They said: ‘No no no… so sorry.’ The en­gine man­age­ment had a grid that was like play­ing Bat­tle­ship and ‘G20’ was now gone, and ev­ery­thing around ‘G20’ was gone too. I was us­ing four gears, now I was hav­ing to use five, and I had no trac­tion be­cause they took away that ag­gres­sive cut. I was get­ting wheel­spin and I was go­ing the same speed as ev­ery­body else. “On the Satur­day morn­ing, com­ing out of turn three, I moved over for Nicky to get out of his racing line, and when he picked it up and ac­cel­er­ated out, it was pop­ping and back­fir­ing. I was think­ing: ‘Son-of-a-bitch, they gave that set­ting to Nicky. “It wasn’t good when we beat Honda, the HRC team wasn’t sup­posed to be beaten by a satel­lite team. In qual­i­fy­ing I got on the front row and I saw Nicky and asked him: ‘What’s go­ing on with your bike pop­ping and back­fir­ing?’ Nicky said: ‘Yeah, I don’t know, they put this set­ting in it and I don’t like it or

THE EN­GINE MAN­AGE­MENT HAD A GRID THAT WAS LIKE PLAY­ING BAT­TLE­SHIP...

know what it is, but the lap time is bet­ter.’ Well, I knew what it was….” In the end, Kenny led the US GP for most of the first lap, but then faded back to an even­tual fourth place fin­ish be­hind the win­ner, Nicky Hayden. There was an­other fourth at Brno and a near win in Por­tu­gal, fin­ish­ing third. Sixth place in the cham­pi­onship was the fi­nal re­sult, but it could have been so much more. The 2008 Honda 800 was un­der­pow­ered and us­ing that en­gine in the KR chas­sis was a dis­as­ter. Af­ter seven dis­ap­point­ing races, Kenny walked away from the ef­fort, and away from the sport. Kenny’s kids were born in 2008 and 2009 and they be­came his new fo­cus, and the fam­ily started trav­el­ling around the US. “We are just do­ing what comes easy to us now, home-school­ing the kids. We ski from Jan­uary through April. We want to take the kids to Europe. In 2016 we did 41 states and in 2017 we spent a cou­ple hun­dred days trav­el­ling in the mo­torhome. Once we get done with this, we will move on to Europe and go to see old friends and me­chan­ics… in the­ory.” How does he see his era in com­par­i­son to to­day’s Moto GP? Kenny: “The sport is so dif­fi­cult to get into if you aren’t Span­ish or Ital­ian. The bikes are a lot dif­fer­ent, the 500s were vi­o­lent. The bet­ter rider you were, the eas­ier it was to get a ride. Now they are eas­ier to ride, the four-stroke is a lot less vi­o­lent. I’m a huge fan of Mar­quez and the only guy I can com­pare him to is my dad. He has abil­ity that can­not be taught.” Is there a next gen­er­a­tion of Roberts wait­ing in the wings? Kenny: “I’d rather have them play­ing golf and do­ing some­thing less dan­ger­ous, where the worst thing I’d have to worry about is some­body yelling ‘fore’.”

DON MOR­LEY

On the podium in Italy the day dad won the ti­tle. Kenny Roberts Jr feels the power of suc­cess from a lofty po­si­tion early on.

Left: More hair and an­other tro­phy to add to the col­lec­tion. The nat­u­ral home of the Roberts in Grand Prix.

Suzuki’s de­vel­op­ment was head­ing to­wards suit­ing Sete on track.

Giber­nau wins, Bar­ros smiles and Ju­nior finds the cam­era, nearly 19 years ago in Va­len­cia.

Arch-ri­val Sete Giber­nau was a stylish win­ner.

Mo­ments in time un­der glass at the Roberts’ ranch.

Four GP ti­tles be­tween them. Kenny (the orig­i­nal) and Kenny (the remix).

A watch­ing brief. Kenny was al­ways in­volved, even from a dis­tance, know­ing ev­ery­thing that was go­ing on with the bike and the team.

Left & above: He hasn’t changed a bit! Sweet-as-you-like baby ju­nior looks very sim­i­lar as a pup to how he does now (right) next to his good mate Kevin Sch­wantz (on the 34 bike).

KR Jr. Of­fi­cially a leg­end of Mo­togp.

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