When Mackenzie met Schwantz

Niall Mackenzie interviews former team-mate and 1993 500 Grand Prix Champion Kevin Schwantz

Posted: 11 August 2010
by Niall Mackenzie

The first time I met Kevin Schwantz was at Misano in 1986. He was already on his way to becoming a superstar, with some amazing performances in the AMA series as well as showing us what he could do at the Transatlantic Match races that same year on the GSX-R750.

He was lanky, he was blond and we were both testing the last of the square-four Suzuki RG500s and both desperate to get into 500 GPs. I guess that's why we were polite to each other, but wary of one another too. But we both made the grade and actually became team-mates at Suzuki for 1990 after I was drafted in to replace Kevin Magee, who was injured at the beginning of the season.

One of the big things I remember about Kevin is he used to throw stuff around the garage when things weren't going too well, which is why I used to keep my helmet on... With some of the questions I asked him for this interview, I stuck my AGV back on again, but he's a bit more relaxed now, unlike me who's doing his first superstar interview - even if it is with a mate...

So Kev what are you doing here at Knockhill?
You rang me up in the winter and asked me to come over for this race.
Sorry, I forgot...

How do you reckon race bikes have changed in the last 10 years?
I remember being at the launch of the GSX-R750Y in 2000 at Misano, and after a few laps I was convinced I could have taken that standard road bike and set pole and won the 1988 Daytona race - I did that on my works Yoshimura GSX-R750. Today's road bikes are that good, you could win whole championships on them a few years back, no question.

Are four-strokes in GPs boring and missing the point? I mean, can anyone ride one compared to a two-stroke?
Yeah, anyone can ride them. But once up to speed, they'll be more difficult to ride on the edge.

Rossi now, Doohan and Rainey before, will there always be one dominant rider in GP racing?
Yes, I think so, but guys like Rossi, Doohan and Rainey just found a higher level of confidence.

Why do people remember the late '80s and early '90s as the glory years of GP?
I think because at that time everyone was racing for the lead, not second or third. Four or five of us would be going into the last corner together. There was a different winner every weekend.

As a bike racer winning the MotoGP Championship is the ultimate accolade. It's something you achieved in 1993, winning the 500cc Championship. Does it change you when you finally do it, or is it no big deal?
It's more of a relief, that's what I felt, anyway. I was more fired up than anything as Mat Oxley (racing journalist and author) had told me I was well past my sell-by date. I wanted to give him a good kicking, but instead I just tried to be better. Also Wayne Rainey was my motivation. I always wanted to beat Rainey throughout my career. I was consumed and obsessed with that guy.

Why did you stay loyal to Suzuki when Honda and Yamaha were arguably making better bikes? Was it the cash?
It was never the money, because there were some equally lucrative offers around. For example, in 1989 I almost signed up for Giacomo Agostini's Marlboro Yamaha team - where you ended up that year - but he couldn't guarantee me Number One status. Then again in 1991, Honda made me an offer, but the same deal - I wanted to be Number One for that factory. Cash wasn't a problem but Number One status was. I think also when you look at the Japanese way of doing things, there's almost an unwritten law that says the factories shy away from signing the opposition's Number One riders to maintain a balance.

You and Rainey battled together for years, but did you despise anyone in particular in the paddock.
You mean apart from Mat Oxley? Well, possibly Wayne Gardner. Rivalry between me and Rainey was competitive, but not personal. Gardner used to upset me 'cos of the things he'd say. He would just say things that weren't true and that would motivate me that much more. Right now Wayne Rainey is one of my best friends. I have ultmiate respect for him.

Did you really say about John Kocinski in the 1994 Championship that "he'd 'fall apart like a cheap watch?"
Oh yes... I said it.

And is the rumour true that to try and out-psyche him, you put a $50,000 purse up for the person who would shag his girlfriend?
No that's not true, it was only $10,000 dollars and no-one ever claimed it...

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