The MotoGP™ Legend discusses how he landed on the Grand Prix scene,
and how Joe Roberts is relighting the American road racing flame
When speaking on the latest episode of the MotoGP™ Podcast, 1993 500cc World Champion Kevin Schwantz waded through a range of topics. One of the most interesting of those was how he got his foot in the Grand Prix motorcycle racing door, and how a rising American Moto2™ star is rekindling the USA’s love for road racing.
But first, Schwantz remembered how he got his chance on the World scene, and how it differs from the young riders in America today. “It’s one of those things, that as a kid while I was racing here in America and someone said “hey, do ya want to go race a bike in England on Easter Weekend at the Match Races”, I thought “are you kidding me? Of course I do,” began Schwantz.
“I think that in itself is what so many young riders are missing these days. There’s more of “well, what bike is it? What team is it?” To me, it was irrelevant. I got to go to England, race motorcycles in England. I went over and rode Tony Rutter’s TT bike from 1985 at the Match Races in 86. It was a bike that had a right-hand shift on it when I got to the track. Heron Suzuki and a bunch of the guys there really help that bike to be a much… well, it was fast, it was fairly standard as far as suspension went, we got a rear shock for it, we got sets of wheels for it.
“But my main reason for this story is I think so many kids race here to a certain level in America and go “Oh, will I get a chance to go ride a Moto2 bike” or “go and race Spanish championship” or this and that. “Do you know anything this, Kevin? Do you know anything about this team?” Well, no, I don’t. I think the opportunity to go and jump on something internationally, so long as it’s safe, go ride it, because everybody knows… teams are smart enough to know talent when they see it. If you go and put a bike that’s normally been 15th on the grid and you put it 10th, and it normally finishes somewhere between 10 and 15th and you put it in the top 10, they’re gonna look at you and go, “wow! This kid is good!
“You’re not gonna have the opportunity to go and win on a motorcycle every time you go and race. But y’know, my example at the Match Races, I went there and rode a bike that was a good bike, it handled well, we won, Barry Sheene saw me and took me there for 2 weeks and put me on a 500 at the Race of The Year! I almost won that. Next year, I had the world at my footstep! It’s just right there, because of meeting one person while I was over there, putting in a decent performance on a bike that if you told me or showed me before I went I would have gone, “oh…really? I got to ride that?” I think kids want a bit too much too soon and think ‘oh in that case, I’ll just stay here and race in America’. Roll the dice every now and then and challenge yourself daily, that’s for sure.”
Challenge. It’s a word that probably describes the latest American road racing star’s start to life in Grand Prix racing, but persistence and hard work from Joe Roberts (American Racing Team) seems to finally be paying off. Schwantz has previously worked closely with Roberts at the Suzuka 8 Hours, with the young American impressing the former World Champion.
“Joe’s gotten some good experience under his belt. Y’know, I would have thought he was gonna shine sooner than just Qatar this year. I picked him to come ride at the 8 Hours for one of the teams that I helped manage with Kagayama, I forget how many years ago it was now,” commented Schwantz. “I thought Joe did a great job, to see how competitive he was in practice, I heard he was first and I thought ‘wow’, then I heard he was fastest in qualifying and I thought ‘wow, ok y’know we’ll see in the race.’”
The Covid-19 outbreak has led to the postponement of the MotoGP™ World Championship in 2020, with Moto2™ and Moto3™ thankfully giving us something to talk about at the Qatar GP. That’s where Roberts claimed his first Grand Prix pole position – America’s first in a decade – as he eventually claimed P4 under the Qatari lights. Schwantz offered some words of wisdom to Roberts on the Last On The Brakes MotoGP™ Podcast, before comparing the path for Americans into the World Championship in his days and now.
“I’m sure he’s the one that’s wishing everyone would just get back to normal. I’m sure he’s scratching his head wondering “am I gonna have the same form when I get back on the bike.” He just needs to do what he was doing leading up to the start of the race, to the start of the season and not second guess himself – then he’ll be just the same rider as he was at the start of the season.
“It’s created a lot of excitement in America about road racing again and hopefully some of our kids here… I don’t think the talent pool in America is any less deep than it was in the day when Rainey and I, and Lawson, Spencer raced. But that avenue to get kids there. There’s not a lot of factory support here but I know Wayne Rainey is working incredibly hard to get that factory support back.
“Because, without Suzuki, when I raced I had Yoshimura Suzuki contract in 85, then I had a Suzuki America contract for 86 & 87, halfway through 87, we’re doing pretty good in races and I’m thinking “hey, where’s my contract? Cause if not, I’m gonna start talking to some other teams.” And they said, “what do you mean? We’ve been told end of last year that your contract is with Japan next year.” – “Really? Japanese championship?” Y’know, I knew that little about it, so without factory involvement and them seeing you do something somewhere and making them realise ‘that’s the person we want to take onto the World Championship’, and try and conquer the world – without Suzuki doing that, there’s no way my family and I could have accomplished that on our own.”