xBhp caught up with Kevin Schwantz at the Buddh International Circuit to have a lovely informal conversation with him about bikes, MotoGP and the difference between MotoGP in the present day and ‘back in the day’!
We thank Suzuki India for inviting Kevin Schwantz to this country and the F1 track of Buddh International Circuit for the final round of the Suzuki Gixxer Cup. It was a pleasure speaking with #34 about his 1993 Championship winning season on board the Suzuki!
X – What is the scariest bike that you have ever ridden?
Kevin Schwantz – It has to be my 1992 Grand Prix bike. It didn’t handle had horrible power and went permanently sideways. Every time you got on the throttle you thought, oh this is gonna hurt. But I never have seen a bike which I felt too scared to ride or was thought was too powerful. A mechanic friend had a Ninja 1100 or whatever they had then and put a turbo charger on it and at 150mph it would just spin the rear wheel. Something like that would maybe scare me. Something that has just uncontrollable power, but I have never ridden anything like that which could scare me.
X – Earlier you had mentioned that you have a dirt background. Currently most of the riders in MotoGP practice in the dirt, whether it is Rossi and Marquez. But a few riders like Lorenzo don’t ride dirt at all. How much of a difference does riding in the dirt help in controlling a MotoGP bike?
Kevin Schwantz – I think electronics have helped the guys who don’t have a dirt background. I think back in the day when the only way you could ride was sideways, you had to absolutely have some dirt in your history. The only guy who is a classic example who didn’t ride dirt but was somewhat successful is Christian Sarron. Sarron used to sit straight up on the bike, he would never hang, never move his body even. If he had ridden a bike which didn’t slide around very much, he would have seen better results.
X – Next year we will have spec electronics in MotoGP, what do you think will have a greater effect, the spec electronics or the tyre change from Bridgestone to Michelin?
Kevin Schwantz – I think the Michelin change is going to be interesting. It doesn’t look like that Michelin is going to be able to come up with a front tyre that suits anybody. For sure somebody is going to get a feel for it better than the other guy, and that is going to bring some change in the direction of how things are. I think the electronics isn’t going to change things much. It is just going to make the racing more boring. I think a spec ECU, a similar electronic move was made in WSBK, and I was in Laguna Seca during the World Superbike round watching the two Kawasakis go at it. Watching Johnny Rea going over the hill into turn 1 down the bottom of turn 2 with the double apex, running kind of wide. Watching Johnny catch Tom on the brakes and run it little wide in the middle of the corner so he could square it up and come off the corner faster. But he would lose that much ground, Sykes could run around the inside and go wide open throttle and the electronics would go wooooop and get off the corner just as good as the guy who gets off the corner by the wider line, which shouldn’t be the case. Now thanks to electronics, the shortest way around, is the fastest way around. Which makes doing different things, what racers like to do set somebody up for the pass is now irrelevant. I mean, if you race a modern MotoGP bike or Superbike, you would have to go to school again on how to race and pass people. I don’t think the spec ECU will make a big difference, hopefully it will make the factory bikes and the rest a little closer, just bring them back together a little bit. But I think the tyre will be a much more interesting change.
X – Your thoughts on having a single tyre manufacturer?
Kevin Schwantz – It is ridiculous, it is racing at the top level. Because Formula 1 does it so ‘ooooo’ (with very animated expressions) Dorna thinks we got do it too. It doesn’t make it cheaper, it has dumbed down racing. It doesn’t make it interesting. When I raced, I would be surprised if you ever found Rainey, Doohan and I all three on Michelins ever used the same front and rear tyre. EVER. Maybe in certain places where only one tyre that worked. The Honda was harder on the rear tyre, they always had to run a harder rear tyre, the Yamaha always was better with soft tyres, so they could run a softer tyre. They could go early or they could go with the middle of the row tyre like we used to do. Which was good and consistent from start to finish. Maybe not the fastest on an outright lap, but consistent across the board. Honda would run the hard rear, and they would have to be careful at the beginning and they would still find a way to overheat the tyre and have the thing destroyed and spin and make the rider go ‘oh aaa’. I think the amount of money that maybe they might be saving, I don’t think it is actually being saved. I think open tyres back up and they need to let people test and they can’t just schedule 4-5 tests a year and the rest of the time the riders have to sit around. When I raced they finally put a rule to stop us just testing just anywhere. If we didn’t have a race the next weekend we would be at the track just testing. One, it is a good for the team because you don’t need to just test when everyone else is, so if you are behind you can catch up with development. You can when you want, when you feel the need to. I see Honda and Yamaha’s point, these guys have worked hard to get there and they don’t want others to catch up. But right now the series needs it, without Moto3 and Moto2, I think the MotoGP racing unless you have a Misano where it went from dry to wet to dry made it awesome. So let’s do this, let’s put sprinklers on the track and wet it down and let them start off on a wet lap and just let it dry as it dries. We are going to set the timer, we are not going to tell you what time it is set for. There are a lot of ways to make the racing more interesting.
X – Do you believe that irrespective of rule changes, the Top 4 will remain at the top, ahead of the rest?
Kevin Schwantz – I think so. The one kid that I think that has the opportunity to get to that next group, if the bike is good enough is Maverick. I think Maverick is a genuine talent, he has gone from just riding a Moto2 bike for a year and now on MotoGP and he has really done well.
X – Another youngster this time in WSBK, Michael Van Der Mark, what do you think of his future prospects?
Kevin Schwantz – I raced the 8 hour with Van Der Mark. If I had a team I would want him there, he has talent. We saw what he did in WSBK besides Johnny Rea he never was far from where Johnny was. Johnny gets on a good bike and now he is World Champion.
X – In MotoGP we have a lot of Spanish and Italian riders, but in WSBK it is a British dominated affair. How is that two premier motorcycle championships have such a distinct national identity?
Kevin Schwantz – I am not sure, I think the British championship is pretty strong, I think that helps a lot. We have so many Spanish because they national championship is so strong. If you want to get into MotoGP, that is the strongest point you can start from. That is such a difficult task for American and Australian youngsters who want to compete there. You need to move up and move the family to Europe and go racing.
X – Do you see any rider in Moto3 who will be the next big thing in the 5 years?
Kevin Schwantz – Danny Kent was a Red Bull Rookies cup kid that I coached, just a switch flipped this year. I watched him get on 125s, Moto3 and just all of a sudden he has found something that has put him right at the front at all the practice sessions and with a chance to win every race. I think he would do well to get onto a MotoGP bike. He is a fairly big kid too. I think the comparison everyone is going to make is with Jack Miller, that he has not been successful. Let’s back up and compare him to the bike that he is riding and the guys that ride the same bikes. Almost everywhere he has out qualified Nicky Hayden, he may not be out racing Nicky everywhere. In the last couple of races he has shown that he is where he needs to be. The position there put him in that team is they said just go out and ride and get races completed. Just learn MotoGP.
X – Nicky Hayden will be moving out of MotoGP, most probably to WSBK and the Honda team there. For the first time in 40 years MotoGP will not have an American rider. Any American that you think is capable of riding in MotoGP?
Kevin Schwantz – He is not going to enjoy that is he! I think the name that is always going to come up is the American Superbike Champion Cameron Beaubier. He rode 125s for a season where he was Marquez’ teammate, probably got overshadowed with that. After that he went back to America. I don’t know, Cameron’s lived the European lifestyle, he knows what it is like. Now that he has done well at home maybe he has got enough money that he can just pack up and go. And say, you know what I am going to go racing in the Spanish Moto2 championship. If he gets a chance to go to MotoGP, he should take it. You can buy your way into a Moto2 ride, but you can’t buy your way into a MotoGP ride yet.
X – Talking about this year’s championship. Rossi is 23 points ahead of Lorenzo, the last two races have been in tricky conditions, wet-dry-wet. Do you see the championship being decided in the last race.
Kevin Schwantz – You know, I do. But I think what I said a race ago before Misano. 4 of the last 5 could be any kind of weather. Australia, Malaysia or even Valencia could just as easily be wet too. And I think tricky conditions favour Rossi. I keep seeing it. In the first race where Lorenzo finished off the podium with helmet issues and then he crashed by making a mistake. You don’t see him making mistakes like that very often. If it is some of his equipment that is letting him down then man I hope that helmet contract pays well.
X – Do you see Rossi’s strategy in the Misano race, pitting in two laps later. Was it a good strategy and did he lead Lorenzo out of his comfort zone that forced his crash?
Kevin Schwantz – I agree with the strategy of doing whatever the guy does with whom you are racing for the championship. You don’t gamble and try to do something early or late. When you see him do it, maybe you weren’t ready, maybe you didn’t expect it, but you don’t give yourself a big opportunity that would take a bunch of points away from you. I would have done the same in Rossi’s position. You do whatever everybody else does, or at least you do whatever the person you are closest to in the championship does. You don’t leave yourself open. You don’t gamble if you have a championship at stake, you gamble if you have no chance in hell of winning the championship. That’s a Bradley Smith, Scott Redding gamble.
X – How do you see Marc Marquez effecting the result of this Championship?
Kevin Schwantz – If he gets between those guys, points can be built up really quick or points can be taken away really quick. So it is probably a pretty fun position to be in. He knows that he is not really in contention for the Championship; he is not completely mathematically out of it yet. But he will be in another race or two. But to be able to ride for the win. And for Rossi and Lorenzo to not only have to battle each other but Marquez as well who will get between them. Rossi may not be the fastest guy in qualifying and he may not be the fastest guy in practice, but in the second half of the race, he is probably going to be the fastest guy on track. Just depends on did they gap him too much for him to be able to make it up.
X – Your relationship with Japan has been really special, be it the track or be it the technology.
Kevin Schwantz – When I raced for the Japanese I refused to adapt to their lifestyle. I wouldn’t eat Japanese food, I wouldn’t eat Sushi. When they would ask where you want to go, I would say I want to go to McDonald, coffee shop or I would eat at the restaurant in the hotel. And now that I have not got my race face on all the time I go eat Sushi all the time. I go eat Sushi when am at home at least twice a week. If it weren’t so expensive I would do it more often than that. I have come to really appreciate the Japanese a lot. Not just the Suzuki Japanese, but the Japanese in general. I really admire they commitment for business, knowing that 90% of the people in Suzuki joined there straight out of school. And once you work in a place like that, you are there for life. The track for me, when I was doing those 8 hours, I would be like gosh, why am I even doing this, why am I here. Grand Prix riding is what I do. Thinking that every lap I did at that place, I would do it much better on a Grand Prix bike. I got a lot of motivation from the fact that Honda owned the place and to beat them at their own track would have been awesome. I would do whatever it took to beat those guys, so that I could be one up on them!
X – If you had ridden on the Buddh International Circuit with your motorcycles in the 90s, how would you have performed on this track?
Kevin Schwantz – I think I would have liked it. All I did was ride the first half of it. But I enjoyed the layout. I like the elevation and the uphill near turn 3 and you go up and go back down to the corner. It is similar to the Austin track, which makes you want to go deeper and deeper. But as soon as you crest the hill it flattens out and if you don’t have that thing slowed before you have to commit to the corner before cresting the hill, you are not going to get to the apex. You are going to miss it. From what I have seen from the first half of this track, some real similarities there.
X – Though Austin hasn’t yet provided any breath-taking racing for the spectator. Would it be the same case at BIC as well if MotoGP came here?
Kevin Schwantz – Yeah I think we struggled to get the number of people into the track to really make it good business. But I think that it is just the local group that we are missing. It is some of the hot headed group that were angry that the tax payers’ money is being used to build the track. People had a thing against it before it was even built. That’s the group of people we are missing, the 35000 people that we need are just locals. They think, as some big race is happening in town, we are leaving, everyone will be at the track it will be horrible, I will just go to the coast for the weekend. We want them to come out and see what World Championship motorcycle racing is all about.
X– With the amount of electronics in MotoGP right now, do you think that the riders train differently now compared to the time of yours?
Kevin Schwantz – If you were racer a back in the day and try to ride something electronic now. You would have to go back and try to learn how to become a racer again. Because all the techniques that I used to figure out how to get by somebody. Now everybody gets on the gas at the same time and the electronics does the same thing for everyone coming off. Everybody is on the brakes at the same time, everybody is on the same tyres, and now there are so few variables out there.
X – Recently a few MotoGP riders were asked who would like to race a 500cc two stroke.
Kevin Schwantz – Now the bikes do go sideways, but the electronics cover it up to save the rider. I heard Rossi say one time that what you start with is what you got for the whole race, you can fiddle with the maps a bit you can change a little this and that. But basically the bike is going to stay the same the entire race. Back in the day in the Suzuka ‘91 race I got a good start which was unusual and I was at the front and my bike was just horrible. I couldn’t hold onto the front and the back was sliding too much and I was wondering what I am going to do. And I was the length of the front straight from the leaders and as the fuel burnt up, it quit pushing the front, the rear came in and I started to steer it some with the rear. And my bike went from horrible in the beginning to really good at the end of the race. And everybody else was really good at the first half of the race and they started to struggle in the second half and I was going faster and they were slowing down. Rossi is one of the few guys that you still see actually making some passes.
X – How difficult was it from putting your foot down to putting your knee down?
Kevin Schwantz – When I first went from dirt to road, in the first couple of races I didn’t even put my knee down. I started off sitting pretty square on the motorcycle. I didn’t hang off much and then I started hanging off a lot. And then as my Grand Prix career progressed I started getting up on the bike a little bit as I realized that when you are hanging off the inside so far then you have no weight on the outside footpeg and letting the rear slide pretty easily. But when you do have weight on the outside footpeg you can really leverage that foot to control the slide.
X – How do you think they can make the MotoGP races more interesting?
Kevin Schwantz – Maybe they need to double the fuel tank size or double the race distance and let them make a pitstop!
X – Do you expect Marquez to come back stronger after a bad season in 2015?
Kevin Schwantz – Yeah I don’t know this to be a fact, but am just guessing it. He saw things to be like last year and said ‘ohhh’. I think he is going to be okay. In testing they didn’t really solve that issue they had with the bike. This one year of experience is going to make a world of difference to his riding and he will be a much wiser man.
A few pictures of Kevin Schwantz at the Buddh International Circuit.