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Schwantz returns to Macau for 40th anniversary

26 September 2006

Former 500cc world champion, Kevin Schwantz, will be amongst the former winners heading for China this November as the Macau Grand Prix celebrates the 40th running of its famous motorcycle street race.

Joining the legendary Texan for the celebrations will be 'Rocket' Ron Haslam, who won the event an astonishing six times in the 1980s; Belgian Didier de Radigues who, in addition to winning in Macau in 1991, notched up four World Championship Grand Prix wins during his stellar career; and TT hero Mick Grant who took two Macau victories in the 1970s and '80s and continued his love affair with the city long after he'd hung up his racing boots, returning many times as a team manager.

The only man ever to have equalled Haslam's record of six wins, British Superbike star Michael Rutter, will also be amongst the former winners in Macau come November. However, the anniversary celebrations won't be foremost in his mind as the Englishman will be attempting to set a new record of seven victories - right under the gaze of the 'Rocket' himself.

Schwantz, who won in Macau on a 500cc grand prix Suzuki in 1988, is looking forward to his first visit to the SAR since 1989, when he attended the event as a guest television commentator: "I've heard so much about how Macau has grown and it's real similar to Las Vegas now... So, I think it will be neat. It will be interesting to see, as a race, how the event's grown as well."

Macau may have changed almost beyond recognition, but the Guia Circuit is virtually unaltered since his day, and Schwantz has not forgotten the challenge it presented 18 years ago. "I look back on that and think how did Suzuki ever even think about letting me go do that!," he admitted. "As big a kid as I was and as much stupid stuff as I did on a proper racetrack, wow, what might I have done - and how badly could I have got hurt - with all those walls!

"So it was, and it took quite some time to learn the track. It's got some real tricky uphill blind left-right corners and certain parts of it are really, really fast too. It's not just a walk in the park by any stretch."

But not only did Schwantz conquer Macau, he did it in typically spectacular style. So convincing was his win - much of it on his rear wheel - that another rider suggested the countless wheelies may have been necessary to preserve his front tyre.

"Jamie Whitham is one of the guys who came down after the weekend and said; 'Did you guys get a (tyre) allotment? Were you shorted on your tyre budget? Because every time I saw you, the front wheel was in the air!'" recalled Schwantz with a smile.

In an illustrious career, during which he became hugely popular for this all-or-nothing riding style, Schwantz competed in seven 500cc World Championship seasons, finishing 2nd in 1990 and clinching the title three years later. Early in the 1995 season, after a year plagued by crashes, Schwantz decided to retire having notched up 25 grand prix wins, one more than his great rival Wayne Rainey.

That made him the second most successful American road racer after Eddie Lawson and, as a mark of respect, the world motorcycle governing body, the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM), retired his racing number 34 as testament to his popularity.

However, years before the American hotshot made his trip to Macau, 'Rocket' Ron Haslam, so named for his ability to make great starts, had won the hearts of Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix fans with a run of six wins, interrupted only in 1984 when he was unable to make the trip to the Far East Classic and victory went instead to follow Englishman Mick Grant.

One of ten brothers and sisters from the mining town of Langley Mill in Nottinghamshire, UK, Haslam started racing at the age of 15 on a 750cc Norton Commando owned jointly by two of his elder brothers. Tragically, Haslam was to lose two of his brothers in motorcycle racing accidents over the next 12 years, but he continued in his chosen sport.

Haslam made his debut in 500cc GP racing in 1977, and in an eight-year period had 61 top ten finishes including nine on the podium. These results made him Britain's second best grand prix rider after Barry Sheene.

Today Haslam lives with wife Ann and his children in the UK, helps son Leon, who has followed in his father's footsteps and is currently battling for the 2006 British Superbike title, and nurtures stars of the future at his Ron Haslam Racing School at Donington Park.

Another rider with a successful racing school is de Radigues, who conquered the Guia Circuit in 1991. The popular Belgian enjoyed a successful World Championship motorcycle career for more than a decade, with 14 podiums and four wins, before turning his hand, just as successfully to sportscar racing and television commentary.

With the return of Schwantz, Haslam, de Radigues and Grant to Macau this November, a host of celebrations planned to mark the 40th running of the Far East Classic, plus Rutter's attempt at setting a new record of wins on the Guia Circuit, motorcycle fans can look forward to a rare treat.

Over the four-day 53rd Macau Grand Prix, practice and qualifying sessions will take place on November 16th and 17th (Thursday and Friday), with the races on November 18th and 19th (Saturday and Sunday). The 40th Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix is scheduled for the Saturday afternoon.

In addition to the 40th Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix, backed by Rio Hotel, the weekend line-up includes the Polytec Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix, the unofficial 'world cup' of the category, the final round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship, and a host of support races.


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