Kevin Schwantz - Q&A (Part 2)
20 August 2009
In the run-up to next weekend's Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, 1993 500cc world champion Kevin Schwantz took part in a media teleconference organised by Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Here are a selection of the questions and answers from that conference - in part two Schwantz talks about Rossi's healthy world championship lead, James Toseland, Colin Edwards, Moto2 and Ben Spies...
Kevin, I wonder what the mood was after Brno in that are the other riders just signing off this championship to Rossi? He's got what, 50-odd points now?
I think it's right on 50 points. Lorenzo is enough of a competitor that I doubt he's given up until it's mathematically over. From an outsider's perspective just kind of standing back, looking and seeing what's going on, trying to think maybe what some of the other riders are thinking, absolutely.
You know, I knew Lorenzo was going to be better this year than he was last year, and he showed some real consistency. I don't know if I'm the one that put the hex on him or not but I was talking about it at Donington on Sunday, I did an interview with Suzi Perry on the grid, I said I just can't believe how consistent Lorenzo has been. Now it's been two races in a row he's tested the ground late in the race or at least into the race. He's given 25 points away each weekend.
So I see the Yamahas having a bit of a performance advantage right now. What it is they found that the other guys haven't, I'm not quite sure. But I think it's more of a two-horse race and especially like I talked about earlier with no Stoner out there, I think there's going to be the odd guys that will challenge at the front.
Here at Indy, I'm sure Nicky and Colin are both going to be really strong. But I still think championship-wise the 46 (Valentino Rossi) seems to kind of have the measure of everybody. I don't know if it's just a mental edge that the guy has, because I really felt like in watching practice both at Donington and in Czecho, that Lorenzo was fast, and he was smooth, and he was consistently fast. But Rossi has a way of just upping his game a little bit on Sunday afternoon, and it's been devastating to Lorenzo both weekends.
The year that Wayne (Rainey) won the championship when Mick Doohan broke his leg and three months before then it looked like Doohan, was Doohan's championship. So a smart rider is just going to keep pushing now, do you agree?
Absolutely. I think Rossi has shown that - he's been on the ground a couple of times the past two weekends, too, he just hasn't done it in the crucial parts of the race when it's going to cost him 25 points or he's managed to get up in the race and still get some points out of it. You know, as a racer, one of the most difficult things to do out there is to try and back off and just start thinking championship now. You lose a little bit of that motivation, you lose a bit of that speed. Then when you have to, it seems like it's even more difficult to find it back again. So I'm sure Rossi is going to continue to be Rossi here and going to love to win races just like he always has.
James Toseland, a lot of talk right now whether he should keep his ride or not in MotoGP. I'm sure you've got an opinion. What is it?
I think James has been as disappointing to us as he has been to himself. I know James probably didn't expect to come here and start winning races immediately, but I'm sure he felt like he was going to be a guy that could contend for the podium. When you've got a veteran such as Colin Edwards alongside you in the team who's managing to put the bike up on the podium or somewhere right near the front somewhat consistently, I think there's probably a lot of doubt running around in James' head right now.
I don't know, maybe a year or two back ride some superbikes, get some confidence back. I don't honestly know what the best path might be right now for James. But I know for me it's – I was expecting big things of him and he's done an OK job a couple of weekends. He's had some decent results, but he hasn't ever shown me that spark and that fire that I saw out of him riding a World Superbike.
Kevin, what do you think about Colin Edwards' chances here at this race?
It's funny, because Colin will pull out some of the biggest surprises you might not have ever expected. I really feel like here at Indy - he didn't have the most flashy of grands prix at Laguna Seca, and I think this is a track here that would suit Colin and his style. Obviously, the Tech 3 Yamaha is a bike that's been working pretty well for him most of the year. It could be a weekend where we get to see a bit of a surprise out of the Texan. I'd like to see that more than anybody.
Kevin, you talked about how much you love the two-strokes and the sound of a two-stroke. What are your feelings about Moto2, which is due to start next year?
I think the idea behind it is good. Once again, it's headed a direction that we've seen should cost a whole lot more money than two-stroke racing; but, at the same time, I think four-stroke technology is the direction that most of the manufacturers are headed from a development standpoint.
You know, with one type of engine, everybody gets to build their own chassis to try and come up with some different ideas on what might work best or what might not. You know, I have to go into it with an open mind. I think it could be really good. The fact that there's 40- some-odd teams, more than 40 teams interested in competing in the series, have fielded entries, I think that in itself is pretty exciting for MotoGP.
Hopefully that new class and its structure will lend us some really, close competitive racing because the 250 field has really shrunk quite a bit, too. It's a shame because I got the opportunity a couple of years ago to test all the MotoGP bikes, riding those big, I think they were still 990s back then, riding those big 990cc four-strokes, and the guys from KTM came over and asked if I wanted to ride their 250 and I said, "Yeah, absolutely."
Just over maybe 110 horsepower and 90 kilos a bike, it reminded me a lot of riding my 500, it was just a little bit slower acceleration-wise. But just the precision, the sound, the sharpness of that two-stroke, everything about it was a real pleasure to ride, that's for sure.
I'm getting the sense that your head says it's a good idea but your heart is breaking at the loss of the two-strokes.
Yeah, you know, I think my heart will always be a two-stroke heart. But we understand that technology is headed in a different direction now, and that maybe the two-strokes aren't the most efficient thing out there. You know, it's still racing in a world-class level, and I think that's more what it's about than anything right now, than what I want to see and what I want to hear.
Do you see it as an opportunity for yourself? I mean, if it's an open seat, you would like to manage a team? Do you see that it could be a Moto2 team, would that be a possibility?
Is it going to happen or is it just you'd like to and you're waiting for the phone to ring?
I think right now with what all is on my plate, right now it's going to have to be that phone call that happens for me to want to undertake something like that. But, you know, I carry my phone with me all the time. So, everybody, call away if that's what you want.
Indianapolis is a major sports town both in professional sports here in the U.S. and also in amateur sports. But you could make the argument that Valentino Rossi will be the biggest worldwide athlete to compete in Indianapolis this year.
You travel all over the world to these GPs. Could you put Valentino's celebrity status, his rock star status as a worldwide athlete, not just as a motorcycle racer but a worldwide athlete, into perspective out there?
That's really tough for me to do. I guess the one thing I read the other day or saw on a sports channel somewhere, that he was the eighth most-popular sports athlete anywhere in the world. That's golf, that's basketball, that's motorsports, that's everything that happens from a sporting perspective. That's soccer, that's cricket, that's all those different sports worldwide.
When you come to a grand prix to see just how many people have yellow on because Rossi and that 46 are kind of synonymous with the color yellow, when you look up into the stands and see how much yellow there is there, you'll see what a huge draw he is from a motorcycle perspective. But he's the guy that I doubt can go anywhere without being recognized because he's just such a - he's not a clown, but he's such a laid back, easy-going guy.
When the race finishes, he shows his happiness and expresses it when he wins, and he kind of beats up on himself when he does something silly like he did at Donington when he fell down. You know: "I just made a mistake, I'm lucky I got up and was able to finish fifth."
I think Rossi more than anybody out there in MotoGP right now just shows that he's human. I think that's what makes people like him as much as they do, is one day he can be perfect and the next day he can, as he probably put it, "I can screw up just a little bit." So I think that, just that he's a normal guy from a normal upbringing that has found a way to ride a motorcycle faster than anybody in the world right now, but also still be pretty much an ordinary guy.
Laguna Seca has had a grand prix since 1988. You yourself have said several times you weren't a huge fan of Laguna as a rider. You did fairly well there, really well there, but it just wasn't one of your favorite tracks. You know, you came to motorcycle racing sort of anti-establishment. You didn't come from California and came from Texas. From that perspective, what does it mean to have a MotoGP race here in the heartland?
I think to have a race here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is – you know, the California thing, Laguna Seca is a great racetrack, it's a great layout. It's ultracompetitive. It's one of those places that you've really got to be on your game.
Probably what I dislike most about it was the fact that Wayne Rainey lived right across the street from the place, and I felt like it was his backyard. Normally he kicked my ass there like it was his backyard.
So to be able to come to Indianapolis and see all three grand prix classes here from a fan's perspective, I think, is a huge draw. A speedway that's got so much heritage and history in motorsports as Indianapolis does, you know, I think is nothing but a huge draw for MotoGP and everything that supports it.
Kevin, you've worked with Ben Spies since he was a young pup. It seems somewhat inevitable that he is going to end up in MotoGP. What are your thoughts about him racing the class?
You know, I think Spies got a couple shots last year on the Suzuki MotoGP bike. He didn't shine all that much at Laguna Seca. He did really well here at Indianapolis, and he didn't have a great run at Donington, either, But having never been to Donington, I didn't really expect him to. I think Ben, when given the right opportunity on the right team, I think he can compete at the very top level. Whether he'll step in instantly and have something, you know, to try and show Valentino Rossi, I'm not sure about. But I think with the rest of the field, whether it's a Nicky (Hayden) or a Colin (Edwards) or a (Jorge) Lorenzo or any of the other guys out there who are competing up at the top, I think Ben has the heart and the motivation to do whatever he sets out to do. If he's given the shot on the right team, gets the right support guys behind him, I think the sky is the limit for Ben Spies.