Kevin Schwantz needs little introduction, the 1993 500cc world champion winning 25 grands prix during an exciting seven (full) seasons with Suzuki, during which his wild riding style made him one of the most famous and popular riders ever to compete in the premier-class - even a young Valentino Rossi was a fan.

The Texan (and his #34) retired from racing during 1995 but Schwantz remains heavily involved in two-wheels through his riding school, the Red Bull Rookies Cup, media work and close association with Suzuki's racing teams at both national and international level.

In this exclusive interview with Crash.net, Schwantz discusses the recent changes at his riding school, before turning to such topics as the Rookies Cup, Ben Spies, Rossi vs. Bayliss, Suzuki's grand prix project, Kawasaki's withdraw and Kevin's own ambitions to return to MotoGP in a management role...

Crash.net:
Kevin, you've recently moved your riding school, can you tell us the reasons for the move and what the change will mean?

Kevin Schwantz:
The Kevin Schwantz Suzuki school has been at Road Atlanta for just over eight years but we have taken the school to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, mainly because, with it just being a Suzuki school and everyone's budgets getting tight with economic troubles around, I found that if I wanted to get a new manufacturer involved, it was difficult for them to go to Atlanta. Barber Motorsports Park has a museum and close access to the airport, so I was able to convince American Honda that this was something they would want to get involved in. With that said, we have Suzuki and Honda on board and we are working hard to get other manufacturers on board too, although in these times of struggles for the world, it makes so much sense to work together to try and save money. We should all be involved in schooling to a certain extent and I think this is a great opportunity.

Crash.net:
What do you look to achieve with the riding school?

Kevin Schwantz:
The school has always been based around riding. It is not a racing school and although we hold it at a racing circuit, it is so we can control that 2.5miles of race track. What I teach is what I learnt during my racing career, but mostly it is about basic handling skills, visual awareness, body position, braking technique... the things that can be applied to the race track or on the street. It is all very important to your safety.

Crash.net:
And does everyone that attends your school get personal advice from yourself?

Kevin Schwantz:
I am at every school there is. I missed my first day in eight years this year because I had a Red Bull Rookies commitment, but I work in the classroom in the morning and then ride with the students in the afternoon.

Crash.net:
What's the main mistake you see most riders make when they first attend your school? How much difference are you able to make by the time they leave?

Kevin Schwantz:
The first and most difficult thing we have to overcome is visual awareness - we have to be out in front of that motorcycle, so we are not reacting to situations but anticipating what is going to happen. If someone gets into a corner too deep, they typically get on the brakes, startle themselves and look at what is on the outside of the track. Our instinct tells us we want to see what is out there, but nine times out of ten, where you look is where you go. So, you have to continue to look where you want to go, rather than the outside of the track where the trouble is.

Crash.net:
Do you have any plans to bring your school to Europe?

Kevin Schwantz:
The ultimate goal is to have schools worldwide. We have done some French, German and Greek schools and it has been really successful. However, until we have the opportunity to get the distributors, whether it is Suzuki or Honda, to work together it is costly in bringing my entire staff over for a couple of schools. If we came over and spent more time and everyone got a bit of the share of the cost, then it would be a more reliable product.

Crash.net:
As well as the school, you also help the next generation of racers through the Red Bull Rookies Cup. How rewarding for you is that?

Kevin Schwantz:
The Red Bull Rookies Cup is some of the most enjoyable stuff I have done in my racing career. There is world championships, winning races and scoring lap records, but watching the excitement on these kids' faces, riding with them, helping them and watching them come back in saying 'what you told me really helped', really puts a smile on my face. It is so much fun. I have never ridden a 125GP bike before and it is a learning experience for me too. I am usually on a track that I know, so at the start of the session I can have my way, but by the end I am struggling to stay in top ten as far as times go. It is a learning experience, but it is so rewarding to help kids be who they want to be.

Crash.net:
What do you look for in terms of spotting new talent and how do you try to develop it?

Kevin Schwantz:
Each kid is so different. We have nine kids coming back from last year and 15 new ones, so I have to learn who they are and help them understand what I'm saying. Each kid has that certain desire and they all want it bad, but it can depend on their upbringing and experience. Sometimes it seems the natural kids are the ones who haven't been road racing for long but come in and pick it up really quickly

Crash.net:
One American rider clearly with a lot of talent is Ben Spies, how disappointed were you to see him leave Suzuki for Yamaha? Should Spies have been given a GP ride with Suzuki for 2009?

Kevin Schwantz:
It is always a true disappointment when someone who has been with Suzuki as long as Spies leaves, because I think he has the talent to get to the very top, whether it is MotoGP or World Superbikes. I thought the quicker he got on the MotoGP bike, the better he would be, but it is a difficult time out there and all the manufacturers are looking at ways to cut back, so I can't question Suzuki and who they have for riders, because that is the choice they make. It is unfortunate Ben has to go to World Superbikes, but I think he is with a great team. He has been at my house this winter, mountain bike riding and cycle-cross training, and he seems fit and motivated, so I have nothing but bad news for the guys in World Superbikes because I think Ben will come over and have a heyday with them - he will do well!

Crash.net:
As a new series, with new circuits, for him, many speculate his title challenge will come in 2010 - do you think Ben has what it takes to be a title contender in his rookie season?

Kevin Schwantz:
For me, watching Ben for the past three or four years racing against [Mat] Mladin, where he found speed and consistency to become three-time AMA champion, I think Ben has the ability. He is mature enough and has already gone up against one of the best in the business. There are lots of great riders in World Superbikes that he will have to learn how to beat, but he is a smart, mature kid and I expect great things from him.

Crash.net:
There were a lot of rumours last year about yourself perhaps running a third Suzuki for Spies in MotoGP, how close did that come to happening and do you think you could put such a package together in the near future?

Kevin Schwantz:
I had hopes that it was going to come together last year, so that we could get it in place for this year and Ben could have an extra Suzuki for him to ride. It is a sign of the times, however, with the economy. I was recently in Japan and everyone is preparing for the worst. To build another bike and to get it out on the grid at extra expense is not financially viable, so Suzuki didn't think it was the time to be spending money. It might still happen, though. I would love to get back with Suzuki and their GP team at whatever level, either as the team manager or managing a satellite team - one way or another I would like to get over there. It is my heart and soul...

Crash.net:
It was another difficult year for Suzuki in MotoGP, what needs to happen for Suzuki to be a MotoGP championship contender?

Kevin Schwantz:
It is always difficult for me to sit back and watch Suzuki struggle. I know how capable all of the engineers and the members of the grand prix team are, so I know what level they can perform at and for some reason they aren't quite there at the moment. It is like one of my kids - I have as much interest in seeing where they are going in MotoGP as I would if I was raising my own child. It makes my stomach hurt when they don't get good results, but when they do get good results I get as excited and as happy as anyone in the team.

Crash.net:
What do you think it would take for Suzuki to establish themselves as regular race win contenders alongside Yamaha, Ducati and Honda?

Kevin Schwantz:
I wish I knew the answer. Having to watch from a distance, and not being there every weekend or seeing the progress made by the team and their rivals, makes it hard to comment on that. I think Chris [Vermeulen] and Loris [Capirossi] is doing a good job. I think Loris has helped especially in terms of direction and development and Chris still has that fire inside him. We see when it is equal out there that the Suzuki is as capable as anything else out there in the wet, but the guys have to find a little bit more performance. There are lots of little things that need to happen, but to pin-point one thing is hard.

Crash.net:
The winter period brings plenty of rumours, the most interesting being a possible match-up between Troy Bayliss and Valentino Rossi on Superbikes. What do you make of that and who do you think would win?
Kevin Schwantz:
I have all the respect in the world for Troy Bayliss as a racer, a person, as a competitor - he is obviously a very smart person. I don't think that a man who has money to put on the line, though, can bet against Rossi. I have seen Valentino do some amazing things, like Bayliss, but I think Valentino would come out on top. It would be a very ferocious battle but Valentino would have the upper hand.

Crash.net:
Can Rossi be beaten in 2009? Who do you think will be his closest rivals?

Kevin Schwantz:
I definitely think Rossi can be beaten - we have seen on certain occasions that he has beaten himself! Valentino is getting to the age where he is a really smart, savvy rider - he knows what he can do and what he cannot get away with. Stoner will be his biggest challenger, but I like to think Nicky Hayden on a Ducati will be able to step up and find that world championship winning form he had a couple of years ago. Pedrosa, as always, Dovizioso... There are a lot of guys out there that, with a little improvement, could challenge Rossi. He didn't have that inconsistently last year, so we saw him get back to his old form, win races and get a bit more confidence. And anything can happen when he has confidence.
Crash.net:
What do you make of Kawasaki's withdrawal from MotoGP?

Kevin Schwantz:
It is one of those things that, no doubt, has a big effect on the image of MotoGP. I don't think it is a sign of the demise of MotoGP, but more that it is a sign of how bad things are in the current economic state. Spending from the public will turn around and sales of motorbikes will go up, so people can get back into the pinnacle of the sport within the next couple of years.

Crash.net:
What are you most looking forward to watching this year?

Kevin Schwantz:
I have a lot of excitement about MotoGP and World Superbikes. I want to see how Spies does on the world stage. There are plenty of guys there that can challenge him, but with Troy Bayliss gone, the championship is up for grabs. The master of all situations isn't there anymore and, with that being said, whether it is Neukirchner, Biaggi, Corser or Haga, I think World Superbikes will have a lot to offer this year. So will MotoGP, even without the green bikes on the grid. Nicky on a Ducati, Dovizioso on a factory Honda, the challenge between Stoner, Rossi and Pedrosa... I am really looking to an exciting 2009!