MotoGP » Kevin Schwantz
Career 500cc/MotoGP world championships:
1 - 1993.500cc/MotoGP race wins:
Schwantz may have claimed only one world title - but the American’s raw speed, excitement and influence on the premier-class is still remembered around the MotoGP paddock today.
Schwantz was a leading light in the golden era of 500cc GP racing, battling not just arch rival Wayne Rainey, but also the likes of Mick Doohan and Eddie Lawson on his way to 25 500cc victories. That’s more wins than four-times world champions Duke and Surtees and triple world champions Rainey and Roberts.
Having narrowly lost the 1987 AMA Superbike title to Rainey, Schwantz then moved - with his bitter rival - to the 500cc World Championship full time, the Texan remaining with Suzuki, for whom he would spend the rest of his GP career.
Schwantz made a spectacular impact with victory at the Suzuka season-opener but, in a pattern that repeated itself throughout his career, injuries and DNFs would hamper his title hopes. The #34 finished the season seventh, but did take a second victory in a wet German GP.
1989 began with Schwantz repeating his season-opening win at Japan, but again falls and mechanical failures would blight his championship challenge. Kevin ended the season with six wins, more than any other rider, but was just fourth in the points.
1990 would see Suzuki and Schwantz reduce their DNF rate - while keeping his awesome speed - but couldn’t prevent Rainey taking his first world championship. The statistics said it all: Rainey DNF’d just once and won seven races; Schwantz fell four times and won five times.
Doohan would join the fierce Rainey, Schwantz title fight in 1991, which would again see wild child Schwantz struggle to match his rivals’ consistency. Rainey dominated with five race wins, while Doohan’s consistency placed him above Schwantz in the end of season standings, even though they both took three wins.
Schwantz’s 1992 season would be marred by injury, leaving him fourth overall with one victory, but he again overcame such setbacks to return fighting in 1993. The Suzuki star won the season-opener and, while Rainey claimed the next two rounds, regained the points lead by winning the following pair of GPs.
Indeed, Schwantz had at last combined his frightening speed with consistency and finished on the podium in the first nine races to hold the championship lead. His one and only retirement that season would come at Donington Park, when he injured his wrist after being hit by Mick Doohan, an accident which would help Rainey take the title advantage.
Schwantz began the Italian GP, round 12 of 16, 11-points behind his rival, but the race would have disastrous consequences for Rainey, who was paralysed after falling from his Yamaha while trying to pull away from his fellow American. The accident handed Schwantz his world crown in the cruelest of circumstances, but Kevin had arguably lost more than one world title due to accidents of him own. It was Suzuki’s first world title since 1982 and would be their last until Kenny Roberts Jr in 2000.
Meanwhile, several more bone breaking injuries would rule out a 1994 title defence by Schwantz, but Kevin still won two races - the latter of which would be his 25th and last - on his way to fourth in the standings.
After fighting back to fitness again, Schwantz suffered a poor start to 1995 and, after some serious soul searching - the impact of Rainey’s accident can’t be underestimated - he decided to retire, at the age of 30. As a sign of his impact the #34 was retired with him.
Doohan would later describe Schwantz as the fastest person he ever raced, while Kevin’s skill and showmanship would have a big influence on a certain Valentino Rossi.