The final part of an exclusive interview with triple 500cc world champion 'King' Kenny Roberts, ahead of this weekend's Americas MotoGP round.

After retiring at the end of 1983, a season in which he won six races and was title runner-up to Freddie Spencer, Roberts moved straight into team management, initially in the 250cc class and then, from 1986, in 500cc.

Team Roberts became the official factory Yamaha entry in 1990, winning three successive titles with Wayne Rainey in the premier-class plus a further crown for John Kocinski in the 250cc category.

Ever the maverick, Roberts broke ranks with Yamaha for 1997 and - with backing from Modenas - turned Team Roberts into a constructor.

That adventure continued under the Proton banner from 2001, but the cards were stacked against independent constructors in the costly four-stroke era, prompting an engine partnership with Honda.

The KR-Honda scored two podiums with son Kenny Jr in 2006, but another rule change - to 800cc engines - saw Honda and therefore Roberts struggle the following year and the team did not return in 2008.

Part one of the interview focussed on Roberts' career as rider and part two begins by asking Kenny to pick his best race, before attention turns to team management and the current MotoGP World Championship…

Crash.net:

Does your success at the Indy mile in 1975 remain your single greatest achievement?

Kenny Roberts Senior:

Absolutely. The people that don’t do dirt track couldn’t comprehend that obviously. To start from dead last on the third row and be as far back as I was, and to end up leading the last lap by about three inches…

Everything I knew, I learned and I practiced all my life was put into those laps. If I started third or fourth and got the win, fine. That’s another thing. Sitting on the motorcycle as I did, I know that was my greatest achievement as far as physically and mentally [what went into it]. And quite frankly it was dangerous, beyond the scope of what I should have been doing.

Another one? Jarama, against Sheene in ’82 on the ‘V’. That was another epic race that I felt no one else could have done. Every lap, every corner, because the tyre wasn’t very good, and the bike was a handful.

I was just aiming at the kerb. I’d hit that and then it would wobble all the way down the straight to the next corner. To do that lap after lap after lap was an experience!

Carruthers and Roberts, 1982 500GP (pic: Gold&Goose)

Crash.net:

I’ve read some interviews with you and it seems that attacking corners in certain ways, doing things differently to other riders on track gave you as much of a buzz as winning itself. Would that be a fair comment to make?

Kenny Roberts Senior:

Yes, absolutely. There were times that I rode the motorcycle and knew that I could make it better but I thought, ‘No, I’m going to ride this because I can over-ride it. I can do that.’ There were times that Yamaha said, ‘Don’t race this motorcycle.’ There were times that Kel [Carruthers] said, ‘Listen, you’re not going to race this tyre. This tyre isn’t going to make the race.’ And I said, ‘No, it’ll be OK.’ And I’d fly off the [bike] on the second lap!

But there were times when I rode the motorcycle when I knew it wasn’t very good but I was going to ride it anyway. I remember in an interview with [Marco] Lucchinelli at the Misano round in ’82. They asked him, ‘How come you couldn’t get third?’ And he said, ‘Well, I was behind Kenny and I knew he was going to crash so I was just waiting… But he never crashed!’

He said, ‘I knew he was going to crash so I didn’t have to pass him. I don’t know anyone that could have ridden that motorcycle.’ That meant more to me than the press saying, ‘Kenny got third on an ill-handling motorcycle,’ or whatever. The riders meant more to me than what the press said. But I didn’t pay that much attention to the press. I still don’t obviously.

I did what I wanted to do. If that was bad, OK, say it’s bad. I had no problem with that. Making up stories, I have a little bit of a problem with. But saying the truth, I have no problem with that.

Wayne Rainey, 1992 (Gold&Goose)

Crash.net:

When you were having success with Wayne Rainey and John Kocinski as team manager comparable to the feeling of winning when you won?

Kenny Roberts Senior:

No, it’s a different game. The satisfaction comes from putting all that together, especially winning with Wayne, because everyone said I was such an idiot for hiring him. If you look back to when I did that and had to let Randy Mamola go to put Wayne in there, everyone just said, ‘This guy’s gone,’ you know? ‘He’s lost his mind!’

Randy was second in the world championship that year [1987]. I did it. Wayne turned into one of the best road racers ever. That whole thing and then of course achieving the whole Marlboro success after being with Lucky - mixed emotions obviously - but to do all the things that I thought needed to be done as team owner was very satisfying.

Not physically, but mentally it was like, ‘Wow! We - not just me - did it. What we put together. And that’s something that is very, very rarely achieved in our business. That was personally very rewarding and that will stay with me forever - until I do something different of course!

Crash.net:

When you left Yamaha at the end of 1996 and started to use Modenas machinery, I imagine that feeling was even more intense as that was literally your bike and your team…

Kenny Roberts Senior:

I think Grand Prix at that time needed something like that. [It brings] mixed emotions again. There were some people at Yamaha, we just didn’t like each other. And there were some people that did.

It was like, ‘OK, I’m just fed up with all this crap. I’m just going to do something different.’ And in a way I would do it again.

I learned so much more about motorcycles, even about Yamaha and how they conduct their business, and how it conflicted with their racing business. It was great for learning.

I didn’t start out and go to college to learn about motorcycles. I started out quitting high school to learn about motorcycle racing. There is no school to teach you all you need to know about the effort of building a motorcycle, putting it on a race track in three months!

In hindsight I would have done things a lot different. A lot differently. But I wouldn’t trade anything for the experience I had working on the Modenas and Proton project.

Jeremy McWilliams, 500cc Proton KR (pic: Gold&Goose)

Crash.net:

And the Proton still stands as the last ever two-stroke to be on pole position in the MotoGP class. I guess that’s a decent legacy for that bike…

Kenny Roberts Senior:

Yeah. Well, we waited until the very end! It was a very good motorcycle in the end.

Crash.net:

Have you been watching the racing recently [interview conducted between Qatar and Argentina]? Would you say the sport is in pretty good shape at the moment?

Kenny Roberts Senior:

Absolutely. Oh yeah. Well, there’s not a better spectacle on TV. There just isn’t. It’s just hands down the most spectacular show on earth at the moment. No motorcycle or car can compete with that show.

And saying that, I think the four-strokes are a little easier to ride in some respects and a lot harder in other respects. It’s very, very, very close now from riding over the limit, like [Marc] Marquez did [at Qatar] in my opinion, and being on the limit. It’s a fine edge.

It’s not like the old days when the 750s wobbled so much, it was just who was stronger to ride through the wobble won the race. These things are so technically advanced and precise, it’s almost like watching a Moto3 race with 2,000 horsepower. It’s an incredible show.

Marquez, Dovizioso, Qatar 2018 (pic; Gold&Goose)

Crash.net:

When you watch him, it’s clear Marquez can do some things with his bike that others can’t. Can you relate to his approach, of trying things consistently that others wouldn’t dream of?

Kenny Roberts Senior:

Yeah. And to do it every week… He’s got a particular style that nobody else has. Of course, I’ve been there and done that. To watch that, it’s like watching things that I did on the motorcycle 30 or 35 years ago… only better! He’s doing it on the absolute disastrous limit.

To do what he did at the last corner on the last lap [in Qatar], I couldn’t believe he was going to do that. You’re not racing at 90 percent. He’s racing at 110 and then he bumps it up to 115 on the last lap. It’s mind boggling watching Marquez ride the motorcycle sometimes.

I remember a couple of years ago at the American Grand Prix at Indianapolis and he was the only guy turning the motorcycle with the back wheel - the only one. I mean some of the traction control won’t allow that to happen. He doesn’t care about that. He doesn’t want it to grip all the time, which was exactly the way I approached road racing.

It’s kind of nice seeing someone that understands that and can do it at that level. I think he’s taken than whole approach and put it on the front. I wasn’t very hard on the front tyre but these days that wouldn’t work. These days you have to be harder on the front than I ever was.

I was harder on the front in ’83 than I ever was because Freddie was on Michelin and their front tyre was very good. I knew I had to do that and I put a lot of effort into doing that. In fact, my constructions were so stiff that Eddie [Lawson - Roberts’ team-mate in 1983] couldn’t ride them at that time because it would chatter too much.

That was just from putting pressure on the front. I would have had to come up and dug real deep to do what these guys are doing at that time in my prime.

Crash.net:

Have you been surprised by the recent performances of Andrea Dovizioso?

Kenny Roberts Senior:

Yeah, it was shocking to me because I knew he was on a Honda early on. Then he left Honda and did a few other things. I thought he had potential when he first got there but whatever reason it never really materialised. I don’t work with him and I’m not at grand prix much anymore, but to see him now come into his own shows you never know.

It’s not an easy business. It’s a little bit like golf. You’ve got Tiger Woods who just disappeared - the best in the world just gone. It’s that way in MotoGP.

All of a sudden [Dovizioso's] just there doing an unbelievable job. He’s just quiet about it, going about his business. Marquez is more flamboyant; he just sticks it in there and you wonder how the hell that happened.

But you’ve got to take your hat off to him [Dovizioso]. He just kept working mainly on him, and what he needed to get better.

There have been riders in the past that have done that. Well, Wayne Rainey’s one of them. A rider that people said would never make it to being the best in the world. Every day you’ve got to get up and think how you can be faster. How can I ride the motorcycle faster? What can I do?

I needed to take three days to run through my head how I could have been faster at the race before. What corner was bothering me? Would scenario [would I have changed]? Maybe in the middle of the race I slowed down too much and couldn’t put it together. You just run through that, and run through it and run through it.

Obviously that’s what Dovizioso has done. He’s just run through every lap that he’s ever done and learned how to do it better. In some ways that’s the hardest guy to beat sometimes because he’s learned it his own way in his own time. Sometimes that’s better than having so much natural talent that you overlook things.

That’s what I did. That’s why I crashed [preseason testing] in Japan in ’79. I overlooked the safety. I didn’t even think about safety. I just went out there and, well, I set the track record before I crashed. I had never been on that track before. You know, natural ability sometimes gets in the way of winning.

Kenny Roberts, Proton KR (Gold&Goose)

Crash.net:

With the racing as close as it is do you think we could see more manufacturers – even smaller ones – coming into the sport in future years, just as you did with Modenas in 1996?

Kenny Roberts Senior:

I don’t think you could predict what’s going to happen in the future, in terms of a small manufacturer coming in or a group of manufacturers. The racing right now is so spectacular that I think it’s going to be hard for people to ignore it. Everyone wants to be in the big game and MotoGP is becoming a huge game.

I think it’s very, very difficult to judge what will happen equipment-wise. I wouldn’t like to say that someone’s going to come in and blow these guys away because that’s certainly not going to happen.

But to come in and be successful? I don’t know if it’s easier now than it was. Certainly the money has increased to do that. It’s finding the engineering and the money and the longevity to get the job done. It ain’t going to happen quickly.

 

 

 

 

Comments

Loading Comments...