Ten minutes with Kevin Schwantz. An interview.

Kevin Schwantz needs little introduction, he is a legend of the two-stroke GP era. We caught up with him at Silverstone for a chat about hire cars, whether any MotoGP racer could win a BSB title and which was harder, Rossi winning on two and four strokes or Spencer winning on 250 and 500s.

When we picture Kevin Schwantz we think of Pepsi – what is the  weirdest brand you’ve ever worked with, or been sponsored by?

you know, there weren’t many. it was either Pepsi or Lucky Strike. I did some Nascar stuff in Australia, drove some two-litre cars, had some pretty strange sponsors there, some bars and hotels and stuff like that. they were all based in the area and what was close by and people wanted a little bit of exposure. For anybody who wants to spend money in racing you want to try and make them feel like they’re the most special people in the world. But nothing really weird that I can think of anyway. Oh wait actually that’s not true, Suzuki back in the very first… 86 when I came over, Skull Bandit had Men Only, a erm girly magazine…

This was before we were born…
Yes, well I gathered that… haha!
Honda were trialling active suspension in the mid 80’s. What was the most advanced piece of tech you saw at Suzuki back in the day?
Probably the most advanced thing I saw at Suzuki was an electronic cut to get the bike to shift. Carbon brakes were pretty advanced, covers to start with then the material got advanced enough that you didn’t need to run covers all the time, but you’d never think about running them in the wet. Now the material has gotten good enough I think they can run it in the wet. They don’t choose to, but I think the braking material is consistent enough that you actually could. There was a little aerodynamic stuff too. The hump on the back seat, those were good for a couple of mph in the wind tunnel, that was about it.
What do you think of the aero these days? Ducati most obviously. Is it good, or bad?
oh man. maaaan. i think it looks for an interesting looking motorcycle. it takes away from the original… i mean, look at the moto3 bikes, small little, sleek designs, guys being as small as they can trying to get in behind it [the fairing]. but anyway, you can help keep the front end of the motorcycle planted better. as a rider if you can keep the front stuck, you’re able to do much more with the rear. half way through the race if the tyres go off and the front starts to push and you don’t have any force down on the front, it’s a tough chase. if it’s just sliding at the rear you can control that with throttle
So it’s broadly a good thing in your view?
I think so, yeah.
Okay, so if there was one rule you could change?
I’d bring carbs back. and then you wouldn’t have any electronics to worry about – or rather than you could say, ok, no electronics allowed. i think you’d have to start by making them carburated because if you’ve got any kind of ECU that runs anything, people will be juggling with it
How many hire cars did you get through back in the day?
The only one I can really say I was lucky to get back to the rental car place was a car I rented in Daytona for a race. I had it for ten days between Daytona and another race in Atlanta, and so I drove it from one to the other.
Daytona to Atlanta is about, what, 300, 400 miles?
Yeah that’s about right. to get it into the parking lot… well, so I was going about 100mph flat out, threw it into reverse, it was a Ford Thunderbird. You can imagine: tyres spinning backwards, smoke everywhere, terrible noises from the transmission. I had to back it into Hertz because it wouldn’t go forwards anymore. Somehow I got away with that one.
Talking about Daytona, when you’re out in Daytona there’s always guys taking rental cars out and driving them into the ocean, full gas, seeing if they can get them out to the surf. usually they only go as far as the roof, but I never did that…
Yeah, right…
Personal cars, sure, not rental cars!
Which was harder: Rossi’s two-stroke to four-stroke back-to-back championships, or  Spencer’s 250 & 500 in the same year?
I’m gonna say Rossi’s two-stroke to four-stroke. When I was still racing 500s in ’92, Suzuki was also racing 250s. We had Herri Torrontegui and Wilco Zeelenberg riding the 250s, and me and Doug Chandler riding 500s. Wilco and Herri were complaining the 250s were not fast enough. As luck would have it I got on a 250 at a test in Barcelona. Carlos Cardus and I were pretty good buddies at the time, so I got on and started following Carlos. Got a good run through the last corner (sound effects), right past the factory Honda down the back straight. I’m like what do you mean it isn’t fast enough? The bikes plenty fast!  So, knowing what that transition was like from a 250 to a 500, and not to take anything away from Freddie doing it in one year and double the GPs on the weekend? definitely a feat that was difficult. Going from riding a two stroke to a four stroke from one year to the next…
Chalk and cheese, but with time to acclimatise?
… yeah now that I think about it more, because you had a whole off-season to get accustomed to the new bike, so maybe that wasn’t quite as difficult. So actually, Freddie, but only by a bit.
Aleix Espargaro and Josh Brookes recently had a spat on twitter. Who was your public enemy #1 and could any of the MotoGP guys win a BSB championship?
I dunno much about the spat, someone told me the gist of it, but absolutely. You could take any of the current motogp guys… any of those guys could win BSB. That’s why they’re in the World Championship. There’s a few guys there ‘cos they’ve got funding behind them, but they’ve all got skills good enough to do it. And that’s not just BSB but AMA and all the rest of ’em too.
Oh and I didn’t really have any enemies. I did the talking on the track.
Are you bothered that there’s only one American in the entire motogp championship?
Yeah of course I am. The talent pool in America is as deep as it’s ever been. It all stems back to the fact that we don’t sell 70,000 GSX-Rs bikes a year in America anymore. If you don’t sell that many bikes you can’t spend that much money racing, so everybody’s doing it on a much smaller scale. For that reason, people aren’t looking at our championships to find that next rider. Instead they’re looking a bit at BSB, a bit more at WSBK… I still know that the American kids that are coming through are as good as ever, but we’re not getting them into the Red Bull Rookies Cup like we need to, so it’s just not getting that exposure.
Cheers, Kevin.
Kevin was in the UK for the Silverstone round of MotoGP. He rode a Suzuki GSX-R, just like the little 125 we rode here, only bigger and a bit faster…