Posted: 28 Feb 2014
Kevin Schwantz returns to what was largely a happy hunting ground for him during his World 500cc Grand Prix career when he guests at Donington Park’s annual Classic Racing Festival. The Texan son of a motorcycle shop owner had won the hearts of the fans at the Leicestershire circuit, even though in the process, he and Wayne Rainey were demolishing the British team with their brilliant determined riding in the 1987 TransAtlantic Challenge.
Schwantz won two and ran second to Rainey in the other four as they locked horns in what would be a feature of Grand Prix racing in years to come, but, 1988 brought a rather different reaction to the Suzuki rider from the locals as he went literally from hero to zero. Riding in the British 500cc Grand Prix, Schwantz was running eighth but eager to make up places on the charge into the Esses when the unthinkable happened. Schwantz took out the local champion Rocket Ron Haslam.
Haslam picked himself up out of the gravel and rejoined the race. However, Schwantz was down and out with a knee injury, but, he was soon on the road to recovery taking the first of his career 25 victories in Japan later in the year. The mould was set, and the 1989 British 500cc Grand Prix evoked memories of the winning style of the TransAtlantic Challenge as Schwantz ended the race on the top step of the podium, having seen off the early threat posed by Flying Scot Niall Mackenzie – winning by seven seconds from Wayne Rainey and Christian Sarron.
There was more of the same in 1990 with Schwantz heading an all-American podium, beating his long standing rival Rainey by a little over two seconds with Eddie Lawson running third and then, despite the media hype around his hat-trick bid in the 1991 British race, Schwantz ruled supreme. Starting the race from pole, riding bike “34” he dictated terms, setting the fastest lap in the process as he again headed off Rainey, though the latter was racking up points to take him to the World title.
Could Schwantz make it four wins in as many years at Donington Park? On what was already an emotional day for the sport, the answer was no. Prior to the start Rainey had announced that he was to retire from racing at the end of the season, and fittingly though in a controversial affair, he took the victory – Honda’s first at the circuit in the top flight. Rainey was clear of the trouble at Redgate corner that saw Schwantz take over as a flag marshal…
Five laps of the race remained when several riders crashed in quick succession, Schwantz among them. Like the others, he was convinced some liquid had been split on the circuit, confirming that in a conversation with Doug Chandler who had also tipped off there. And as Carl Fogarty went down, Schwantz grabbed an oil flag from a marshal and frantically waved it, arguably saving other riders from the fate that had befallen him.
In 1993, his World Championship winning season, luck deserted Schwantz at Donington Park as he went down along with Michael Doohan and Alex Barros on the opening lap, but he signed off on a happy, winning note in what was a crash-strewn campaign by taking the last of his 25 Grand Prix victories at the Leicestershire circuit in the 1994 race.
Retirement from the 500cc scene came the following season. The “34” bike left the grid but without doubt will be back for all to see, ridden by Schwantz at the scene of so many of his highs and lows, at Donington Park this August. More details to follow…
Photo taken from https://twitter.com/KevinSchwantz