Kevin Schwantz Talks MotoGP
Kevin was born in Houston, won the 1993 500cc World Championship, at the time the premier class of worldwide motorcycle racing just like MotoGP is now. Kevin used an aggressive, all-out style to earn 25 victories during his Grand Prix career, second on the all-time list among American riders.
Kevin is still very involved in the sport today. He is an advisor and a rider coach for the Red Bull Rookies Cup series for aspiring MotoGP riders in Europe, and he also runs the Schwantz School which provides classroom and on-track performance motorcycle riding instruction. It’s a big weekend for the Schwantz School coming up as it will have a session tomorrow and Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
HOST: You were at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP last year working with the Red Bull Rookies Cup and doing media work, among your many other duties. You never stood still the whole weekend. What did it mean to you to see your sport finally compete at the world’s most famous racetrack?
SCHWANTZ: Anytime you drive through the tunnel here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and pull into the facility, it’s just amazing what a huge place it is; and how MotoGP, in all of its presence, was here full scale last year and it didn’t even seem to really faze the size and the capacity here at the Speedway. But to see MotoGP here and see those bikes running down the front straightaway and crossing the bricks, it was a pretty amazing feeling.
HOST: As I mentioned in the introduction, this is a big weekend for you personally at Indy, not only next weekend but this coming weekend in a couple of days because of the Schwantz School running a session for the first time here at Indy. Tell us a bit about that.
SCHWANTZ: We had the opportunity to come here and run a school, and I’ve never really taken my school anywhere but what our home base was, whether that was Road Atlanta or Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham (Ala.), to take the opportunity to load all the bikes in the truck and come up here and conduct a school here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a treat for me, you know, I think for the students who are going to be involved, to be able to get to ride on the same track that Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo get to ride on, I think, is a true honor.
As far as the challenging capabilities of the track, it doesn’t have any elevation change like a lot of the tracks we ride on, but at the same time, the combinations of corners, the length of the front straightaway and, once again, just the cool factor of being here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is huge.
HOST: Great, great. Let’s open it up for questions from the media.
MEDIA: Good, hanging in there, man. Could you touch on the Casey Stoner situation a little bit from your perspective, a lot of mysterious stories, other things going wrong. You’ve been to several MotoGP races in Europe this year, what have you heard, what have you seen, what do you think?
SCHWANTZ: I guess, first of all, what I have heard and what I have seen is that Casey has been struggling with some type of an illness, whether it was a stomach bug or whatever at a bunch of the earlier, a couple of the earlier Grand Prixs that I went to. Of course, the last one I went to in the Czech Republic, he wasn’t there, and still with no form of illness that’s been diagnosed by any doctors that I’ve heard anyway.
And as a rider, my gut feeling is Casey needs to be out there competing. This championship, when he made a tire choice at Donington that seemed to be a little bit off of the norm, had him right at the top of it. I mean, he didn’t need to be making a gamble on tires like that when he was in a championship hunt. For me, that kind of told me that there was something more going on with Casey than just, you know, "I don’t really feel all that good but I’m finding a way to perform." And for me, to have signed a contract whenever it was, beginning of last year, beginning of this year, you’re signing a contract to compete unless something is medically wrong with you. I’m out there doing the best that I can. Whether I can give 100 percent every weekend or not is kind of the question. But for me it’s a real disappointment, and I think, you know, Casey is a great competitor, and I think maybe a little bit more of this has to do with something behind the scenes that maybe none of us quite yet know about. Maybe that’s just some Stoner hard feelings towards Ducati or towards the series or, I don’t exactly know what it could be. But to just decide you’re going to skip three races and see if you feel any better at the end of it, to me, is a little bit out of the norm.
MEDIA: Can you talk a little bit about how difficult it is to remain motivated as a rider if your heart just simply isn’t in it?
SCHWANTZ: Well, yeah. I can be the first to comment on that because when I quit racing, it was, you know, any motivation, any focus that I had had, any inspiration to go out there and compete every weekend was a lot, was based around trying to figure out how to beat Wayne Rainey. Without Wayne there, winning a race is winning a race; and it was still really cool, but it didn’t have near the meaning that it did when I was beating him.
If your heart is not in it, it’s somewhat of a high-risk profession. Maybe you’re better off going to go get a desk job or at least stepping away from the sport. And that, in my situation, is what I did. I sure hope that’s not the case with Casey Stoner and that, you know, he’s just lost interest and focus in this sport at such a young age because he’s definitely a huge draw to the series. And I think he’s been a World Champ, so he obviously can ride one of these two-wheel rockets at the best of his ability, which is World Championship-winning level.
MEDIA: I’m good. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve attended roughly half of the GP’s this year. What motivates you to jump on airplanes that frequently given your commitments here in the States with your riding school and at the AMA races with Yoshimura Suzuki?
SCHWANTZ: I still think my heart and soul is 100 percent in MotoGP, and I’ve always aspired to be a guy who could run a team. You know, whether it’s, as in the past my entire career has been affiliated and competition-wise was around Suzuki; but at the same time, you know, maybe there’s other options, maybe there’s other opportunities out there for me.
So right now the school is going well here in the States. Attendance is a little bit soft but I think with the economic state of everything, that’s to be expected. But, you know, I really have the desire and the want to be back involved in Grand Prix racing, and just going over there keeping an eye on things and keeping those doors open if anything does come up for an opportunity of me maybe getting in and running a team from a management perspective.
MEDIA: Would you have any interest in running a World Superbike or an AMA team or strictly are your interests in Grand Prix?
SCHWANTZ: You know, first and foremost MotoGP is where I think Kevin Schwantz made his name, and that’s where I’d initially like to be. If things don’t work out there, possibly a World Superbike deal. No way at all, any chance, no direction, no chance, no way, no how would I do anything AMA.
MEDIA: Kevin, I’m curious. Your involvement with the Red Bull Rookies Cup and, as you know, we’ve got some wild-card riders from the USGPRU who’s going to be competing next weekend. Could you give a perspective of the kids possibly and what they have not experienced up to this point when they come out of that last corner and actually go onto the straightaway with the immense crowds that will be populating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
SCHWANTZ: I think even for somebody who’s been racing Grand Prix bikes for quite some time and maybe competed at some of the other real historic tracks that MotoGP goes to, to come down the front straightaway here at IMS, to me, is just amazing. I remember doing the Rookies Cup practice here last year; there wasn’t a crowd here at all. There wasn’t maybe 500 people or so, but just the awesome, the length of that front straightaway and knowing the history behind Indianapolis Motor Speedway really kind of gave me goose bumps even riding a little 125 down the front straightaway. It was definitely a thrill.
I think those kids, whether they’re USGPRU kids or whether they’re Red Bull Rookies Cup kids, they’re the future of what Grand Prix racing is all about or the future of what road racing is about, whether it’s Grand Prix racing or Superbike racing. But the opportunity to work with Red Bull and those Rookies Cup kids last year here in America and this year to a certain extent at some of the Grand Prixs has been probably one of the most rewarding things since I’ve quit racing that I’ve done. And to see the smiles and the excitement on those kids’ faces when you can give them some direction and help them shave a tenth or two or maybe even a half-second off of their lap time, it’s well worth every last minute of work that’s involved.
MEDIA: One other question concerning the school. What is the domestic versus international pull for students in your school?
SCHWANTZ: You know, every school we have seems to have two, three, four international people in it, whether they’re Europeans, whether they’re Japanese, Australian, New Zealand, something like that. We always have a few but not quite that international pull that we’d hope for, that’s for sure.
MEDIA: MotoGP has some new rules this year limiting the use of engines and how many replacement engines you have. How do you think this is going to affect the riders and maybe some of the strategies they use?
SCHWANTZ: Well, I think, first and foremost, we saw last weekend in Czecho the biggest effect it’s going to have on the riders is running over to get the thing turned off real quick so it doesn’t ruin an engine because they know what they’re practicing with or what they’re riding with is one of the four or five engines that they have through a certain length of time.
You know, I don’t think from a rider’s perspective, you’re not going to do anything really different. You’re going to ride it as hard as you can. You’re going to go as fast as you can. You’re going to try to get the best setup you possibly can. I don’t think it’s going to come down to, well, I’m going to do the first half of the practice session at a mere 90 percent and then the last half of the session I’m really going to try hard, because my understanding of it is it’s more of a mileage issue with the engines than it is anything. After a certain number of laps, whether they’re going really, really fast or really, really slow, it’s got that mileage on it, got that distance on it, it’s got to be rebuilt now.
MEDIA: What do you think the impact of having the Indy GP has had on the American racing scene so far?
SCHWANTZ: You know, I think last year we didn’t get to see the full effect of what Indianapolis being on the calendar for MotoGP was going to be because the hurricane came through; the weather was pretty iffy, at best. I think this year we’ll be able to get a whole lot truer impression of what it means. I know, for me, having Indianapolis on the schedule, being here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a huge draw, huge attraction, whether it’s for my school or whether it’s for the Grand Prix itself. You know, people are genuinely excited about coming here. Let’s hope Mother Nature is a little friendlier with us this year and we actually get some decent weather for next weekend.
MEDIA: There’s going to be two big announcements at Indy next week, or it looks like there’s going to be two big announcements. One is going to be that Lorenzo will decide his future, and the second one will be about the meeting of the Grand Prix Commission. First of all, about Lorenzo. The news in Europe is that he signed to ride for Ducati. First of all, how do you think he’ll do on the Ducati? And secondly, why do you think it’s such a difficult bike to ride?
SCHWANTZ: You know, I don’t honestly have an answer as to what I see that bike doing that makes it so difficult to ride. You know, I’ve talked to Nicky Hayden a bit about riding, Marco Melandri just a touch. It’s just a bike that seems to be, from what they say, somewhat inconsistent. Watching Nicky and some of the things he does on the track, it just doesn’t look like from lap to lap he’s confident that the bike is going to continue to do the same thing in the same exact corner lap to lap to lap. So as a rider, he can’t quite start to compensate or make an adjustment from a rider’s perspective to try and be able to do things a little bit better because it’s a little bit inconsistent. And I don’t know whether that comes from the geometry of the bike, the chassis of the bike, the electronics on the bike, exactly what it is. I’m still a little bit too far away from that to have a really good idea what makes that bike so difficult to ride.
MEDIA: Why doesn’t that seem to bother Casey? Because Casey is, I mean there’s hundredths between each of his lap times.
SCHWANTZ: Yeah. And I don’t honestly know unless Casey Stoner is more superhuman than most of us actually think he might be. Casey has done an outstanding job riding the Ducati. The Ducati has been kind of Casey’s saving grace. He got off of what everybody thought was a pretty good factory Honda ride, and when he got on the Ducati, he started shining like there was no tomorrow.
Whether there’s just a little more confidence in Casey and his ability and that Ducati, maybe he’s been a part of a little bit more of the development of it. I honestly don’t know. Like I said, that red garage is one that I don’t get very close to and don’t have the ability to get very close to. But obviously the bike is good in a straight line and some guys can ride it, but most guys don’t seem to be able to.