WAYNE ALL THE WAY
Wayne Rainey's USGP win was almost uneventful. It's a good thing he never looked back.
WAYNE RAINEY HAS A WAY of keeping his head while everyone around him does not. He didn't win the crash-marred 1990 500cc USGP, held at the Laguna Seca Raceway, in Monterey, California, by default. He simply rode harder and faster than anyone else on the circuit. While most of the other riders seemed to be blowing cobwebs out of their leathers, Rainey looked in late-season form, setting a pace that no one else could match.
The evidence was scattered behind Rainey, as four of the top GP stars left Laguna injured. Some riders be lieved the track itself was to blame for the number of wipe-outs. but Marlboro team manager Kenny Roberts had a more-convincing explanation. “This is a very tough track,” he said. “There is no place to rest, and your concentration has to be so high to stay on the track. It’s early in the year, and everyone thinks they are going to be the world champion. I just don’t think many of the riders were prepared to go at race speeds.” Kevin Schwantz certainly was ready for racing, even if his motorcycle may not have been. Schwantz lamented the lack of testing and development his Lucky Strike Suzuki team did in the off-season. “Suzuki didn’t do too much to the bike: They thought it (last year’s bike) was good enough. But it was good enough only because I rode so hard.” True, Schwantz is an amazing rider. On any given day, he can be the fastest in the world. He gets away with things on a motorcycle that others won’t try. It’s as if he hears whispers of immortality, and has no concept that what he does should not be done. When it works, his riding style is a joy to behold. Other times, he simply falls off. >
CAMRON E. BUSSARD
Of course, no one is more aware of that or has benefited more from Schwantz’s misfortunes than Rainey, who has been the bane of Schwantz’s racing career since 1987 when they battled each other for the AMA Superbike championship. Rainey ultimately won the number-one plate that year after Schwantz crashed his way out of contention. Since 1988, when the pair first began racing in Europe, Schwantz has grabbed the most headlines, and the most wins, but he has also had the most crashes, and Rainey has come out ahead at the end of each season.
“If it comes down to the championship at the end.” said Rainey, “I'll beat Schwantz.”
Not that Rainey and Schwantz were the only contenders as the GP circus set up its tents for America’s third-annual grand prix. Australian Wayne Gardner stole the pole position riding a Rothmans Honda. For 1990, Gardner has teamed up with Erv Kanemoto, the super-tuner who is also part Zen wizard and part psychologist. Gardner admitted the value of Kanemoto when he said, “Having Erv is like strapping on an extra five horsepower.” That seemed to be the case, as in practice Gardner looked healthier and faster than he' had since crashing at Laguna Seca a year ago and badly breaking his leg. Still, Gardner didn't hide his dislike for the Laguna facility. "The racetrack is dangerous, and there is no medical center here." he said.
Conspicuously absent from Sunday’s starting grid was Rainey’s Team Roberts/Marlboro teammate, fourtime World Champion Eddie Lawson. During practice on Friday, he suffered a terrifying crash when the pins that hold in the front-brake pads vibrated loose, allowing the pads to drop out. Lawson went off the track at more than 100 miles an hour, standing on the rear brake and managing to lay the bike down just before it slammed into the concrete barriers at the end of the run-off area. Lawson crushed his right heel, and underwent two-and-one-halt hours of surgery to repair the damage. The speculation is that he will miss only one race. "I want to come back and help Wayne win the championship," he said before the operation.
Throughout practice, it was Schwantz who was generating all the commotion. He was painting frighteningly long black marks in every corner of the racetrack by sliding both tires and using up every inch of asphalt and several inches of the dirt surrounding the track. "I never felt like I was doing anything crazy out there,” he said. Schwantz, however, thought Gardner was scary. “He’s really pushing it. He’s all over the track. I don’t think his Honda slides controllably. Indeed, many observers wondered if Gardner was riding the bike harder than he should and if he would be able to keep up that kind of pace for the length of the race.
The race itself got off to a shaky start. As the field crested the hill in I urn One, Rainey was in the lead but had both feet off the pegs. “I lost traction at the top of the hill,” said Rainey. “The rear end stepped out and I bumped Kevin. It really pumped up my adrenaline level.” Rainey regained form and quickly began to pull away from the pack that had Schwantz, Gardner and Kevin Magee battling for second position. Then, only two laps into the race, Magee was thrown from his bike at the exit of Turn Six—very close to the spot where he and Bubba Shobert collided after last year’s event. The race was red-flagged while Magee was airlifted to the San Jose Medical Center, with a severe head injury. As of 10 days later, he had improved considerably and was responding to conversations, though he was still listed in critical-but-stable condition.
On the restart, it was Schwantz who led for several laps before Rainey got by. As Rainey and Schwantz began to put some distance on the field, Gardner crashed hard in Turn Six, the same place he fell a> year ago. "I was just cruising there and I don’t know what happened,” he said. "I can't believe I crashed.”
Gardner's teammate, Michael Doohan, was following right behind and had a great view of the accident: ”It looked like Wayne screwed it on a bit hard, and spun it out.”
Up front, Rainey continued to keep just a couple of seconds between him and a charging Schwantz. Suddenly, with only 10 laps to go, Schwantz had closed the gap, but with his Suzuki heeled over in Turn Eleven, he found himself in a fulllock powerslide. The tire bit, and as Schwantz was pitched over the top of the bike. Rainey disappeared down the front straight.
Schwantz picked up the motorcycle and tried to restart it, but he had broken his left arm just above the wrist. ‘T wasn't trying to pass Rainey there,” he explained. “1 was just trying to size him up. I thought I could get him there on the last lap. I didn't think the bike had come around as far as it did."
Rainey continued to press hard, and though he had an uncontested, 30-second lead, came close to falling a couple of times. Near the end, he caught and passed Randy Mamola, who slowed after being thrown through his Cagiva’s windscreen during a violent tank-slapper. Though Mamola didn’t fall down, he did dislocate three bones in his left wrist, and limped in to a seventh-place finish. Because of so much attrition, Doohan finished in second, and Italian Pier Francisco Chile wound up in third place.
That third-place finish of Chili’s puts him in second place in the points chase, but he seemed a little uncomfortable with his standing. “It is better to be in second place at the end oí the season.” he said.
Rainey, who two weeks previously had convincingly won the season opener in Japan, left Laguna with a large points advantage. Gardner and Schwantz had finished second and third, respectively, at the Japanese GP, but failed to score any points at Laguna, while Lawson had crashed out of both races. Because Rainey has such a large lead, all the top riders know they are going to have to be more aggressive than before, but they’ll also have to finish every race to have a chance of catching up. “There are 14 races left, and who knows what can happen,” Schwantz said. “I just know I have to race hard enough to keep pressure on Wayne.”
That's going to be hard to do, because Rainey is as intense and focused as a hawk hunting for pigeons.
“I'm already thinking about the next race,” he said. “I want to win three in a row. I’m going to nail it every time I get on the bike. I’m not going to relax.” 0