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KEVIN SCHWANTZ

The sole 500cc title earned in 1993 does not effectively summarise the impact that Texan Kevin Schwantz had on the motorcycle racing world championship. The Suzuki stalwart amassed a huge legion of fans around the world with his flamboyant all-action riding style and propensity for spectacular crashes as he chased victory at each Grand Prix as if each race were his last. Schwantz entered the international stage after some stand-out results competing in his native superbike series. Loyal to Suzuki throughout his career he made his Grand Prix debut at Assen in 1986 and became a full-time member of the series in 1988, stamping his unique mark on the championship right away by winning the opening race at Suzuka in Japan. The years of 1988 and 1989 saw Schwantz accumulate eight wins and 13 podiums, but also saw him suffer late falls (in Spain and Belgium) when in grasp of further success, lending weight to a reputation as superlative but inconsistent rider. He was nevertheless one of the main 500cc stars in a golden period which also features the likes of Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan and Wayne Rainey.

In the following four seasons Schwantz would regularly battle with recognised peers and develop the RGV500 with his distinctive natural talent. He finished runner-up in 1990 and it was around this time that his long-standing rivalry with Rainey. The Americans tussled in a private duel over a three-year period with Schwantz taking victories at Assen and Hockenheim which riled his Yamaha foe. Rainey chalked up three titles but Schwantz was equally prominent, increasing his win tally to 19, with 21 podiums between 1990 and 1992. Their personal relationship improved by the 1993 campaign and by this time Schwantz was adopting a more relaxed and steady approach to his results, Rainey-style, in order to obtain the crown that many felt was long overdue. Rainey’s career-ending accident at Misano, with two rounds remaining, left the door open for Schwantz but also essentially nullified the achievement for the then 29 year old. The injury niggles and bone breaks – most significantly to his wrists – began to tell by the time of his title defence in 1994. He finished fourth and then tearfully announced his retirement a short way into the 1995 term.