“Doohan was in real trouble with the front tire,” Watkins says. “He’d come up the straight, he’d make the turn and then the front tire would start pushing up to 100 yards. That was impossible for him, because he was not in control. So our guys knew that unless they could fix that,” which meant building tires overnight in Clermont-Ferrand and trucking them down, “[and in morning warmup it looked like] they didn’t fix it fully, it gave the guys even more confidence for the race.”
Doohan led until a few harrowing slides convinced him to back down. Rainey took the lead and sped away. With the track broiling the tires, there was concern that they wouldn’t last. But Rainey’s skill was such that he could make the tires better as the race progressed. “It’s the way he rode them,” Watkins said. “Sometimes if a tire was going off, sometimes instead of easing off and bogging it, he’d go the other way. And it got better. What he was doing was actually cleaning the surface of the tire. He’d take off all the rough by abusing it, so he’s got a good new surface.”
Rainey’s margin of victory over Doohan was 7.767 seconds. Rainey would finish on the podium for the next six races, winning three times and clinching the title at Le Mans.
Still, it wasn’t enough to convince team owner Kenny Roberts to stick with Dunlop in 1992. Rainey won that title on Michelin, but was back on Dunlop in 1993. He was leading the championship when he crashed out of the lead in Misano, his career coming to an end in a gravel trap.
“Who knows how that last season of mine would’ve turned out?” Rainey asks. “In racing, nothing’s for sure.”
Dave Watkins (left) was lead...
Dave Watkins (left) was lead development man at Dunlop UK’s motorcycle motorsport division for an amazing 46 years, up until his retirement last year (ironically just after similar Dunlop icon Jim Allen — at right — retired from Dunlop’s US motorsport division after a stellar career).
Even though he was at the mercy of the team owner when it came to tire choice, Rainey had respect for both tire companies, but with Dunlop it was, and remains, personal. “Normally, everybody that’s working on your team at any given time, they’re doing what they can to make sure they have the best chance of winning,” he said. “I always looked at it as we win together, we lose together, but whatever it is we’re going to do it together.” sr