Former 500cc GP World Champion Kevin Schwantz is to make his international racing comeback this year at the Suzuka 8-Hour World Endurance Championship second round in Japan.
The 48-year-old, who clinched the 1993 World Championship aboard his #34 Lucky Strike RGV500 Suzuki, will race a GSX-R1000 in a three-rider Suzuki team set-up by Yukio Kagayama that also includes former MotoGP, WSB and BSB rider Noriyuki Haga.
Kagayama - who has also ridden all three championship classes with Suzuki - has formed the privateer team for the 2013 Coca-Cola Zero Suzuka 8 Hours on July 28th - the biggest and most-prestigious motorcycle race on Japan's motorcycle racing calendar.
Said Schwantz: "I'm looking forward to racing the Suzuka 8-Hour in July with Noriyuki Haga and Yukio Kagayama on a Suzuki GSX-R1000. Suzuka holds a special place in my heart because that is where I won my first 500cc Grand Prix in 1988.
"The last time I raced the 8-Hour was in 1992 with Doug Chandler and we did not finish due to mechanical issues. With only two riders, it used to be a really, really physical race and now with three riders it is still going to be tough but not quite as much. Although eight hours on a 1000cc bike is going to be very physically-demanding, I will need to increase my training program to possibly do two-three hours on the bike.
"I've never have won the 8-Hour and with my team-mates that are as strong as Yukio and Nori, along with our Dunlop tyres, I think we stand a good chance."
When did you talk to Kevin and Nori about this project?
"The project started in Summer 2012. I'd heard that Kevin always wanted to enter the Suzuka 8-Hour again but had some small problems doing so."
What kind of problems?
"First, how to organise the team? Who would he get as a partner, what machine; and who would he get to be his team staff. Secondly, Kevin has a good partnership with Yoshimura, so if Kevin came back to the 8-Hour, naturally it should be with Yoshimura. Kevin has a good partnership with Dunlop in his racing-school in the USA, but Yoshimura uses Bridgestone tyres. So Kevin's dream looked over, but I wanted Kevin to enter Suzuka as a racing rider, not just as a big guest for racing in Japan."
Doesn't your own team use Dunlops?
"Yes. My own team - which started in 2011 at the Japanese Superbike Championship - uses Dunlops, but at the 2012 Suzuka 8-Hour I raced for SERT."
What do you think about Kevin Schwantz?
"He is my idol! I started racing when I was in junior-high school. I've known Kevin since in 1985 or 1986 when he was with Yoshimura and first entered the Suzuka 8-Hour and some Japanese Championship events. And then he won the Japanese GP at Suzuka in 1988,1989,1991,1993 and 1994. So many Japanese fans remember this and still love him!"
Did you work with Kevin also when you became a Suzuki test rider in 1992?
"Yes. I did test many bikes for Suzuki and I also helped with development testing on Kevin's RGV-GAMMA 500 - a great honour and great memories for me!"
How did you get to talking with Kevin about the project?
"Initially, I talked to Kevin through a mutual acquaintance about my 'Dream Team' and my passion and he said yes! But it took a long time to solve many problems with his many contracts."
And you have also signed Nori Haga to the team?
"Yes! We have been good friends for a long time. I started racing mini-bikes when I was at school and he started around the same time. We also started to enter Japanese Championship races together then Nori moved to WSBK in 1998 and I moved to BSB in 2003, but we've always stayed in touch with each other. We are very good friends but also good competitors on the track and we respect each other."
How did you talk Nori into joining you in the project?
"We were in WSBK together for long time and Nori was always saying that he wanted to race the Suzuka 8-Hour together, but then it was a bit of a joke between us then. However, we both began to think seriously about it. This year we had the chance to do it, but as Nori rides Yamaha, I had to ask permission from Yamaha and they said yes, so a big thanks to them for allowing this."
Has Nori had any experience of the Suzuki GSX-R1000?
"No, but he did ride a Suzuki mini bike when he was eight years old! (laughs) I don't have any worries about Nori adapting to the bike and Kevin recently did an eight-hour race in America - and he was faster than Blake Young. We have a serious team and we are riding to win, not just make the news."