Kevin Schwantz on the RG500

1990s
playing the long game

As the 90s began, the battles of the previous decade continued, with American riders battling for supremacy in MotoGP. Rewards wouldn't always come quickly, but when they did, we knew they'd been worth waiting for.

AMERICAN DREAM

In 1988, Kevin Schwantz opened his first full MotoGP season with a win at Suzuka. Everyone knew the Texan's all-or-nothing riding style would make him World Champion one day: the only question was - when?

Even before he'd ridden the first race, Kevin Schwantz knew exactly who he'd have to beat to win the 1988 MotoGP title. In 1987, at home in the USA, he'd fought a season-long battle for the Superbike National Championship with California's Wayne Rainey: now, both riders had come to Europe, bringing their intense rivalry with them.

In the event, both men were denied that year, and the next, by their countryman Eddie Lawson. But in the opening round of the 1990 season, Lawson broke his left ankle in a crash, then his right in Round 2. With the competition wide open, Schwantz and Rainey renewed their fight for supremacy with a vengeance. Five wins was a superb haul for Schwantz, but Rainey took seven - and the title.

Fans were hoping for more fireworks in 1991, and they weren't disappointed. Schwantz took Round 1: Rainey the next two; Schwantz hit back in Round 6, then Rainey pulled ahead in Round 8. Schwantz equalised in Round 9, before Rainey got his nose in front again in Round 10; Schwantz won an epic British Grand Prix to draw level, but Rainey looked to have sewn things up by winning Rounds 12 and 13. Schwantz kept his nerve, and the competition alive, by winning Round 14, but fellow American John Kocinski's first and only win of the season in Malaysia meant the title went to Rainey once again, with six wins to Schwantz's five.

It looked as though neither man would be lifting the trophy in 1992, as Australia's Mick Doohan - who'd finished second the previous season - won five of the first seven races, before breaking a leg in practice at Assen ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix. Schwantz had already won in Italy, but struggled to find form in a season plagued by injury and finished the year in fourth place, as Rainey took a third consecutive title.

Schwantz's tenacity, and the aggressive riding style that made him a favourite with fans, was finally rewarded in 1993. Three wins in the first five races, then victory in Holland in Round 7, gave him the title he so richly deserved. Tragically, Wayne Rainey crashed in Italy and never raced motorcycles again.

The following season, Mick Doohan ended the American domination of MotoGP, when he claimed the first of five consecutive titles. But for many fans, the six years Kevin Schwantz devoted to winning the World Championship provided some of the greatest moments of this, or any, decade.