How Wayne Rainey exceeded his wildest dream

It lasted for almost thirty years Wayne Rainy can ride a grand prix bike again, but that slightly crazy dream finally came true a few days ago at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The temple of competition of yore afforded the three-time 500cc World Champion a few moments to take over the handlebars of the Yamaha YZR500 on which he won his last title in 1992.

The career of the Californian, who dominated the Grand Prix for three seasons, ended in 1993 with an accident at Misano. His strength of character quickly allowed him to return to an active life, notably leading a team and subsequently taking over the reins of the American Championship, but the at first sight somewhat absurd idea of ​​being able to take back the handlebars of his racing bike only appealed to him crossed his mind for a few days before he fainted…

“When I was injured in the hospital in 1993 I had this idea for a week or two, I thought I really wanted to get back on a Grand Prix bike”, says the former pilot. “I had no idea what it was going to be like or if it could just happen, but it was a motivator that came back every day and the only thing that kept me going. But over time, reality set in and my new life was obviously a little different than it used to be, so [l’idée de] Motorcycling has faded.”

Put aside without really being forgotten, this idea resurfaced many years later. Wayne Rainey first had the opportunity to drive an R1 at Willow Springs and then at Suzuka in late 2019 before festival organizers could imagine going further.

“The R1 was an easy bike to convert because it already had a lot of electronics. So it was fairly easy to shift into gear and downshift, there were buttons for upshifting and downshifting. I could see what gear I was in on the dashboard.” in”, says Wayne Rainey.

“One of my biggest emotions was driving in Suzuka and going through some corners where I got one of my best wins. It really gave me goosebumps. But when the thought of riding this bike was born, the challenge was obviously much greater. The bike was thirty years old, it had no electronics, it was a 500cc two-stroke, so there were a lot of parts that we didn’t remove. We weren’t sure if we could actually remove them.

With the active support of Lin Jarvis and Masahiko Nakajima at the helm of Yamaha’s MotoGP program, the project came to fruition. The 1992 YZR500 left the marque’s museum and was given to fairy hands who could rebuild it so that all controls were placed on the handlebars.

On June 24th, it was a somewhat incredulous Wayne Rainey who found a suit, a helmet and that Yamaha that had been waiting for him for thirty years. “When I got that opportunity at Suzuka and then got the chance to ride my Grand Prix bike here, it was… wow! I never thought that was going to happen, especially at an event like this,” he agrees.

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Wayne Rainy

“I was probably a little more nervous at this track than I’ve ever been in my career, even more so than at Suzuka. The biggest challenge for me was making sure the bike was going initially because I don’t have a very good sense of balance so the bike has to go forward. I remember almost falling on the first start because I wasn’t going fast enough. Then you understand more or less how to control the gas pedal.

“After the start the bike was very smooth. The only thing I could really feel was the handlebars, so I had to adjust all of that, but the motor felt really smooth. This bike feels like you’re on a track, so I have her here, the Festival of Speed, on this track, it was perfect for her and for me.”

I was probably a little more nervous about this ride than I’ve ever been in my career.

Wayne Rainey

Very quickly, the American tasted the unique pleasure that this machine, with which he shared so much three decades ago, can give him. “Every time I ride it, I wish I could ride it longer.” he smiled.

And besides the initial emotion he felt when he picked up the handlebars of his old racing bike, Wayne Rainey says he particularly benefited from the context supported by the public and his henchmen at the time: Kenny Roberts, who was his team leader was . , his great rival Kevin Schwantz and Mick Doohan, his heir to the throne in 1991 and 1992.

“Rolling all along with Kenny, Kevin Schwantz and Mick Doohan… I was sure that would never happen again so I never thought about it. I thought maybe there would be a chance I would drive again could, but I never thought I could do it the right way with them.”

“They let me go first and move on. And there were all these people, you’re so close to them you can hear them. And then there were all the big screens, so as we drove I could see Kenny, Mick and Kevin, they were there. As I watched it, I thought, ‘Wow, this is happening here and now!’ I really appreciated that they wanted to come and do this with me. Thirty years have passed and the fact that this could happen was a real fantasy.

Also read:
Wayne Rainey, Yamaha

Wayne Rainey will notably be joined by Kenny Roberts, Kevin Schwantz and Mick Doohan

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