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Mar 31, 2014

Schwantz Rides Circuit Of The Americas For The First Time

Kevin Schwantz rolls out to ride Circuit of The Americas for the first time. Photo by David Swarts, copyright Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.

After years of contributing to the planning and construction and then spending two more years in a legal dispute with its leadership former World Champion Kevin Schwantz finally got to ride his hometown racetrack, Circuit of The Americas (COTA), today for the very first time.

“It’s a real special day for me,” Schwantz told Monday in the paddock at COTA, just five days after settling his civil lawsuit against the racetrack and its leadership regarding the promotional rights of MotoGP racing in Texas and becoming an “ambassador” for COTA. “It was really special when we came to an agreement and got everything signed, but it was actually more special being out here and shaking hands and seeing Mel [Harder, Senior Vice President and General Manager] and Chuck [Aksland, Vice President of Motorsport Operations] and Bobby [Epstein, Circuit Chairman] and meeting all the staff who work out here.

“I texted Mel on Thursday night, ‘What time do I need to be at work Friday?’ He said, ‘Take Friday off. We start Monday.’”

Monday was a special media event in which COTA partnered with the GEICO Motorcycle Racing Team and Chris Ulrich to give local reporters rides on the back of Ulrich’s two-seat Honda CBR1000RR Superbike to give them a better understanding of motorcycle road racing ahead of the Red Bull Grand Prix of The Americas April 11-13.

What did Schwantz think of the 3.4-mile road course?

“I think it pretty much met all of my expectations,” said the 1993 500cc Grand Prix World Champion. “Having seen it go from a bar napkin to a piece of paper and some pencil sketches to the ideas of Tilke [architect Hermann Tilke] to renovating it and making a few modifications and trying to keep it as safe as we possibly can for two-wheel [use], I’m happy with it. I think it turned out really good.

“I like the challenges that it presents. There’s a couple of things that maybe that sequence of corners, Turn 12 to 15 is a little tighter than they looked [on paper], but they create some great passing opportunities. As a rider when I raced I wouldn’t have particularly liked it because you’ve got to remember to be somewhat defensive, but I think with electronics taking so much away from racing these days you have to have a track that opens up passing opportunities. I like it. I wouldn’t say it’s Suzuka or Donington Park. It wouldn’t rank up there with me, but I haven’t won four Grands Prix at this place either. So I’m pretty biased to places where I had some success.”

Ulrich gave 14 journalists and COTA staff members 150-plus-mph rides around the 18-month-old road course while Schwantz, riding a 2014-model Suzuki GSX-R1000, rode in close proximity to Ulrich to give the passengers a small feeling of racing. Then during a break in the action, Schwantz took former lawsuit opponent Epstein for a ride around the track on his Suzuki.

“Just riding the bike around here was really exciting,” said Schwantz, “but actually getting to get him on the back and see and listen to him talk to me as we were leaving pit lane, like, ‘Please don’t kill me, please don’t go too fast,’ that was pretty fun.

“But just seeing and listening to him and all the people who rode on the back with Chris [Ulrich] today, everybody just absolutely cannot believe how fast a motorcycle goes and what it feels like to lean a motorcycle over that far and how abrupt and how physical it is trying to slow the thing down and speed the thing up and how you’ve got to hang on stopping and hang on accelerating.

“I told one person, you think you’re tired after that [two laps] and you’re just hanging on and doing what he’s doing. Imagine if you have to control everything, process everything and do the hanging on. It’s not an easy job, although as it is with anything professional the good guys make it look easy. Every time I watch a baseball game I think I can hit a homerun except that I can’t even see a 95-mph fastball.”

As Epstein dismounted Schwantz’s motorcycle he joked about giving Schwantz a contract extension on his riding school, the Schwantz School, something Schwantz downplayed somewhat.

“Of course I would love to be able to have my school here, to be able to wake up in the morning and drive 20 minutes to come to the track, probably the best motorsports facility in the United States, possibly the world,” said Schwantz. “I think the Schwantz School would be a great complement to all the other great things that happen here. Right now we’re going to work together. We’re going to do our best to promote two wheel [events] and hopefully somewhere along the line that includes some Schwantz Schools as well.”