early GP years

But there were no more wet races and Kevin finished the year eighth in the Championship. He remembers that at least he finished the season on a high note in Brazil. "At Goiania I was third, I got this big huge trophy with these great black pillars and chrome ridges like razor blades, pick it up and they sliced your hands." Two wins in his first season had put him on the map and it was obvious that with that experience behind him he could be a real threat in 1989.

Scenic Laguna Seca the bottom of the Corkscrew. The 1988 Suzuki was not happy there at all.
The team chose to replace his good friend Rob McElnea with Ron Haslam, banking on Haslam's reputation for machine development. Haslam had completed a three year stint with the French Elf Team where he did little else but development. That might have been an advantage but as it turned out Haslam had become so intent on analysing the machine it seemed to interfere with his riding, he was also unlucky with injury."

"I was surprised when they dropped Rob at the end of the year. They said what a good set up guy Ron was but with just about anybody that has been my team mate the bikes I ride and the bikes they ride are heading in two different directions. Alex has been the most help in that we run pretty similar bikes."

"At the same time I thought 'oh well maybe Ron could help us.' As it turned out the '89 bike didn't need a lot of help, I don't remember doing a lot of testing either. We did a Suzuka test, I know that. I went about a second and a half quicker than I had before and everyone was going 'wow, this bike must be great' I think we just did a couple of tests at Ryuyo, Suzuki's own circuit."

"Ryuyo is terrible as a test track, not because the track layout is so bad but because it is so unsafe you don't want to be there really testing anything, especially engine parts. You just need the engine to nip up on you and force you to run off the track and there is nothing but Armco with foam bails like at Suzuka. Big huge tall walls so people can't see in. Its right on the coast so its often as windy as hell. Its real fast with a straight away a mile or so long. They've put a chicane in it to slow you down now.

Looking back at it Kevin now thinks he did not have the right approach to the 1989 season. "I still don't think at that point the championship was something I was really thinking about, it seemed a long way away. Had I thought about it a little more during the '88 season instead of just thinking about what it was going to take to win a race maybe I would have approached everything a lot different in '89."

"I think if maybe we had been a bit more consistent in '88 and could have seen what was required, if we'd have been up in the championship a bit closer it might have been more obvious what we needed to do. At the same time '88 was a learning year for the team. It was my first full season, the team was pretty new and it was Rob's first year with the bike as well. We had quite a few mechanical problems with things breaking on the bike which was also pretty new. "

"I guess looking back, when I showed up for the '89 season I still didn't think of myself as a threat to win the championship. So I just approached it with the attitude that I was going to try and win every race.

Kevin did win six races but only ended the year third in the championship, tied on points with Christian Sarron who did not win a race and was only on the rostrum three times. "We had three DNFs due to mechanical failure, three DNFs due to crashes. The first fall was Australia at Phillip Island, then Jerez and Spa. All three races I probably should have won."

In Australia it was the first lap, I was on pole by half a second, 34.99 was the time. The fall was down to a cold tyre and a glance over my shoulder. Just at the wrong time."

"The biggest problem I had though was just concentration at the end of the race. At Jerez there was four laps to go and I was almost six seconds in front of Eddie. I had watched the race the previous year after the bike broke and I remembered watching him haul in Rainey and keep Rainey from winning his first Grand Prix. I was thinking to myself, come on you've just got to keep above those five seconds. Get it down to less than five laps with more than five seconds and there's no way he can catch you.' "

"I had got there and done that. I went over the line and around the back of the big Kodak box that is a scoreboard with all the times on it. As I went past the back it changed to show four laps to go and more than five seconds, I thought, 'yeah I've got it,' and immediately fell off. It was just a loss of concentration, I thought I had it in the bag. I went into the corner, didn't have it down on my knee where I needed to be. The front end pushed and before I could even think, 'Oh shit', I was sitting on the haybales."

"The same type of thing in Spa. A couple of laps before the end I'd slowed down a bit and Wayne had got back to within four seconds of me. I still had that gap going onto the last lap but then again Spa takes two minutes and twenty three seconds to get around. I figured that I'd better get off my ass because he could pull four seconds back in the wet if his stuff is really working good My tyres were getting a bit shagged and four seconds didn't seem a whole lot at all in those circumstances.'

"I decided to try and ride fairly hard for the first half lap and take a look and then I could probably cruise the second half. I never finished the first half. I ran it in, got on the brakes like I had early in the race when the tyres were new. Grabbed the brakes and the front just folded, no getting it back."

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