On Sunday after the Grand Prix of the America’s I had the chance to sit down with triple 500cc world champion Wayne Rainey to talk about the facilities of COTA, Marc Marquez and some of the pressing questions facing the future of road racing in the US. As ever Rainey offered to keen insight into the sport….
Stephen English: How proud are you to have a facility like COTA in the US?
Wayne Rainey: As far as facilities goes this is second to none and it’s awesome to see how the whole thing is laid out. If you were going to build a race track this is what you’d build.
Looking at GP riders today, who do you keep your eye on most?
I’m keeping my eyes on not just the GP guys but the guys in the States and in the other championships. But when you watch at this top level and you watch on TV it’s clear that Marquez is obviously impressive to watch. He’s doing a great job and he’s a lot of fun to watch.
Do you see any similarities between Marc Marquez’s riding style and race craft and your own?
Yeah, I think that Marquez loves the battle and loves to fight for the position no matter who the rider is and the guys that I raced against were much the same way. I think that Marquez is very young and very exuberant and I think that you can see that youth in his riding.
I don’t know if he thinks about it too much and I think that most of it is that he reacts on the feeling of what the bike is telling him and what the other riders are doing around him. You saw it today on the last lap [of the race] when he just about chucked it away at the last turn. It was just a little bit of brain fade but these riders are out there on the edge.
Looking at the AMA Superbike championship, what do you feel when you look at the state of that championship at the moment? There’s only five rounds, no TV deal and limited exposure for any of the US riders coming through.
It’s terrible isn’t it? When you look back at the riders in MotoGP over the years the American’s dominated the era that I used to race in and now to barely have a presence in MotoGP and not even be racing for the podium… it shouldn’t be that way.
I think that a lot of it stems back to what happens in the national championships. When you look at what Spain is doing, what the British Superbikes championship is doing and then look at what we’re doing – the AMA isn’t doing enough to produce opportunities for young American riders to get the chance to race in MotoGP like they did for me.
Those opportunities just don’t exist. When I was racing in the AMA I was racing 10-15 times and it was on TV and the teams were looking for American riders and the dirt track guys were moving into Road Racing. We don’t see that at all anymore and now we’re down to five or six races and the fans and sponsors, teams and riders are starved for races but at the moment the way the series has positioned itself is weak.
Have you had any discussions with the AMA about the direction of the series? Do they look to involve people like yourself, Kevin [Schwantz] or any of the other US riders that were successful in MotoGP?
Not really, they know where I’m at. But we’re looking to do something different to try and find another solution for American riders to have a chance to show these MotoGP teams that they should be looking at American riders. We need to find an avenue so that these guys can race more than they have been. I think that we have a lot of American riders with the talent here but we need to get them on to the racetrack.
From your perspective since you left team management you’re not involved in GPs on a day to day basis. What do you feel when you come back into the paddock?
I still have a lot of friends in the paddock and a lot of them are like family. I feel very comfortable coming back and seeing them. It’s been 20 something years since I last raced and I obviously try and come to at least one American race each year and when I go to Europe I still feel very welcome. I miss the riding part obviously.
You still miss it?
Yeah, I really do. When I get here and see everyone working and hear the riders talking, like yesterday [Saturday] I was talking to Jorge about the problems that he was having with the bike and it’s the same problems that we had when I was racing. I still see the passion and of course I’m not able to do that anymore but I’m reminded very quickly of what it was and the reason why I was doing it. Even though it’s been 20 years and the series has moved on and technology has changed, the racing is still the same.
Do you have any regrets when you look back on your career?
No, none at all.