In something of a busman's holiday, Moto2 championship leader Scott Redding spent Sunday riding a Grand Prix motorcycle around a race track. But given the motorcycle he was riding and the circuit he was riding it around, it is hardly surprising he chose to forgo the chance of a quiet Sunday at the beach.
For Redding had the chance to race Kevin Schwantz' 1994 Suzuki RGV500 machine around Spa Francorchamps at the annual Biker's Classic event, a race/gathering which features some of the most iconic classic race machinery from the distant and not-too-distant past, often ridden by a slew of great heroes from the past. Without the benefit of any practice on the bike, Redding soon started exploring the limits of the bike, getting both knee and elbow down at the track. He was pleasantly surprised at how well-behaved the bike was, after a lifetime of being exposed to the mythology which has come to surround the legendary 500cc two-strokes.
In the press release issued by the Marc VDS team afterwards, Redding described his experience with the bike. "There was a lot of power, but it was pretty controllable, nothing like the razor sharp powerband I was expecting. It turns like a 125 and was still pulling in sixth. They should bring these back. It was absolutely mega to ride!"
Below is the press release issued by the Marc VDS Racing team on Redding's ride:
Redding races the Kevin Schwantz '94 Suzuki RGV500 at Spa
Spa Francorchamps, Belgium - 7 July 2013: Scott Redding joined a very exclusive club today at Spa Francorchamps, when he lapped the iconic Belgian circuit aboard the Suzuki RGV500 that Kevin Schwantz campaigned in the 1994 500cc World Championship.
Redding rode the Suzuki RGV500 during the traditional 500GP parade at the annual Bikers' Classic event at Spa, for which he was joined on track by some of motorcycle racing's greatest champions, including Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read, Wayne Gardner and Christian Sarron.
"Lining up on the grid with all these champions around me, it felt like I was actually taking part in a 500GP race," declared Redding. "Sat there on the bike in front of a huge crowd, surrounded by the likes of Wayne Gardner, Christian Sarron and Didier De Radigues, I got a real good feeling for what it must have been like for Kevin Schwantz when he lined up to race this bike back in '94. It was an incredible experience."
As might be expected with so many former champions on track together, the so-called 10-lap parade quickly degenerated into a full on race. After forcing his way past Sarron, Gardner and Didier De Radigues, Redding eventually finished a close second behind Steve Plater, who was riding the Suzuki RGV500 XR88 on which Kenny Roberts won four races and finished second in the 1999 500GP World Championship.
"I got a good start to lead through Eau Rouge, but this was my first time on the track on two wheels, on a bike I only slung a leg over ten minutes beforehand. The rest of the guys rode yesterday, so they had a bit of an advantage in the opening laps, but it didn't take me long to get a feel for the bike and to figure out the lines. I managed to push my way back up into second and then had a great battle with Steve Plater over the last few laps. In the end I couldn't quite find a way past him before the chequered flag, but second place isn't too bad for my first outing on a 500GP bike!"
The 1994 Suzuki RGV 500 XR84 ridden by Redding is owned by Northamptonshire businessman, Steve Wheatman, and is run at events by his own Team Classic Suzuki set up. The bike weighs just 135kg and produces around 195BHP from it's 70° V-Four, 498cc two-stroke engine, enough to propel it to a top speed approaching 320km/h with the right gearing.
It's a very different animal to the four-stroke, 600cc machine that Redding campaigns in the Moto2 World Championship and, judging from the list of injuries Schwantz sustained during his career, a little less forgiving too!
"The bike was absolutely amazing. Okay, the brakes weren't great, but we were expecting that. The handling was incredible because the bike is so light; it was really easy to change direction. It accelerated hard too, with the front coming up in every gear. I didn't need a rev counter; I just changed up whenever I felt the front wheel was high enough! There was a lot of power, but it was pretty controllable, nothing like the razor sharp powerband I was expecting. It turns like a 125 and was still pulling in sixth. They should bring these back. It was absolutely mega to ride!"
With no engine braking from the two-stroke motor, Redding wasn't able to give the Spa crowd a demonstration of backing it in, for which he's well known in Moto2, but he did manage to show them what the elbow sliders on his leathers are for.
"I was knee down and I could see I was quite close with the elbow, so I just leant it over a bit more and down it went. I don't think they did that in 500GP back in 1994, but then the tyres we were using today offer a lot more grip than those Kevin Schwantz had to contend with when he raced the bike."
It was on this bike that Schwantz enjoyed his last World Championship success, winning the 1994 British Grand Prix at Donington Park, which, coincidentally, was also the scene of Redding's first ever Grand Prix victory in 2008.
By riding the Suzuki RGV500 at Spa, Redding is now one of a very small group of riders who have experienced both four-stroke and two-stroke Grand Prix machinery, having tested Ducati's Desmosedici MotoGP bike at Mugello in 2012.
"I'd like to say a massive thank you to Steve Wheatman for letting me loose on his rather expensive bike, and also to Olivier Aerts for organising the ride today. It was great fun and I hope I'll get the chance to repeat the experience in the not too distant future," concluded Redding.
Redding will now head East from Spa, to the Sachsenring, where he'll defend his Moto2 World Championship lead in the German Grand Prix next weekend.