Motorcycle Racing: Schwantz in flight of pain

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The Independent Online
KEVIN SCHWANTZ, the reigning world champion, is cursing his luck here after being bucked off his Suzuki in spectacular fashion yesterday during the final qualifying session for today's British 500cc Grand Prix. But the 30-year-old American should be thankful that he will be able to start the race at all, such was the frightening appearance of his spill.

In a desperate surge for pole position, with about five minutes of qualifying remaining, Schwantz lunged past the slower Yamaha of Bernard Haenggeli before the Old Hairpin and his bike developed a terminal wobble. The Suzuki rider was high-sided and flung into the air before slamming into the road on his back. As man and bike tumbled along the track, the following Swiss rider Haenggeli lifted his left leg from the peg and pushed it back behind him as he squeezed his bike past the fallen Schwantz with an inch to spare.

The American rose slowly to his feet and staggered to the run-off area where he collapsed in obvious pain. He rose again and made his way gingerly to the tyre wall where he sat for several minutes before walking away unaided.

Explaining the accident, Schwantz said: 'Maybe I had to take a tighter line than usual because I passed another rider on the way into the Old Hairpin. When I got back on the gas, it just went 'whing', went sideways and threw me off. I could see the other bike coming at me as I was sliding. He came by pretty close.

'I didn't hurt anything, I just got beat up a bit. We'll just have to wait and see how I feel for the race tomorrow.'

Schwantz had held the overnight pole and was able to improve upon that effort in the first half of yesterday's session. Having set the pace, he returned to his garage to watch the other riders' times on the monitor. With a little more than 10 minutes to go, Michael Doohan coaxed a couple more tenths of a second from his Honda to record the fastest time of 1min 33.611sec.

This sent Schwantz back into the fray in an effort to regain the pole position but he pushed a little too hard and was left with the second-fastest time of 1:33.811. Italy's Luca Cadalora was third on a Yamaha.

Doohan starts today's grand prix with a 76-point lead and victory today, if Schwantz fails to score a point, will pass the title to Doohan.

The Italian team Cagiva, for whom Kocinski won the first race of the season, appear to be improving after a mid-season struggle. Doug Chandler, of the United States, was fifth fastest yesterday behind his compatriot and team-mate, but the best- laid plans of the Lancastrian Carl Fogarty were in disarray.

Fogarty, who leads the standings in the World Superbike Championship, took a wild card for the British Grand Prix and arranged a one- off ride with Cagiva on the fuel- injected version of their latest model. But the bike has been misbehaving and Fogarty's frustration has been obvious.

After so much technical difficulty, the decision by the Briton not to take part today was made ultimately when X-rays revealed two broken bones in the back of his right hand, the legacy of a crash during practice on Friday. 'I tried to pretend that there was nothing wrong and ride today but braking was impossible,' Fogarty said. 'I'm not going to ride - I'm leading a world championship and that's more important.'

(Photograph omitted)