Motorcycling: Schwantz breaks record to take pole

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KEVIN SCHWANTZ, the world championship leader, will start today's British 500cc Grand Prix from pole position after breaking his own lap record in the final qualifying session here yesterday.

The Suzuki rider was a full second faster, at 1min 33.514sec, than Luca Cadalora, on a Yamaha, who recorded the same time - 1:34.530 - as Michael Doohan, on a Honda. Schwantz's time beat the record he established here in 1991 by 0.05sec and gave him an important psychological advantage over Wayne Rainey, who is second in the championship and who could manage only the eighth-fastest time on his Yamaha after a fall early in the session.

Their intense rivalry reaches a crucial stage today when Schwantz and Rainey have an opportunity to break a statistical deadlock between them. Although the 25 points for first place is foremost in the minds of the two Americans, other data spring to mind in the lead-up to the race. Up to today, both have ridden 81 grands prix and both have 23 victories.

Since their furious duels in American Superbike racing, which culminated in a season-long scrap for the title in 1987, Rainey and Schwantz have argued wheel- to-wheel on circuits around the world. Schwantz, the tall (for a bike racer), gangly blond 29-year- old Texan, leads the standings with 192 points. Rainey, the compact, 32-year-old Californian known as 'Mr Perfect', is second with 169; and today's race could decide the fate of the 1993 title.

While in some respects their records appear remarkably similar, it is in another that a gulf separates them. Rainey has won three world 500cc championships, from 1990 to 1992, while Schwantz has none. The telling factor has been their ability to stay upright: Schwantz has crashed 11 times since his 500cc debut in 1988 and Rainey, who started the same season, has fallen only three times. While their number of victories are the same, Rainey has 21 second-place finishes compared with Schwantz's 10, and 17 third places against 10 again by the Texan.

But so far this year, Schwantz has found the right mix of relentlessness and reliability, and, taking advantage of the champion's sometimes strangely sluggish Yamaha, he has ridden his Suzuki to the top of the table with four wins and three seconds, compared with Rainey's record of three and two.

The tussle at the top has been almost overshadowed here by the numbers and the performance of the British contingent of nine - the largest for some years.

Carl Fogarty, most Sundays a Superbike competitor for Ducati, took a wild card to race a Cagiva for Giacomo Agostini and was fastest for most of Friday's qualifying session. He was unable to improve his time yesterday and slipped from second to fifth.

Niall Mackenzie has been outscoring some of the factory riders this season on a privateer Yamaha as if to prove he had been prematurely dumped by the wealthier teams. He qualified in ninth spot.

Ron Haslam gave his wild card to his Team Great Britain protege, James Haydon, at 19 the youngest man on the grid, but then found his own ride with Team ROC when one of their regulars was injured. After two years' absence from the circuit, Haslam was 19th fastest in a field of 32 but was beaten to 18th by Haydon, who was a 10th of a second quicker.

BRITISH 500cc GRAND PRIX (Donington) Final qualifying times: 1 K Schwantz (US) Suzuki 1min 33.51sec; 2 L Cadalora (It) Yamaha 1:34.53; 3 M Doohan (Aus) Honda 1:34.53; 4 A Barros (Bra) Suzuki 1:34.90; 5 C Fogarty (GB) Cagiva 1:34.91; 6 A Criville (Sp) Honda 1:35.01.

(Photograph omitted)