1999 Suzuki RGV 500 XR89: ENDING THE DROUGHT
When 1993 world champion Kevin Schwantz retired halfway through the 1995 season, he left big shoes to fill. With eight podium finishes including two wins Australian Daryl Beattie seemed perfectly capable of doing just that. In 1996 however a couple of nasty crashes for Suzuki’s lead rider changed everything and would start a winning drought for Suzuki that would last for three years. It took the son of a world champion and Suzuki’s RGV 500 XR89 to finally return to the top step of the Grand Prix podium.
For 1999 Suzuki had not only lured American Kenny Roberts Jr., the son of three-times world champion Kenny Roberts to its factory squad; ex-Team Roberts technical guru Warren Willing was drafted in as well. Together they set about changing the geometry of the RGV 500 in order to create a better handling motorcycle. Among other things they moved the rider position more to the front and fitted the bike with Öhlins shocks instead of the Showa products Suzuki had used in the previous two season. Although not quite as fast as Honda’s NSR in a straight line, with over 180 horsepower and a top speed of around 320 kilometers per hour, Suzuki’s XR89 proved to be a winning motorcycle.
At the start of the 1999 season ‘KR JR’ had already done four seasons of Grand Prix racing without achieving a single podium finish. After five straight world titles for Australian Mick Doohan on the Honda and Honda winning all but one race in 1998, Kenny and Suzuki were not exactly among the favourites for the podium positions, let alone a race win.
THE MAGIC RETURNS
Kenny’s win at the first round in Malaysia in front of Honda riders Carlos Checa, Alex Crivillé from Spain and Mick Doohan was the first for Suzuki since Beattie’s win in Germany back in 1995. If was also the first for an American rider since Schwantz’s win in Great Britain in 1994, the Texan’s final victory. ‘Junior’ and the RGV 500 repeated their success in Japan, taking pole position and winning a wet race in front of five-times world champion Doohan. Achieving six more podiums, including two more race wins, Kenny finished second in the world championship behind Crivillé. The following season Roberts beat Italians Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi to win Suzuki’s first world title since 1993. With Kenny Roberts and the RGV 500 XR89 the magic enjoyed with Schwantz for so many years had finally returned for Suzuki.
This Suzuki RGV 500 XR89 is owned and maintained by Steve Wheatman’s Team Classic Suzuki. During the TABAC Classic GP Assen it will be ridden by former Isle of Man TT- and Northwest 200-winner Ian Simpson from Scotland.