My life in bikes; Wayne Gardner

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‘My 1992 NSR500 was the best two-stroke 500 I ever rode’

Former World 500GP champion talks about Cadwell Park, racing bonkers two-strokes and drinking beer for a week

What were your first bikes?

An 80cc Yamaha off-roader in 1973. I was 14. Then I had a Yamaha TZ250 when I was 18. My first race was at Oran Park and then Ameroo Park in Sydney. I didn’t ride on the road back then, but I had a Kawasaki Z650 when I was 19 that I bought it for the Castrol Six Hour in Australia and used it on the road a bit to run the engine in – but I never had a licence.

First race bike
Yamaha TZ250
“My first race was at Oran Park Sydney”

Moriwaki helped you hit the big time?

I was at Sandown Raceway racing for Peter Malloy. The weather was looking dodgy so we fitted wets, thinking if it rained we’d win. But it didn’t and I finished 13th, so we packed-up and locked the bike away in the van. It then started raining heavily and the unlimited class race was about to start, I wanted to get out there, but Pete was upstairs having a beer. I broke into the van, stole the bike, went out for the race and won by half a lap. Pete went mad until I gave him the trophy. Moriwaki saw me win and it led to them running me at Daytona against Freddie Spencer. I finished fourth.

And after that you ended up in the UK?

I raced the Moriwaki Kawasaki at Cadwell on the way back from Daytona. I won against all the big-hitters, like Roger Marshall, Ron Haslam and ended up staying in the UK. I rode for Honda UK from 1982 to ’84, and in GPs part time. I did a full GP season under the Honda UK umbrella in 1985 and was a factory rider with Freddie Spencer in ’86. Then I was World Champion in ’87.

What’s it like being a Honda factory rider?

You’re with the top team in the world so it’s a proud moment. You can enjoy the accolades for a while, but there’s added pressure. You still have to go out there and perform, get results and give good information in testing. It’s special, you get highly paid and everyone wants your ride, but there’s a big responsibility that comes with it. 

What’s the best bike you every raced?

My ‘92 NSR500. It was unbelievably good – the best two-stroke 500 I’ve ever ridden. When I ride a Honda MotoGP bike now I feel the same bike inside. We started work on it in ’89 and got it right in ’90. It was perfect in ’92 and never really changed after that. 

Were you ever tempted to jump on a Yamaha or Suzuki?

I nearly signed for Kenny [Roberts] in ’92, but I’d just had enough of racing and retired. I wish I had. It would’ve been a breath of fresh air. Sometimes you have to change teams or brands to get some motivation back, but I stayed loyal to Honda. I probably would’ve raced for longer if I’d done it. Kenny said I could’ve won five world titles with him.

Honda for life
CB1100R – Cadwell Park 1982
“I stayed loyal to Honda”

What did you do when you retired from racing?

I went home and drank beer for a week, then was asked to do a touring car race in a Honda NSX at Bathurst. I won my class and got third overall. I raced for the HRT (Holden Racing Team) as a factory driver for a year, then set up my own team with Coca Cola funding.

What bike would you most like to ride now?

I’d love to ride the latest GP bikes, but also the last of the 500s before GPs went four-stroke. They were incredible in ‘92, so 10 years on they must’ve been very, very good. 

What are you doing now?

I’m heavily involved with the World GP Bike Legends. We’re trying to do something different to the rest of the classic weekends. I’m also supporting my son, Remy. He’s just won his first Spanish championship Moto2 race and is doing some GPs this year. He’s riding incredibly well and I think he’s going to be a big star in the future. He wants to win more races and world titles than me – and I believe he can. 

Photos: Kretschel