Is there a greater name than Wayne Rainey for evoking the sun-bleached, halcyon days of GP motorcycle racing from the late '80s and early '90s? The short answer is no. The three-time 500cc world champion, idolised for his calculated, smooth, intrinsic connection with his two-stroke Yamaha YZR500 missile is, for many, a man who symbolises the golden age of two-wheel GP racing.
Wayne Rainey reunited with his YZR500 at FOS
For those unfamiliar with his story, Rainey’s domination of the GPs – winning three titles back-to-back through 1990, 1991 and 1992 – was on course to return a fourth world championship. Leading the sweeping, fast Misano Italian GP in 1993 at the head of a four rider break away, Rainey was in a commanding position with an 11-point lead over his title rival Kevin Schwantz. Rainey, Cadalora his team-mate, Mick Doohan and Schwantz were lapping in a field of their own on the day, wrestling their bikes with pinpoint precision at untouchable speeds.
And then, disaster. Rainey’s YZR500 broke away from beneath him on the exit of a fast right-hander, before gripping again violently, throwing him into the gravel trap.
It was a moment that was calmly underplayed by a much-missed Mr Barry Sheene on the commentary. Suggesting the incident may result in a niggling collarbone fracture. Little did he, or anyone else viewing the images know that it would mark the end of Rainey’s exceptional career, and his time on motorcycles. He was cruelly paralysed from the chest down.
It’s this context that makes Rainey’s performance and courage at the 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard all the more remarkable. Not only is the great man here with his YZR500, he is here riding it up the Goodwood hillclimb. It is the first time he has piloted a motorcycle since his race-leading performance at Misano 29 years ago. Not that you’d believe it judging by the grace and balance in which he’s been taking on the challenge.
With his close family in tow, flanked by his friends and rivals including Kevin Schwantz, Mick Doohan and Kenny Roberts from his Championship-winning days, Wayne Rainey is undoubtedly the man of the moment at this year’s event.
Each of his runs is a moment many of us will never, ever forget, with a ground-swell of support and standing ovations willing him up the hill. And as he blasts past, gassing his YZR500 once again, leaving plumes of evocative, whisping white two-stroke smoke in his wake, we’re transported back to those heady days of the early 1990s. The day’s when Wayne Rainey ruled the motorcycling world supreme. As it turns out, he rules it still. A legend for ever more.
Photography by Pete Summers.
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