Wayne Gardner

A chat with the former world motocycling champion, for Alpha magazine in about 2006. The questions were supposed to be from readers, as per the section format, but general apathy mean they’re actually mine.

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He is the legend from the ’Gong: the motorbike-loving kid who became Australia’s first world 500cc champion. In a wildly successful career, he won 19 Grand Prix races, including the first Australian MotoGP at Phillip Island in 1989. Now, Wayne Gardner answers your questions about his racing career on two wheels and four.

You raced bikes for 15 years and V8 Supercars for 10; which gave you the most pleasure?

Without a doubt, motorcycles. Because V8 Supercars is only a national championship and Grand Prix racing is a world championship, there’s a difference in status level. Secondly, riding motorcycles is more of a personal thing – a relationship between machine and man. That was the grassroots of me, anyway. I still fi nd it a very personal bond, whereas driving a car is a sterile environment.

I was at the first Aussie Grand Prix in 1989, and you weren’t favourite to win. Was that your greatest career moment?

It’s up there. It’s one of probably three or four moments. It’s hard to pick one, because they were all very special. I didn’t expect to win, particularly with the build-up prior to the event; I was exhausted. If you put effort into something and don’t give up, you can succeed. For my other top moments, the following year [at Phillip Island] when I had to ride with a broken wrist and the faring hanging off the bike – that was a gutsy moment; winning the world title in ’87, in Brazil – that was a boyhood dream come true; and having children, seeing them being born.

Would you let your sons (Remy, 8 and Luca, 6) race bikes for a living?

If that’s their choice. My wife and I have had a discussion about this numerous times, but I don’t think it’s our decision whether they go and race bikes or not – it’s their decision. I hope they don’t because it’s very dangerous. But if that’s what they want and they show dedication and commitment, I will help and support them. It is a very dangerous sport and you must respect that, and enter with a great deal of caution. But you can’t live by that caution; you have to move forward – put it to the side but respect it.

Is Bathurst the greatest V8 race to take part in? And are you still a Holden man?

Bathurst is the greatest race in V8s in this country, without a doubt. The track is unique and thrilling, and it’s always very exciting to go up there. It’s also the toughest, hardest race and every driver wants to win. Unfortunately, I never had a win; had a couple of podiums and had pole position – I’ve led the race and had everything right – just never crossed the line in quite the right place. Am I a Holden man? I raced a Ford towards the end. They’re both very good cars. I’d say I’m ambidextrous. I love both now. I’ve found good points to Ford and good points to Holden.

Was there rivalry between you and Mick Doohan, or were you good mates?

I was the one who invited him into the Honda team, and we started off as mates. I would say that we are now rivals. (Alpha: What, even now?) Yes.

Which is better – Wollongong or Monaco?

Obviously I come from Wollongong and it will always be a special place – I’ve still got my old mates from the ’Gong. I’ve had a home in Monaco for 20 years and it’s got different attractions, too.

I read you needed 25 injections in your broken wrist to get through the 1990 Aussie Grand Prix (Gardner held off Doohan to win). How did you deal with the pain?

I kept telling myself to deal with it later. I allocated myself a time after the race to have my pain. So, on the straight, when I had to flex my fingers to get feeling back into them, I was saying, “Keep going, keep going. Deal with the pain later.” I still don’t know how I won that race.

You won the Suzuka eight-hour race four times (1985, ’86, ’91 and ’92). How hard is it sitting on a bike for that long? Do you get numb? How do you keep your concentration?

You ride it with a partner, for a start; you do one-hour stints each. It starts about 11 in the morning, through to seven or eight in the evening. The most I’ve done is fi ve hours and it’s very, very demanding. I’ve done two one-hour stints in a row into the dark, because my partner was slow. It’s one of the hardest motorcycle rides I’ve ever done, especially with the heat over there – it’s 40 degrees in the day. The time I raced fi ve hours, I had dehydration at the end; I had to be in an oxygen tent for the next couple of hours after, and I was sick for two weeks. You have to keep your concentration: you’re in a race, you want to win. I got to the point where I was getting dizzy and things were distorted in my vision – and the top speed there is 300km/h. I was worried.

Why on earth did you go on Celebrity Survivor? And who was the most annoying celebrity on the island with you?

I saw it as a challenge. I felt like I needed a bit of space, to get away from business and this was a great way to do it. The most annoying was Gabrielle Richens and her childish tantrums.

What’s the quickest you’ve driven from Sydney to Wollongong (85km)?

One hour.

Could you have beaten Valentino Rossi in your day?

I know Rossi, and he’s a fantastic rider. I think if he’d been racing in my day, against some of the guys like me and Doohan, he wouldn’t be running away from everyone like he’s doing now. It’s obviously impossible to say, but it would have been close.

Ever regretted retiring so early?

Sometimes I have, when I’ve looked at the bigger picture. But it was just how I felt at the time. I’d had a few crashes, and I was getting distracted by things outside motor racing. I’d also lost my enthusiasm. I wasn’t getting up and saying, “I’d love to go motorbike racing.” When you lose your focus and your enthusiasm – that’s when you have a really big accident.

What was your worst injury?

I only ever had one operation (for the wrist he broke before the 1990 Phillip Island Grand Prix), but I’ve been in casts: my worst injury is breaking my leg.

What was the worst thing about living in Britain?

The rainy and overcast days; it was depressing. And [I was] a bit homesick, too. Apart from that, the English were great people. Some of my best years were the UK years and it was a great time in my career. Life got better when I was GP racing, in terms of money, but I have some great memories.

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