Doug Chandler spent 1992 mounted on a Lucky Strike sponsored Suzuki RGV500, his first "A" ride since departing American Superbike racing and joining the GP fraternity in 1991. After a season dedicated to learning the details of the foreign tracks and adapting his riding style to the ferocious 500s, Chandler proved his mettle by finishing fifth in the 1992 title chase, just a few scant points behind his teammate Kevin Schwantz, winning poles and placing on the rostrum several times along the way.
Chandler has all of the qualifications and requisites a future GP winner and champion should theoretically have: he was a very proficient dirt track racer, winning nine Grand National events and becoming the Camel Pro rookie of the year in 1983 - a very prestigious title; he is one of only four riders to win the American Grand Slam by recording wins in T.T., mile, half mile, short-track and roadracing; Chandler won the American Superbike championship in convincing style on a Muzzy Kawasaki ZXR in 1990.
The quiet and unassuming Chandler is different from some of his grandiose Grand Prix counterparts, perhaps believing that his race results and race track performance should speak for him - ala Eddie Lawson. The Lawson/Chandler comparisons have just begun to be made but there is much merit to them, witness Chandler's smooth riding and deft touch at chassis set up.
The off season finds twenty-seven year old Californian Doug Chandler with plenty of time on his hands. He spends it riding his dirt bikes near his home just miles from Laguna Seca, working on one of his late 1960s muscle cars and testing the Cagiva GP racer, where he will replace the retired Eddie Lawson. I had an opportunity to ask Doug about his 1992 season on the Suzuki, his move to Cagiva, Eddie Lawson, his new Australian teammate Mat Mladin and his goals for 1993. An unusually talkative Chandler, the cowboy boot wearing, tobacco chewing, ex-dirt tracker told all....
Q. What has been happening with you since the (92) season ended?
A. I've been doing some hare scrambles, actually I did some at the end of last season too. I started doing them this year, but it just got to be real dangerous .. too many guys using you as a target. I only did the opening race and that was enough for me. Last year I did it and it was really fun, this season it got to be too much like racing. It's a really good workout riding those off-road bikes for two hours at a stretch. I have been riding my Suzuki stuff so far because I haven't gotten my Huskys yet, but I expect to soon. I have a little trailer, I guess it's not little, it's thirty-six feet long that I can haul my bikes in, it's got living quarters in it and I'm a member of this motorcycle club and we have a National enduro down at Clear Creek and I have been going down there working on the Enduro course. With the trailer I can bring my wife and son along, and they have quad racers that they can ride around the camp ground.
Q. Do you ever hear any feedback fro the Cagiva people, do they want you doing that, riding off road? Many riders get injured doing just that in the off season.
A. They knew about me doing those marathon hare scrambles. They're funny .... they really want to protect their investment, but they know that you need to go out there and train. It's more like when you're a kid how your parents acted when you rode your first motorcycle. They're really cautious and looking out for their investment.
Q. Do you know for sure if you're going to race the Daytona 200? If you do, will you ride one of Ferracci's bikes or will it be a separate effort from that?
A. It's up to Claudio (Castiglioni) really. It depends on if they feel they have enough time to prepare a bike for me or not. I'm not sure how it would all go about, I don't know if Ferracci would have anything to do with it or if all the mechanics would come from Italy. It would be good fun, going back to Superbikes. I've done the eight hour every year and it's been kind of nice to get back on those kind of bikes. After riding a 500, riding a Superbike is fun because it doesn't take a lot of effort that you're used to putting out on a 500. It's more fun racing them than anything else. Racing in the states again would be good but I'm really looking forward to racing at the GP at Laguna Seca in September; that's going to be really nice. Daytona is fun too because it is such a big event and the track isn't that difficult; it's mainly just one long straightway with a little infield. I've always wanted to do well there, it's one of the few races that you seem to want to do every year.
Q. Your leaving Suzuki and signing with Cagiva has been called a money motivated decision on your part, is that true?
A. Yeah. You know..I didn't want to leave and I didn't want them to match the offer (from Cagiva) I just wanted them to get close. But they were unable to even meet me half way. To me, it wasn't realistic to stay somewhere when you're going to get something three times as much or more somewhere else. I was real happy there too, I was a little disappointed in myself for the crashes but I thought it was all part of learning. The times when we did stay up we had some really good results. Kevin was good to get along with. I wasn't sure what to expect out of him for a teammate but he accepted it and didn't say a whole lot and just went on about his business.
Q. And once you started finishing ahead of him ...
A. There was never a problem with that. That was something that he took and accepted and got along with it, not just started making friction amongst the team. We just kind of went along about our business.
Q. Kevin, in the past, has been critical of the Suzuki GP team for not being as serious as they should be about how the team is run and about winning races. How do you feel about that?
A. I don't see it being Kevin's fault, I see it being the whole team. Being with a couple of different teams now, I can see, yeah, Suzuki, they have the ability, it's just the effort ... the Japanese I think are really good and they put out really a tremendous effort. It's the team itself (that) tends to sit back and let the Japanese do all of the work instead of trying to get other things going internally as well. That wasn't really a factor in my leaving. I figured that was something that I could have got changed and got more motivation out of the team itself.
Q. What were your impressions of riding the Suzuki after riding the Roberts Yamaha?
A. Between the two there really wasn't a whole lot of difference. They're really similar, the Suzuki is a little bit more stable under braking into the corners where the Yamaha was a bit unstable but it would come good once you bent it off and went through the corner. It gave you a better feel so they were real close.
Q. And as the season progressed how was your machine modified to suit you?
A. I was on them (Suzuki) pretty much the last half of the season trying to get a new chassis but we never really got what we wanted. The biggest thing of course was those new engines. We got the new motor in time for Hockenheim and we all agreed, yeah, it's gonna be good but maybe not here. Hockenheim is pretty much flat out and you need something that will carry a lot of rpm and pull strong on top. I ended up racing the new engine because our old one we kept having trouble with it breaking and everything else and the new one felt as good or better. I went ahead and raced it and from then on I had no doubt that the new engine was the way to go. It really made the bikes easier to ride and a lot less thinking ... you could just get on with your riding more or less like a superbike. Yeah, four stroke like, much smoother and better delivery and you could use it a lot better than what you could before. Before, (with the even-fire engine) the thing, you'd get on the throttle and the powerband is not abrupt, it's just really, really strong. Regardless of what rpm you were at when you turned it on it was going to hit and hit hard, to where this other firing really softened it up on the bottom. It almost feels like it took something out of it. On our bike it was kind of funny, it gave us more revs but actually, top end for top end, the old engine felt better. But the new one as long as you had it geared to grab it would pull ... good!
Q. You're on the edge of winning GPs but have had some bad luck in attaining your first win. That must be very frustrating for you.
A. Yeah ... yeah I probably had a good chance at three of them: Assen, Hungary and France. But it just didn't happen. I was frustrated, real frustrated with myself in Assen, but then I was really mad at myself in France when I lost the front again. I guess that is part of racing you just have to get on with it and look ahead. But yeah, I thought for sure those two races I had a really good chance for doing well. A good part of my crashes were caused by trying to run a tire that would go the distance instead of something that wouldn't. That's why I was asking Suzuki for as new chassis, or at least a good part of it. All year long we were fighting, not having enough weight on the front end through the corner on the Suzuki, you'd just kinda lose touch with what the front end was doing, the feeling goes away. And that's just because you ain't got enough weight on it. You need the front tire loaded, and the times I did crash it wasn't like I was on the brakes or over cooked it into a corner. I was already through it, pretty much at the exit and starting to give it some throttle, so I'm really taking the load off the front and losing it.
I wanted Suzuki to give me a chassis with the motor moved forward enough to get some more weight on it and go from there. No, I don't think I would have shortened it up at all. We had the front end pulled back as far as we could go steering head wise but we were at the maximum and we needed a new chassis to get more on it.
Q. Your machine set-up and riding style are supposedly very different form Schwantz's. Did that make things difficult from a development standpoint?
A. To a point yeah, but our settings seemed really similar in the end. Through the season we started out pretty drastically different but as the season progressed they got a lot closer, to where at the last couple of races I think if we just flipped the shift patterns on our bikes we could ride each others no problem. Kevin rides with a standard shift pattern and I ride with it backwards.
Q. And what of this mechanic's statement at the final GP saying you'd better win that race because you won't have a chance to win on the Cagiva?
A. That was more just a joke to me. My guys always gave me a bad time. A lot more was made of it then what actually went on. That wasn't what it was supposed to have meant.
Q. Compare your new Cagiva with the Suzuki then...
A. I've tested it three times now (mid January). I was real impressed with the chassis the first time I rode it, it's really nice. I was real happy with the 92 chassis and at the second test we had a 93. I kinda wasn't too sure, wasn't sold on it yet but our times were good on it and the third time we went to South Africa it was by far much better. It's got a lot of potential. I haven't asked them to change anything too drastically for me, a longer tank and more room kind of like how the Suzuki was - stretched out for me and Kevin. Those were real comfortable bikes for me. I never really had any conversations with Eddie when I knew I was going to Cagiva, not really. I kind of knew what was going on, you try to watch stuff, try to be a good observer.
Q. How have you handled the added fame of being a GP rider?
A. It's different here in America, here you're the same person. Everybody we talk to over here they just know that I race motorcycles. They don't know what type or anything, just that you're a motorcycle racer. When you're in Europe it's different, but when you're over there you're there to race and you go about your business the way you need to. It's completely opposite than how it is over here. There you pull into a gas station and you're giving away autographs to the attendants; here they just want your credit card.
Q. How has your new team-mate (Mat) Mladin been doing?
A. He just did this last test on the first of December in South Africa and he seems like an okay kid. He's got a lot of ability and he tries really hard. He's a good kid ... to somebody else he would be different. You know, when you're the new guy coming up you have to really respect the guys that are there, the other riders and I see he does that. But I can see that if I was at his level he might be kind of tough to get along with. But you see that in a lot of people, I think a typical motorcycle racer's attitude is that way. How'd he do? It's so hard to describe because when you first ride those things it's like nothing else you've ever ridden. You're real fascinated with the bike just because it has so much power. You really don't understand what you need to do to make it go any faster because it is already as fast or faster than what you'd imagine.
That kind of just takes away from what you need to be concentrating on as far as understanding the bike underneath you. And in three days, we got rained out most of it, he was really having a hard time with the new chassis, he just couldn't get to terms with it. It didn't feel good, it didn't do this or do that for him. and I kept working and working on mine and on the last day we put him on mine. It was like it was a dream for him.
That is what is the hardest part about riding a 500, just getting to understand it and know how to let the thing work for you instead of against you. Anyone can go out there and ride the thing, it's just being able to do it and do it comfortably for a race distance. That was the hardest thing that I had my first year was ... I mean.. when those things (500s) are right, they're magic. But when they're not right, 500s are a nightmare.
Q. Did Suzuki have fuel injected bike in development and what has become of the Cagiva F.I. project?
A. The Suzuki was always carburated and the Cagiva too. They all have the same (with a slight tone of distaste in his voice) Mikuni carburetors on them. They had a Cagiva fuel injected bike there (at the factory) but it was bigger and heavier than what the carburetors were and it really didn't do nothing better. I never rode it, Eddie rode it last year.
I've seen the actual fuel injection and all of the drawings on it, and it wasn't bad but it just didn't do anything that much better than what they already had.
Q. Randy (Mamola) and Eddie have received Ferarri's from the Castiliglionis for their effort and results. Do you think you'll get one and would an American muscle car loving guy like you even want one?
A. No...I don't think that is something that was built into their contracts, I think that was just something that Claudio gives you if you do something good or he's really happy with what you're doing. I wouldn't be bothered by one ... I could park it right along next to my Chevelle.
Q. Freddie Spencer sponsored you when you first made the move from dirt track racing to roadracing. Now he's going to make another GP comeback, what are your thoughts on that?
A. The last couple races of the season I think the Yamaha definitely had the engine over everything else, even the Hondas. These were of course shorter tracks that you needed a lot of acceleration and the Yamaha by far had the acceleration. It laid down on top end, but the last couple tracks were just kind of short and you'd accelerate from corner to corner. It was to their advantage that they definitely had a good tourqey engine. They've always struggled on chassis, that's just something that is always going to be that way.
I think Freddie is going to have his hardest time just working with that team, from what I've observed last year with Miguel and Mackenzie. They really had a hard time, both of them ...
Miguel did a good job this season for a first year effort. It's kind of crazy, him getting pushed out, but I think it is just the way that team is, that team is really stra... funny. Miguel did real good for his first year. What do you expect when you go over there for the first time? I was kind of fortunate to get hooked up with Suzuki my second year. Any of those guys, even Cagiva when they hired Mladin, they hired him for three years knowing good and well that his first year is a write-off. You have to ride around and get experience and learn the bike. You don't need to prove anything.
Freddie's comeback is probably good for the sport, we need as many good riders as we can get in there. I thought last year was good they had a pretty good field. Freddie in there is going to for sure help it out. I hope he can do good, I'm sure he'll put a lot of effort in it. I think if he's fit enough and can go the distance, he'll be in there. He just... he's pretty hard on the tires and I just don't know if he can do the speeds for the duration of the race. That's going to be the hardest thing for him.
Q. How many more times will you test before the season starts and will you test at Laguna Seca?
A. Our schedule is still going back and forth, we're trying to get more dates in. It depend on what we get done these next couple of tests, if we need more time then we'll try and get some more tracks. As it stands right now I think we'll do two tests a month, a three day test each time. That's a pretty full test when you gotta fly the bikes around and then get them back to the factory to get worked on to try some other stuff. I was trying to get something going for Laguna Seca but as it stands for them to get the bikes sent to Laguna you are gonna burn up two weeks round trip. with what we have scheduled now we just don't have the time at the factory to work on the bikes.
Q. There have been comparisons made between Eddie Lawson and yourself, some have gone as far as to call you the next Lawson. What do you think of that?
A. I don't know, I think Ed has been one of the best as far as having the ability to sort bikes out and I think he did a really good job for Cagiva. He got the bike really close, I think what hurt them the most last year was just the tires. Even his first year on the thing it wasn't bad, it lacked speed but the thing would go through a corner. Like I've said I think the biggest downfall was the tires.
I guess he just got tired of it and decided to hang it up. Eddie picked a good time to get out of it. I think he is fully capable of running up front, no problem. I admire him, instead of staying in there and staying in there, and slowly working himself down, he got out of it. And got out of it when he was still one of the best guys. I'm surprised that Gardner went ahead and stepped out. I figured he would be the type that would stay in there and stay in there and stay in there, but he got out of it as well.
Q. Did you recognize a distinct change in how things are done on a Japanese team in comparison as to how they are done on an Italian one?
A. Not really. All of the teams over there work pretty much the same way, you have your engineers and the mechanics. And when you first meet them all the engineers have the questions, wanting you to compare their bike to the bike you rode previously to kinda get ideas. From there you start working with the guys and I'm really happy with the engineers I got at Cagiva. They all speak really good English and all of my mechanics speak English except for one and that's not really a problem. It wasn't as bad as I was kinda expecting it to be (at Cagiva). The guys are a lot younger than what I expected them to be and I thought the Japanese put forth a really strong effort and worked hard but these Italian guys are really impressive.
The facilities, the race shop and stuff are really nice. I think there is twenty-three guys, not including the race mechanics, that do nothing but work on the 500s. Right now they're in the process of moving into a new building, a brand new one that will almost triple in size from the old one. They have two dynos and all sorts of different departments; they have a chassis department where they do nothing but fabricate the chassis and swing-arms; the engineering stuff would be the neatest stuff. They do all of the pistons and the cylinders and the cylinders are the trickest because they cast them all right there. They send them out to have them chromed too. It's a really neat place because they can make everything right there.
Any of those shops aren't what you think they'd be, because they've been around so long so they are in older buildings. All the dynos are well used because that's all they do is hammer those things trying to get more power.
Suzuki's was pretty nice, they had just moved into a new race shop there in Hammamatsu at the test course. It wasn't too bad, but they definitely didn't have the employees and the staff that the Cagiva has got on the 500 project.
Q. As a native Californian and someone who loved racing here in the states you must be pleased with the addition of Laguna to the GP schedule...
A. I think Kenny has been working on this deal for a good part of this past season. I really admire Kenny. He is one of the few guys that, he's got a good job and a good position and he runs a good team but I think I look up at him the most as far as he puts back a lot into the sport as well. We could have never raced here in America again. But he wants to have a race here and not so much just to have a race in America but he feels we need to race in America, not just over in Europe and ... we race all these other places, Brazil and south Africa, which are no better than here in America. But he does all of the things that he does for the good of the sport.
Q. What are Doug Chandler's goals for the 1993 season?
A. I think if everything goes right we can finish right up there with the rest of them, top three.
That and certainly winning my first GP.