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Kocinski Upholds Tradition in Victory : Motorcycles: His victory in Grand Prix is fifth by an American since 1988. He credits example set by injured Rainey.

September 13, 1993|SHAV GLICK | Times Staff Writer

MONTEREY, Calif. — John Kocinski, who once lived with Kenny Roberts as the former world motorcycle champion's teen-age protege, returned Sunday to Laguna Seca Raceway to win the United States 500cc Grand Prix, the first event promoted by his former mentor.

Kocinski, who has traveled an enigmatic path since leaving Roberts a year ago, rode an Italian-built Cagiva to victory in a tense 33-lap race. He finished six seconds ahead of Alex Barros of Brazil, who was followed by Luca Cadalora of Italy and the new world champion from Texas, Suzuki's Kevin Schwantz.

The victory continued an American tradition in this race. Eddie Lawson of Upland won in 1988 and Wayne Rainey of Downey won in 1989, '90 and '91.

"I want to thank Wayne for setting an example for me," Kocinski said. "I watched the way he did it here before, when I was his teammate, and I remembered how he always kept the pressure on with consistency. That's what I tried to do today, and it paid off. I just wish he'd been here."

Rainey, a three-time world champion who rode for Roberts, was seriously injured when he fell last week during the Italian Grand Prix and suffered paralyzing injuries. He is undergoing rehabilitation in a Los Angeles hospital.

"Wayne's not being here, and knowing he may be paralyzed (from the waist down) forever sort of casts a shadow over the race," Roberts said. "But the last thing he told me was to carry on just the way we'd planned it, so we did it as well as we could.

KR Promotions announced attendance on a sunny, cool day as 50,000 for their maiden promotional effort.

The race was the most competitive ever held on the 11-turn, 2.18-mile course.

Kocinski charged off the starting line in front and by the time the leaders crested the hill heading for the first turn, he had a two bike-length lead over Australian Mick Doohan, with Schwantz, Barros and Doug Chandler of Salinas in close pursuit.

Schwantz, who had clinched the world championship when Rainey was disabled, passed Doohan before moving in front by diving inside of Kocinski going through turn 5.

The lanky Texan led for five laps and ran the fastest lap of the race, but when his hand began to go numb, he backed off and let Barros, his Suzuki teammate, take the lead.

"When I went down in Donington (during the British Grand Prix) three weeks ago, I broke a bone in my throttle hand," Schwantz explained. "I can run full speed for awhile, then the hand seems to lose circulation.

"I followed for the first couple of laps, and it was pretty relaxed, so I went to the front and tried to get myself a bit of a cushion. Then my hand started to go numb, and I let Alex go by."

Schwantz said he expected to have surgery on his throttle hand after the season.

Once he got past Schwantz into second place, Doohan closed up quickly on Barros and passed the Brazilian as they climbed the hill on the back side of the circuit.

On lap 27, five laps from the end, Doohan lost control of his Honda and crashed into the hay bales at the treacherous Corkscrew corner. He and his bike bounced back onto the track and he was barely missed by the oncoming traffic.

Doohan struggled to his feet and staggered off the track. He suffered a broken right shoulder and will miss the season's final race, Sept. 26 at Jarama, Spain.

That accident put Kocinski back in the lead with a two-second lead over Barros, which he stretched to more than six seconds by the finish.

"Like I said before the race, I didn't go out with the idea of winning, I went out trying to be consistent, to ride as strong as I could without making mistakes," Kocinski said. "I came here two years ago on a 500, tried to go too fast and fell down on the second turn. I thought about that all through the race."

Kocinski, 25, is a nomadic youngster who grew up in Little Rock, Ark., moved to Modesto to live and train with Roberts as a teen-ager and now lives in Henderson, Nev. He won the world 250cc championship in 1990 and rode two seasons on a 500cc bike as Rainey's teammate, but after the 1992 season he left to return to the 250cc class.

Kocinski's relations with the team deteriorated until he split with Suzuki in mid-season. Last August, he signed with Cagiva. Loris Capirossi of Italy won the 250cc race on a Honda and Dirk Raudies of Germany won the 125cc race, also on a Honda.

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