THURSDAY, MAY 11: Former 500cc motorcycle world champion Kevin Schwantz has started a gruelling daily fitness program in the United States to ensure he is in peak condition for this year's 5,000km Australian Safari international cross-country rally.

Schwantz, 500cc world champion in 1993, will ride a Suzuki DR-Z400 in the event, which is sanctioned by the Federation Internationale Motocycliste (FIM) and will be held from August 20-27 over a course through the Northern Territory from Alice Springs to Darwin.

The 35-year-old Texan said he had begun a daily program including training and racing on a DR-Z400, bicycle riding, and running, which he fitted into his schedule between attending AMA Superbike Championship events in the USA as consultant and coach of factory Suzuki teams.

"I'm making a point of doing something every day to prepare for the Safari, regardless of whether I'm travelling or at home because it's important to build up my strength, endurance, and aerobic fitness," he said.

"This is the first time I've done one of these enduro events so I've got to be at least as fit as the other guys out there because they will have more experience than me in this style of racing."

"I'm riding the DR-Z400 as much as possible on motocross tracks and on enduro trails close to my home, and when I'm moving around I put the dirt-road bike in the motorhome and take it with me."

Schwantz said he entered an off-road racing event in Albuquerque, New Mexico, earlier this month in a bid to become more familiar with the Suzuki he will ride in the Safari.

"It was on desert-type terrain and I wanted to see how I'd go and how the Suzuki felt under race conditions," he said. "I fell off, but I got going again and finished. I hadn't seen the course until the day of the race so I took it easy at first and tried to work my way into it."

"It was good experience because I know I've got some work to do to make the bike more stable. We've been running the Suzuki stock-standard, but we're going to do some suspension testing to try and make it more faster and more comfortable for the way I ride it."

"I'm hoping to do some more races if I can fit in it with everything else I'm doing. I want to do some riding over at least three hours or more before I come to Australia."

Schwantz, who won 25 grand prix races in the 500cc world championship up to his retirement in 1995, said he had been impressed with the engine performance of the Suzuki DR-Z400 he had been riding in the USA.

"The power delivery is very user-friendly so it's a good bike stock-standard for the average motorcycle rider," he said. "To go racing at the next level it needs some 'trickery', but that's the same with any bike."

Schwantz said he was enjoying his role as consultant and coach of the Suzuki teams in the AMA Superbike Championship, who include Australian riders Mat Mladin and Damon Buckmaster.

"I had 10 good years as a professional road racer and I'm happily retired, but this position with Suzuki keeps me in touch with the sport and it's good to be able to help some of the younger riders," he said.

"Having said that I'm looking forward to the Safari because it's something new and different. It also gives me a chance to see a part of Australia I've never been to before."

Mike Porter