Wayne Gardner on the 1989 Australian GP

Australian GP 2019

It should have been one of the most exciting mornings of his life, but Wayne Gardner was spent. He was shattered. He was exhausted.

The ‘Wollongong Wiz’ played a major part in bringing the Motorcycle Grand Prix to Australia for the first time, doing extensive media work in addition to winning the 1987 world title, a success that raised motorsport’s profile in his home country.

Promoter Bob Barnard was hard at work, too, and his vision and determination led to Phillip Island getting the green light to host the inaugural Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix in 1989.

That meant more and more media for Gardner and, as a result, he thought he had spent all his petrol tickets when it was finally race day.

“I was travelling around Australia, so I put in three solid months of hard work,” he remembered.

“I was extremely exhausted and wasn’t really up to the job after the months and months and months of work. 

“By the time the race came, I thought I didn’t have the energy to go out and do it.”

The Australian event was the second of the 1989 season, Gardner opening his campaign with a fourth-place finish in Japan.

And he thought he was no chance of a famous victory until he watched tens of thousands of people pile into the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit.

“National pride took over. I was motivated by the general public,” he said.

“You draw from the enthusiasm of, ‘You’re Aussie, you’re in your backyard with your Aussie fans there’.

“We had over 100,000 people there. It was a huge event and then I managed to get my s**t together.”

This was no easy race for Gardner to win, though, even if Kevin Schwantz, who qualified first, went off his bike in the early stages.

Gardner and Yamaha’s Wayne Rainey traded places in the lead several times, while Frenchman Christian Sarron occasionally got to the front, too.

Australian Kevin Magee was also putting pressure on in what Gardner remembers as a frenetic race.

“There was something like 18 changes in the race for the lead,” he said.

“They were changing places every corner – it was down to the line. I was pushing as hard as I could, but I was being spurred on by the crowd.”

Gardner and Rainey came close to colliding on occasions before the passionate home crowd roared when the Honda rider pounced with the last of those lead changes with three laps remaining.

A thrilling final lap followed but Gardner held on before carrying the Australian flag around on a now-iconic victory celebration.

“Fortunately, I went on to win the race – the very first in Australia,” he added.

“I was extremely proud. The scenes I remember is all the crowd running onto the track and they’re standing below the podium.

“I was tipping champagne over Bob’s [Barnard] head, the people were screaming, ‘Gardner, Gardner’, it was an amazing picture. I was very proud to perform.”

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