Camel Pramac Pons GP Agitprop

John P Burns
by John P Burns



Remember the build-up to the race in Suzuka last year. It
was the first grand prix for the new 990cc four-strokes.
Questions flowed throughout the weeks before the historic
race. How would the 990cc four-stroke fare against the
500cc two-strokes that had ruled the scene for so long ?
Were the four-strokes the future of grand prix racing and
would other manufacturers be tempted to dip their toe into
the MotoGP water, to challenge the might of the Japanese ?
Finally would the transition tempt riders from other
Championships, primarily the World Superbike Championship,
to switch to MotoGP ?

Ironically, the answers to those questions 12 months ago,
come by perusing through the questions that are being raised
before the opening race in 2003.
When will the Proton KR four-stroke bike be ready to race is
being asked. The reason, the Proton KR team are the last to
complete a four-stroke machine. The machine has been
unveiled and is undergoing extensive dyno testing. It will
not be ready for Japan and the the team will enter the only
two-stroke machines on the grid at Suzuka. The rest will be
four-strokes and Proton hope to join them by the Spanish
Grand Prix at Jerez in May.

Eight separate makes of machine will start the MotoGP
season. Honda,Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Aprilia, Ducati,
Proton KR and Harris WCM will battle for the most
competitive Manufacturers Championship in the 54 year
history of grand prix motorcycle racing.

World Superbike specialists Ducati are the big newcomer with
their 990cc machine, that led the way in the Barcelona test
two weeks ago. The Italian factory know they have to compete
against the other major manufactures in the premier World
Championship. Kawasaki competed in four races last year,
before their full time involvement this year, while for the
first time Austrian off road giants KTM compete in the 125cc
class, to prepare the way for a MotoGP challenge in 2005.
Yes, four-stroke are the future for MotoGP and yes, new
manufactures are already being tempted to join. So what
about the riders.

No less than nine World Champions line up at Suzuka for the
21 lap race that heralds the start of the new season. Never
in the history of Motor sport on two or four wheels have so
many World Champions come together, to contest a single
Championship crown.

It's the Who's Who of Motorcycle racing headed by 125, 250,
500 and MotoGP World Champion, Italian Valentino Rossi.
American Kenny Roberts is the other 500cc World Champion on
the grid. They are joined by no less than five 250cc World
Champions. Camel Pramac Pons star Max Biaggi won the 250cc
title four times, Loris Capirossi won the 125cc Championship
twice and the 250cc once, while Daijiro Kato, Olivier Jacque
and last year's Champion Marco Melandri, have all been
crowned World 250cc Champions.

So OK all the top grand prix riders competing in the MotoGP
class but they were all there last year, apart from Melandri
who was busy winning the 250cc title. The most significant
World Champions to join the fray come from the World
Superbike Championship.

American Colin Edwards, who won the title for the second
time last year, brings the hopes and perhaps some fears of
the World Superbike fans as he joins MotoGP for the first
time to take on the likes of Rossi and co. Just to add to
the plot, Australian Troy Bayliss, who won the title in 2001
and only lost it to Edwards in a final round showdown last
year, has also decided to put his considerable talent to the
ultimate test in MotoGP.

Already Edwards and Bayliss have shown in testing they can
hack it with the MotoGP stars, while Noriyuki Haga, who
finished fourth last year, returns to MotoGP as Edward's
team-mate, after a disastrous time on the two-stroke Yamaha
in 2001. British rider Neil Hodgson, a former 500cc grand
prix rider, is clear favourite to win the World Superbike
crown this year. Already the rumours suggest he may return
to MotoGP next year.
So back to the question and a very simple answer. Three out
of the top four have 'defected' to MotoGP this year. The
switch to a MotoGP four-stroke is a lot easier than the
terrifying roller coaster experience of switching to a 500cc
two-stroke for the Superbike stars. Expect more, probably
headed by Hodgson, to be following the same path next year.

For the MotoGP race at Suzuka, just add a few more facts.
Max Biaggi has won there twice before on a 250 and 500cc
machine and his Camel Pramac Pons team-mate Tohru Ukawa held
the 500cc lap record at the old circuit in 2001. Daijiro
Kato has won four 250cc Japanese Grands Prix, wild card
entry Norick Abe won the 500cc race in 1996 and 2000 while
Valentino Rossi has won 500 and MotoGP races at Suzuka but
never a 125 or 250, on his way to those respective World

So all the 2002 questions answered a year later as we await
the start of the 2003 season. What questions should we be
asking this year and will we have the answers in 12 months
time ?

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