500 GP Preview From Kenny Roberts' Proton Team

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
The 2001 season starts at Suzuka on April 8 - and Proton Team KR can hardlywait. After a successful winter of high-intensity development and testingwith fast new rider Jurgen van den Goorbergh, they feel they are more than ready torace.

"I think we could surprise a few people," said team owner Kenny Roberts."If everything runs smoothly, without mishaps or weather problems, I believethat Jurgen is capable of running in the front group, and perhaps evenleading. Then who knows what might happen on the last lap ......"

The former triple 500 champion and father of defending champion Kenny RobertsJunior has good reason for his optimism. This is the first time in thefive-season history of his three-cylinder lightweight racer that bike andrider will come to the start line fully tested and in perfect health.Previously either the all-new machine's development programme or rider injuryhas intervened.

Proton Team KR has tested independently in Spain and Malaysia during thewinter, and with the other teams in Spain and Portugal. On each occasion thelatest version of the Proton KR3 - a development of the Mk3 machine firstraced last season - showed further improvement, with van den Goorberghputting the triple right up among the factory four-cylinder competition. Withboth engine and chassis significantly better, the three-cylinder design isready to show its full potential.

To Roberts, van den Goorbergh has been a vital ingredient. "Jurgen is one ofthe top four or five riders in the world today. He really understands thetechnicalities of how to make a motorcycle go fast. We are very lucky to havehim."

At the same time, the team will need everything to go right if they are tofulfill the aim of top-three podium finishes at the first race. "Suzuka doesnot particularly favour our bike, and this Mk3 machine has never been on therace-track, while the Japanese factory bikes had a test there in the last fewweeks. That's a down-side for us: we need two full days of dry practice andno niggling problems," continued Roberts.

"If that happens, it all goes right, and I think he can run in the leadinggroup. We know he can stay in their slipstream on the long straight, and heshould be able to brake better than the V4s into the final chicane. It couldbe a pretty exciting last lap," he concluded.

Jurgen was also eager for the season to start. "Testing went almost toowell," he said. "I was anxious to compare the Proton with the V4s at thetests earlier this year, and it stood up well. Ever since then, I've beenanxious for the racing to begin.

"Suzuka is the first of 16 rounds, and though it is not one of the tracksthat is really special for our bike, we can still get a good result. I'maiming for a smooth start to the season, with a regular weekend just gettingthe best out of the bike and starting off with some good points to build onduring the year."

Team manager Chuck Aksland was able to define the state of readiness with asimple yardstick. "You always need more time, but our programme has gone justlike we planned, and at our last tests at Malaysia two weeks before the GP weended up for the first time with two bikes with the same chassis andsuspension settings. That was our aim. Malaysia was a good shake-down test,and now all the components are in place to start racing.

"Suzuka may not be the best track for our bike, but there are a lot ofcorners there that flow into each other, where we can make up time," Akslandcontinued. "The team is pretty keyed up for a good year. We'll just have towait and see."

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