Movistar Looks Towards Suzuka

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
Team Telefonica Movistar Suzuki, defending champions in the 500ccgrand prix class, face the opposition for the first time in 2001 at theJapanese GP. And rider Kenny Roberts Jr has but a single target - to winthe title for a second year in succession.

The race, at the classic Suzuka circuit, is the first of 16 rounds onthis year's championship trail, and Roberts, new rider Sete Gibernau, andthe rest of the team are now glad to start racing...

"We're in this for the long haul," said Roberts, who secured the title inhis second year with the factory Suzuki team, after finishing second theyear before. "Championships aren't won by getting over-excited about theopening round, but by making sure you get maximum possible points atevery race of the year. That will be my focus at Suzuka, and at everyother circuit of the season."

Victory would be especially sweet, in the last season of the 500cc class(from next year, 990cc four-strokes will be allowed to compete), since itwould underline Suzuki's proud record at the home Japanese GP. In 15years of the Japanese GP, all but one of them at Suzuka, Suzuki hasclaimed six victories - more than any other make.

Roberts and Gibernau come to the first race with a new motorcycle - inthat both chassis and motor have been redesigned. But there are noradical changes. The latest version of Suzuki's RGV500-Gamma design, theXR / B1, is very much an evolution of last year's winning machine.

During testing, the team asked for some more detailed changes to thechassis, and by the final sessions at Suzuka they were satisfied thatdevelopment had regained a positive direction, and that the new bike wasnot only an improvement on the 2000 model, but had still furtherpotential.

"Obviously we want to give Kenny the best possible equipment in his questfor a second title in succession," said team manager Garry Taylor.

"We think he's the best rider out there, and we know he can make a bigdifference on his own account. It's our task to make the job as easy aswe can for him, and for Sete - because the close times in testing provethat this coming season will be just as tough and competitive as the lastone."

Records for close starting grids and race finishes were repeatedly brokenduring 2000. In an almost flawless season, Roberts piled up points withfour wins and serial rostrum finishes to put himself in a dominantposition even before the last race.

Gibernau, the team newcomer, comes to Suzuki fresh from a difficultseason on a rival factory machine that was having a bad year - and he islooking to set the record straight in 2001. The Spanish rider was fasteron the Suzuki than he had been on the Honda from his very first test. Thefirst race is just the opening round of a campaign to regain the rostrumfinishes that he was becoming used to in 1999.

"Winter testing has been hard," said team manager Garry Taylor; "andnobody in the team was totally happy with the way it went. That's thenature of very competitive people. They always think that everybody elseis better off, and I've never yet met the rider who isn't continuallyasking for more horsepower.

"Testing is testing - but the Japanese GP will really blow away thecobwebs," continued Taylor, who is starting his 26th year of GP racing,all with the Suzuki team.

"The first race of the year brings out different emotions and differentabilities. Results at these early far-away races are not often reliableindicators of what will happen when the season gets into its week-in,week-out routine. But the championship points are just as important."

Suzuka has been extensively refurbished for this race - the start of athree-year programme to update Japan's traditional Grand Prix circuit.Safety has been improved with greater run-off areas along with thereprofiling of one corner, while pits and paddock have also beenupgraded.

Last year's Japanese GP, the third in the season, was one of the closestin the 53-year history of GP racing - the first eight riders crossing theline within less than five seconds. Roberts had been disputing the lead,and finished a close second to Norick Abe to take the points lead for thefirst time of the season; team-mate Nobu Aoki was fourth.

Rider Quotes:

KENNY ROBERTS, Jr. - On Track And Going For It

"The first race of the year is often unpredictable. That could be in ourfavour. We did a lot of work with different things during testing, butthis is racing, and it's different. Anything can happen. Most of thecorners at Suzuka, are fast and flowing, which suits the Suzuki, andthere aren't too many drag-strip corner exits - except the last run tothe finish line. Last year there was a big leading group, and there's noreason to think this year will be different. I expect to be part of thatgroup, and then it's up to me to work my way through it. It's been a longwinter. I can't wait to get started - the racing is the easy part."

SETE GIBERNAU - First Race Fever

"I'm not expecting my first race on the Suzuki to be easy, but I amreally looking forward to it. I have really been very happy getting toknow a new bike and a new team. We seem to work well together. Now is thetime to put it to the test. My plan for the year is to put last year'sinterruption behind me and start to get some of the results I know I canachieve. I'll be aiming for top-three finishes, on the rostrum, and if Ican help Kenny by taking points away from the other riders, then I'll besatisfied that I am going in the direction that I want."

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