Jerez Preview and Update From Team Proton

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
The European Grand Prix season starts at Jerez de la Frontera on Sunday,May 6 and Proton Team KR are relishing the prospect of returning to thetrack.

Just over two months ago, the new 2001 machine and new riderJurgen van den Goorbergh met the rival factory teams for the first timeat pre-season tests at the circuit, the venue for the Spanish GP - and theresults were excellent. The Dutch rider put the lightweight alternativethree-cylinder Proton KR3 seventh fastest, in the thick of theheavyweight four-cylinder competition, and less than a second off thefastest time of all...

"I knew the new bike was good - but after that I truly believedthat we can produce competitive lap times and aim for strong finishes inthe top ten .... or even better," said van den Goorbergh, who went on toset similarly impressive lap times and positions at the subsequent IRTAtests.

The Spanish GP is a phenomenon of modern motorcycle racing, attractingvast crowds of more than 100,000 to the Andalucian circuit outside thesherry capital Jerez, where the bikes are the centrepiece of a fiestaatmosphere among the most passionate fans in the world. This year, thecrowds are likely to be bigger than ever, because of the breathtakinglyclose 500-class racing in the first two rounds.

By tradition, the first European round marks the start of the Grand Prixseason proper. Proton Team KR are hoping that it has the same meaning fortheir new 2001 combination of machine and rider.

Jurgen and the Mk3 version of the Proton KR3 scored points in both"flyaway" opening rounds - but there was still a feel of unfinishedbusiness as circumstances conspired against them at both the Japanese andSouth African rounds.

"At Suzuka we didn't have all our bullets," explained Team Owner, formertriple World Champion Kenny Roberts. "The other teams had all completedthree days of testing, and we arrived at a difficult track with noprevious experience with that bike, that rider, or the Michelin tires."Nonetheless, Jurgen made the most of the situation to claim 11th place ina very competitive battle.

A fortnight later there was a level playing field in South Africa, andthe team expected improved fortunes. Instead, problems in qualifying leftvan den Goorbergh on the fourth row of the grid, then a grabbing clutchspoiled his start. He was again 11th, and frustrated that his hopes ofmixing it with the Japanese factory machines had been thwarted when hegot off the line almost last.

"The most important thing for me it to qualify well, and get off the linewell," explained van den Goorbergh. "The four-cylinder bikes have anadvantage in initial acceleration, but with our aerodynamic bodywork Ihave proved that if I can get away with them, I can stay in theirslipstream on the straight.

"Then I can use our advantages - better braking and higher corner speed -to show the Proton's full potential. I had hoped for that chance in South Africa - but it just wasn't ourweekend," he continued. "

"Now I hope for it again. I know that the Proton can lap Jerez quickly,and it is a track with a big variety of corners, some of them quite fast... I believe that if we work to make everything go right, then this willbe the race when I can start showing the bike's full capabilities."

The team will certainly be doing everything possible to help him, after atrip back to home base in England, where the Proton KR3 was built.Niggling engine problems in South Africa are not expected to be hard tosolve, and the focus will be on helping Jurgen make the most of themassed start.

"It's vital that he is able to get off the line quickly to be in aposition to use his advantages," said Team Manager Chuck Aksland.

"South Africa was disappointing, because we know that both Jurgen and thebike have the potential to do a lot better, even in this highlycompetitive season," he continued.

"We just need to get all the details under control, and then I'm surehe'll prove it," he said.

The Spanish GP at Jerez is the first of three races in Spain, and thefirst of ten European rounds between now and the end of September. Thenthe season closes with four more long-distance races in Japan, Australia,Malaysia and Rio de Janeiro.

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Brent Avis
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