Kenny Roberts Jr Looks to Mugello

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
The fifth round of the new MotoGP season represents yet more unknown territoryfor Team Telefónica MoviStar Suzuki riders Kenny Roberts Jr. and Sete Gibernau.

The track is familiar enough -- 3.26 miles of switchback tarmac sweepingmajestically up and down both sides of a picturesque valley in the Tuscanfoothills of the Apennine mountains.

But for the Suzuki riders and their rivals on the all-new 990cc four-strokeMotoGP machines, it is another new race-track...

for the exciting new top class ofracing. With extra speed and extra horsepower, the corners will be approachedfaster, and the exits will be quicker. Braking points will have to berethought, and cornering techniques revised, in line with the tail-happypower-sliding capabilities of Suzuki's powerful but user-friendly new GSV-R.

"The straight is longer than the tracks we've been to so far, and we willhave to see how that suits us," said team manager Garry Taylor. "On the otherhand, the corners are different, with some fast changes of direction and trickyclimbing and falling sections, and other long fast corners where the bike isleaned over for a long time.

"Both our riders excel in these sort of technically difficult conditions,while the Suzuki has already shown in the wet at Suzuka that it has very goodthrottle response, allowing the riders to get on the gas early in the corners.The clumsier power characteristics of some of the other bikes might be anembarrassment everywhere on the circuit except on the straight," he continued.

It is these unanswerable questions that have ensured massive interest in thenew MotoGP class, which pits the new-generation four-strokes like Suzuki's bigblue GSV-R against the established 500cc two-strokes. There have been recordcrowds at the four opening rounds, and the Rossi-Biaggi factor will add evengreater numbers in race-mad Italy.

The Suzuki is the newest of the Japanese factory four-stroke contenders,brought into battle a full year earlier than originally planned after promisingearly tests. In spite of its accelerated gestation period, up against machineswith as much as 12 months extra track testing behind them, it has given anexcellent account of itself. Wild card rider Akira Ryo was second in theopening round in Japan, while at the last round in France -- one race after theteam had switched from experimental new Dunlop tyres back to the familiarclass-leading Michelins -- 2000 champion Kenny Roberts achieved his best resultof the season with a strong fifth place.

"The factory racing department worked incredibly hard and fast to get the biketo this state," said Taylor. "Now we are ready to build on those strengths,and are impatient to receive the next round of technical upgrades that willtake us to the next level.

"I've said all along that we intend to be in a position to win races wellbefore the end of the season. Our results so far prove firstly that we mean it,and secondly that it is a very realistic target.

"We have to accept that the machine is still in the early stages ofdevelopment, and that the Italian GP is only the fifth round in a long season.It may be too soon to expect victory at this stage, if conditions arestraightforward -- though of course both Kenny and Sete have proved theirability to exploit any quirks in the weather or the track surface.

"On the other hand, it also proves our potential. Improvements have beencoming regularly from the factory. If we can up this pace of development, weare looking at a serious attack on the rostrum," he concluded.

Last year's Italian GP was interrupted by rain, and restarted. Roberts hadqualified second fastest, one of his best positions of the year, and wasdisputing the top positions in the lead when he crashed, unsighted in theflying spray. Gibernau, in his first year on the Suzuki, was one who survivedthe positions, claiming sixth place in conditions that put many riders into themud.

KENNY ROBERTS: TO THE MAXIMUM

"I've said before that I'm proud of the work and the progress of the Suzukifactory and our team. I also said we need to keep up the rate of development.We know we have some areas of the bike that need improvement, and as we moveforward we keep identifying new areas. That's the nature of development. Itwas good to get the bike's best dry-weather result in France, but when you'vetasted victory you're not going to be satisfied with fifth. Now we need totake the bike to the next level. I'll ride the bike to it's maximum atMugello, and I'm hoping for a good result. But I won't be anywhere nearsatisfied until we are fighting for race wins again."

SETE GIBERNAU: LESS TALKING, MORE PROGRESS

"The last couple of races have been frustrating for me. We seem to be runningup against little problems that add up to make for bad results. As I've said,we know where we need to get better, and we won't stop working on those areas.Mugello is a track that asks a lot of the rider, and of the motorcycle. You canbe sure that both the team and I will be working as hard as we can to get thebest possible result there."

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Brent Avis
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