16 years ago
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Roberts reveals all on rest day in Malaysia
At Suzuki's first full test session at the Malaysian circuit of Sepang, the two riders took a rest day, while the mechanics replaced the engines in each of their bikes. World Champion in 2000, Kenny Roberts Junior is now confronted with the task of developing the new XREO four-stroke machine in double-quick time, and he took the time out to speak to motograndprix.com about his team's current situation
'We're happy with our position, we know the challenges that lie ahead, because we asked Suzuki for the opportunity to be in this position. We're going to have some rough times here in the beginning, but I'm happy with the situation and the team is motivated, that's a big issue - that everybody has the same outlook. We're all looking in the same direction and we know where we're at.'
Roberts is the first to admit that 2001 didn't go as planned for the Telefonica Movistar Suzuki squad, 'Last year, everybody thought they knew where we were at, and our goals to win the championship obviously were there; but we didn't technically make the improvements. Now we all know what level we're at and where we need to get to, and we're setting targets of what we need to do and that's promising for me.'
'For what it is, the bike feels nice,' added Roberts. Yet like his team manager and colleague before him, he is quick to point out the infancy the bike is in: 'The biggest thing for me at the moment is that we go into meetings after the practices, and Sete and I can put across certain concerns that are of priority right now. The Japanese factory and the team feel that we can solve these quite quickly, so that's the main thing.'
Unlike his brother Kurtis, the American followed in his father's footsteps and went straight onto 500cc bikes in the MotoGP World Championship. 'I haven't spent much time on a four-stroke, but I don't think that is a big deal from a riding point of view, although not to say that it is easy, just it's a whole different type of riding style. It's difficult to say what type of riding style, but it's certainly different. It's basically like starting over again.'
With so many youngsters coming into the sport these days, Roberts can count himself as one of the seasoned veterans now after six years in the top category. Yet even those with a good deal of know-how can find things not as easy as they remember, 'While I'm lapping, there's so many things that I want to come in and say, and then I forget about half the stuff. So I go back out there again and I think, 'oh, I know I forgot about that' so I come back in and tell them the other half of things that I forgot about! But, we're all learning and it's nice to come here once in a while and only work on the little technical things that we need to fix. We didn't mess with the chassis much so far, and we've used pretty much the same set of tyres, so it's totally different to the normal way of working.'
It appears that this new four-stroke project has given Roberts back some of the bite and determination that saw him finish successful in 2000, 'Racing is about motivation, it's about setting goals, and beating targets, and then setting new targets. We have targets we are setting and goals we have made that we will strive towards. When you can do that, that's half of the battle, because then you can work technically, can lay out budgets, train and generally you are motivated to do things to achieve those goals.'
He continues, 'As soon as we heard we were going to go four-stroke, and we heard that Suzuki was going to give us the opportunity to develop this project, it was a breath of fresh air. I can't honestly describe how I would be feeling right now with the 2-stroke project. You would come here to beat your head in for 3 or 4 days, trying to get half a second out of something, ending up having to muster up the half a second in yourself. Not to say that we couldn't improve, but this is the future and this is what MotoGP is going to be about for the next several years.'
Roberts concurs that while they will have their work cut out to make the bike challenge from the first race in Japan, Suzuki have essentially made the right decision to enter the four-stroke machine at the earliest possible moment: 'We're part of Suzuki's very first prototype and this is their main focus in racing now. It's where all the budget's at, it's where all the priority is, and it will be where the market's going to be for selling motorcycles. To win the MotoGP championship now is going to be a big thing, and there's going to be a lot of guys out there with the same goal and trying to be the first one to do it. We're not even looking at that picture right now, we haven't even looked at lap times here in Sepang, we're not at that stage. But all the goals and the priorities that we're setting are to get competitive very quickly.'
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