Roberts takes his best finish of another testing season for Team Suzuki
Around this time three short years ago Team Suzuki were celebrating a World Championship in the premier class. Now the sport has changed immensely since Kenny Roberts claimed four GP wins in that season and the Japanese firm have struggled to match the technological advancements of their rivals.
Their plight with the four-stroke arguably reached its lowest point several weeks ago when John Hopkins was suspended from the Malaysian GP for his part in the first corner melee at Japan.
Back in action at Phillip Island last weekend Hopkins, along with Roberts, finally gave the team some cause to smile with two points scoring results and the highest finish of the season for the latter when he crossed the line in 9th (Hopkins gave the squad their best result of 2003 so far with 7th place at Jerez).
All year the endeavours of the American duo have not made for pretty reading. Both have managed 7 points scoring rides from 15 races while Roberts lurks down in 21st position in the standings, above only a gaggle of riders who have been steering the seemingly equally unable Kawasaki.
With rumours that the factory are ready to return to the drawing board in a quest to catch and fight with the all-dominant Hondas, the efforts of Roberts and 12th positioned Hopkins on Sunday was a late but brief ray of light in what has been a gloomy term of development so far for the Suzuki MotoGP project.
"That was Kenny's best finish of the year so far, and it's good to see the progress giving him some benefit," remarked Team manager Garry Taylor. John came in with a huge grin on his face too. I'm happy for both of them but also really happy for the guys in the crew, and the factory. None of us are ecstatic about our positions, and we won't be until we're fighting in the top five. But we can see we are going in the right direction to get back where we belong."
"For me it's an old story," commented Roberts on the season's results. "I believe I still have the ability to win these races, and Suzuki does as well. The only problem is we're fighting outside the top ten. Sometimes that looks better than on other occasions but that's something I can't control. What I can control is in doing my best and giving Suzuki the feedback they need to build a better motorcycle. Again I had some problems, but it's not worth talking about because it's not constructive."
"We know what we have to do to improve, which is have a bike equal to whatever is winning the race. We can't give anything away these days. I was riding pretty much beyond the maximum today so that the harder I tried the slower I went, even though I was actually quicker towards the end."
Hopkins elected to focus more on the busy scrap he had for 12th position than reflect on the bigger picture:
"After what happened in Japan, I was a bit afraid of getting into trouble, and I took lap one fairly easy. Then I got mixed up with McCoy and McWilliams, and we were in a bit of a battle and slowing each other up. That McWilliams is an evil little rascal! Some of his moves were pretty heavy. Then Tamada came up on us and we had a four-way battle until he got away. McWilliams did also, then on the last lap I could see McCoy was having a lot of trouble with rear grip, so I got my head down to get by him, ride my own race and bring it home."