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Roberts and Suzuki ready to race

Roberts and Suzuki ready to race

Roberts and Suzuki ready to race

The last time the MotoGP season opened in South Africa, Kenny Roberts Jr ended it as World Champion. That was four long seasons ago and the American rider's objectives have changed somewhat since then. With just one podium to show for his efforts as a key part of the Japanese factory's four-stroke project, Roberts arrives at the Welkom circuit this weekend hoping the progress made during the preseason testing period can be converted to results.

The optimism raised by quick times in the official tests at Catalunya and Jerez was reflected in one of the closest surveys ever run on, with 17.412 voting in favour of the Californian returning to the podium this season from a total of 34.295. However, despite the confidence, which also runs throughout the team since the Spanish sessions, with Team Manager Garry Taylor claiming ‘This is the best-prepared the team has been for years', Roberts remains cautious.

"We have more unknowns than the other teams," said the 30 year old. "They have improved their bikes over the winter, but they're on the same tyres. We've not only made big improvements to the bike, but also we're on Bridgestone tyres for the first time. There is still more stuff I'd like to test before the race.

"Sometimes you have a fast learning curve, as we've been doing during tests, and I hope we can get the bike feeling good out of the crate, and can keep that pace up at Welkom. We've also tested a lot of the new tyres at different tracks. I hope that they will work as well in South Africa as elsewhere. "Last year was Bridgestone's first at Welkom with the four-strokes, and they've learned a lot since then. If the tyres can do the lap times and last the distance, then I can go into the race with a very positive attitude." The Africa's Grand Prix is the first round of what is being tipped by many as the most competitive season in history, but Taylor insists that the preseason form of Roberts and his young team-mate John Hopkins gives them reason to look forward.

"Both riders are highly motivated and there is a general feeling of excitement throughout the team after a highly positive series of tests," said Taylor.

"We are under no illusions that we have fully turned the corner yet, but we've clipped the apex and we can see the exit line ahead of us. We know the competition is going to be even tougher this year than last, and that we have a lot more work to do before we are fully competitive.

"We're starting the season ready to build on the progress we've already made. The bike is good, the tyres are good, and the riders are ready. Let's go racing."


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