2009 will see 28 year old Steve Ramon begin his fourth season with the Teka Suzuki WMX1 team and in the past three years the former 125 title winner has impressively finished 3rd, 1st and 2nd in the FIM MX1 World championship.
Here the tall Belgian, renowned for his natural ability and skill to find lines, talks about his preparation and approach to his sixth campaign in the premier class and another year with the fuel-injected RM-Z450; now entering its second generation after a very positive impact in 2008.
Steve, how was the off-season period for you?
"Pretty good. I had a break after the last Grand Prix and did a few beach races, which was a lot of fun and then I must have had two-to-three weeks of holiday before starting physical training again at the beginning of December. I went to Portugal for two weeks with my trainer and we did a lot of cycling and running; I worked really hard and did not even see a motorbike! The plan was to start riding at the beginning of January but it was too difficult with the poor weather conditions and I think a lot of people had similar problems, especially in Northern Europe. So, I feel good at the moment but it is useful that we have quite a few pre-season races because I can catch up on a bit of lost track time."
So you are just missing that little bit of confidence on the bike?
"Yes, it is just about trying to work my way up to a good level. We also made a couple of small changes to the bike, so we are both building up our performance. We still have to do some testing before the first Grand Prix and the 2009 bikes arrive this week; so for sure there is more to come."
How is your feeling about 2008? The championship was very close and came down to the final Grand Prix. Do you feel there are positive things to take from last year?
"Well, I was second, which is not a bad result but I wanted to be World Champion again and it was close. I did the best I could and that's life. I was disappointed but I also recognised that it was a difficult year for me with my physical problems. I don't want to look back any more. There was a chance to be World Champion again but it did not work out."
In a way does this help in a little with some motivation for regaining the title in 2009?
"Yes and no. I know the problems I had to deal with last year and I lost a lot of points, so during the winter I was very motivated to work hard to fix the situation and now, when we come around to starting the World Championship again, I hope I will be back to normal. 2009 is a different year and I want to stay in shape and give the best account of myself as I can."
Some of your peers commented that you had changed in 2008 - you were riding with more aggression - was that true and is this something you will take into 2009 also?
"Not that I know. Maybe it's possible that I took a few more risks last year, but not many! I am still the same person on the track, especially with my style, so I don't think that is true. I ride conservatively and that is perhaps why I am so consistent but sometimes you do need to 'go for it'. That consistency is important for the championship even if my goal is to try and win each GP; in the past I have still managed to take quite good points on my bad days. There are so many good riders now in MX1 that to expect to win each GP is very difficult. Last year it was the same. There were a lot of winners and I was suffering with my legs and that also affected me mentally. Anyway, I am in good shape now, we have done a few internationals and I am looking forward to seeing how I can run at Faenza."
With Turkey, Latvia and Brazil we have three new circuits on the world championship calendar. As you now have almost ten years in GP racing are different venues always refreshing?
"Yes, and I like to go somewhere new and have that challenge. Like you have said I have raced on a lot of Grand Prix tracks and while it is not getting boring, I know where to go! There is never a great deal of time to look around the countries where we go, which is a shame because there is always the next grand prix or Belgian race the week after."
How do you feel about starting the season on the hard-pack of Faenza after being in the sand of Valkenswaard for the last few years?
"It doesn't matter. Your preparation has to be a bit different but I am not bothered. We will do two races in the Italian Championship and also some testing on hard-pack before we get to Faenza."
What changes have you requested regarding the 2009 version of the RM-Z450?
"Not many, the bike is largely the same but we have been doing a little bit of searching with the engine set-up to make my starts a bit better. I'm really happy with the bike actually and if we can get off the line faster, then that's the only improvement I can ask. We are now on the second version of the fuel-injection and I know the work we did last year will help go through to the production machines. We are also using a new frame, which gives more stability at high speed and I'm told that should make it onto the 2010 version of the production bike as well."
The motorsport world is not going through an easy time so how does it feel to be part of such a well supported team in the motocross paddock?
"Really good, the team is very strong and the association with Teka is important. I feel good with the team and I am lucky that things have stayed the same for me coming into this season. At the moment in the bigger picture I think it is difficult for everyone in some way or another; you just have to hope that things will get better."