TEKA SUZUKI SET FOR FAENZA MX1 OPENER
The 2009 FIM Motocross World Championship gets underway this weekend at the Faenza circuit for the Italian Grand Prix and the first round of 15 in a series that encompasses 14 countries and two continents.
Team Teka Suzuki WMX1 enter the campaign as one of the strongest crews in the paddock and for the second year in succession will rely on the talents of 2007 World Champion Steve Ramon and Ken De Dycker, both of whom finished second and third respectively in the 2008 series.
Armed with the second generation of the RM-Z450 fuel-injected factory Suzuki - also bolted with a 2010 spec chassis - the team are hopeful of defending their status as Manufacturers Champion and adding a second rider's title in the space of three years.
Ramon has a record incomparable with any other current rider in the MX1 era; taking 4th, 4th, 3rd, 1st and 2nd in the five years since the series was created. In his time as a Suzuki rider, the Belgian has not dropped out of the top three.
De Dycker has progressed enormously since joining the team for 2008. He was the joint-highest moto winner with five chequered flags and recorded the most podium results with eight; tied with Jonathan Barragan.
The pre-season period has gone well for the Belgian squad with a number of podium results in International events across Europe and a successful two-week testing period recently in Italy in preparation for Faenza.
With 10 different winners in 2008, the MX1 World Championship can claim to be one of - if not the - most competitive and entertaining motorsports across the globe, and the 2009 series is expected to be of a similar ilk with at least half-a-dozen protagonists from five manufacturers capable of GP success.
Slight rule changes for 2009 include a permanent entry of 40 riders in the gate for the MX1 and MX2 classes - an increase of 10 compared to previous seasons - and a new qualification system on Saturday that will see the Time Practice period replaced by a 20 minute Heat race for the MX1 field.
The tight and steep confines of the Faenza layout will still be fresh in the minds of the Grand Prix stars as six months ago the 2008 competition was brought to a close at the same venue. The track is characterised by a number of fast descents and a long uphill drag from the start gate. If the weekend is dry then the terrain offers a typical hard-pack Italian test; a different prospect for the paddock compared to the two previous years in which the championship opened in the technical Dutch sand of Valkenswaard.
In expectation of an exciting season in which they expect to again be one of the main contenders for the premier-class crown; Team Principal Sylvain Geboers comments on the year ahead...
The team came very close to a second world title in 2008. Even though you finished second and third with the riders - still a good set of results - it must have been exciting to see the MX1 class offer such good entertainment after the Everts' years...
"Yes, another championship would have been a prolongation of the '07 title but the team has already six world titles with Donny Schmit, Stefan Everts, Greg Albertyn, Mickael Pichon and Steve and another seven titles thanks to the co-operation between Suzuki and us with Harry Everts, Eric Geboers, Georges Jobe and Brad Lackey. However to answer your question; we had some years in MX1 where Stefan Everts was at a special level and it was very interesting to race and try to win from such a hero; unfortunately he did not give many victories away! Now the sport has increased in excitement and suspense and the top flight has become exceptionally wide and more interesting. A high number of those new top riders are very young and that is promising for the years ahead. We at Team Teka Suzuki World MX1 are proud to have been in the top three with both riders for the past three years; that's exceptionally good as a team result and proves the high performance and potential of both the riders and machines."Do you expect the same in 2009? Will there be more than 3-4 candidates for the title?
"We expect even better entertainment in 2009; it might be even more interesting. We believe that Kevin Strijbos and Antonio Cairoli will be competitors at the same level as Philippaerts, Ramon, De Dycker, Barragan, Nagl and Pourcel. Still coming up as well are the likes of Desalle, Leok and Mackenzie. There is an unbelievably wide number of possible GP winners."The calendar was originally 17 rounds and now it is 15. We also only have one overseas event. How do you feel about the changes?
"At first for 2009 there was a change from 15 to 17 GPs, which is an increase of about 15% on team's budgets. Secondly, there was a change from one to three overseas races, which is understandable in terms of taking the championship to different places in the world but impractical and impossible in these times of economical recession. Both changes have been withdrawn by Youthstream as they have understood the degree of financial difficulty for teams, organisers and promoters. The first need for MX is to install stability for organisers, teams and manufacturers; all of them need to have at first a stable platform after which the activity can be improved and extended with a degree as the market will allow us. We will be happy to have a championship of 12 to 15 races, all of good quality and within the margin of our capacity, including overseas races but again without overloading. There is a need to understand that each overseas race takes about three weeks of our valuable time."Going to Latvia, Brazil and Turkey this year- all new places to the sport - is a positive thing for the championship isn't it?
"It's good to notice the interest in our sport by new countries and Youthstream must have good reason to include those countries in the calendar. As the world develops, people's interests change and it is always good to see that our sport is becoming popular in new countries. Thanks to the TV work done by Youthstream, the sport can attract new areas and people." The association with Teka is a very strong element for the team. Can you tell us how important their continued support is?
"TEKA Group is a company with a strategy and a vision, understanding the importance and value of a mid-long to long-term marketing strategy. It gives the team and sponsor the possibility to invest in the long-term and build-up a certain platform of structure and knowledge; of which both parties can profit. The key in this co-operation is the synergy between the partners TEKA, Suzuki and GRP; all quality and healthy sport-minded companies. We understand and accept that TEKA will be more and more the key-player in our activity, therefore it is important is to keep good balance and satisfy TEKA by being the added value they are looking for." What's new on the 2009 RM-Z 450s?
"The'08 RM-Z450 WS was all new for last year with new chassis and bodywork, a new engine with five-speed and fuel injection. The 09 RM-Z450 WS is of the same family as 2008 but takes profit of some improvements. The frame is from the 2010 production model with emphasis on different flexibility and stability by changing the size of tubes and thickness of materials in different areas. The fuel injection is now second generation, where the range and sensitivity of self-adjusting components has been upgraded. The race bikes also have a number of details that have been adjusted to the particular request of the individual riders."The team now has one year experience with the fuel injection. How will the second generation of the unit be better?
"As explained above, the range of self adjustment has become wider and deeper. With the help of GET we could collect useful information and improve a number of details. After one year of GP racing experience we could obtain a number of sections where we could improve by giving the rider more comfort and or better performance while riding the fuel injection bike; these might be from starting the engine under certain weather conditions or keeping stable performance while weather condition may change, and others."In your view, does the fuel injection still bring big advantages to the motorcycle? How so?
"Fuel injection allows a more proper engine and offers no major concern to rider or mechanic when it comes to adjustment. The engine starts easily, and there is no fuel spill by overflow (carburettor). For most customers the carburettor of a four-stroke can be difficult in terms of service and set-up."Despite the economic crisis the MX World Championship still seems quite strong with seven manufacturers involved. Can we be optimistic for the sport?
"In today's economic crisis, no one can predict what will happen in 2010. The fact is that our sport is far less expensive than most motorsport activities; however we also need to look for the return. For sure the input from outside sponsors will be more and more important. For the sport a realistic approach is needed and how the FIM and Youthstream cope with the recession will be vital. We don't even know if all the manufacturers will still exist in 2010, there may be an interest in companies combining for production of certain models, others might close; just look at the car business.
"In times of crisis we all have to give the maximum and combine power and strength. It will be of great importance to have a good co-operation between all parties: FIM, Youthstream, manufacturers, teams and organisers. I would really welcome a Motocross Congress. "