Suzuki will have a forceful presence at the season-closing Motocross of Nations this weekend at St Jean D'Angely in France. The traditional annual spectacle brings the three best riders of 35 countries together for a one- day event with the historic Chamberlain Trophy at stake.
Defending the large cup is Team USA that has conquered the tournament each year since 2005 and through editions run in France, USA, Italy and Great Britain. Going for his third consecutive crown will be Rockstar Makita Suzuki's Ryan Dungey, the 2011 AMA SX and MX runner-up. The 22 year old will steer his RM-Z450 in the MX1 class - the team also boasts Ryan Villopoto and Blake Baggett in MX Open and MX2 respectively - and share responsibilities for the 'Stars and Stripes' after tasting victory in Italy and America for the last two incarnations of the event. Dungey comes to Europe fresh from his triumph at Pala for the final round of 12 in the AMA National series last Saturday where he was only just denied a successful defence of his title by Villopoto.
Dungey's team-mate Brett Metcalfe will turn out for Australia and in the immediate wake of a term where he was able to celebrate his first overall AMA win and also seal fourth position in the 450 class standings.
Also slated to take to the gate on RM-Z450 race machinery at St Jean is Rockstar Energy Suzuki World MX1's Kevin Strijbos for Belgium. The 25 year old has substituted for the injured Steve Ramon for the final four rounds of the FIM Motocross World Championship and earned his first top-three finish since 2009 last week at the Italian Grand Prix; being a whisker away from the overall podium.
"I hope we will have a good weekend and with a bit of luck go for a top-five position," said Strijbos who will represent his country - alongside Joel Roelants and Marvin Van Daele - for the first time since 2006 and after several years of injury frustration. "It was quite a few years ago now that I last rode at the Nations; in fact the last time was on an RM-Z250! It is a special atmosphere and the Belgian fans really get behind you. Even if they follow another rider, once you get that shirt on it is all the same. I will do my best and maybe try for a personal podium finish."
Former World Championship rider Yoshi Atsuta returns to Europe on an RM-Z450 as the leader of Team Japan and to the track where he scored some of his best results, with two sixth positions in the motos of the 2004 and 2005 French Grands Prix. Meanwhile Suzuki Europe MX2 will prepare their factory-backed RM-Z250 for Swiss youngster Jeremy Seewer, who finished fourth in the 2011 European MX2 Championship. Germany's Marcus Schiffer will be on his RM-Z450 with a desire to repeat the excellent third place scored by the crew at Denver this time last year.
Around 14 RM-Z450s or RM-Z250s will be revved in the French paddock this weekend with teams looking to score the least amount of points as possible. A race win for a rider counts as one point, with a descending ranking meaning 35th place delivers 35 points. Three motos will be run on Sunday; MX1 and MX2 bikes together, MX2 and MX Open and then MX1 and MX Open, and from the six results posted on the board, teams can eliminate their worst, so the five scores accumulate and the country with the lowest tally wins.
St Jean D'Angely is expecting a bumper, cosmopolitan crowd with the Motocross of Nations attracting attendances over 30-40,000 each year. The permanent facility usually hosts the Grand Prix of France and its wide and accessible layout complete with capable infrastructure makes it one of the few circuits in Europe capable of hosting the meeting. The track itself is a slippery hard-pack that winds, climbs and drops across one half of a shallow gully. The opposing hill provides the fans with a natural amphitheatre setting.
An early weather forecast predicts a cloudy but dry weekend.