Team Suzuki Press Office - April 5.
After a prosperous off-season that has included victories in France and the UK, Rockstar Energy Suzuki World MX1 are now ready to 'remove the gloves' for the first round of 15 in the FIM Motocross World Championship in Bulgaria this weekend.
The tall climbs and steep drops of the fast Sevlievo circuit will provide the first serious test of the RM-Z450 works machinery in 2011 and the team will be hunting their third consecutive podium finish at the Grand Prix as well as chasing their maiden victory at the venue.
Belgian duo Clement Desalle and Steve Ramon will have their sights set on further improvement over the 2nd and 5th places captured overall in the 2010 series as the current season will take-in visits to 14 countries, three continents and involve six months of racing.
"I'm feeling good, no stress and we did another moto with the bike last Tuesday so everything is ready and I'm happy," said Desalle who opened his account as a factory rider with the team with third place at Bulgaria in 2010. "Sevlievo is a nice track with fun jumps and some waves sections. I don't know if we will find any changes to the layout when we arrive on Friday but I'm excited to get there and start the season."
"I'm ready to go and I felt quick at the last race I had at Hawkstone Park a couple of weeks ago," commented former World Champion Ramon who grabbed a trophy at Sevlievo for third position in 2007. "I will be doing a bit of training before we travel to Bulgaria this week and that's all really. The track there is pretty fast and depending on how they prepare the ground then usually some ruts come up and a few lines develop. I like it and it can be a physical GP."
Sevlievo is recognised as one of the best motocross facilities in Europe with an open and inviting layout permitting decent viewing for spectators and first-class provisions for the teams and organisers. The dirt itself is hard-pack but can get rough and rutted through the corners, particularly the 180 degree sweepers at the bottom of the hills.
Rockstar Energy Suzuki has finished on the rostrum at four of the last five editions of the Grand Prix of Bulgaria and since the event was re-installed on the calendar in 2006. It was at the '06 event in which works Suzuki motorcycles filled second and third positions.
Geboers Racing Promotions' Principal Sylvain Geboers comments on the eve of the 2011 campaign.
With the same riding personnel in place your aim for 2011 must be a valid title push?
"Our goal remains the same and we strongly believe in our possibilities to win the MX1 World Championship. Last year was our first with Clement and we needed time to learn how he wants to work and the same situation for him regarding us. We took a lot of experience from last season for 2011. Steve will start his sixth year with us and for sure we know how he wants things, and if he stays away from physical problems then he should be up there. The target for us is, of course, winning but this is a technical sport and there are many aspects to make that happen. A small step left or right could affect a result but it is important to be there and to be able to win while also showing the quality and determination of the rider and the team."
Have the last two years been a bit of a wave for the team with the addition and withdrawal of some sponsors?
"The economy has affected a lot of sports and we have felt it too. We had a very exceptional situation in the last couple of years with Teka coming onboard and then also Rockstar Energy in 2010 but things can change and we saw that in a decision from Teka. However we can go on as strong as ever before. We have talked a lot with the partnerships we have and nothing has changed for the team with regards to the economical side compared to 2010 and we have to be thankful for that. Part of the sport is that sponsors can come and they can go. We raced before Teka and we will race after. Rockstar Energy has been very important for us."
After the departure of Ken Roczen what was the message from Suzuki Japan about the goals for Grand Prix motocross?
"That [Roczen leaving] was something that no-one could have really foreseen. Japanese manufacturers work within the boundaries they have and usually do not take a step into a risky zone. Perhaps our problem was that the announcement of Suzuki's continuing involvement to race was late, but this is the way it is and we have worked for 30 years like that. The only difference was that KTM came and made an aggressive move on Suzuki and made sure that Roger [De Coster] was working with them, that Roczen was working with them and the story went on."
For 2011 then, what did Clement and Steve request in terms of updates on the factory bikes?
"Luckily our bikes already proved to be on a very high level in 2010 and we don't have a model change for 2011 so we can concentrate on improving the motorcycle further and working on specific details; something that riders mostly appreciate. I can't go into the details! But the riders are satisfied so that is very positive for us. In MX2 we will have the same bike that we saw racing at the end of last year that had proved to be very capable."
Is there anything that you can mention about the 2011 RM-Z450s?
"There are some changes to handling and engine performance following the comments of the riders. We worry a lot about the noise level of the motorcycles because we know that it will affect our business. We are trying to make the bikes quieter without sacrificing performance and that is ongoing; our work is not always just about trying to make a better performing motorcycle for the track. We have to think about our responsibility to the future of the sport and we keep that firmly in mind."
The Le Touquet beach race win was a good way to start the year...
"It was great. The first thing you need for Le Touquet is a rider who is interested in doing that kind of racing and Steve was keen and as soon as we knew that then we were very willing to support him, combined with the Eric's [Geboers, Team Manager] experience as a former winner. The success was extremely satisfying for the small group that worked on the project. It also proved the quality of the motorcycle, especially under hard conditions like those. You need a rider though who can last the three hours and have the skill to avoid all that 'traffic.' The combination of Steve and Suzuki there was fantastic."
Do you expect to see Clement develop more as a rider and a person this year?
"Clement is only 21 years old and at that age you make progress every year. I expect him to make a forward step from 2010 to 2011. Of course there will be some pressure on him but not from our side and I think he can handle any expectation very well by himself. We gave him the chance to race in the US last year, to ride there in the winter and also look at the Supercross and it seems that he feels - for now - that his future lies in Europe and we will see some benefit from that."
And Steve will always be at the front...
"Steve is a championship racer. He doesn't win many GPs but he is always near the front and the top five and towards the end of the championship he is normally there. Steve has a certain value and we hope he can stay away from physical problems. I think it was a good decision to keep his services for 2011."