Suzuki hoping for first podium success on almost
The sandy setting of Valkenswaard is the host this weekend of round four of the MX1 World Championships, the Grand Prix of the Netherlands, and the next outing within a packed 2004 calendar for Team Suzuki. The Dutch circuit, located less than an hour away from the team’s Belgian base and a short trip down the road from the city of Eindhoven, has been a prosperous one for the squad in the past. The RM250 won the 250cc GP for three consecutive years in the hands of Mickael Pichon while the Sylvain Geboers-owned set-up celebrated two riders on the podium in 2001 and two within the top four in 2003.
Joel Smets has triumphed at the circuit every year since 2001 and is starting to find something like his old form after the debilitating effects of a pre-season knee ligament injury. This weekend will also be something of a local race for the Belgian and one in which he is especially looking forward to competing.
“Valkenswaard is more of a home GP to me than somewhere like Namur for example that is over 100KM from where I live,” he said. “Even though it is a Dutch GP and I am Belgian I admit that it is an important race simply because it is so close and I get good support from the fans in the neighbourhood. The track itself is not a favourite and I am not one of those riders who are stronger in the sand or on hard tracks. I do not prefer the sand compared to any other circuit but the atmosphere is always good at Valkenswaard and it is a special race.”
Over the holiday period Team Suzuki completed an exhausting two meetings in two days with both Strijbos and Smets enjoying moto victories in the Belgian Championships and an International meeting respectively.
Strijbos returns to the scene of a career best 4th position twelve months ago riding the RM 250. The young Belgian has scored a GP moto podium (this year at Zolder with third) but has yet to beat the standing in an overall result.
Still, he has more than proved his speed in the Valkenswaard sand before and is rightly considered a viable podium contender for this weekend, despite the fact he has spent the last five days battling against a cold.
“The races over two days left me really tired last week and then I was ill from Thursday, which wiped me out for a few days,” remarked the 18 year old. “I even went practising yesterday and still felt quite weak but I should be back to normal for the weekend. Valkenswaard is a cool circuit even if there is not really the deep sand that there was a few years ago. It is not a typical flat track and the section around the back when we climb up and twist downwards is interesting. I took a good 4th place there last year which really helped my season and I will be looking for the same at least while hoping to get on the podium.”
After some early season teething problems that saw the riders suffering from engine stalls the team seem to have found a direction in which they sense an improvement is imminent
“The races over Easter and the free days we have had allowed us to work on the problems that Joel and Kevin have experienced in the GPs so far,” commented Jens Johansson. “While I cannot say that we have a bullet-proof solution for this weekend we have made some progress and have a good idea as to the cause of the trouble. Some of it is related to the rear brake but we have made some steps forward and expect further advancement over the next few weeks.”
Valkenswaard is a fast and technical test as well as being one of the most established circuits on the MX Grand Prix calendar. It first hosted a World Championship round back in 1974 (250s) and has been the scene of numerous ‘triple headers’ of the old style format (125, 250 and 500cc) in the past.
The weather forecast for the weekend predicts cloudy conditions but hopefully rain-free.
Info – Photo (C) Suzuki Racing