New RM-Z450 set for Czech test
After a three week break, the 2004 FIM MX1 World Championship cranks back into life this weekend for the 12th round of the series taking place at the Loket circuit for the Grand Prix of the Czech Republic.
After some inspiring results and performances on the GP trail of late, Team Suzuki and Kevin Strijbos confront their latest test armed with the second- generation four-stroke RM-Z450 – its predecessor already scoring a handful of podiums and several MX1 moto victories this season thanks to the teenage Belgian’s efforts.
The new machine arrived in Europe mid July and Strijbos has already been riding with the bike as well as completing a round of the competitive Belgian National series. Both rider and team were pleased with the technical evolution of the 450. Strijbos claims the altered power characteristics and chassis tweaks facilitate his work on the track while the Belgian team were pleased to see that some further room for experimentation and refinement were allowed by the small adjustments carried out to the four-stroke in Japan.
Strijbos dominated the opening round of the International German Championship at Aichwald, winning all three motos. He then struggled at the Belgian series but still gained some valuable race time during the World Championship ‘pause’.
The 18 year old currently holds fifth in the standings with results of second, fifth and fourth in the last three rounds, including two moto victories. Suzuki are presently third in the manufacturer points table despite the fact they have been represented by only one factory rider since round seven.
The Grand Prix of the Czech Republic is an old event, maintaining a constant presence in the former blue ribbon 250cc category throughout the 60’s to the 90s. The World Championships have only visited Loket once before its slightly more permanent fixture as part of the GP calendar since 2002.
A natural and steep circuit with perhaps the longest start straight on the calendar, the course is located deep in the East of the Czech Republic near the picturesque and idyllic town of Karlovy Vary.
Stefan Everts won the 250cc round there in 1997. The Belgian has good memories of the track as the last two races – 2002 and 2003 – have seen the seven-time World Champion confirm two of his crowns at the venue.
Just twelve months ago, Team Suzuki rider Joel Smets won the most recent of his five titles at Loket in the 650cc class riding a KTM. Smets is currently taking some time away from the sport but is recovering well from the bacterial blood infection that saw him remain in the intensive care less than two months ago. The Belgian is in constant contact with the team and has regained a great deal of his strength. He will attend the hospital in several weeks for tests to see if his body is completely clear of the infection before heading back in for surgery on his broken knee ligament.
The weather forecast for the weekend predicts fine conditions.
“I had a race in Germany using the old bike and it was great. I won three heats without a problem. The new Suzuki then arrived and we made a few tests in France and it has been working well. It steers much better and the engine is smoother. With the older version it was more difficult to handle and aggressive coming out of the corners whereas the new one is much easier to ride. I have been riding both bikes to compare and I definitely had to be more careful on the old four-stroke. We had our first race at Belgium with the new bike but I crashed and hurt my shoulder in the first moto and to be honest I was not riding well.
“Loket is a good track. It is nothing special, not a venue like England, but it can get interesting and rough with the breaking bumps, so it should be no problem with my new bike! Last year, riding the 250, I crashed at the start and came back from last to finish 11th.”
Jens Johansson, Team Manager:
“The bikes arrived just after the race in Sweden and we made some tests on hard-pack as well as sand. Kevin’s first comments were that he believed the changes were promising and a step in the right direction. In the Belgian Championship, he had a bit of an off day and I don’t believe the result represents the real potential of the bike. To be honest, I am not surprised by the difference. The changes are what we asked and what we expected: Nothing major has been altered but there are some small modifications. At the moment everything is looking the way we hoped and that is very positive.
“It goes without saying that we are expecting to carry on our good form to the end of the season. We will have more work than before trying new directions with the bike, but it is interesting to experiment and make some small steps. We must try to make the most of the last five races.”
The World Championships roll immediately onwards to the historic and scenic circuit of Namur one week after the Czech event for round thirteen.
Photo (C) Suzuki Racing