Mar 1, 2002
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Copyright 2002, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.<BR><BR>By David Swarts<BR><BR>After a 16-year hiatus, 1995 Endurance World Champion Stephane Mertens has returned to Daytona International Speedway to race.<BR><BR>Mertens is using the Formula USA National Road Race Series event February 28-March 3 as a warm-up to race in the AMA Superstock (formerly 750cc Supersport) and Superbike races next weekend at Daytona.<BR><BR>"I have not been here in so long, not since 1986," said the 42-year-old Belgian. Mertens recalled that he entered AMA 250cc Grand Prix that year as a warm-up for his 250cc World Championship effort. "I stopped after the warm-up lap to re-fuel. I stopped at the back of the grid on pit lane. When we were finished, they stopped me and said it was too late. I had to start last, after everyone. I finished the race in 8th. So it was not too good but not too bad.<BR><BR>"I am still trying to get used to the track. The track is the same, but it has been a long time and it is very different on a 750. It feels very special. Plus I haven't been on a bike since August of last year. I am just hoping to have some fun. I hope to do well in the Superstock race, but I am doing the Superbike just for more practice time."<BR><BR>Mertens will be riding a Suzuki GSX-R750 on Dunlops at Daytona. The bike is owned by Joseph Buxton and the whole deal was set-up through Full Spectrum Racing's Dick Suarez. Mertens and Suarez met during the 2001 Suzuka 8-hour race in Japan, where Suarez was working with the Hooters Suzuki effort and Mertens was riding with his regular World Endurance team, Zongshen. Zongshen was also a major player in Mertens' return to Daytona.<BR><BR>"Zongshen is a very large motorcycle company in China. They sponsor our World Endurance team, but that does not take them to the United States. They were very happy to be involved with me racing here at Daytona since it is a very big race in America. They are sending over TV crews and reporters to cover my races for the Chinese people."<BR><BR>In addition to continuing in the 2002 World Endurance Championship with Zongshen, Mertens plans to defend his 2001 BMW Boxer Cup Championship in 2002. <BR><BR>Mertens also finished second in the 1989 World Superbike Championship riding a Honda RC30. Mertens was beaten in the Championship in the last race by Rumi Honda's Fred Merkel.<BR>