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Aug 20, 2001

Remember Kenny Roberts' Plan To Conquer GP Racing With A Triple? Apparently It's Been Harder Than Anticipated.

A press release from Kenny Leroy Roberts' GP team:<BR><BR>The Czech Republic GP at the sweeping Brno circuit marks an important anniversary for Dutch rider Jurgen van den Goorbergh and the lightweight three-cylinder Proton KR3. <BR><BR>One year before, on the day after last year's Brno race, Jurgen rode the three-cylinder lightweight for the first time in a private test session. <BR><BR>The tests went brilliantly, with the new combination achieving very competitive lap times at the first attempt. The eventual result was that Jurgen joined the Proton team for 2001, forming an alliance that has seen the bike and rider combination score points in every race so far this year. <BR><BR>That was in the 11 rounds leading up to the five-week summer break. This year, when the flag falls to signal the end of the mid-season holiday, Jurgen and Proton Team KR expect to be ready to step up their challenge to the established factory four-cylinder machines. <BR><BR>Preparations had already started over the last two races, with the introduction of a new "Big Bang" close-firing-order engine, intended to improve throttle response in the corners to maximise the nimble KR3's existing corner speed advantage by allowing Jurgen to open the throttle earlier while still leaned hard over. <BR><BR>A first version was tested in practice for the British GP; a revised engine made its debut at the Sachsenring in Germany. And though there were niggling teething problems, the overall potential for improvement was enough for rider and team to decide to race the new engine, in the interests of further development. <BR><BR>The break gave the England-based Malaysian-backed independent team the chance not only to iron out the first-run problem areas with intensive further development on the dynamometer, but also to test the new application fully without also dealing with the high pressure of a race weekend. <BR><BR>The engine offered clear advantages. The problems were a puzzling loss of top-end speed over the course of the weekend. Since only the firing intervals had been changed, the team were confident they could track down the reasons, and then perform back-to-back tests of the conventional engine against the new Big Bang at Mugello. There will be no more unknown quantities by the time they get to Brno. <BR><BR>The Brno circuit--long, fast and sweeping--has been good in the past for both machine and rider. As well as last year's fast lap time achieved with the current Mk3 version of the bike, the earlier Mk2 machine achieved a front-row qualifying position in 1997, ridden by Jean-Michel Bayle--proof that the lightweight concept works well through the long high-gear corners and tricky descents and ascents of a very technical circuit. <BR><BR>Van den Goorbergh also has his special Brno memories--including qualifying on pole position on the four-cylinder MuZ there in 1999. <BR><BR>The Czech Republic GP is the tenth of 16 rounds, and marks the start of the busy close to the 2001 season. Two more races in Europe--the Valencia and Portuguese GPs--are followed by four flyaway rounds, with the GP circus visiting Japan, Australia, Malaysia and Brazil in an intensive five-week period. <BR> <BR><BR>JURGEN VAN DEN GOORBERGH: "For sure I am looking forward to this race. It's one of my favorite tracks, and though we won't have been testing there like some other teams, it will be the first track where I have ridden the bike before, and we will have tests at Mugello instead to make sure we are fully ready, rather than trying new things as at the last round in Germany. <BR><BR>"Last year already the steering and handling of the KR3 felt really good there. Since then, we've made a lot more improvements, and I'm convinced that we will still have that advantage over the V-4s. It counts for a lot, because the track is mainly long, fluid corners in third or fourth gear, with the bike leaned on its side for long periods. Those are conditions where we are definitely faster than the heavier four-cylinders. <BR><BR>"You also need horsepower at Brno, especially for the long climb at the end of the lap. I know that the engineers will be working hard to get the Big Bang engine so it is at least equal to the conventional engine at the top end. It has other advantages--with a nicer pick-up, and less vibration, making it easier to ride as well as potentially faster out of the corners. <BR><BR>"I'm not expecting an easy race, though. The latest 16.5-inch tires give better traction to all the bikes, helping the four-cylinder corner speed, and I expect lap times will be quite a bit faster than last year. I still think that we could get a good result there to show the full potential of the KR3". <BR> <BR><BR>CHUCK AKSLAND, Team Manager: "We'll be using the break to find out why the Big Bang lost top-end power in Germany. It was fine in England, but the second version in Germany seemed to get slower through the weekend. We need to track down the reason why, and make sure we can eliminate it. The last couple of races have been difficult, with Jurgen going back-and-forth from one type of engine to the other. That makes it very hard to build up the rhythm you need over the race weekend. We will do that sort of testing at Mugello the week before the Brno race. Whichever type of engine we decide to race there, we will have both bikes the same so that Jurgen can concentrate on getting set for the race".