Smets has been practising over the past 10 days and is feeling confident after leading from start to finish under sunny Belgian skies a fortnight ago. Sadly some time spent riding in northern France was fairly unproductive as poor weather restricted opportunities for decent testing. Strijbos received another injection in his right ankle on the Tuesday after Zolder and was able to practice Saturday and yesterday. The eighteen year old is now in a position where he is likely to need painkillers at every race in order to ride: The World Championship embarks on a rapid-fire four rounds in five weeks beginning at Spain and there will be little healing time for the teenager.
Motovision Suzuki Racing’s Yoshitaka Atsuta heads to Bellpuig after registering fifth place at the third round of the British Championships last weekend. Atsuta has already claimed a podium in the national series but ranked a lowly 19th at Zolder; a standing he will be keen to better in Spain.
The World Championship visits Bellpuig for the fourth consecutive year as a triple header series. Normally producing fine spring weather, the 2004 Spanish Grand Prix was a wash-out after 24 hours of rain began falling Friday evening, turning the Catalan venue into a boggy mush.
The 2004 Grand Prix of Spain represented only the second World Championship test for the then-prototype RM-Z 450. Kevin Strijbos led the first moto through the deep mud and eventually finished third while Smets had some mechanical problems but then took part in a tough battle with local favourite Javier Garcia Vico in the second race, beating the Spaniard for fourth place.
The Grand Prix is scheduled three weeks later than the same appointment last season. Fortunately decent weather is forecast for the weekend.
Joel Smets: “I am feeling confident after last week but I always like to keep realistic. It was very positive for me and the team to win at Zolder but I have been around long enough to know that things can quickly change and your luck can swing the other way. I know my strength now and that of the opposition but I am not going to start dreaming yet. I like Bellpuig, but from all the tracks in the Championship, I can’t honestly say that I have one favourite. Bellpuig flows and is pretty fast; even last year it was still ok. It was very muddy but every racing situation has its good points no matter what the weather is like.”
Kevin Strijbos: “It has been difficult to ride after Zolder because of the ankle. Everything went well on Saturday after three days rest but I still need some more time for it to be better. I like Bellpuig. The track is fast and I was leading there last year in the mud. I have to hope for good starts like I managed in Zolder and to finish as high as I can.”
Current World Championship points (after 1 round): 1. Everts 45, 2. Pichon 44, 3. Smets 41, 4. Townley 36, 5. de Dijcker 30, 6. Strijbos 29, 7. Coppins 25, 8. Cooper 24, 9. Noble 21, 10. Barragan 20.