Proton Team KR riders Jeremy McWilliams and Nobuatsu Aoki are hoping to find some surprises at the Twin Ring Motegi, the venue for this weekend's Pacific GP and the first of a gruelling trio of far-flung flyaway races for the MotoGP circus.

The circuit, carved out of the mountains an hour or two away from Tokyo, has a simple stop-and-go layout that, on the face of it, favours machines with the emphasis on sheer horsepower and acceleration. That includes not only the new-generation 990cc four-strokes, but also the four-cylinder 500cc two-strokes that also contest the class. By contrast, the Proton KR3, a lightweight three-cylinder 500cc two-stroke, takes the opposite approach, concentrating on good braking and very high corner speed, at the expense of brute power.

However, at Le Mans, the somewhat similar venue for the French GP, the two silver Protons far exceeded downbeat expectations, achieving a pair of top ten finishes, with Aoki in fifth, the best result of the season so far.

"You just don't know what to expect with the new series," said team manager Chuck Aksland, "This year, we've been on both sides of the surprises. We've had some good results at tracks where we didn't expect to go well, but also some reliability problems that meant we haven't always achieved the results we expected.

"With the bike and our two riders going so well, we can definitely hope for another pleasant surprise at Motegi. It is the home race for Nobu, and for Bridgestone tyres, and both will be putting in a special effort, and I'm sure Bridgestone will bring some good tyres for the track."

"I hope all the Japanese material works well for my team!" Aoki added, "Unfortunately, Motegi could be pretty tough for the Proton. The corners are joined by drag-strips, and we need more push from the engine. But I hope the tyres will help, because our bike can go onto the straights faster than the other ones."

Both riders would be using the standard chassis, with the development chassis used in the middle of the season now consigned to the past.

"That chassis was completely different in the approach to the rear suspension geometry," Aksland continued, "It had a lot of advantages, which we have been able to incorporate into the standard chassis. It also inspired a lot of thought and creativity with our engineers, and we learned a great deal from it ... so it definitely served its

The team's only question mark concerns McWilliams, who sustained a collarbone fracture when he fell in wet conditions at the Rio GP in Brazil. With just two weeks between the races, the Ulster rider has been receiving intensive physiotherapy in a battle to be fit. He is determined to race, but even he was not certain whether he would be up to putting in 100 per cent effort.

"I've been doing physio every day since I got back from Brazil, but I still can't do much with my arm," the Irishman admitted, "The best thing is I have an excuse to go to Japan a day later ... to keep on with the physio. I can't see that I'll give it 100 per cent, but I can't really afford to miss a race. I'll be riding, and I'll be giving it my best. Even without the injury Motegi might have been tough for us. But I always push myself, and we'll see what happens."

The Pacific GP is the second race of the season in Japan, and the 13th of 16 rounds this year. Racing goes on without a break over the next two weeks, with the Malaysian GP at Sepang one week after Motegi, and the Australian GP at Phillip Island the next weekend, before the season finishes at Valencia two weeks later.



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