The debut MotoGP season comes to an end at Valencia this weekend, at the track that saw Suzuki's best result last year.

This year, the new GSV-R 990cc four-stroke prototype is nearing the end of its first season of on-track race-development. The Telef?nica MoviStar Suzuki team hopes the omens will be good for the new bike to finish its first year as it started.

The big baritone Suzuki, youngest of the new-generation Japanese GP four-strokes, aced its first-ever race, with factory wild card rider Akira Ryo leading the first half of the Japanese GP at Suzuka, and finishing a close second to eventual champion Valentino Rossi.

Seven months and 14 more hard races later, the GSV-R and riders Kenny Roberts Jr. and Sete Gibernau face the 2002 machine's last GP from a position of greater strength. The 200-plus horsepower four-camshaft V4 is now a race-hardened and much more mature motorcycle, with a string of improving results to prove it. The GSV-R has developed in leaps and bounds from the first prototype raced at Suzuka.

History is on the side of the Suzuki riders, in two ways. There is the build-up through this season, as new hardware, software and ideas have been applied to the Mk1 MotoGP machine race by race. It has become increasingly competitive. Since the summer break, Roberts and Gibernau between them have led races, and racked up top five and even top-three results.

There is last year's history. Late summer rains on race day opened a window of opportunity to the Telef?nica MoviStar Suzuki pair, as others struggled to cope with the conditions. Roberts and Gibernau fought a breath-taking tooth-and-nail battle with Brazilian Alex Barros. At the finish they were still separated by inches, with Gibernau taking his first GP win and Suzuki's first of the year, Roberts joining him on the rostrum in third.

Nobody is under any illusions that it will be easy, at a punishingly tight circuit against a field of rival four-strokes in ever-increasing numbers. They also have the benefit of a full season behind them. The tortuous Ricardo Tormo circuit will also favour a last chance for the die-hard 500cc two-strokes, which have challenged strongly towards the close of the first season that allowed the 990cc four-strokes to compete in their traditional stronghold.

It will be a tough contest for the final honours.

"It's strange. I really don't like the nature of the Valencia circuit, and it's hard to ride one of these things there. But I've had a lot of luck at this circuit," commented Roberts. "Last year, I was third after battling for the lead to the finish, the year before Rossi fell off trying to beat me. Seems like I'm always on the podium there. So while I don't like to go there, I always come away happy. That's my whole outlook for this year too."

"Valencia is a different sort of race track - nice for the crowd, but tough on the riders," noted Gibernau. "I don't mind working hard. We've been doing that all year, chipping away at our problems and doing the best with what we have. And that has meant some good races and results in both wet and dry, from Brno onwards. Last year the race came to us, and we were ready for it. For sure, it was a fantastic moment, to win my first GP at home in Spain. This year, we'll make sure we're ready for it again."

For Suzuki, this last race draws a line under the first stage of an impressively rapid development programme put forward a full year during last winter after very promising bench-tests of the all-new low-friction high-output V4 motor. Instead of a year testing in private followed by a debut in 2003, Suzuki took the bold step of throwing the new baby in at the deep end, ironing out teething troubles in full public gaze, while competing with other MotoGP machines with a year or more of extra development.

The focus at the final weekend is not only on giving the first prototype version of the machine a strong final race, but also to gather yet more data for next year's GSV-R. For 2003, though development will continue as always, the aim is to be race-ready from the start of the year, for an uncompromising full-scale championship assault.

"We worked closely with senior factory personnel at the last rounds in Japan and Malaysia, with everyone making the most of the chance of face-to-face discussions between riders, mechanics and design engineers," said Team Manager Garry Taylor.

"Suzuki promised the team an all-out effort this season, and that's exactly what we got. The factory has worked non-stop to improve the basic machine, with ideas, personnel and equipment coming almost on a race-by-race basis," continued Taylor.

"As the riders have been able to go faster they have unearthed new problems that needed solving. That is the nature of development.

"Along with new levels of performance for this year's motorcycle, we've also been working on ideas and techniques offering further improvements. Next year's machine is on the drawing board already," added Taylor. "It will take everything we've learned this year to the next level."

After a full winter test programme, that machine will make its debut at the season-opening Japanese GP, scheduled for April 6 at Suzuka.

This year's Valencia GP is the 16th race of the season, the fourth on the Iberian peninsula, and the third in Spain. Established in 1999, the race reliably draws big crowds to the spectacular stadium circuit, which packs GP length into a relatively small area, with all the action close at hand.

About this track...

Named in honour of the late former World Champion Ricardo Tormo, the track at Valencia was first used in 1999, and typifies the new-millennium style of stadium circuit, with huge grandstands and natural hillside terraces offering spectators a view of almost the entire 2.489-mile length from a number of possible vantage points.

To achieve this, the distance has been crammed into a very compact area, looping back and forth, and then back again in front of the massed spectators. Inevitably this means a lot of hard braking and only a few overtaking opportunities - but careful design has given the track a fast straight and some challenging faster corners as well.

The lap starts with an epic left-hander, and closes with a series of medium-speed corners taken at high lean angles, but requiring both braking and acceleration - a stimulating riding challenge.

About this race...

The European season started in Spain at Jerez, and closes at Valencia for a fourth year in succession. This year, for the first time, the Valencia race also closes the season, having swapped dates with the Rio race.

The third Spanish race of the year, it is also the last course in a feast of classic action for the Spanish fans, passionate about motorcycle grand prix racing.

GP data - Ricardo Tormo Circuit, Valencia:

Circuit Length: 2.489 miles - 4.005 kmLap Record: 1:36.085 - 93.24 mph, 150.054 km/h, A Criville (Honda) 20002001 Race Winner: Sete Gibernau (Telef?nica MoviStar Suzuki)2001 Race Average: 54:39.391 - 81.96 mph / 131.8961 km/h2001 Fastest Race Lap: Sete Gibernau (Telef?nica MoviStar Suzuki) 1:38.792 - 92.558 mph / 148.958 km/h2001 Pole Position: M Biaggi (Yamaha) 1:34.496
2001 Kenny Roberts: Third, qualified Seventh (Telef?nica MoviStar Suzuki)2001 Winner: Sete Gibernau: First, qualified 12th (Telef?nica MoviStar Suzuki)

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