Kenny Roberts was distinctly under-whelmed today at Sepang, despite many expecting the American to at least feel content with setting the ninth fastest time in today's opening qualifying session.

That performance is a significant improvement over the team's recent results, and was some 1.1secs faster than the American had lapped in qualifying one year ago - also a marked improvement over recent performances. However, KR Jr. appeared unimpressed and is more concerned with beating his 2002 race pace on Sunday afternoon.

"Everything's unchanged here, with nothing new or different from the last race, and we've been going along as usual," he said. "We stayed with the same set-up throughout practice, again the same as in Japan, though we did try some tyres.

"I'd like to go quicker than last year for the race. I was doing 2min 06secs in the race, and we've found it difficult to match our race pace at some tracks," he added.

Roberts is riding the stock machine, incorporating mainly engine developments from Motegi, while wild-card team-mate Akira Ryo was again on the experimental development machine, with a number of variations to chassis, suspension and engine, the outward evidence of which is an exhaust tail pipe on the left rather than the right of the machine.

The Japanese was just 17th fastest today, but is confident of improving both his time and position tomorrow, after finishing in the top ten of the Pacific race last week.

"My bike is the same as at Motegi, and this is my second time at the track, after racing here last year," began Ryo. "I haven't tested here, but it is not such a difficult circuit. It was going okay at the beginning of the session, then we were struggling to find the right rear suspension settings, for the overall balance.

"I wanted to try with a qualifying tyre, but we ran into a problem and there was no time to switch to the other machine. But we have some good ideas to try tomorrow, and still have two qualifying tyres, so I am looking forward to it, and confident I can improve."

Completing a Suzuki Sepang trio should have been second regular rider John Hopkins, but the Anglo-American was controversially disqualified from this race after a first-corner incident in the Pacific GP.

Hopkins has already left for Australia to prepare for the GP there next weekend. His bike, bearing the number 21, was parked idle in the pits, a testimony to the support he has received from other riders and teams in the wake of the decision to rule him out of this race.

"John left Malaysia yesterday, and we are operating with our numbers depleted," began team-manager Garry Taylor. "It's nice to see Kenny achieving a good top ten position, and that Ryo-San is optimistic for tomorrow. We'll take it on from there."



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