This Sunday's GP of Valencia closes a hectic 2003 season for Proton Team KR: While its rivals have contested some of the most competitive blue-riband racing ever, the unique British-based team have been engaged in an even greater struggle... to design, build, develop and then race a fully independent specialised Grand Prix motorcycle, against the full might of the Japanese and Italian factories.

The team's challenge for 2003 was to build their own 990cc four-stroke. Former triple 500cc champion and racing legend Kenny Roberts swallowed hard at the much greater costs and technical complexities, then decided to make his own high-tech V5 four-stroke.

The season began as engineers were still destruction-testing the first batches of engine parts. After testing only on airfields, the bike saw its first proper race-track at Le Mans, where it ran in practice for the fourth round of the year. The testing and development programme thus began directly - not in private, but in the full heat of the GP season.

The new bikes started fitfully, but almost day and night work by the team and back at Banbury saw it become steadily faster and more reliable over the coming races. At the 13th round, the howling KR V5 scored its first points, when Nobuatsu Aoki was 14th in the Pacific GP. It was only the seventh time the bike had raced, and the result came in the Japanese heartland of the dominant racing factories.

Two races later team-mate Jeremy McWilliams was a strong 11th in Australia, underlining a late-season turning point for the infant racer.

Aoki and McWilliams will race basically the same machines at Valencia, but the end of the beginning is also the beginning of stage two. Both riders will stay on after the final Spanish round for two days of testing a brand-new chassis ... the first of a series of evolutionary developments that will take the V5 motorcycle on from first prototype towards fully competitive racer.

"We're looking forward to this race so we can get on to the next step," said team manager Chuck Aksland. "We'll be testing a new frame that is more towards the 2004 machine, back to back with the old one.

"We take that information back, then build it in to the bike we will test at the beginning of next year with some redesigned engine components - the cylinder head will be the first, with more modifications coming probably after the first few races," continued Aksland.

"The whole motorcycle will be tidier for the 2004 version ... but it's more evolution than a complete overhaul," he revealed. "We've raced the four-stroke for six months. We're confident we can make the chassis performance better. We know we need more engine performance, and we're working on that right now."

Proton Team KR has yet to confirm their 2004 rider line-up.

 

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