Proton Team KR riders Jeremy McWilliams and Nobuatsu Aoki made a strong start to the final GP of the 2003 season, at Valencia, both well placed in today's first qualifying session.

At one point, McWilliams was as high as seventh, losing ground in the closing stages as rivals put on soft qualifying tyres for single fast laps - but he still finished ahead of both Suzuki, Kawasakis, two Yamahas, a Honda, and Aprilia and a WCM.

"You're never happy to see yourself out of the top ten, but we're going okay for the bike's first time at this track," said 13th fastest McWilliams. "It's quite nice to have that pressure, of having to learn everything quickly. We've already tried three different gearing combinations today, and though it's still not right, it's close.

"I expected to be at more of a disadvantage here because we still don't have as much grunt as the other bikes, but in fact I could pull a lot of it back in the twisty mid section and the long last left-hander," revealed the Ulsterman. "The Bridgestone tyres are also working well. Last time we rode here in cold conditions like this, on the two-stroke, we had a lot of problems with grip. They've pulled their game up a bit since then."

"I ran off the track in that session because of a gearbox problem I've been having - skipping gears or getting false neutrals," explained 18th fastest team-mate Aoki. "Otherwise it is coming pretty good. I'm struggling for grip on the right-hand side of the tyre. Even with a qualifying tyre it took three laps before it was warm enough ... but by then the left-hand side was losing grip! We will make some suspension changes tomorrow to try and get more feeling."

"We're going okay, in the mid-field," commented team owner Kenny Roberts. "It shows that we've made a lot of ground, from where we started with this bike earlier in the year. There's nothing new on these race bikes, but we have a new chassis arriving shortly for tests next week, to push things forward for next year."

Proton Team KR is yet to announce its 2004 rider line-up.



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