Returning former World Champion Ben Townley has been a frequent sight on social media while training and preparing with the new-look Team Suzuki World MXGP team in recent weeks.
The 30-year-old is adjusting to the 2016 RM-Z450 next to Kevin Strijbos in outings in Spain and Belgium as he readies himself for Grand Prix action for the first time since 2012.
“It has been a smooth couple of weeks and I had time to catch my breath since the transition [from New Zealand]. We headed down to Spain and the riding was going well,” Townley said exclusively. “I came over earlier than planned because I wanted to be fully integrated and have the full benefit of the team. If this is going to only a one-year thing then I don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”
The New Zealander returned to the international motocross map after an impressive run behind MXGP World Champ Romain Febvre at the Motocross of Nations last September and new Suzuki General Manager Stefan Everts took a chance on ‘BT’ who has mixed notable results, speed and a spate of injuries since winning the first MX2 crown in 2004 and East Coast 250SX spoils two years later. It was the effects of a concussion in 2012 that forced Townley to walk away from competitive racing and take up a rider development role with HRC.
Townley made his Grand Prix debut on a RM125 Suzuki back in 2001 but had not ridden the manufacturer’s four-stroke RM-Z technology after stints with KTM, Kawasaki and Honda from 2002 onwards. Townley’s potential with the Suzuki is a mystery and while he has the speed and experience to be a Grand Prix threat, his competitiveness with the works RM-Z450 is one of the talking points in MXGP only a month before the launch of the season in Qatar.
“We’re really close,” he commented when asked if his race bike was fettled for the forthcoming campaign. “I did my testing before Christmas but now we are left with just a couple of bits and pieces.”
“It fits really well,” he assesses of the RM-Z. “Obviously I’ve been on a Honda for a long time, mostly since 2008, and felt comfortable with that. My impression is that the Suzuki is very balanced, there is nothing abnormal and I didn’t need to feel cautious. It fit my style very well. I don’t have to worry about it being unstable, it turns pretty well and ticks all the boxes of what I’d want from a bike and you cannot say that often of many motorcycles. I like the KYB suspension for sure and the electronics are really good. I think we have made progress and will be ready for Qatar.”
Regarding his chances of upsetting Febvre, Desalle, Cairoli, Paulin and co, Townley has been able to use testing mileage next to Kevin Strijbos (third in the championship in 2014) as his only form of reference so far. “I can gauge it from Kevin and he is going very fast so in terms of speed I don’t think I need to worry,” he says. “I have a good feeling on the bike even if I didn’t have Kevin. It is not like I am riding blind. I have a better feeling than I did at Ernee [the ’15 MX of Nations] but the difference is now that I have a superb team with a lot of resources behind me. I feel competitive and like I am ready to race at that level.”
“Since Ernee I have lived like a rider and athlete and have been very focussed,” he adds. “I haven’t looked at any websites and kept away from the internet. I wanted to be an open book and immerse myself in the team.”
Townley is the first rider on the official entry list for 2016 courtesy of his number #8 in what is also a major change for Suzuki on the Grand Prix scene.