Roberts predicts tough ride for Proton Donington will be a 'disaster' for Proton

Kenny Roberts forecast yesterday that today's opening qualifying sessions for the British Grand Prix at Donington Park on Sunday will be "a disaster'' for his British-built Proton KR machines.

Kenny Roberts forecast yesterday that today's opening qualifying sessions for the British Grand Prix at Donington Park on Sunday will be "a disaster'' for his British-built Proton KR machines.

Engineers at the team-owner's factory in Banbury, Oxfordshire, were yesterday racing to complete four different engine designs for the two one-hour sessions at the Leicestershire circuit. But Roberts conceded: "Frankly, we're done this year. We know we're not going to fix our problems this weekend.''

The 100,000 fans expected at Sunday's Grand Prix will no doubt cheer for Roberts' underdog squad but his admission may signal the end of a magnificent dream: to design a world championship-winning motorcycle using an engine created in the heart of Britain's Formula One belt. "We're down on power and the bike is hard to ride,'' Roberts said. "When the riders open the throttle the bike should go, but it doesn't.''

His V5 engine is similar in layout to Honda's RC211V machine, which has dominated Moto GP since the sport was opened up to 990cc four strokes in 2002. But riders Kurtis Roberts - Kenny's 25-year-old son - and Japan's Nobuatsu Aoki have scored only seven points between them in eight races this year.

Roberts, who won three 500cc world championships as a rider, is backed by the Malaysian car-maker Proton and has recruited many Formula One technicians. But the 50-strong team has struggled to keep up with the Japanese giants Honda and Yamaha, who are driving development in Moto GP at a furious pace as they battle for the world title. "We can't compete with them with the budget that we have,'' Roberts said.

But the crisis is unlikely to mean the end for Roberts' team. Since 1997 he has amassed a vast store of knowledge as a maverick manufacturer of beautifully crafted racing motorcycles.

He will probably instead seek to work with an engine manufacturer with greater resources. His name has been linked with the Austrian company KTM, which has already built a V4 suitable for Moto GP competition, and the legendary Italian bike maker MV Agusta, which won 274 Grand Prix races between 1952-76, and even BMW.

Roberts said. "I can't tell you yet what we will be doing in 2005, but I will never lease bikes from a Japanese factory.''

Yamaha's Valentino Rossi will renew his battle with Honda's Sete Gibernau and Max Biaggi in today's provisional qualifying sessions.

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