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Swiss aim for glory in world motorcycling

This season could be decisive for Thomas Lüthi's career Keystone

Four Swiss motorcyclists will being taking part in this weekend's Grand Prix in Qatar, which marks the beginning of the 2009 World Championship.

Motorcycling journalist Bernard Jonzier tells swissinfo it’s a “historic” occasion for the Swiss.

In 2005 Thomas Lüthi became the first Swiss rider to win a world champion title in more than two decades. But over the past few years the Bernese has struggled with injuries.

He will have to show some progress this season if he wants to rival the best riders in the MotoGP, the world’s premier motorcycling championship.

After Lüthi, two other Swiss riders, Randy Krummenacher and Dominique Aegerter, want to make a name for themselves on the circuits in 2009.

In addition Bastien Chesaux, a 17-year-old who is already in the same category as Lüthi, will also be closely followed.

To have four riders at Grand Prix level is more than satisfying for Jonzier, a passionate commentator on the sport for French-language Swiss television.

swissinfo: The motorcycling season begins this week with four Swiss riders on the starting grid. Is that a sign that the sport in Switzerland is in good shape?

Bernard Jonzier: It’s historic. Never before have there been three Swiss with the status of official rider at the start of the season [Lüthi, Krummenacher and Aegerter]. As an official rider you have the best constructor’s bike and you therefore have a material advantage. It’s quite simply incredible for a small country like Switzerland.

swissinfo: The biggest expectations will fall on the shoulders of Lüthi. It’s his third season riding in the 250cc category. Will he be able to live up to the high hopes?

B.J.: I have some fears about him. He simply has to come up with the goods this year. At the least, he has to win one race and finish on the podium three or four times. He knows that he is fighting to save his career. I think the first few Grand Prix will play a determining role.

If all goes well at the beginning, he will be able to build up some confidence. If the opposite happens, he will put himself under pressure and try too hard. Then I fear it will become difficult.

swissinfo: Has the bad fall he suffered in September in Indianapolis hampered his preparations?

B.J.: Definitely. When a rider is injured and immediately gets back on his bike, he quickly forgets what happened. But Thomas missed three Grand Prix. He fell badly on his head and was unconscious for half an hour. Then every day he could see the scars from the accident – that had to shake him up. He has to regain confidence to wipe out the psychological effects. The only way of doing that is to achieve good results.

swissinfo: Another Swiss, Bastien Chesaux, steps up into the 250cc class this season. At 17, he’s the youngest Swiss rider in this category. Does that mean he’s the Swiss champion of tomorrow?

B.J.: It’s a bit too soon to say. He could no longer ride in the 125cc class because he was too tall and so he made an early entry into the class above. He’s the only one of the four Swiss who is not an official rider and who will not ride with a factory bike. His experience is three seasons of competition and eight Grand Prix.

Everything has happened very quickly for him but he is right to seize his chance. He’s well aware that it will be difficult and he needs to show patience. This is not the strongest quality of bike riders.

swissinfo: What can we expect of Krummenacher and Aegerter?

B.J.: Podium places or even victories. These two riders are extremely talented and showed last season that they can compete with the best. They will have to do some fine-tuning during the first few Grand Prix and I think that they will then be ready to fight for podium places by the time we reach the halfway stage of the season.

swissinfo: More generally, if you add the name of Swiss Formula 1 driver Sébastien Buemi, you see that motor sport is astonishing in Switzerland.

B.J.: Yes. Seeing Lüthi as world champion was as though a football club without a pitch had won the World Cup. If you want to ride on a motorcycle circuit, you have to go abroad and that demands a lot of sacrifices from the riders.

For a country with little exposure on the international scene, few sponsors and which is not a big market, having a Formula 1 driver and three official riders on the motorcycle circuits is almost a miracle.

swissinfo: Swiss television broadcasts all the Formula 1 and motorcycle Grand Prix. Are the Swiss particularly fond of motor sports?

B.J.: The Swiss public is always a little chauvinistic and is therefore very interested by good performances of Swiss drivers and riders. There’s a long tradition of motor sport in Switzerland. It’s difficult to explain because in Austria, for example, a country about the same size as ours which also has many winding roads, there have been practically no great racers.

Switzerland has been producing champions for more than 40 years. Jo Siffert and Clay Regazzoni stirred up passions in Formula 1. In motorcycling, Luigi Taveri was a legendary world champion who achieved an unbelievable number of victories.

swissinfo-interview: Samuel Jaberg

The World Motor Cycle Championship begins on April 12 in Qatar and ends on November 8 in Valencia. A total of 18 races take place for both 125cc and 250cc categories.

This season, riders will have one qualifying session before the races, on Saturday afternoons, instead of the previous two.

Four Swiss riders are taking part: Thomas Lüthi and Bastien Chesaux in the 250cc category, with Randy Krummenacher and Dominique Aegerter in the 125cc class.

Bernard Jonzier, who is almost 60, is one of the most knowledgeable people on the motorcycle scene. During his career as a journalist, which began in 1976, he worked for a number of newspapers and specialised publications. He has also written two books on motor sport.

Jonzier joined French-language Swiss television in 1981 and became the main commentator of Grand Prix motorcycle races.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR