Tauranga's Ben Townley has dodged a last-minute injury scare and will get his MXGP World Championship campaign started this weekend at the Qatar Grand Prix, raced under floodlights at the Losail circuit.
The 2004 MX2 world champ hurt his knee in a crash at the Valence International event in France nearly a fortnight ago but Team Suzuki World MXGP has confirmed the Kiwi will be fit for the opening round of the world championship.
"I twisted my knee in the Super Final and it didn't feel good so I decided to retire from the race," said Townley.
After a medical check Townley was advised to give his body time to rest and not ride for a couple of days. He was scheduled to be back on his Suzuki RM-Z450 earlier this week to prepare for the MXGP of Qatar.
Townley finished third in the Hawkstone International in the UK and was fourth in the MX1 class at Valence before his crash in the combined MX1-MX2 Super Final.
In spite of the spill at Valence, Townley says the pre-season races have been good preparation.
"I feel like I'm in decent spot. It was good to get a couple races under my belt and see where I was at with race craft," he says. "I would say that I'm probably not ready to win right off the bat, but I should pick up some solid results to get me started."
Townley's place on the Suzuki team alongside Belgian teammate Kevin Strijbos sees him working with newly appointed team manager Stefan Everts, a 10-time world champion. The Suzuki team is deep with experience with MX legends Sylvain Geboers and Harry Everts also in key management positions.
"They are all very experienced and what I can honestly say is that's such a weight off my shoulders as I return to racing," says Townley. "They have collectively everything covered within this organisation here at Suzuki World MXGP.
"I don't have any expectations. Stefan and I have discussed this a lot and my personal goal is to get the best possible starts I can, and that I ride within myself so I can build up from there on."
A number of top riders are injured ahead of the season starting. Ken De Dyker is sidelined with a broken leg and Clement Desalle is in doubt after breaking the radius bone in his left arm at the Valence International. Townley says the Qatar track - built at the Losail venue that will also host the MotoGP season opener in March - will be something of a new challenge. The MXGP season comprises 18 races starting with long haul events in Qatar and Thailand (March 6). The final round is the US Grand Prix at Glen Helen Raceway, California on September 11.