Mertens heads for home round as the new series leader

After a superb win in Assen only a week ago, title defender Stéphane Mertens heads for his home round in Spa-Francorchamps as the new BMW Motorrad BoxerCup 2002 championship provisional leader. The series has so far more than lived up to everyone's expectations, with four different winners in the first four races. For the second half of the eight round championship, the Belgian champion hopes to repeat his string of strong results, and heads for the extremely challenging Spa-Francorchamps racetrack with the firm intention of extending his championship lead.

Mertens (n°1) heads for Spa with a three point lead over Thomas Hinterreiter. "I must say it came as a surprise to take the lead of the series in Assen," admits Mertens. "But looking at the championship so far shows that I have been the most regular rider since the beginning of the season."

"With the exception of the Mugello "affair" I have never finished further down than second. And although the opposition is much stronger than last year, with riders such as Roberto Panichi, Thomas Hinterreiter, Markus Barth or Sébastien Legrelle who all have the potential to ride in world class racing, it seems that my conservative riding has paid off."

"They are all talented and very aggressive riders, but have all made mistakes at one point or another in the series. Compared to last year approximately eight riders have the speed to win a race this season. As a result of this there is absolutely no room for error this year. This is why I've adopted a slightly conservative style of riding, watching my opponents and only making my move when I am sure I can pull it off."

Spa-Francorchamps obviously represents a very special venue for Stéphane Mertens. Not only will he be racing in front of his home crowd, but the tall Belgian will also compete in the 24-Hour endurance race alongside Igor Jerman and Warwick Nowland in the Chinese Zongshen team.

"On top of that BMW Belgium will be holding their own national BoxerCup race, and we will be entitled to use their qualifying practice sessions as free practice sessions for the International BoxerCup. Although this is not compulsory, I'm pretty sure most of the riders in our series will use this extra opportunity to fine tune their machine set-up, and accumulate as much track knowledge as possible."

As often in the Belgian Ardennes forest, weather conditions will play an important role and last year's race was held in appallingly wet weather. "From what we saw in Assen the Metzeler tyres we use this year will definitely be up to the job," said Mertens, conscious that there is now room for error on this very fast and demanding racetrack.