“Defence the priority”
After the disappointment of an unrewarding weekend in Istanbul, the Fiat Yamaha Team take their quest for glory even further east this week as the MotoGP World Championship points-chase stops off in Shanghai.
The Grand Prix of China is the
fourth round of eighteen on this year's gruelling calendar and it promises to be one of the most challenging, with the horsepower-sapping nature of the circuit and the unpredictable weather of the world's ninth largest city sure to play their part.
The past two visits to Shanghai have provided almost polar extremes in the conditions, with a torrential downpour virtually flooding the circuit in the inaugural event of 2005 and then the intense heat of a year ago, when ambient temperatures during the race touched 31ºC, presenting an altogether different challenge. The event has also seen stark contrasts in fortunes for Valentino Rossi, who navigated his way to victory ahead of Olivier Jacque two years ago but suffered front tyre problems in the heat-wave of 2006 and was forced to retire from the race.
Colin Edwards provided some cheer for the team last year by clinching third place in what would prove to be his only podium finish of the campaign. This year the Texan heads to China with a rostrum already under his belt, thanks to his third place at Jerez, following an encouraging start to the season that was only spoiled by an unfortunate crash in Turkey, when he was knocked out of the leading group by another rider on the first lap.
Edwards suffered a cut and swollen knee in the incident and was forced to skip a day of testing at Istanbul Park last Monday but he will be fit to resume action in Friday morning's opening free practice session.
Despite being drawn by the same hand as the Istanbul Park Circuit in Turkey, Shanghai has different characteristics that bring to mind closer comparisons with the other Herman Tilke circuit of Sepang. Combining fast straights and hard braking zones with a series of slow and difficult corners, bike set-up is a question of finding a compromised balance and enough horsepower to deal with the longest straight on the calendar, measuring 1202 metres. The unpredictable conditions and mixed data from previous seasons mean grip levels will be a complete mystery, making life even more difficult for Michelin's engineers as they try to adapt to new tyre restrictions in the most demanding of circumstances.
Fiat Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio says his riders face an uphill challenge in their battle for honours this weekend and admits the onus will be on defence rather than attack in the final ‘flyaway' race before the start of the European term.
The Italian pinpoints the long straights of Shanghai as a potential sticking point for the YZR-M1 but says his team are putting their faith in a new direction of development with Michelin tyres - aimed at an assault on the top positions during the decisive run of races up to summer.
"Turkey was disappointing but at the same time very important to get information and data about where the limit of the tyres is with these new bikes and where they can be improved”, says Brivio. "We had a very good meeting with Michelin and developed some ideas during the test last Monday. Time will tell but it seems we have identified a new direction to work in and we are all keen to get to China to verify those ideas and help Michelin find a tyre that is most suitable for our bike and for our riders' style.”
"China will be a very difficult race for us because of the long straight. It is not a track that allows us to maximise the potential of our bike, which is perhaps stronger at smaller, more ‘rideable' circuits. We really have to go there and defend as much as possible and focus on getting the bike and tyres ready to attack when we return to Europe once more. Hopefully then we can be back fighting for the victory."