At Le Mans
The Fiat Yamaha Team returns from a whirlwind trip to the Orient next week to continue their MotoGP World Championship challenge on more familiar territory in Europe.
Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards enjoyed contrasting fortunes at the last race in China,
with the Italian taking second spot after a spirited ride and the American struggling to tenth with tyre problems, but they both travel to the Le Mans circuit in good spirits for a fifth round that promises to provide an improvement in results and a solid points platform for the rest of the season.
The Grand Prix of France is a home race for the team's tyre suppliers Michelin, who have taken victory in every premier-class race to have been held at Le Mans since 1991. On two occasions their success has been at the hands of Rossi, including his 2005 success with Yamaha, when team-mate Edwards als o tasted the French podium champagne after clinching third place - his first rostrum for the factory. In total Rossi has had five MotoGP podiums at Le Mans, contributing to a career total of 94 - a tally bettered only by Mick Doohan. However, that record could be equalled if Rossi can register number 95 next weekend.
The legendary Bugatti circuit, which has intermittently played home to the MotoGP World Championship since 1969, has been a fixture on the calendar for the last seven seasons. From a technical point of view it is considered one of the most unremarkable; an archetypal stop-go track with the main complication being the first corner - one of the fastest on the calendar - followed by a tight chicane, which requires hard braking at high lean angle.
There are several short straights, interspersed by hairpins and chicanes, calling not just for balance and control under hard and repeated braking but a neat and swift transfer from full braking to full acceleration on the exit of the corners. With nine right-handers and only four lefts, the track is also particularly hard on one side of the tyres.
The Grand Prix of France is the first of a run of six races in just eight weeks on European soil before the series heads to the United States for its final date before the summer break. It represents an intense period for the teams and Fiat Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio believes his riders are now primed to launch the kind of consistent assault on the top positions that will be crucial to mounting a serious challenge for honours at the end of the season.
"This is the start of a very important block of races that will have a huge bearing on how the championship develops before the summer break", says Brivio. "It's a tough schedule for the whole team because we only have three weekends without a race in two months so it's a key part of the season and it puts everybody to the test. We said before China that we were going there to defend and then go on the attack in Europe. That is still our plan but this is an unpredictable season with a lot of strong rivals on the track so there is always a ‘but'!”
"Le Mans is a circuit that has been good to us in the past and it will be extremely interesting to compare the level of our bike with our competitors there just because it is so different to anywhere we have been so far. It doesn't have the long, fast straights of Qatar, Turkey or China but, even so, we know our competitors will be strong. This is a strange season because the new 800 machines and the strong competition between the tyre manufacturers make it impossible to forecast what will happen in each race. Our target for Le Mans and the races that follow it are just to stay as close as we can to the top, finish regularly on the podium and take our chances to win races when they come along."