For the Grand Prix of France
The Repsol Honda Team returns to European soil this weekend for the French Grand Prix on Sunday May 20 at the famous Le Mans circuit.
Round five of the motorcycle World Championship marks the beginning of an intense schedule of racing
which sees seven Grands Prix taking place in the space of under ten weeks, with the MotoGP paddock travelling to France, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and the United States in quick succession.
World Champion Nicky Hayden has vowed to fight back in Le Mans after a tough start to the 2007 season. The 25-year-old American and his crew saw some useful improvements at the last round in China before Hayden was unfortunate to be caught up in a first corner incident that cost him the chance of a good finish. Le Mans is not one of Hayden's more successful circuits to date, but the title holder is ready to change that this weekend and give his championship defence a much-needed boost.
The Le Mans race will mark Dani Pedrosa's 100th Grand Prix start. The 21-year-old Repsol Honda star made his debut in the 125cc class at the 2001 Grand Prix of Japan and already has three World Championships to his name in the 125cc class in 2003 and the 250cc class in 2004 and 2005. Pedrosa has a very strong record at Le Mans.
Last year he recorded his second pole position in successive races and became the youngest ever rider to secure back-to-back poles in the premier class of Grand Prix racing. The Spaniard won the 125cc race in 2003 at Le Mans and also took victory in the 250cc races in 2004 and 2005. Pedrosa also led the MotoGP race for three laps last year before an incorrect tyre choice forced him to settle for third after a last-lap dice with Loris Capirossi.
Le Mans was re-profiled for last year's race, with changes made at Turn One to improve safety. The circuit features several slow corners between straights which puts an emphasis on stability under braking and strong engine drive from low revs rather than outright top speed. This contrasts with the previous race at the Shanghai International Circuit which featured the longest straight on the Grand Prix calendar where the Repsol Honda of Dani Pedrosa reached a top speed of 332.6km/h (206.5mph). This is significantly faster the 290km/h (180mph) top speeds expected from the new 800cc MotoGP machines at Le Mans.
Again, Le Mans is a circuit which has not seen any winter testing and the Repsol Honda riders will be working closely with Michelin on Thursday to select the right tyre strategy for the weekend. As this is Michelin's home Grand Prix, it's certain the French tyre company will be targeting a strong performance in Sunday's 28-lap race, which begins at 14:00hrs local time.
Nicky Hayden :
I really need get a good result for myself and for the team in France, and we'll definitely be going all out for that. I wouldn't say Le Mans is one of my favourite tracks, but that's just probably because I have never had a very good result there, which can take the fun out of any track I guess. So I hope all that changes this weekend. We've still got some distance to go to get the bike working for me and put ourselves in a position to fight for wins, but the guys are right behind me and I know Honda's pushing hard to improve the performance and Michelin too. Things have been tough this year, and when I heard the news on Sunday in China that my little cousin had been killed in a flat-track accident it really put things back in perspective quickly. That was a tough one for sure that hit too close to home, but I just hope to get a solid result in his memory this weekend. Honestly though after the week and all that's happened, I really can't wait to get back in saddle, and to the sport I love.
Dani Pedrosa :
Le Mans is a circuit where I've had some good races in previous years so I'm hoping this visit will be the same. Since it's the first time we will ride the new 800cc machines at Le Mans, our primary target will be to find the right way to set up the bike especially the gearing because there are many sections of acceleration out of slow corners and it's very important to have the best possible drive at these points. Let's hope the weather stays clear and gives us enough dry track time to do this. The end result at the last race in China was not bad, but we'll really be looking to take another step forward in Le Mans and fight for the top positions. I was able to take pole position at Le Mans last year and then had a little tyre problem in the race and couldn't stay in the lead. However, I'm sure Michelin will be working very hard for their home race and I hope we can get a good result for them and the team.