Hayden aims for first podium
Repsol Honda RC212V rider Dani Pedrosa returns to Europe for the French GP holding a seven point lead at the top of the 2008 MotoGP World Championship.
The Spaniard has made an impressive start to this season with a win, two second-pace
finishes and a third from the first four races. Team-mate Nicky Hayden meanwhile comes to Le Mans gunning for his first podium of the year. The American has already come close, taking a hard-fought fourth place at Jerez and sliding off at Estoril while in the running for a top-three result.
Le Mans' Bugatti circuit is one of the oldest tracks on the MotoGP calendar. Constructed in 1965, it is much shorter than the mostly public roads course used for the famous Le Mans 24 car race. The Bugatti circuit has hosted motorcycle GPs on and off since 1969. The layout is characterised by low-speed corners and straights, making acceleration and braking performance primordial.
This year's French Grand Prix commences a gruelling midseason run of seven races over ten weekends which will test riders, bikes and teams to the limit. Le Mans is followed in quick-fire order by the Italian, Catalan, British, Dutch, German and American world rounds.
Following post-French GP tests at Le Mans, Hayden will return to the USA to ride a demo lap aboard a 2007 Repsol Honda RC212V just before the start of the 92nd Indy 500 car race. This prime-time spot, in front of a huge trackside and TV audience, will promote the inaugural Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix on September 14.
I'm looking forward to getting to Le Mans.
We will have a lot of work to do and we want to work hard to prepare as well as possible for the race. This is the fifth race of the year and it is also the start of the busiest part of the season with seven grands prix over ten weekends. The most exciting part of the Le Mans track is after the first chicane, going downhill and through the long-right hander. The most complicated section is the final few corners after the second chicane. The most important factors at Le Mans are good acceleration and good brakes. You also need to make sure that you choose exactly the right gearbox ratios. And you need to ride aggressively. The weather can be a worry because it often rains. It's usually cold as well, so we normally use intermediate tyres. You get a lot of fans there, the grandstands are full on Sunday and the atmosphere is always great, it seems like they are really enthusiastic motorcycling fans.
We'll be aiming to step it up at Le Mans. We've not quite been there the last few races and we need to change that. I like Le Mans but there's not a whole lot to be said about the track. I like going over the top of the hill after the first chicane and dropping down into that right-hander, then accelerating out of there; that's probably my favourite part of the track. There's not a lot of flow to the layout. I'd say the last little bit looks like something they threw together just to finish the lap, like they were in a hurry to get it done. You need the bike to be stable on the brakes, for sure, you definitely need something for some hard braking. You also need good acceleration from the engine, something that's smooth and controllable off the bottom. The weather can change a lot too, so your tyre picks on Thursday are pretty crucial. The track can generate some pretty high temperatures in the tyres and you need good traction accelerating out of all the hairpins because the asphalt at Le Mans can be quite slippery.