“I hope we can go well there again”
The Repsol Honda Team moves north across Europe this week for round four of the 2009 MotoGP World Championship - the Grand Prix of France at the Bugatti circuit in Le Mans.
In contrast to the fast turns of the last race at Jerez,
Le Mans presents a more stop-start challenge and the factory Honda team will be seeking further progress from the RC212V after showing good pace in the Spanish Grand Prix.
Both Repsol Honda riders like the nature of the Le Mans circuit and arrive at the historic venue - famous for its 24-hour car and motorcycle races - confident they can build on their promising starts to the 2009 season. Dani Pedrosa will be determined to pose a real threat to his rivals in Le Mans after an impressive second place at his home event in Jerez. The Spaniard led for much of the race, proving that his injury-hit pre-season can be now forgotten and the serious business of challenging for victories every weekend can begin.
Pedrosa had a peerless record at Le Mans in the smaller Grand Prix formulae, finishing third in the 125cc race in 2002, before a three-year winning streak from 2003 to 2005, first in the 125cc class and then in 250s. In 2006 Pedrosa made the podium on his MotoGP debut at the French track having set pole position. He was on pole again last year and set the fastest lap of the race on his way to fourth at the chequered flag. In typical fashion, 23-year-old Pedrosa remains utterly focused in the run-up to the French Grand Prix and knows that his rivals will be strong once again in Le Mans, but it's a certainty that the three-time World Champion will be eyeing the top step of the podium when the start lights go out on Sunday.
“After the Jerez race I'm quite happy to be going to Le Mans because this is another circuit I like and I hope we can go well there again”, he said. “It's a track where the weather is often quite unstable and this means we usually have a busy weekend because we have to be prepared to set the bike up for a wide range of weather conditions and temperatures. Still, we have 15 minutes more practice time in each session which should help us with this, and it'll be interesting to see how our allocation of 20 tyres copes with the extra time too. Some of our rivals' machines usually perform well at Le Mans so we need to be really focused on getting our bike to work well here. Personally, I've had some good results at Le Mans including few victories in 125 and 250, so it's a circuit where I have quite a lot of confidence, so I hope to convert that into a good result this weekend."
Andrea Dovizioso will also be targeting the podium this weekend at a track that has brought him significant success in the past.
The Italian won the 125cc race here in 2004 as part of a five-year podium streak which began in 2003 in the 125cc class and included three 250cc podiums. Dovizioso has already displayed his race pace and talent this season and lies fifth in the World Championship standings after three rounds. He and his crew will be working to extract the absolute maximum from the RC212V package this weekend.
“I always look forward to racing in Le Mans and I'm determined to work really hard this weekend. I know that I have to improve and we also need to focus on getting the best out of our machine package. Dani's recent results in Japan and Spain have given me extra motivation because he's shown what the bike is capable of”, he said. “I have always had good results at this track so I'm hoping I can repeat those. The circuit is quite slow and narrow, and it has a lot of changes of direction – it's a technical track. The changes to the first chicane have robbed Le Mans of part of its fascination, which is unfortunate, but it's still a circuit I like. The only issue here is the weather, because it rains quite often and we've already had enough rain this year!"
In a change from the previous races this season, the practice periods in Le Mans return to one-hour in duration - up from the 45-minute sessions at the first three races of 2009. The change has been made by the FIM after it was decided by the Grand Prix Commission that one-hour sessions are needed to give the teams sufficient time to conduct the extensive set-up work required prior to the race. The Friday morning practice will not be reintroduced, however, because the original reduction in practice time was made to cut the mileage covered during a race weekend, thus reducing costs.
So, first practice for the Grand Prix of France begins at 13.55 on Friday, with further practice and qualifying sessions taking place on Saturday. Sunday's 28-lap race begins at 14.00, local time.