Phillip Island : Repsol Honda - Preview
The MotoGP championship makes the swift dash from Sepang to Phillip Island for round 14 of the 17-race 2006 World Championship. The Australian Grand Prix follows hot on the heels of an eventful weekend in Malaysia which saw the Repsol
Honda pairing of Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa maintain their one-two positions in the riders' world championship. With just four races to go the climax to this exciting season is intensifying.
Hayden's phenomenal 2006 has seen him at the top of the points standings since round three in Turkey and the American rider will be looking for another strong race at Phillip Island, a circuit he really likes. Although the 25-year-old ace from Kentucky was frustrated to finish fourth in Malaysia, the result maintains a healthy 22-point lead at the head of the standings.
Hayden rates the undulating 4.448km (2.764 miles) Australian track as one of his favourites. He scored his first Grand Prix podium here in 2003 on his way to clinching the Rookie of the Year award. Last year he set pole position and was only a whisker away from taking the win, finishing just one second behind Valentino Rossi.
Dani Pedrosa comes to Phillip Island after an extraordinary weekend in Malaysia. A crash in Friday practice while topping the timesheets left the 20-year-old Spanish sensation with a nasty cut in his right knee and a cracked bone in his left toe. Suffering pain in both legs, he struggled in the next practice sessions and looked highly unlikely to race at all, only to take the lead from the start and eventually finish in a close third place, 3.8 s behind the winner.
With just four days off before he has to ride again, Pedrosa will travel to Melbourne where he'll meet the same specialist he saw in 2003 after an ankle injury.
The reigning 250cc World Champion is one of the few riders who doesn't rave about the Phillip Island circuit, but this is no reason not to expect another extraordinary performance from the tough Barcelona rider this weekend. Pedrosa now sits 22 points behind Hayden in second place in the championship and, having tested here during the winter, the MotoGP rookie will benefit from previous experience of the Honda RC211V on this track.
Phillip Island is one of the most popular circuits on the calendar with both riders and fans thanks to the unique challenges presented by its exposed location and demanding combination of corners. Lying just off the coast of Australia near Melbourne, the fast anti-clockwise circuit is very exposed to the weather which makes high winds and kamikaze seagulls a real hazard to MotoGP bikes reaching 330km/h (205mph) on the main straight.
The Repsol Honda Team will need to adapt quickly to weather in Australia which promises to be in stark contrast to the previous race. Whereas the Malaysian Grand Prix was held in sweltering conditions – a tropical storm caused qualifying to be cancelled on Saturday and the race-day temperatures reached 33 degrees Celcius – at Phillip Island it could easily 20 degrees lower, dramatically affecting the performance of the tyres, engine, suspension and rider.
"Phillip Island is one of my favourite tracks for sure. I love the layout, the atmosphere and the racing there so I'm looking forward to having a strong weekend," said Nicky Hayden. "Every day and every session needs to be fast and consistent so we'll be looking to come out strong on Friday morning and have some fun here. My boys are working really hard and I've got a strong team behind me so we'll give it all we've got for these final four races. Last year I was on pole position and I was second in the race so I've had some good result at this track – and I definitely need one this weekend."
"Malaysia was a strange weekend because I was actually very close to deciding not to race at all, yet in the end the result was very good considering my physical condition. But I have received some injuries and of course this doesn't help me with the next two races being so close together," added Dani Pedrosa. "It would be nice if I can improve my physical condition before Phillip Island because the race in Malaysia was quite difficult and I was very tired at the end. We only have four days off which is not a lot for the body to recover, nevertheless I will be working to keep the flexibility in both legs and resting as much as possible. I tested at Phillip Island during the winter so I have some experience of a MotoGP bike on the track, though it's not one of my favourite circuits. Let's see how the weather is like there – I think it will be cold."