Motegi : Camel Yamaha - Preview
The final leg of an exhausting Grand Prix triple-header takes place in Japan this weekend as the chase for the MotoGP World Championship heads north from Australia with Camel Yamaha Team rider Valentino Rossi now the closest he has been to
the series lead since the third round of the season in Turkey.
Third place for the Italian at Phillip Island on Sunday moved him to within 21 points of Nicky Hayden (Honda), with this weekend's event at the Motegi circuit in the Tochigi prefecture providing another opportunity to cut that gap even further before the series returns to Europe for two final races in Portugal and Spain.
As well as lifting him up to second place in the championship, Rossi's 89th top-three career finish in the premier class also moved him ahead of Giacomo Agostini in the all- time podiums list, with just Mick Doohan above him on 95. The 27-year-old's goal is to add to that tally with his 59th victory at a circuit where he has already celebrated on the top step in 2001.
The statistics don't make such good reading for Rossi's Camel Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards, whose impressive run of point-scoring finishes ended on 34 in Australia – just three short of another of Doohan's records. Edwards has a best finish of sixth at Motegi but he is doubly determined to improve on that in front of Yamaha's army of Japanese fans, who last saw him retiring from the Suzuka 8 Hour race with a mechanical problem in July.
Designed in 1997 as a test venue, Motegi has ultra-modern facilities although the outstanding paddock is not quite matched by the intricacies and character of a somewhat geometric circuit layout.
A bump-free surface offers good levels of grip without being particularly abrasive, but the proliferation of second gear turns, linked for the most part by mini-drag strips, means braking and acceleration are the main prerequisite to a fast lap time, and consistency the key to a good race.
"Motegi is a stop and go track so it's very important to be very strong and stable on the brakes," explains Andrea Zugna, Colin Edwards' Data Technician. "You need a good front fork setting and then the engine braking setting is also very important. You also need to be strong on the acceleration in order to be able to get away quickly, otherwise you're going to be passed at the next braking point. It is quite stressful on the front tyre because of the long braking sections, so you need the right front setting to cope with this."
"It wasn't a very easy weekend for Colin last year; we didn't really find a way for him to have enough confidence in the front tyre for the race, so this is something we really need to work on from Friday morning this year. The Yamaha's strongest point is agility so it doesn't necessarily play to our strengths, but the M1 worked okay in Malaysia so we can start from this setting and hopefully make improvements from there."