Estoril : Repsol Honda - Preview
The penultimate round of this enthralling 2006 MotoGP season begins at the Estoril circuit in one week's time with everything to play for in the riders' world championship.
Repsol Honda ace Nicky Hayden goes to the Grand Prix of Portugal
holding a 12-point lead in the standings with a maximum of 50 points available from the final two races. A strong result at the 4.182km (2.597 miles) track near Lisbon will set Hayden up nicely for the last round at Valencia.
With further development work carried out on his evolution RC211V during two days of testing following the previous race at Motegi, Hayden aims to reclaim the dominant form he's shown for much of the season. The 25-year-old American is the only MotoGP rider to have scored points at every race this year and, having signed a new two-year deal with Repsol Honda at the Grand Prix of Japan last month, he'll be more determined than ever to take the coveted crown.
On paper there are four other riders in with a chance of the world title and one of them is Hayden's team-mate, Dani Pedrosa, who celebrated his 21st birthday five days after the Grand Prix of Japan. The reigning 250cc world champion has suffered some bad luck in the last two races and slipped from second place to fifth in the riders' standings. Despite this, Pedrosa was crowned MotoGP Rookie of the Year in Japan and is only 34 points behind Hayden. Mathematically he still has a chance of the overall title, though with four riders ahead of him in the points standings it's looking like a tough task for the young Spaniard.
Last year's Grand Prix of Portugal was the second race of the 2005 season meaning it's a full eighteen months since the MotoGP series last visited Estoril. Situated on a hill 30km from Lisbon and a short distance from the Atlantic coast, Estoril has a reputation as a windy circuit. Rain showers are frequent too, and last year's race was the first where the new flag-to-flag wet race regulations came into play. On that occasion Alex Barros completed the triple of pole position, race win, and fastest lap for Camel Honda on the RC211V. Though Repsol Honda riders Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa don't rate Estoril among their favourite tracks, they'll be striving to replicate such a dominant performance this weekend.
Practice for round 16 of the MotoGP world championship starts on Friday, with qualifying on Saturday and Sunday's 28-lap race beginning at 13.00 local time (CET).
Nicky Hayden (Championship: 1st – 236 points)
"I'm quite excited about the whole weekend in Portugal. It's a huge race for me – I know that and I'm prepared for it. The team had a couple of days testing after the last race in Japan and we made some progress there, so I'm definitely looking forward to this one. It seems like a long time since we were last at Estoril because it was the second race last year. It's probably the track on the whole GP calendar that I've got the least experience at. I missed one year there because of my knee and collarbone, and last year it was a wet race, and I've never tested at Estoril. Last year I didn't have a very good result there and I struggled a lot so I'm looking forward to definitely improve this time around."
Dani Pedrosa (Championship: 5th – 202 points)
"The target is to get a good result here because the last two results in Australia and Japan have been a little disappointing for me. Estoril is not one of my favourite tracks and my previous results here could have been better, but I've been on pole position twice before so it's a track I can go well at. I haven't ridden the RC211V here before though, so I'll have to learn the track quickly on Friday. Of course the weather could play a part because it's quite unstable at Estoril and it often rains. I'm feeling better and stronger thanks to the short break following the Japan race so I'm looking forward to getting back on the bike again and putting in a good result."