Jerez : Repsol Honda - Preview
Repsol Honda stars Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa are determined to carry the fight to their rivals at the Grand Prix of Spain this weekend as the second round of the 2007 MotoGP World Championship takes place at Jerez.
Huge crowds are
expected at the Spanish circuit for the first European race of the season and the factory Honda riders will arrive with confidence following last month's successful test at the 4.423km (2.747 miles) track.
21-year-old home-hero Dani Pedrosa will be one of the favourites this weekend, having shown impressive pace on the new 800cc Honda RC212V at the two three-day tests at Jerez over the winter break. The 2006 MotoGP Rookie of the Year finished quickest here at the test in November and was just 0.133s behind Valentino Rossi in the 40-minute 'qualifying' shootout at the official IRTA test last month.
Jerez was also the scene of Pedrosa's spectacular debut MotoGP ride last year where he scored a stunning second place after challenging Loris Capirossi for the win. With the crowd behind him and a podium to his name from the opening race of the season in Qatar two weeks ago, Pedrosa should be a real threat this weekend.
World Champion Nicky Hayden is confident about kick-starting his title defence in Jerez after a problematic first race in Qatar. Though the 25-year-old American struggled to find a good set-up in Round One, finishing eighth, he too put in a strong performance at the IRTA test at Jerez in February finishing fourth overall and will look to follow up on his podium finish in last year's race.
Receiving ever-more support following his heroic World Championship victory last season, Hayden too can expect a warm welcome from the 200,000 plus fans who will pack the spectator banks surrounding the picturesque circuit.
With no long straight, the Jerez track has a different set of characteristics to the Losail circuit in Qatar which hosted the opening race of the 2007 season two weeks ago. A flowing mix of high and low speed corners and several hard braking zones at Jerez presents a real challenge to Repsol Honda's riders and pit crews, both in terms of machine control and bike set-up. The tyres receive a hard work-out, and cornering performance and drive out of the 13 bends being more important than outright engine power here.
The race weekend begins with two hours of free practice on Friday, a further hour of practice followed by qualifying on Saturday, before the riders line up at 14.00hrs CET for Sunday's 27-lap race.
Nicky Hayden - World Championship Position: 8th
"I'm definitely looking forward to the race at Jerez this weekend. The Spanish crowd, the atmosphere - everything about Jerez is fun and the passion the fans show is amazing. The last test there went quite well for me and I'm looking forward to getting out on track, trying to get a good feeling with the bike and having some fun. It's round two and I'm aiming to fight back strongly after Qatar. That was a disappointing result but it's a long championship and I believe I've got the skills to get the job done, plus I've got a great crew behind me and hopefully me and the team can have a good weekend. I like the track at Jerez. There are a few tight corners and it's definitely not a circuit dominated by long straights. I like the flow of the layout and coming into the stadium section is probably my favourite part of the circuit - you really have to get into a rhythm there to set a good laptime. The weather at this time of year can be a bit changeable too, so we'll have to see what it throws at us."
Dani Pedrosa - World Championship Position: 3rd
"The result in Qatar was quite good and I was happy to get on the podium at the first race of the year - now we must really push and try to improve so we can fight at the front until the end. The tyre choice for Jerez is going to be really important in order to achieve consistency in the race and we must work hard to get quicker because some of the other teams are going really fast now. The tests over the winter went well at Jerez and I was able to go quickly and finish near the top, but that was also the case at Qatar so we need to stay focussed on improving. The Jerez circuit is a good challenge because it combines fast corners and some really hard braking zones into slow bends. This means the bike needs to be well balanced and the tyres take a lot of punishment - tyre choice will be critical to outcome of the race. The atmosphere here is always special and you can feel the support from the fans as you ride on track. I hope it's a great weekend for us."