Next weekend the Circuit de Catalunya hosts the MotoGP World Championship for the fifteenth successive season since opening to coincide with the Olympic Games in 1992 and sees the Camel Yamaha Team looking to strike gold for the second consecutive race. Following on from Valentino Rossi's epic victory at his home Grand Prix in Italy less than two weeks ago, and backed up by encouraging data from a subsequent day of testing at the Mugello circuit, confidence could not be higher for a repeat result as the team look to close down the points gap to joint series leaders Loris Capirossi (Ducati) and Nicky Hayden (Honda).
Rossi travels to Barcelona, one of his favourite cities in the world, having reached several milestones thanks to his 55th career MotoGP victory at Mugello. As well as taking him above Mick Doohan to second place in the all-time winners list behind Giacomo Agostini, it was also his 22nd success with Yamaha - the same number achieved by Kenny Roberts and bettered only by Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson - and it made Rossi the second highest points-scorer of all time behind Doohan. He will join the Australian as one of only two riders ever to pass 2000 career points if he finishes first or second at Catalunya.
Rossi's team-mate Colin Edwards has also been making his mark in the history books despite not yet hitting his best form this season. Despite running into the gravel early in the race at Mugello, the Texan managed to fight his way back to finish in twelfth place to extend his run of successive points scoring finishes to 27. Only Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner, Eddie Lawson and Valentino Rossi himself have ever put together a longer run. Edwards' target this weekend is to celebrate number 28 on the podium.
Virtually 57 years to the day since the first ever World Championship Grand Prix at the Isle of Man TT in 1949, this weekend's event will provide the latest chapter in one of the most exciting and unpredictable eras in the history of the sport. After six rounds there are just 34 points covering the top six riders.
Valentino Rossi: Lucky seven?;
Catalunya is one of Valentino Rossi's most successful events, being one of three circuits where he has already stood on the top step of the podium on seven occasions - the others being Donington and Phillip Island. For the past two seasons he has taken victory for Yamaha and he is hopeful of repeating that feat as he aims to reduce a 34-point deficit to the championship summit.
"Barcelona is always a great race for me and I've won there the last two years with Yamaha, so hopefully we can do it again," says Rossi. "Last year Gibernau set a fast pace and I tried 100% to follow him. Then I set the fastest lap three laps from the end, which at a track like Catalunya is amazing. Hopefully we can get this level of performance out of the bike and tyres again. Also I get a really good reception in Spain and it is always a pleasure to ride there.
"I am looking forward to this weekend because now I think we have finally arrived where we should be with the bike. It worked really well at the Mugello test and now I think we've really shown that we can fight at the front again and win. From a technical point of view, since the new chassis has been available we've been able to ride like in the past. Now we're very fast but it's still hard to win races! This championship is very balanced between Ducati and Honda and Yamaha and the other riders are at a great level so it was very important for us to win at Mugello. Now we have an eleven race championship and we have to be on the podium at every round."
Colin Edwards: Double chassis bonus;
After a week's break with his family on the beaches near Barcelona, Colin Edwards tackles the seventh round of the campaign in refreshed and determined mood following an indifferent run of early season results. The American has been hindered by a series of unfortunate incidents in recent races but the news that two units of the updated YZR-M1 chassis, which he tested with positive results at Mugello, will be at his disposal from the opening practice of the Spanish round has given him a vital boost.
"I've been run into the gravel for the last two rounds but we've come out of them both in the points so I have to use that as springboard to better things over the next few races," admits Edwards. "There is no use lamenting about what could have been - I have never done that and I won't start now. The positive thing to come out of Mugello was the performance of the new chassis and I'm really looking forward to adapting the setting even more at Barcelona. It's another fast circuit so hopefully the bike adapts quickly and we can be on the pace from the start."
Like Rossi, Edwards has positive memories of the Catalunya circuit thanks to his performance there in the official pre-season tests, when he drove home in a new car as a prize for setting the fastest time. "That seems a long time ago now but it's true that we went well there with an early version of this year's bike. We've made progress since then but the conditions will be very different so we'll have to wait and see."
Davide Brivio: Triple target;
Camel Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio is targeting a three-pronged attack on the MotoGP World Championship this weekend as he leads a continued revival for his team following a mixed start to the season. As well as building on positive recent development with the YZR-M1 machines, the Italian is hoping for another maximum points return from Valentino Rossi and a second podium of the season for Colin Edwards.
"Before Mugello I said that our mission for the next few races was to recover points for Valentino and we had the perfect start to that with the victory," says Brivio. "Now we have an extremely important run at Barcelona, Assen and Donington where we must continue with this job and try to win every race. Valentino likes all three tracks and this is another reason why he was still so upbeat and optimistic after the disappointments in China and Le Mans.
"For Colin this is also an important weekend because he found a good way with the new chassis at Mugello and we have high hopes that he can make a lot of progress with it in Barcelona. Both riders will be on the same specification bikes, with two units of the new chassis each, so we are starting from a good point. Continuing evolution with the bike, recovering more points for Valentino and getting Colin back on the podium; these are our three targets for Catalunya."
Technically speaking: Catalunya according to Nicolas Goubert
The Circuit de Catalunya offers a main straight capable of encouraging speeds exceeding 335kmh, and is completed by a sequence of long radius, medium/high speed sweepers and two tight left-hand hairpins. The combination of long radius corners riddled with a variety of cambers makes it demanding on chassis balance and means front-end feel is a key concern for every
rider. These characteristics also mean that tyre life is a key topic in many pit box discussions between riders, crew chiefs and tyre technicians.
"Catalunya can be very demanding on the front because there are a lot of downhill corner entries," explains Nicolas Goubert,
Michelin's chief of motorcycle competition. "For the rain we've got only one specification, one profile with different programs depending on the conditions we have. For the slicks it is much more interesting because we have two different profiles. One has a smaller width, which means that the tyre is lighter and it's easier to tilt the bike from one side to the other. We have also started to work with a bigger size but the Yamaha riders prefer the small one. The reason is because they want to keep the character of having durability for the bike. For them it is an advantage and it is suited to their needs on their bike."
"We are quite confident with both types of tyre from last year because we had very good results at Catalunya. It was the first time ever that the surface was new, the lap time was really good and Valentino set a new lap record at the very end of the race with a time that would have put him tenth on the grid. It was the first time ever that this happened so we are very happy with that and we just hope that our Yamaha riders will be as fast or faster this year."