Yamaha Team this weekend at the vertigo-inducing Sachsenring circuit in Germany, host to the tenth round of the 2006 MotoGP World Championship. One of the tightest and most undulating tracks in the world welcomes the most unpredictable season in recent history, with Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards both having played their part in a dramatic campaign that has seen five different race winners, nine different riders on the podium and thirteen different front row starters.
A roller-coaster season continues for the Camel Rossi added to his season-tally of three victories with a stunning second place in the last round at Donington Park, where he rode through the pain of hand and ankle injuries to put his YZR-M1 machine back on the podium and cut the gap to series leader Nicky Hayden (Honda) to 35 points. That memorable performance at his talisman track was the 121st time that Rossi had stood on a Grand Prix podium - the same number as Phil Read and a figure bettered only by the legendary Giacomo Agostini and Angel Nieto. Rossi has now also scored a total of 2977 points in all classes and victory in Germany would make him the first rider in history to pass the 3000 mark.
Sixth place for Colin Edwards at Donington was the 30th successive race at which he has scored points, a record made all the more remarkable by the drama of the previous round at Assen, when he crashed out of the lead in the final corner only to remount and bravely struggle across the line in thirteenth place. The only rider with a longer sequence of successive point scoring finishes is Mick Doohan, who managed it for 37 races, but the more pressing issue for Edwards now is a return to the form that saw him fighting for victory in that breathtaking Dutch TT two weeks ago.
Valentino Rossi: Back to fitness;
Valentino Rossi arrives in Germany with the benefit of an extra weekend to recover from the hand injuries he sustained in the middle of a Grand Prix triple-header at Assen. After struggling through the discomfort to score valuable points in Holland and Great Britain, he is now hoping to be fit enough to fight for his fourth win of the season and his fourth in all classes at the Sachsenring circuit.
"I am very confident that by Sachsenring my hand will be back to 100%, or near enough," says Rossi, who won the German Grand Prix for Yamaha last year to add to previous MotoGP and 250cc successes in 2002 and 1999. "I have been working hard with my physiotherapist Marco Montanari and Dr Costa and hopefully it will continue to improve at this rate. It's really nice to have had time for a rest now after three very hard weeks, even if it's not so long. I spent some time in Italy and then a few days at home in London, relaxing and seeing friends.
"The important thing for Sachsenring is that we come out of the box on Friday morning ready to make the most of every available minute of practice time. We can't afford to lose time in practice with set-up problems like we had in Donington, and I am sure that Yamaha has been working at the maximum over the break so we will be ready to be competitive from Friday morning. Sachsenring is quite a different track, very tight and twisty, but last year our bike worked very well there, we were able to win and hopefully that will be the case again this year."
Colin Edwards: To Japan and back;
Whilst his team-mate and most of their rivals have had time to rest this week, the relentless pursuit of speed has continued unabated for Colin Edwards, who has been out in Japan completing testing work for Yamaha ahead of the Suzuka 8-Hour race. Edwards was at Suzuka for two days as he prepares to compete in the prestigious event on 30th July alongside Yamaha Superbike rider Noriyuki Haga, but he is already back in Europe and gathering his strength for another important weekend of MotoGP action.
"It was hard to go straight out to Japan after such a long run of races but I'm quite excited about doing the 8-Hour again, especially as it's ten years since Nori and I won it together before," reflected Edwards, who will ride for the Yamaha Blue Racing Team aboard a specially prepared YZF-R1 SP. "Testing has gone quite well this week, just getting used to being back on a Superbike again and getting reacquainted with the track. We've got a competitive package so hopefully we're going to be in a position to really go for it when we go back for the race after Laguna.
"Obviously there's a lot of work to do before then and the small matter of two GPs in two weekends, including my home race! Sachsenring will be really important because we had a lot of problems with the bike at Donington that we didn't solve and we can't afford to lose any more time. The track itself has two different parts - one where it's very difficult to overtake and another which requires a massive physical effort because it works the left-hand side of your body really hard The tyres are under a lot of strain and it's vital to make the right choice so they don't overheat on the left-side. Generally I get along pretty well with the layout and there are always a lot of fans so it should be a good weekend."
Davide Brivio: Still enough time;
Camel Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio is hopeful that a fully fit Valentino Rossi will appear at the Sachsenring on Thursday afternoon in readiness for a renewed assault on the championship standings when the action gets underway on Friday morning. Rossi's recent progress has been hampered by his injuries but with the benefit of a brief rest behind him Brivio remains confident that the World Champion has enough races to turn the situation around and successfully defend his title for the fifth time.
"Now it's funny because we almost consider a weekend off as a break!" smiles Brivio. "Anyway we are hoping that this week gives Valentino a chance to recover and arrive at the Sachsenring with his injury troubles behind him. We are expecting him to be fit from Friday morning so we are hopeful of a 'normal' weekend for both him and Colin. The situation with Valentino has delayed our recovery in the championship over the past couple of rounds but there are eight races left and we still have enough time.
"Our aim is to close the gap even further before the summer break so this race and the next one at Laguna Seca are very important. As far as the Sachsenring is concerned we had some problems with our bike there the first season with Valentino but we found a good setting last season and he was able to win the race. Sincerely I think the track suits the characteristics of the 2006 version M1 but we will have to wait and see on Friday morning. I hope so!"
Technically speaking: Sachsenring according to Mike Norton;
Located in the heartland of the former East Germany's once glorious motorcycle racing industry, the Sachsenring is built right next to the old road course, a characteristic the track shares with Brno in the nearby Czech Republic. The current circuit could not be more different, its ultra-modern nature showing in its relatively slow lap times, with slow corners juxtaposed with some dazzlingly fast ones - including a super fast downhill right hander which was added in 2003. It is this that provides the circuit's biggest challenge, for riders and technicians alike.
"The Sachsenring is a difficult track - it's quite short and it's not one of Valentino's favourites," explains Mike Norton, Íhlins Suspension Technician for Valentino Rossi. "It's one of my busiest weekends because the set-up of the bike is all about finding a compromise between braking for that monstrous downhill section and handling through the slow sections. It's a bit of a trade-off really between getting Valentino good through the slow part and good enough to stop the bike at the bottom of the hill. Valentino often wins races on the brakes so he's a little bit different to most riders and you always have to have some margin in the front fork.
"You also spend a lot of time on the edge of the tyre at Sachsenring, right on the angle, and again that causes us an imbalance in the bike compared to normal. But Valentino's feedback is very good compared to other riders I've worked with. You can give him a change and be miles off centre but he'll ride around it and you'll either see a good lap time or a bad one, which then gives us an idea of where to go. From that point of view he's very good to work with and he always gives you 100%."