The Camel Yamaha team return from a three-week holiday next weekend to tackle the first of a final spell of six races that will determine whether reigning MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi can turn around his fortunes and make a sixth consecutive defence of the title he has held since 2001. The Czech Republic Grand Prix takes place at the legendary circuit of Brno, located just over 200 kilometres south-east of the capital city of Prague, where last year Rossi took victory and the lap record as he edged towards his fifth straight title.
The scenario is dramatically different for Rossi this time around but a similar performance is required as the Italian aims to close down the 51-point gap to series leader Nicky Hayden (Honda). It is a tough task but certainly not impossible, as Yamaha legend Wayne Rainey proved in 1992 when he pipped the injured Mick Doohan to the title despite lying 65 points behind with only five races remaining.
Fittingly this weekend marks the thirteen-year anniversary of Rainey's final 500cc victory for the factory at Brno and is also precisely a decade since Rossi took his maiden Grand Prix win at the very same circuit in the 125cc class. Since then Rossi has added to his Brno tally with a further 250cc success and three wins in MotoGP - including last year's dominant display on the Yamaha.
Colin Edwards can't wait to reacquaint himself with his YZR-M1 machine after riding a specially prepared YZF-R1 SP Superbike alongside Noriyuki Haga in the Suzuka 8 Hour two weeks ago. The prestigious Japanese race proved to be a brief but eventful affair for the American after he was knocked to the ground on lap one and then mounted a stunning recovery, only to suffer a mechanical failure a few laps later - continuing a run of bad luck almost comparable to that of Rossi. Despite the shortened holiday Edwards was able to take crucial time out to recharge his batteries at home in Texas and he returns to Europe even more determined to turn things around.
Valentino Rossi: Race by race;
This time last season Valentino Rossi arrived in the Czech Republic knowing that two more wins would be enough to seal the MotoGP World Championship title but, for only the second time in his premier-class career, 'The Doctor' must now accept that with six races remaining his destiny is out of his hands. The latest chapter in a catalogue of misfortune came immediately before the holidays at Laguna Seca, where a win for Nicky Hayden combined with a breakdown for Rossi left the Italian focusing simply on his performance in each approaching race.
"This year I've had a lot of bad luck and Laguna could not have been worse, but now we have had twenty days of holiday to relax and forget about what happened there," says Rossi. "Hopefully after this rest we can try to do something better in Brno. It isn't one of my favourite tracks but last year it was a great race for me; almost perfect, with the fastest lap and the victory. I know that everyone at Yamaha and Michelin has been working hard in the break and hopefully in Brno we can come out fighting on Friday morning and make the most of the weekend.
"I don't know what to say about the championship to be honest. We only have six races left which is maybe not enough to make up the difference but anyway I want to try to have some fun and win as much as possible. Right now I'm not even thinking about the championship. I want to take it race by race and try to find a better way forward with this bike and these tyres so I can have some fun and try to win some more races."
Colin Edwards: Refreshed and relaxed;
If anyone has endured as much bad luck as Rossi this season it is his Camel Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards, whose Suzuka misfortune came on the back of illness at his home Grand Prix in the USA and, just a few weeks previously, a last-corner crash that denied him of his first MotoGP victory at Assen. However, after spending some time with his young family at home in America, the 'Texan Tornado' is confident he can kick up a storm at Brno.
"It's been really good to have a holiday because this season, especially during June and July, has been incredibly hard and I definitely needed some time off to relax with my friends and family," says Edwards. "Now I am feeling ready to get back on my bike and enjoy the last six races. After the disappointment of Laguna I went to Suzuka for the Eight-Hour and sadly that didn't work out either - it was a long way to go for six laps! Anyway, I've since had two weeks holiday at home in Texas with my family and I'm feeling refreshed and relaxed now and ready to get going again for the last six races.
"Things haven't worked out exactly how we would have liked up until now but I know that when our package is working we can fight at the top and this is what I am determined to do for the rest of the season. Brno is a track I really like and I've been racing there a long time so I know it pretty well. There's always a good atmosphere there as everyone's nice and chilled out after their holidays! I'm going to give the weekend everything I've got and hopefully the bike will work well so we can get a good result under our belts to set us up for the three flyaways."
Davide Brivio: Keeping the faith;
Camel Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio echoes Rossi's sentiments about the championship being a 'race by race' affair but outlined the determination of his staff to back up their World Champion with 100% commitment until the end of the season. The Italian admits his team faces a tough challenge over the final six rounds but insists that they will not give up on the title until it is a mathematical impossibility.
"Brno is the start of the final stage of the season and we go into it finding ourselves in a difficult situation," admits Brivio. "We are obviously not where we would like to be in the championship with six races to go but we will not give up and every member of the team is ready to fight until the end. Of course we still want to win the title and we still believe we can do it. We have had a lot of misfortune during the season but we still have faith in our potential.
"The break was good for everybody but after Laguna Seca we are looking forward to getting back on the track and trying to win races again. That is Valentino's goal for every Grand Prix between now and the end of the season. Because of the Eight-Hour Colin barely had a day off for seven weeks before the holiday so I think he needed the break more than anybody and we are looking forward to seeing him back in good shape. Our target for both riders is simply to improve our level of performance and try to win every race."
Technically speaking: Brno according to Matteo Flamigni;
The current Brno circuit is encircled by the tendrils of the various 'real' road layouts that made up the Czech Grand Prix venues of yesteryear. Used for a Grand Prix for the final time in 1977, the old track was replaced in 1987 by what is basically the current incarnation, subtly altered in 1996 to measure 5.403km in length. Brno has come a long way since riders used to judder across its cobblestone sections but its winding chicanes and dramatic elevation changes still provide an interesting challenge for the riders and their engineers.
"Firstly Brno is a difficult track for the riders because it is so wide - around 15m in some parts - and that makes it easy for them to run off line and make mistakes," explains Matteo Flamigni, Data Engineer for Valentino Rossi. "From a set-up point of view we have to give the rider a bike which is strong under braking because there are many areas where a rider can pass or be passed in downhill turns, which adds to the normal stress of braking. The bike must also be stable in the long fast corners, such as turns one, nine and thirteen, and then agile for the chicanes. This is always a compromise situation at any circuit but especially at Brno, where the chicanes are also combined with elevation changes.
"The balance of the bike is critical towards the end of the lap because there is a lot of weight transfer between hard uphill acceleration, which naturally lifts the front end, and braking into the chicanes, where the rider must wait for the front to load up again before turning in. Brno is one of the circuits where you can most clearly see the evolution of the MotoGP bikes since changing from two-stroke to four-stroke because a good lap time has come down by around five seconds, even though the track hasn't changed. As well as showing the general improvement of the bikes and tyres, this outlines the need for a lot of horsepower on the long uphill straights, where gearbox settings are also crucial."