The Camel Yamaha Team returns to southern Spain next weekend to begin the defence of its MotoGP World Championship titles. With Valentino Rossi taking the riders' crown for the fifth successive season, adding to both the team and manufacturers' titles in the year of Yamaha's 50th Anniversary, the factory outfit faces a tough challenge to live up to its 2005 success but the team is approaching the new campaign with optimism and fresh motivation.
This will be the 20th consecutive Grand Prix at Jerez since the circuit was first used in 1987 - Assen and Donington are the only other current venues boasting a longer association with the series - and this year's opening round sees Rossi hunting for his seventh win there in all classes. Victory next Sunday would be his fifth in the premier-class and make him the most successful MotoGP rider ever at Jerez; with one more win than the legendary Mick Doohan.
Colin Edwards has enjoyed limited success at the Andalucian track since racing there for the first time in 2003. His best result is a seventh-place finish two years ago but an encouraging pre-season with the 2006 version YZR-M1 has given the 'Texas Tornado' realistic hopes of producing his best form this time around.
Valentino Rossi: New arrivals and new rivals;
Valentino Rossi defends his MotoGP title from a host of new riders this year after an influx of young talent from the 250cc and World Superbike categories. Dani Pedrosa (Honda), Casey Stoner (Honda), Randy de Puniet (Kawasaki) and Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) have all demonstrated rapid progress during the pre-season tests and Rossi is looking forward to the fresh challenges they will present.
"This year my main rivals have changed and the average age is much younger, so I will have to work out their strengths and weaknesses," said Rossi. "I have watched the career of Dani Pedrosa very closely since he was in 125cc and I have always been impressed by him and I expect him to be strong from the first race. Besides him, there are many different riders, manufacturers and teams that have been fast at different times throughout the pre-season so I hope that we can have some really good battles for the fans!"
If Rossi needs further motivation to open his fifth consecutive title defence with a victory, he has the added target of protecting an impressive record of opening-round successes in recent years. The Italian has been victorious in round one of each of the last five seasons, all of which have ended with championship success, but he says that work must be done to improve the performance of his 2006-specification YZR-M1 at Jerez after recent tests at the same circuit.
"We need to find more grip when the tyre is on the side," he explains. "At the test our speed in the corner was down considerably in some places so, where we usually have an advantage with the Yamaha, we were behind. Anyway, now the Yamaha engineers understand what has happened and they have a lot of data and information to fix it for the race. I have confidence in them, in Jeremy Burgess and in Michelin and I know that when we can use our bike at 100%, as we showed in Barcelona, it is the best bike on the grid. I love racing in Spain and I have many fans there, so I always look forward to the race in Jerez!"
Colin Edwards: Driving towards success;
Colin Edwards is entering his second season with Yamaha, the first for him in MotoGP without a switch of team and bike during the winter. Lengthy pre-season tests, as well as valuable data gathered last year, have given the American a crucial platform for the new campaign - as evidenced by his form at the Official Test in Barcelona two weeks ago when he set the fastest time in the 'Qualifying' practice and drove away with the prize of a new car.
"It's been a pretty intense few months testing and I am really happy that we've finally made it to the first race - this is where the fun starts!" smiled Edwards. "The great result at the Barcelona Test was a massive confidence boost to me and a validation of all the hard work that everyone's put in, but we have to use it as a trampoline to bigger and better things. As everyone knows, we had a bit of a setback at the Jerez test but I've said from the first time I rode the new M1 that it's a great bike and pretty much better in every way to the old one, so I have confidence that we will be okay come the race.
"Jerez is a great race, it's a fantastic place to kick off the season and the atmosphere is always something special. As for the season in general, I have said that I am ready to win races and I stand by that. Of course, I've got to beat my team-mate and that's the hardest part! This is the first time in MotoGP that I've begun the season on the same bike and with the same team so I'm way ahead of where I have been every other year. I'm really looking forward to the new season!"
Davide Brivio: Motivated and excited;
Camel Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio has enjoyed a busy winter, with new title-sponsor Camel coming on board as well as an intense pre-season testing schedule in Malaysia and Qatar. The Italian has been pleased with the form shown by his riders despite recent problems at Jerez and says he is expecting another exciting and successful season.
"Our winter programme went quite well, apart from the most recent session at Jerez when we faced a few problems," admits Brivio. "We weren't able to use the bike to its full potential but, thankfully, that was only a test and we were able to collect a lot of data that will be useful to us as we try to iron out those problems for the race. We have some ideas so hopefully they will turn into solutions on Friday morning. In any case we are very aware that this is just the first race of seventeen and it will be another long season.
"As far as the team is concerned I would say they are even more motivated than last season. Obviously Valentino wants to win the title again and Colin is also very happy with the way the bike has performed in the winter. It is his second year in the team and we all want to take advantage of that. I would say that altogether the team is motivated, excited and very much looking forward to the start of the new season next weekend."
Technically speaking: Daniele Romagnoli on Jerez;
With few hard braking points and little opportunity to fully open the throttle, the key to Jerez is about the rider's skill in picking the most effective racing line. The 4.423km track features five left and eight right hand corners with regular and quick changes in direction, meaning that the rider requires a responsive overall package and, above all, precise chassis set-up.
"The most important and difficult aspect of set-up at Jerez is the chassis," explains Daniele Romagnoli, Chief Mechanic to Colin Edwards. "It is a particular circuit because the bike spends a lot of time at maximum lean and there are very few points that require maximum throttle, so the engine and the gearbox settings are not as important here as they are at other tracks. There are many high-speed corners with fast entry so the chassis has to be good, as do the suspension and the tyres. The riders need good grip at maximum lean so we work on the weight balance, spring rates and finding a good tyre."