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MotoGP, Fortuna Honda - The Challenge Begins - March 21st 2006

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    The waiting is over. After an intense winter of preparation that has seen the Team Fortuna Honda riders visit circuits in Malaysia, Australia and Spain, the battle for the 2006 world title is finally underway.

    The venue for the opening round of the MotoGP World Championship takes place at Jerez de la Frontera, a circuit where both Team Fortuna Honda riders hold fond memories. It was at this track where Marco Melandri scored his first podium of the 2005 season on his debut with the Honda RC211V and the Team Gresini, whilst Toni Elias took his MotoGP bow in the colours of Fortuna.

    The final test session at the Andalusian ten days ago confirmed the good job done by the team during the preseason and now Marco Melandri and Toni Elias are ready for the first race.

    Fausto Gresini - Fortuna Honda;

    "This is an important moment because it is the start of a new season, for which we have high hopes. It is the start of a new project alongside Fortuna, with a young team and, thanks to Marco Melandri and Toni Elias, with massive potential. Marco is 23, he became the MotoGP World Championship runner-up with this team last year and scored his first wins in the premier-class. With two straight victories and five podiums in all he was a real star in an incredible season and he's now ready to challenge at the very highest level.

    After a tough winter I am sure that Marco can fight for the front positions from the first race. Alongside him Toni Elías, also 23, a Spanish rider who this year joins our team, where so many young talents have come through over the years. In the preseason tests Toni has proved that he is a talented and determined rider and a quick learner. During the las t test at Jerez he showed that he has character and good potential. I'm sure that we can now start to reap the fruit of his hard work during the winter."

    Marco Melandri:

    "I can't wait to get out onto the track at Jerez, a circuit I like a lot because it is technical and complete. There is so much expectation for the start of the championship and it's guaranteed to be a real spectacle. Jerez will be a very combative race with so many riders in the right shape to challenge to win. I am also ready. I can already feel the adrenaline and I am sure that will push me to take that extra step forward and be competitive. I am quite satisfied; after a tough winter we have managed to create a good base. We still have to improve a little bit and then I can be fast, like I showed I can be last season."

    Toni Elias:

    "Finally the testing is over and the championship is starting. Over the winter we worked a lot, keeping a philosophy of taking small steps forward. I tried to remain calm and focused to try and understand the bike and adapt it to my style without just going for a lap time at all cost. I've covered a lot of kilometres, I now feel more comfortable on the bike and my race rhythm has improved. I'm looking forward to the start - I can already feel the tension of a race. I'm happy to be starting out in Spain, in front of my fans. Jerez is a nice Grand Prix, not just for the track but also for the fans - the feeling when you enter the 'stadium' section is unbelievable."

    A Race To Remember

    "Jerez is a special occasion for every rider in the championship and even more so for a Spaniard. It is a particular GP because of the amount of passion transmitted by the fans, so many of them and so close you can feel it in your helmet. I've always had really strong emotions at this circuit. It was here that I produced one of the best races of my life, the Spanish GP in 2003 while I was racing in 250. I remember starting from the third row after a difficult weekend caused by a broken thumb injury I had picked up in the previous race. I started to make up positions and only on the last lap I managed to join the lead group. My thumb was hurting but the desire to win in front of my home fans was bigger. One final effort, the finish line and an a long shout inside the helmet. I dedicated the victory to my family, my team and Daijiro Kato. I had wanted to do it at Welkom, the first race after his death, but the dream came tru e at Jerez, where I was able to dedicate victory to a good friend and a great rider.

    Jerez 2006: a new challenge, same emotions. This will also be my first race on the Honda and my 23rd birthday. I hope I can give myself a nice present!" Toni Elias