Camel Yamaha Team rider Valentino Rossi reaches another special milestone in his illustrious career this weekend as he contests his 100th consecutive premier-class race in the Grand Prix of Turkey. The Italian and his team-mate Colin Edwards travel to the Istanbul Park circuit, located 300 kilometres north west of the capital city of Ankara, looking to build on tentative first impressions of the track from last year, when they finished second and seventh respectively in a race won by Marco Melandri.
The third round of the current season will also be Rossi's 160th appearance in all classes since making his 125cc debut in Malaysia in 1996. So far he has amassed an incredible tally of 80 victories, his latest coming just over two weeks ago in the Grand Prix of Qatar; a triumph that also moved the 27-year-old level with Mick Doohan on 54 premier-class wins, leaving him second only to the legendary Giacomo Agostini, on 68.
The Istanbul Park circuit was designed by famed German architect Hermann Tilke, the man behind the Sepang, Bahrain and Shanghai circuits, and was used for the first time by the MotoGP World Championship last October. The spectacular 5.378 kilometre track features fourteen turns - eight lefts and six rights - and like Phillip Island it has the unusual characteristic of running anti-clockwise.
Like the Losail circuit in Qatar, several of the Istanbul track's corners are based on famous bends at other circuits, such as the 'Senna Esses' at Sao Paolo, the 'Spoon Curve' at Suzuka and the 'Eau Rouge' at Spa. Spectators have ideal facilities to enjoy the action, with seating capacity for around 130,000 fans and an impressive main grandstand which can hold up to 25,000.
Sunday's schedule will start one hour later than usual, with the red lights due to go out for the MotoGP race at 1500h local time (CET +1).
Valentino Rossi: Record Breaker;
As well as taking him level with Mick Doohan in terms of career wins, Valentino Rossi's victory at Qatar also pulled him to within striking distance of the all-time record Grand Prix points total, currently held by Max Biaggi. Having now scored a total of 2886 points in all classes Rossi will move ahead of Biaggi simply by finishing in ninth place or above this Sunday. However, as always, his only target is victory at one of only two circuits on the current calendar where he has yet to climb onto the top step of the podium in at least one of the three classes.
"Qatar was like the start of my championship but we're already behind in the points and we need to do our best to catch up," said Rossi. "My rivals are very strong and we need to be able to fight for the win again in Turkey. Istanbul isn't one of my favourite tracks and we had a really hard time there last year - we had already won the championship and it was difficult to stay 100% focused at that stage of the season, plus we had some set-up problems with the bike. This time we go there feeling fully motivated.
"We don't know how the new bike will react at this circuit; I hope that it will go well and that we won't have any vibration problems. There are some fantastic fast corners so if the bike is working well it could be great fun to ride there. We tested again after Qatar and we made some improvements, and although we still haven't completely solved our problems hopefully even if they do reappear at some stage, we're going to be able to cope with them better now."
Colin Edwards: Hard work will pay off;
Colin Edwards is keen to get to Turkey this weekend as he aims to convert the fast and consistent pace he has shown during pre-season testing and Grand Prix practice sessions into a solid race result. Eleventh and ninth place finishes from the first two rounds have not been a true reflection of the Texan's efforts this year and he is keen to turn things around at a circuit he admits he struggled to get to grips with last season.
"I have to say I wasn't too enamoured with the track when we rode it last October but I was busy trying to adapt to a new riding style at the time and it didn't make life easier," says Edwards. "This time my riding style is sorted out but we still have a few problems with the bike so we'll have to see how it goes. I was very disappointed with the way things went in Qatar but it has been nice to have an extra weekend off over Easter to mull things over and I can't wait to get out and put it right on the track.
"So far this season we've been strong in practice - if anything just struggling a little bit to make the step up on a qualifying tyre but in general the pace on race tyres has been good. We were unlucky at Jerez and I was really confident of a good result in Qatar but we came up against a few problems in the race that hadn't bothered us in practice. The day of tests after the race gave us some good data to work from and hopefully things run smoothly from day one in Turkey."
Davide Brivio: An interesting challenge;
Camel Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio sees this weekend's race as the ideal opportunity to measure early development of the 2006 version YZR-M1 machine at another challenging and demanding venue. After overcoming initial problems in Qatar to end the weekend with a victory for Valentino, the Italian is hoping for more of the same from his team in Turkey and expects the timing of this year's race to favour a more fruitful outcome than last October's event at the same circuit.
"Last year Istanbul Park was one of the circuits where we had the most difficulties but that Grand Prix was the penultimate of the season, when everything was already won," explains Brivio. "It will be interesting to see how we go this time around, with the race at the beginning of the year and coming at a time when we really need to get some points for both riders.
"It will be a challenging weekend because we still have to fix the problems that we have had with the 2006 version of the YZR-M1. We will test again on Monday in Istanbul after the race, in order to further try to improve the bike. Despite these issues, we showed in Qatar that we can already be competitive and now we have to take that to Turkey. Valentino's win has given the whole team and the engineers a real boost and the motivation is definitely there to try to win again in Turkey."
Technically speaking: Anrea Zugna on Istanbul;
Like all Herman Tilke tracks, Istanbul Park possesses a wide variety of corners and the challenge is further enhanced by plenty of gradients, with the track built on four different ground levels. However, by far the most exciting feature of the layout is turn eleven - a fifth gear bend that is taken at speeds approaching 270km/h, making it easily the fastest corner in the MotoGP World Championship. Combined with some of the tightest chicanes on the calendar, the key to set-up at Istanbul Park is about making compromises.
"Istanbul is a tricky circuit because it has some of the fastest corners in the world combined with some of the slowest," explains Andrea Zugna, Colin Edwards' Data Engineer. "In turn eleven you need good stability at high speed to give the rider the confidence he needs to attack the corner, but from turn twelve to the end of the lap you have three very slow chicanes which require good agility; so you have to find a balanced set-up between those two characteristics.
"This track is also unique because of the changes of elevation. For example turn one dips downhill before going immediately up again, creating a lot of compression on the front forks. The rider's skill is also very important because there is only really one racing line and they must find it - especially through the three consecutive lefts in the middle of the lap, where it is also very bumpy. It is important that they have confidence in the front through here. Last year Colin struggled a little because it was the first time he used his new riding style but his pace in practice was good and his fastest lap came towards the end of the race so we know the data is good. Hopefully it will make life a little easier this weekend!"
Istanbul Lap Record:
- Marco Melandri (Honda) 2005 - 1'53.111
- Istanbul Best Lap: Sete Gibernau (Honda) 2005 - 1'52.334
- 1. Marco Melandri (Honda) 41'44.139
- 2. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) +1.513
- 3. Nicky Hayden (Honda) +6.873