The Camel Yamaha Team heads into its home Grand Prix this weekend looking to turn a stuttering start to the season into a consistent challenge for MotoGP World Championship honours. The fast and flowing Mugello circuit in Italy presents an entirely different challenge to the tight complexities of recent tracks such as Le Mans and Shanghai and both Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards hope it can also deliver a similar contrast in the fortunes that have followed them around the world during a dramatic opening five rounds of the campaign.
Rossi, in particular, is keen to get his fifth title defence back on track in front of his adoring Italian public. The Tavullia-born superstar, who was last week honoured with the 'Spirit of Sport' award at the prestigious Laureus Sports Awards, is aiming to add another prize to his trophy cabinet by claiming his fifth consecutive victory at the Mugello circuit.
Edwards is equally focused on the top step of the podium after again demonstrating winning potential at the last round in France. The American was forced into the gravel in the first turn but he battled through from last place to take sixth overall and finish just eleven seconds down on the race winner. Like Rossi, he knows that if things play in his favour this weekend it can be a glorious return home for the Monza-based team.
Valentino Rossi: Eleven wins should do it!;
After failing to score points at the last two rounds because of freak tyre and engine problems, Rossi now trails series leader Nicky Hayden (Honda) by 43 points and lies eighth in the championship - his worst ever start to a World Championship season in any class. However, with a typical air of optimism based on confidence in his unrivalled ability, the Italian refuses to consider defeat at this early stage of the season and says this weekend is the ideal time to turn things around. "Mugello has been very good to me over the past few years - it is a very special race and this season it is even more important than ever," admits Rossi. "I have had some incredible emotions there over the years and it is always a very busy weekend for me, but it is crucial that we maintain our focus on the job because we have to be at 100% if we want to win again. The new chassis worked well at Le Mans and we have some good data from the test to improve it at Mugello so I have reason to be confident."
If Rossi did go on to win the title this year he would be the first rider ever to do so having had only one podium finish in the first five races of the year. It is the kind of challenge he relishes. "We have had a lot of bad luck but I don't think 43 points is such a big gap when there are still twelve races left," he says. "It will be difficult to win them all but I will settle for taking eleven wins and one second place! When you look at what has happened to us this season, mostly things out of our control, I probably lost 25 points in France, 16 in China and 14 in Jerez so if it wasn't for all that I would be in a much better situation in the championship now. I think we showed our true potential last weekend and it is just a matter of our luck changing now. Mugello would be the perfect place for that."
Colin Edwards: A family affair;
Colin Edwards has more than one reason to look forward to Mugello, both on and off the track. During a gruelling run of races visiting all corners of the globe over the last two months the Texan has not had much chance to see his young son Hayes, but the baby, who was born in December, will be making his first visit to Europe this week and staying on the road with the whole family during the upcoming run of races on the continent. The proud father hopes family life on the road can provide the foundation to a series of positive results. "Hayes will be coming over with my daughter Gracie and my wife Alyssia so obviously I'm really looking forward to that," admits Edwards. "I love being with the family and living out of the motorhome instead of travelling all over the place staying in hotels. I find it helps me to focus on my performance on the track and hopefully it can give me an extra edge this weekend. That is the most important thing and at this stage of the season, with the way things have gone recently, we need every advantage we can get."
Another plus point for Edwards this week will be the delivery of a new chassis for his YZR-M1 machine, used by Rossi with positive results at the last round in Le Mans. "My bike has been the same since Turkey and whilst I have got comfortable with it now I think we have reached the limit in some areas. I did thirty laps with the new chassis at the Le Mans test and I could clearly see the extra potential. Now I'll have one from the start at Mugello and so that's something for us to get our teeth into from the first session and see how far we can go."
Davide Brivio: Excitement at home!;
Whilst recognising that recent results have not lived up to expectations, Camel Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio remains upbeat that his riders are still on course to meet their objectives for the season. The Italian has been encouraged by recent progress made by Yamaha's engineers and says a simple turn in fortune is now all that is required for both Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards to be challenging at the sharp end of the field. "In the last race at Le Mans we had a lot of bad luck but it was a very important and encouraging weekend for us to confirm the general progress we are making with the bike," says Brivio. "Valentino was riding steadily in the lead and probably would have won quite comfortably, whilst Colin also had an excellent race to come through from last place and finish sixth so we know we have something to build on and we want to continue with this progression.
"We have twelve races left to get points back and the first stage of the recovery is this weekend at Mugello. All we can do is try to gather as many points from race to race and that means taking victory on Sunday. It is a home race for Valentino and for half of the team so it will be important for us to have the support of the big Italian crowd to help us do this. This has been an unpredictable championship so far but something we can be certain of at Mugello is that it will be very hot and very exciting!"
Technically speaking: Mugello according to Daniele Romagnoli;
At 5.245km the Mugello circuit is one of the longer contemporary MotoGP circuits, in no small part due to the fact that it has retained its original length and layout. Running across two sides of an impossibly scenic Tuscan valley, Mugello differs from other fast circuits in its frequent changes of gradient and the speed of its chicanes. There is a mix of slower and high-speed corners, although even the slowest corners are wide, allowing several 'ideal' lines and putting the emphasis on rider skill as well as chassis set-up precision. "Mugello is a very technical track," explains Daniele Romagnoli, Colin Edwards' Italian Chief Mechanic. "Chassis set-up is perhaps the most important thing but you also need a good engine for the straight because there is around 950m with the throttle fully open. The gearing is also important at this point - you need small gaps between fourth, fifth and sixth gear to get the most out of the engine.
"Generally it is a very complex track and the rider can make the difference. It has a very hard braking into turn one, where the riders go from around 330km/h to just 85km/h. Then there is a sequence of 'esses' where it is important to have a bike that has good turning capabilities and agility. There are some quick changes in direction, with uphill and downhill turns, so you need a good compromise with the set-up to make it turn well in both types of corner."
Romagnoli adds that the delivery of a new chassis for Edwards at this round could not have come at a better time. "The new chassis has improved the performance of the front end of the bike, particularly in terms of turning and stability on corner entry. It has also improved the chatter problems that we have experienced and this will be crucial at Mugello because there are some very fast corners and a lot of lateral load on the bike."
- Mugello Lap Record: Max Biaggi (Honda) 2005 - 1'50.117
- Mugello Best Lap: Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 2005 - 1'49.223
- 1. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Yamaha, 42'42.994
- 2. Max Biaggi (ITA) Honda, +0.359
- 3. Loris Capirossi (ITA) Ducati, +3.874