After the fireworks in Valencia, some four months ago, setting the full stop to the 2006 season, Nicky Hayden's season, after being crowned World Champion in the last race of the year, a new era will start this weekend in Qatar, where the 800cc bikes will finally have their debut in competition after months of testing. Who will be better prepared to face this new challenge? This has been with no doubt one of the most frequently asked questions in the paddock during the last test days. The Repsol Honda Team will be providing their riders Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa with the new and advanced RC212V, which has been showing its competitiveness along the preseason in the hands of both riders.
"Well the waiting's over and I'm fired up to go racing again. It's going to be a proud moment lining up with that number one plate on the front of my bike - it's something I've dreamed of since I was a kid.
But really that's last year's story and we've got to come out of the gate fast and fight to defend this title right from the first session because the competition in MotoGP is so intense. There's no time to take the glory and relax. We were quick in some of the tests over the winter and made some good progress with this new bike, though the test here at Qatar didn't go too smoothly! So I'm going to have to raise my game starting this weekend. Nevertheless, it's actually a track I quite like and I had a pretty good race here last season.
There are a couple of long right-handers that are fun to ride and I really like the sequence of Turns one, two and three with the banking. I've had a third place here and was second last year so we'll be aiming to go one better on Saturday. I've faith in the boys in my corner and I'm working really well with Pete Benson and the rest of the crew. Plus I know Honda's going to be giving everything to keep this crown so we won't be holding anything back. The shoulder's pretty much fixed up now and, though I haven't got all the movement back, it's plenty strong enough to ride the bike - we've put in a lot of miles since the operation and it's felt strong every time. I'm feeling ready for the lights to go out and go toe to toe with the boys again."
"It seems like the start of the season has come round very quickly and I'm really looking forward to racing again after all the tests we've done over the winter. It will be interesting to finally see how the new 800s feel during a race.
I've enjoyed riding the RC212V in testing and the smaller size allows me to move around the bike more easily than the 990. My race here last year was not so satisfying because I had a bad start which hindered me throughout the race. I had a very long battle with Melandri which was enjoyable but frustrating too because it meant I couldn't get closer to the front at the end of the race.
The conditions at this track can be difficult. Often there is a strong wind and this means you have to be very careful how you ride otherwise you might get blown off the track. Also the sand can change the grip levels too. We had a positive test here in February and found a good setting for the bike so I hope that the conditions will be similar this weekend. I feel like I'm ready for the season but there have been many teams going fast during testing through the winter so I expect the racing to be very close."
Julián Simón (250 cc);
"I think that it's been a quite positive preseason, not only for the laptimes but especially because we have been able to get used to the new bike. That's what' worried me most and we've made it.
Thanks to the work of the whole team we've managed to understand how to ride a 250cc machine, which was the most important. But well, there is still some work to do and I'm arriving at the race in Qatar with the intention of taking it as a Grand Prix but also as a further step in my training."
"This preseason hasn't been bad. We've made a lot of tests in which I have been able to learn how to move better on the bike, but I still have to improve.
I want to start now. I hope to be able to be on the podium more often this year. The first race will be on a track I don't like much, but the tests weren't bad and I hope to be among the best."
Bradley Smith (125 cc);
"We've had a good preseason. We've had a lot of time to practice and test, much more than last year and that's something very good.
Everything seems to be on its place for the first race and the truth is that I'm happy with the performance of the whole team and the bike. I'm looking forward to start racing."
"I feel good after all these tests. My intention is to do it the best I can and I'm looking forward to start. The preseason in general has been very good, because I've learned a lot and the work of the whole team has allowed me to improve. Everybody has done a great job. If we stay focussed, we will continue doing it well."