After a rather light start of the season with several races separated in time and most of them far from Europe, time has come to change the pace: the Motorcycling World Championship gets ready for an intense schedule. The European tour starts and ahead lie seven races in ten weeks - six in Europe -, in which the championship will travel to France, Italy, Spain, England, Holland, Germany and the United States. 175 points will be at stake in the following ten weeks so any mistake or injury may have a decisive influence on the three titles to be clinched.
In the MotoGP class, Dani Pedrosa will be celebrating next Sunday his 100th Grand Prix start, a round figure which Dani has achieved with his homework well done: three world championship titles (11 in 125cc and 2 in 250cc) and a meteoric race filled with success. His first Grand Prix in Japan (Suzuka 2001), is already far behind. His team-mate and 2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, is not experiencing his best moment in the class, but is counting on the total support of his team to recover. Le Mans is not exactly a circuit in which he has achieved big results, but as Hayden says, it is a good moment and a good circuit to give a 180º turn to his situation.
In the 250cc, Japanese rider Shuhei Aoyama will be back on the track in which he finished third last year, thus achieving his first and only podium finish in the Motorcycling World Championship. After the serious crash he suffered at the Chinese Grand Prix, Shuhei is completely recovered and ready to face the French round. Team-mate Julián Simón, is facing once again the challenge to race on a circuit he has not tested with his new 250cc bike. Twelfth last year, Simón's aim is to make good practice sessions to be able to join the leading group in the race.
In the minor class, a prudent Esteve Rabat will arrive in Le Mans, repeating to himself that what happened in China was OK, but that this race is something different, that he is starting from zero and that he will have to work hard and focus to learn the circuit's layout and do good practices. The situation is however different for team-mate Bradley Smith since the young British rider already raced in Le Mans last year. After the wrong tyre-choice in China, Smith is hoping to make good practices and to fight for the podium in the race, an aim that is getting closer at every race.
"I really need get a good result for myself and for the team in France, and we'll definitely be going all out for that. I wouldn't say Le Mans is one of my favourite tracks, but that's just probably because I have never had a very good result there, which can take the fun out of any track I guess.
So I hope all that changes this weekend. We've still got some distance to go to get the bike working for me and put ourselves in a position to fight for wins, but the guys are right behind me and I know Honda's pushing hard to improve the performance - and Michelin too. Things have been tough this year, and when I heard the news on Sunday in China that my little cousin had been killed in a flat-track accident it really put things back in perspective quickly. That was a tough one for sure that hit too close to home, but I just hope to get a solid result in his memory this weekend. Honestly though after the week and all that's happened, I really can't wait to get back in saddle, and to the sport I love."
"Le Mans is a circuit where I've had some good races in previous years so I'm hoping this visit will be the same. Since it's the first time we will ride the new 800cc machines at Le Mans, our primary target will be to find the right way to set up the bike - especially the gearing because there are many sections of acceleration out of slow corners and it's very important to have the best possible drive at these points.
Let's hope the weather stays clear and gives us enough dry track time to do this. The end result at the last race in China was not bad, but we'll really be looking to take another step forward in Le Mans and fight for the top positions. I was able to take pole position at Le Mans last year and then had a little tyre problem in the race and couldn't stay in the lead. However, I'm sure Michelin will be working very hard for their home race and I hope we can get a good result for them and the team."