The Fiat Yamaha Team trucks complete another gruelling journey across land and sea this week as the MotoGP World Championship trail heads from Spain to England for the first of three consecutive races in Northern Europe. The Donington Park circuit in Leicestershire hosts the eighth round of the campaign, with round nine set to take place just six days later at Assen in Holland before moving on to Germany's Sachsenring circuit for round ten a fortnight after that.
It promises to be a crucial few weeks for Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards, who will both be on the hunt for victories at some of their most successful circuits. Rossi is a seven-time Grand Prix winner at Donington Park, whilst Edwards scored his first MotoGP podium there in 2004 and took World Superbike victories in 1999 and 2000. The pair also have impressive records at Assen, where Rossi had not stepped off the rostrum in five seasons until his injury last year and Edwards has both WSB wins and MotoGP podiums to his name, whilst the Italian is a five-time winner at Sachsenring.
Rossi's immediate goal is to close down the gap to current series leader Casey Stoner, which currently stands at fourteen points. However, there is an interesting bonus up for grabs for 'The Doctor', who could usurp another Australian in the shape of Mick Doohan as the all-time top points-scorer in the premier-class. A top seven finish would secure that accolade for Rossi, who broke Doohan's record for the most career podiums with number 96 at the last round in Catalunya.
A dramatic viewing experience, Donington Park sits inside an amphitheatre style setting, with the spectators banked on the grass verges that surround the track. The prevalent off-camber nature of the circuit is one of the main factors at play during the British Grand Prix, with a large tendency for the front tyre to push, making the right, left, right flick down the Craner Curve section something of a high tension and the key to making up time. The stop-and-go nature of the final section, which features three hard braking zones, means the bike also has to be good under braking and makes set-up a quest for compromise between agility and stability.
Valentino Rossi - "My second home race";
Valentino Rossi heads north to Donington Park after a brief stay in his hometown of London. The 28-year-old has lived in the English capital since 2000 and has built up an army of local fans, who have cheered him to victory on seven occasions at the East Midlands circuit. After conceding defeat to Dani Pedrosa when riding through injury to second place last year, Rossi is doubly keen to lead the celebrations again this time around.
"Donington is always like my second home race because I live quite close, in London," says Rossi. "It's one of my favourite racetracks in the world and I've had some fantastic victories there in the past, including my first ever 500cc win back in 2000 after a great battle with Jeremy McWilliams and Kenny Roberts. Last year I had a bad injury after my problem in Assen but I was still able to finish second, which was a great achievement I think."
"This year though it's going to be really hard of course with Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa riding so well at the moment. Even though it hasn't been one of his best tracks in the past I am expecting Casey to be strong again and Dani won last year so we can expect him to be fighting too. Anyway, it's a great track, fun to ride, the straight is not too long and the fans there are wonderful, so I hope we can win again!"
Colin Edwards - "Taking the positives";
It has been a difficult few weeks for Colin Edwards and relatively fruitless in terms of results, with the American struggling to get comfortable with his YZR-M1 machine ever since his good early season form was hit by a terrible run of bad luck. After struggling to finish in the top ten for the past four races, a good result is crucial for the Texan this weekend as he looks to increase confidence and performance levels in the build-up to his home race at Laguna Seca in a month's time.
"I had a lot bigger aspirations for this season than my recent results have shown," concedes Edwards. "After our first few tests and first few races I thought we would be consistently in the top five, but unfortunately that hasn't been the case recently so it's a bit discouraging. At the same time I think you have to bring the positives out of every weekend and learn what you can. I think with Donington coming up we have the chance to turn things around; it's a track that I've always liked - I've won a few races there, stemming back from my World Superbike days."
"I've got nothing but high hopes going there - I know the track like the back of my hand so I'm staying positive. As far as I am concerned, the rest of my year involves winning some races. Winning races was my goal in March and it's still my goal now and, despite the last few races, I know we can do it. I think the next two races at Donington and Assen are prime opportunities."
Davide Brivio - "A great track";
Fiat Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio leads his staff to England in buoyant mood after another top performance from Rossi in Barcelona and a highly encouraging day of tyre tests with Michelin on the day following the race. With the former World Champion missing out on victory in the Grand Prix of Catalunya by just 0.069 seconds, Brivio is only too aware that a small step forward can make a massive difference in the quest for victory at Donington Park.
"Donington has been a great track for both our riders in the past so we go there with high hopes," says Brivio. "Unfortunately Valentino's great record was blighted last year because of the injury he picked up at Assen so we want to make up for that and get him back to the top of the podium, but it won't be easy. Our rivals are very strong this season and we go to each circuit looking to work hard, be competitive in every session and then see what happens on Sunday."
"We had a good tyre test in Barcelona after the race, with Andrew Pitt also completing a lot of laps and giving us some valuable data. I think we will take some of the new tyres to Donington and hopefully they will help us take a step forward. At this high level of competition it is all about taking small steps, which can make the difference between victory and defeat. We are not even halfway through the season yet so there is a long way to go and we will keep fighting."