The green light comes on for the Superbike World Championship's 20th anniversary this weekend with Yamaha expecting great things in all the classes for 2007.
Round one of the 2007 series takes place at the impressive Losail circuit in Qatar, where Yamaha Motor Italia's 'dream team' will look to capitalize on an impressive testing display at the Middle Eastern circuit just over a week ago.
The squad goes into the season with a new and much improved YZF-R1 for Troy Corser and Noriyuki Haga. The latest version of the legendary superbike comes loaded with sophisticated engine management electronics as standard, including Yamaha's YCC-T (Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle) - the so-called 'fly-by-wire' system that should provide a huge help in transferring the 16-valve engine's 200+ bhp to the back tyre as smoothly as possible.
The team has tested twice in Qatar over the winter period with Corser, who has won two of the four races held at the Losail circuit, under the lap record in last weekend's test. The two-times world champion feels he is ready to go for the start of his 11th full superbike campaign, saying: "The team has made me feel very welcome and I'm really enjoying working with them. There's always a lot to do when you have a new bike and the new R1 is no exception. Of course, a little more time on the bike would have been good but I think we'll be ready for the first race. It's going to be another tough season - but then the Superbike World Championship is always tough. There are many good riders and many good bikes, so I don't think any rider is going to find it easy. I may be one of the 'senior' members in the series now, but my passion for racing and winning is the same as when I first started. It's hard to explain the feeling you get on a racebike when everything is working well. It's a tremendous buzz and one that I'm going to enjoy as long as I am having fun. I want to repay Yamaha's faith in me and I'd like to go into the record books by becoming the first rider to win on three different bikes. That would be some achievement!"
Aiming to stop Corser in his quest for a third world title will be his team-mate and Yamaha stalwart Haga. The Japanese rider has finished third in the series for the past three seasons but sees the arrival of the Australian rider as a positive thing rather than a threat. "I have a big respect for Troy," he says. "Not only is he a very fast rider, he also understands how to get the best from the bike. We have had many great and hard battles over the years but he is a good friend off the track. For me the goal is always the same at the start of the season and this year is no different. We want to win the title and I hope we can work well together in developing the new R1 and challenge for the number one. So far testing has gone quite well and the new bike has a lot of potential. But it's the racing that matters and I think that everybody is looking forward to the start of the season."
Yamaha also has high hopes in the world supersport class, where Kevin Curtain came so close to winning the championship last season. For 2007 the structure of the factory's official team has changed, with Yamaha Motor Europe taking over the running of the squad from German distributor Yamaha Motor Germany, although the organization remains largely the same, retaining the team's staff and base in Neuss.
With the current model R6 already having a year's development under its belt the squad is confident of being able to challenge for the top step of the podium from the opening race. Curtain and team-mate Broc Parkes have enjoyed a good winter testing programme, working mostly on suspension and fine-tuning the groundbreaking 600cc machine's electronic systems in a bid to improve ride ability and reduce rear tyre wear over race distance. The team also has the advantage of having tested in both Qatar and Australia, venues for the opening two rounds of the 2007 campaign, with Curtain topping the timesheets at both locations.
"Testing's gone really well," confirms Curtain. "Our lap times have been good and the team has made lots of small improvements that make the bike easier to ride. This time last year we had a new bike and had to play catch up for the first two races but this year hopefully we'll be able to take advantage of the continuity of having the same basic package. After coming so close last year our team is probably more motivated than ever and I really want to get the best possible results for them in these first two races."