The second round of the MotoGP World Championship welcomes the Fiat Yamaha Team to Europe next weekend with Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards looking to continue their strong start to the season at Jerez. After starring in an intriguing curtain-raiser to the season in Qatar, where the pair dominated in practice only to see Casey Stoner (Ducati) storm to his debut victory in the race, the Italian and the American will be looking to use data from positive tests at the Spanish circuit just over three weeks ago to propel them to victory next Sunday.
Second place for Rossi in the desert dust of Doha leaves him lying second in the championship, five points behind the Australian youngster, whilst Edwards holds sixth place after suffering grip problems on the unpredictable Losail surface in the race. Both riders lapped well at Jerez in the final Official Test of the pre-season, when Rossi took the top spot in a televised 'qualifying' session - smashing the pole record with a best lap of 1'38.394.
Rossi's record at Jerez in competitive action is unmatched, the 28-year-old having won there on six occasions riding five different types of motorcycle since his first appearance in the 125cc class in 1996. Edwards, meanwhile, had never ridden at the Spanish venue previous to his debut MotoGP appearance in 2003 and the Texan has enjoyed limited success at the circuit since then, his best finish coming with seventh spot in a wet race three seasons ago.
Jerez could barely provide a starker contrast to the scenes at Losail, with the rolling green Andalusian hills providing the ideal setting for a natural amphitheatre that has become known as the Spanish Mecca of motorcycle racing, with upwards of 120,000 fans making the annual pilgrimage. The track itself challenges the riders to pick the most effective racing line, with few hard braking points and little opportunity to fully open the throttle. The 4.423km layout features regular and quick changes in direction, meaning that the rider requires a responsive overall set-up and good grip at maximum lean angles.
Valentino Rossi - "We're in good shape";
Valentino Rossi has reiterated his confidence in the ability of Yamaha's engineers to respond to the top-speed challenge laid down by Ducati at Qatar as he looks to end his longest run without a win since his debut victory at Donington Park in 2000. Stoner's machine had the top speed advantage over Rossi's down the long Losail straight but 'The Doctor' fully expects the deficit to reduce over the coming weeks and says that the extra corner speed of his M1 will prove crucial at tighter circuits such as Jerez.
"I think Qatar showed that, although we have some areas to improve, our bike is working well and we won't be making the same mistakes as last year," said Rossi. "I'm feeling confident for Jerez, I think it will suit our bike very well, even better than Qatar, and we were very strong there in the test. We know we lack a bit of horsepower but I think this will improve race-by-race and Yamaha are working very hard. I don't expect it to be a big problem in Jerez as it's a different type of track".
"Jerez is one of my favourite circuits and I've had some great races there in the past so I hope this is another good year for me there. Qatar was very quiet, which was a good way to start the season because there were no distractions for me, but Jerez is always a great party with a fantastic atmosphere, so now I am really looking forward to that and I hope we can give the fans a good show. I expect that Pedrosa will be very fast here, as he was in the test, and I expect a big battle with him at his home race."
Colin Edwards - "Learn and move on";
Despite his unexpected problems in the race at Losail, sixth place for Colin Edwards was still a decent points haul for the opening round and the Texan is confident of adding considerably to that tally at Jerez. The more predictable nature of the Spanish track conditions should allow the 33-year-old to fully exploit the excellent set-up work he completed there during pre-season testing and allow him to once again run at the top of the time sheets throughout the Grand Prix.
"I'm looking forward to Jerez, our bike worked pretty well there during the test and we made some good changes to it there so I am expecting to be running at the top again - just this time I hope to be able to do it in the race, too!" says Edwards. "Qatar was disappointing of course because we were so good all week and then the race didn't work out. It wasn't what we expected but we just have to learn from it and move on".
"Last year Jerez wasn't great for us, I got a good start but then got caught up in Valentino's crash and ran through the gravel at turn one but both he and I will be looking to avoid anything like that this year! We've got a good setting to start with in Jerez and we'll go from there. We know we need to work on a few things and I know Yamaha are working hard to improve our top speed a bit, but hopefully that won't be too much of an issue in Jerez".
Davide Brivio - "Podium priority";
Fiat Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio outlined the importance of Rossi's opening-race podium in what promises to be another unpredictable season of MotoGP racing. Whilst the team's focus is clearly on winning races, Brivio points out that the priority is to be on the rostrum in as many events as possible as the team put together another championship tilt. The Italian added that his staff are now looking forward to the next challenge, with Jerez high on the list of favourite venues for any paddock regular.
"We're happy with the way the season started in Qatar because we saw that our bike is competitive and ready to win races " says Brivio. "We were on the podium and that is our target at every race this season because that's where the serious points are. Now we're looking forward to Jerez, a circuit where we tested well at and got lots of good information, so hopefully there will be no surprises. We're also confident that the difference between our bike and others in straight-line speed won't be as much of an issue there".
"Qatar is a nice place to go but it clearly doesn't have the atmosphere and sense of occasion of Jerez. It's nice to be in such a great motorcycling arena, with lots of people bustling around the paddock and thousands of screaming fans in the grandstand. I think it is the kind of atmosphere Valentino responds to and he will want to put on a great show for the fans. It's a great motivation for all the riders and there is no reason why Colin can't repeat his form at the tests and challenge with Valentino for the podium this Sunday."