ROSSI AND EDWARDS PLOT PHILLIP ISLAND SIEGE
Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards will be looking to turn Phillip Island a Gauloises Yamaha shade of blue this weekend as they head south to the state of Victoria in Australia with one remaining joint objective for the season. With three rounds to go and the riders' and teams' world championship titles already in the bag, Yamaha needs to leave Phillip Island 50 points clear of its nearest rival in the standings to secure the manufacturers' championship for the first time since 2000. This would put the shine on a season of unprecedented Grand Prix success for the factory in the year of its 50th Anniversary.
Rossi already has ten wins to his name this year, more than any other Yamaha rider has ever previously managed in a single campaign, and has his eye on number eleven at a circuit where he has taken victory for each of the last four seasons. His most recent victory there last year clinched the MotoGP World Championship for Yamaha for the first time in over a decade and ensured many happy memories for the team, with several members of Rossi's pit crew hailing from Australia.
Colin Edwards also has a special affiliation with Australia, as it is the country of his father's birth. Whilst making a massive contribution to the team's achievements this season, Edwards has his own personal agenda for the final three rounds and, in particular, this weekend. Boosted by the added support of hoards of friends and family and with years of World Superbike experience at the circuit, the Texan is aiming for a poignant first MotoGP victory and another step towards finishing second in the championship.
This will be the 17th consecutive year that a Grand Prix has been held in Australia since 1989. The first two events were held at Phillip Island, followed by six consecutive seasons at Eastern Creek, before the series returned to 'The Island' in 1997. Sunday's MotoGP race action gets underway at 14.30h local time (CET +8).
VALENTINO ROSSI: RIDERS' PARADISE
Valentino Rossi's memorable title success at Phillip Island last year was perhaps the most famous of his six Grand Prix victories at the circuit. For the past four seasons the Italian has dominated the MotoGP race in Australia but he also tasted success in previous seasons, winning the 250cc race in both 1998 and 1999. There is no doubt that the legendary track is a special venue for Rossi, although he revealed an even deeper affinity with the country itself ahead of the fifteenth round of the season.
"Australia is one of my favourite countries," says Rossi. "I always have a good time in Melbourne and in Phillip Island and once I made a trip to Surfers Paradise with some of my team. I really like the country and I always have fun there. It's an important race for me because most of my mechanics are Australian so it's their home race, like Mugello is for me.
"Phillip Island is a great track, maybe my absolute favourite, and I have some wonderful memories of racing there. Winning the 500cc championship for the first time in 2001 was very special and of course winning the championship for Yamaha last year, which was probably the best title of them all. The track is very fast, very beautiful, and the Yamaha seems to work well there.
"I have had some great, great battles there in the past - two years ago I managed to escape from Capirossi but last year was a hard battle with Gibernau until the last lap. In some parts I was faster than him and some other places slower and for sure it was a lot of fun for everybody watching. I have many rivals who can do well at Phillip Island so we will see this weekend.
"Sometimes the weather is not so good and I hope it's a bit warmer than last year! Still, I am looking forward to it. We had some small problems testing there in the winter but when we tested at Sepang everything was great but during the race weekend we had some problems, so I hope that for Phillip Island it's the opposite!"
COLIN EDWARDS: A HOME FROM HOME
Like Rossi, Colin Edwards has extra reason to look forward to Phillip Island thanks to a series of impressive results there in the past. The American built a strong record at the track during his World Superbike career, finishing on the podium on no fewer than eight occasions, including a win in 2001 in atrocious weather conditions. With three races to go and just seven points separating him from that elusive second place in the championship, Edwards has two clear objectives.
"Phillip Island I like, Valencia also, and we don't know what to expect from Turkey so my mind is still set on winning one of those races and taking second in the championship," says Edwards. "I've got a lot of family in Australia and obviously my connection with the country is very strong. Phillip Island is a race I always look forward to going to for those reasons and this year is no different."
"As for the circuit, we had a good test there in preseason and it is fast, which is the kind of track I have always liked. It has a bit of everything, from fifth gear to first, elevation, positive and negative camber, slow turns, fast turns... all in the space of ten corners! But the biggest thing for me right now is that we learn from the problems we had in the race at Qatar. If we don't then it doesn't matter how much I like the track!"
DAVIDE BRIVIO: HAPPY MEMORIES
After the stresses and strains of three weeks on the road in Asia with the MotoGP World Championship on the line, Gauloises Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio says he is looking forward to a relatively stress-free trip to Australia, where the team will be doing everything they can to add the manufacturers' title to their list of honours this season.
"Phillip Island is a circuit that holds good memories for the team because we won the title there last year and it was a very special moment for everybody at Yamaha," says Brivio. "Both Valentino and Colin like the track very much so we're looking forward to a good race from both of them. We have already got the riders' and teams' titles and we would very much like to win the manufacturers' title too, as well as trying to secure second position in the championship with Colin. We are very close now and all we can do is continue to give our best at each of the remaining three rounds and see what happens.
"It makes Phillip Island an important race but we go there without feeling any pressure. It is a place the riders know well because they have been racing there for many years, also we complete a lot of preseason testing work there, but the conditions seem to be different every time so we'll wait and see what this year holds!
"Anyway, the Australians are very passionate about motorcycle racing and always come down to Phillip Island in big numbers. They are true MotoGP fans and always make it a very special atmosphere so we're all looking forward to it."
BLAST FROM THE PAST: CELEBRATING 50 YEARS OF YAMAHA GLORY
After seeing local hero Wayne Gardner take victory for the first two years of the Australian Grand Prix in 1989 and 1990 at Phillip Island, hopes were high for another home victory when the series switched to a new venue at Eastern Creek on the outskirts of Sydney in 1991. Not only was Gardner still in his prime, but a new young star was emerging in the shape of Mick Doohan, taking the challenge to Yamaha's reigning World Champion Wayne Rainey.
Despite starting from pole position, Rainey was ranked by some locals as an outsider for victory at Eastern Creek -- including the race organisers -- yet he romped home with a 2.5 second advantage over Doohan, with his Yamaha colleague John Kocinski completing the podium in third place. "Probably my favourite story about any of my trophies was the one I won at Eastern Creek in 1991," smiles Rainey. "They moved the race there after two years at Phillip Island, which had both been won by Wayne Gardner, and it seemed the race organisers thought an Australian would win again.
"The trophy was this incredible 1850s America's Cup-style thing, which was worth a fortune, but they had only insured it to stay in Australia! They obviously didn't count on me winning the race but on the Sunday night it was on its way back to the USA with me!"
Throughout his career Rainey experienced a love-hate relationship with Australian fans and riders alike, with Gardner and Doohan two of his fiercest rivals. However, the Californian insists that the mutual respect that always existed between them still lasts to this day. "The Australians always got behind their Grand Prix riders and I really respected that. In fact, I was probably more popular myself in Australia than I was in the US because of the interest in motorcycle racing and the excellent coverage it was given on the television. They had some of the best tracks and the best fans in the world so it was always a great pleasure to race in Australia."
Phillip Island demands far more than just a fast bike to make for quick and consistent lap times. The sweeping and flowing circuit is possibly one of the ultimate tests of machine control and throttle accuracy, not to mention the sheer bravery and forcefulness required of the rider.
Frequent heavy braking is less of a consideration at Phillip Island than most other tracks, and thus a certain level of stability under braking can be sacrificed to allow for greater cornering finesse and agility. The 4.448km Phillip Island track has undergone considerable trackside improvements over the years, aimed at enhancing rider safety. Nonetheless a fast lap of Phillip Island is still rated as one of the most adrenaline-fuelled experiences in any rider's season.
The compromise between setting the suspension at a hard enough level to handle the high cornering forces, while remaining supple over the few high speed ripples, is the goal at 'The Island'. This also helps to prevent the rear end from trying to spin out on the slower corners, losing crucial acceleration.
Overly stiff suspension will not allow the rear end to squat to the required degree under power, making the rear tyre work excessively hard around what is predominantly a left-handed track, promoting premature tyre wear. Rider confidence through suspension consistency is a key at such a fast track, allowing the rider to push the pace for the entire race distance.
The seemingly never-ending final corner is crucial to a good lap time at Phillip Island, and a high speed exit will also determine how soon the rider can reach top speed down the long main straight, another important factor, especially in the last lap of a close race.
Phillip Island's exposed nature means that weather is a constant talking point in the Australian spring climate, adding to the potential