FIAT YAMAHA TEAM HOPING FOR POINTS BOOST IN CHINA After the disappointment of an unrewarding weekend in Istanbul, the Fiat Yamaha Team take their quest for glory even further east this week as the MotoGP World Championship points-chase stops off...
FIAT YAMAHA TEAM HOPING FOR POINTS BOOST IN CHINA
After the disappointment of an unrewarding weekend in Istanbul, the Fiat Yamaha Team take their quest for glory even further east this week as the MotoGP World Championship points-chase stops off in Shanghai. The Grand Prix of China is the fourth round of eighteen on this year's gruelling calendar and it promises to be one of the most challenging, with the horsepower-sapping nature of the circuit and the unpredictable weather of the world's ninth largest city sure to play their part.
The past two visits to Shanghai have provided almost polar extremes in the conditions, with a torrential downpour virtually flooding the circuit in the inaugural event of 2005 and then the intense heat of a year ago, when ambient temperatures during the race touched 31ºC, presenting an altogether different challenge. The event has also seen stark contrasts in fortunes for Valentino Rossi, who navigated his way to victory ahead of Olivier Jacque two years ago but suffered front tyre problems in the heat-wave of 2006 and was forced to retire from the race.
Colin Edwards provided some cheer for the team last year by clinching third place in what would prove to be his only podium finish of the campaign. This year the Texan heads to China with a rostrum already under his belt, thanks to his third place at Jerez, following an encouraging start to the season that was only spoiled by an unfortunate crash in Turkey, when he was knocked out of the leading group by another rider on the first lap. Edwards suffered a cut and swollen knee in the incident and was forced to skip a day of testing at Istanbul Park last Monday but he will be fit to resume action in Friday morning's opening free practice session.
Despite being drawn by the same hand as the Istanbul Park Circuit in Turkey, Shanghai has different characteristics that bring to mind closer comparisons with the other Herman Tilke circuit of Sepang. Combining fast straights and hard braking zones with a series of slow and difficult corners, bike set-up is a question of finding a compromised balance and enough horsepower to deal with the longest straight on the calendar, measuring 1202 metres. The unpredictable conditions and mixed data from previous seasons mean grip levels will be a complete mystery, making life even more difficult for Michelin's engineers as they try to adapt to new tyre restrictions in the most demanding of circumstances.
Valentino Rossi heads to Shanghai with his mind still fully focused on the job despite tyre problems at Istanbul and in this race last year. Other than when he fell and re-mounted to take 14th at Jerez last season, tenth place in Turkey was the Italian's worst-ever dry weather result since his rookie premier-class season in 2000 and he is keen to make amends this Sunday.
"We had a bad result in Turkey which we weren't expecting after being on pole, but Michelin have been working very hard to understand what went wrong and to ensure that it won't happen again," says Rossi. "We had a good test on Monday and tried a lot of new tyre combinations with China in mind, so we are going there with some ideas about what we think will work. Now it's a case of making what is hopefully the right tyre choice and then seeing how things go on Friday morning.
"Last year we had a big problem in China and I couldn't finish the race, but in 2005 I had a great victory there in the wet so I have some nice memories of this track as well as some bad ones! We know it's not ideal for our bike and maybe they're going to have to split the main straight in two - one part for Ducati and one part for the rest of us! Joking aside though, it's a very long straight and we know that we're going to lack some top speed on it but the new engine modifications we had in Turkey worked well and there's a good improvement, so hopefully it won't be too serious. We're second in the championship and we've lost a few points so we need to aim for a podium to get back on track."
Colin Edwards insists he will be back up and fighting in China despite being knocked to the canvas on the first lap of the Grand Prix of Turkey. The Texan has boxed clever throughout testing and the opening three rounds of the season to give himself an optimum chance of success this season and he is hoping his excellent relationship with Michelin can pay dividends in a race that will place huge emphasis on tyre choice.
"Turkey was a real shame because I felt I could have challenged for a podium, but that's racing and there's no point getting angry and stewing over it," reflects Edwards. "I didn't test on Monday because my knee was pretty painful but a few days resting up at home has helped a lot and it's feeling a lot better. After starting the season pretty well it was disappointing to have such a bad time in Turkey for the team but that's our ‘bogey' circuit and now we're looking forward to punching back in China!
"Shanghai last year was good for me and I ended up on the podium and of course I'm aiming to repeat that with improvement this year! We know it's going to be a tricky track for us with the long straight but hopefully we can make it up on the other parts of the track. Again the tyres are going to be a big factor but Valentino and Michelin worked seriously hard on Monday in Turkey, while I was chair-bound, and I think they've got some good plans about what's going to work."
"DEFENCE THE PRIORITY"
Fiat Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio says his riders face an uphill challenge in their battle for honours this weekend and admits the onus will be on defence rather than attack in the final ‘flyaway' race before the start of the European term. The Italian pinpoints the long straights of Shanghai as a potential sticking point for the YZR-M1 but says his team are putting their faith in a new direction of development with Michelin tyres - aimed at an assault on the top positions during the decisive run of races up to summer.
"Turkey was disappointing but at the same time very important to get information and data about where the limit of the tyres is with these new bikes and where they can be improved," says Brivio. "We had a very good meeting with Michelin and developed some ideas during the test last Monday. Time will tell but it seems we have identified a new direction to work in and we are all keen to get to China to verify those ideas and help Michelin find a tyre that is most suitable for our bike and for our riders' style.
"China will be a very difficult race for us because of the long straight. It is not a track that allows us to maximise the potential of our bike, which is perhaps stronger at smaller, more ‘rideable' circuits. We really have to go there and defend as much as possible and focus on getting the bike and tyres ready to attack when we return to Europe once more. Hopefully then we can be back fighting for the victory."
-credit: yamaha racing