Italian GP Shell Advance Honda preview

The last time British rider Chris Walker was at Italy9s famed Autodromo Internazionale de Mugello he was a spectator. This Sunday he will be aboard Grand Prix racing9s premier speed weapon, a factory Shell Advance Honda NSR500. "I've been to ...

The last time British rider Chris Walker was at Italy9s famed Autodromo Internazionale de Mugello he was a spectator. This Sunday he will be aboard Grand Prix racing9s premier speed weapon, a factory Shell Advance Honda NSR500.

"I've been to Mugello to watch but I have never ridden a Grand Prix bike there so I'm really looking forward to racing in the Italian GP," Walker said.

"It's another new circuit so I've got some learning to do but I'm confident I can come to grips with the track. One thing you find out being a spectator is the fantastic atmosphere that all the Italian fans bring to Mugello, they are so enthusiastic about GP racing."

This year the local fans will have plenty to cheer about at the track owned by the Shell sponsored Ferrari Formula One team whose headquarters are located in nearby Maranello. Italian trio Valentino Rossi (Honda), French GP winner Max Biaggi (Yamaha) and Loris Capirossi (Honda) are tipped to battle for victory on the sweeping 5.24 km Mugello layout where top speeds reach 310 kph.

Walker, 29, will be the Shell Advance Honda Team's sole representative in the Italian GP. His teenage teammate Leon Haslam will miss the race while he recovers from a broken wrist suffered at Le Mans during qualifying for last week's French Grand Prix.

Haslam hopes to be fit for the sixth round of the world championship, the Catalunya GP in Barcelona on June 17.

"Obviously I'm disappointed not to be racing in Italy but I'm hoping to get a clearance from the doctors to race in Barcelona," Haslam said.

"Since I came back to England after Le Mans I've been resting and getting laser treatment so hopefully I'll be strong enough to ride in Spain. I'm making good progress and I just need to rest and make sure I'm ready to go when the doctors give me the OK."

Walker goes to Mugello buoyed by his 12th place finish in the French GP and a successful test session at the Le Mans circuit the day after the race. The test gave Walker valuable additional track time on the Shell Advance Honda 500 while allowing the team to evaluate suspension settings and a range of new Shell fuels.

"In the race at Le Mans I struggled a bit with rear end grip and by the end of the race my tyre was pretty much worn out," Walker said.

"It is so much easier to work through the solutions at a test day when there is no pressure for a qualifying time. With the assistance of the factory Showa suspension engineers I feel we took some positive steps towards fine tuning our chassis settings."

"The bike feels more responsive and stable so I'm going to Mugello looking to capitalise on the Le Mans result and add to my points in the world championship. I will have a good look around before practice starts on Friday and come to grips with the track which is one of the faster circuits on the calender.

"All the races this season have been run at record pace so I can't see Mugello being any different and with the depth of competition it is a banner year for GP racing. Actually it would be a great race to be a spectator although come Sunday afternoon I'm going to be a little busy out on the track, that's where I prefer to be."

Although Leon Haslam will be absent Shell Advance team boss Jeff Hardwick feels that Chris Walker will do the team proud and that Mugello will see the British star take another step forward in his rookie factory Honda Grand Prix season.

"The team made some excellent progress with Chris at the Le Mans test, both with the bike set-up and evaluation of some new Shell fuel which is giving much cleaner low end engine response and improved top speed," Hardwick said. "The decision was taken not to replace Leon for the Italian GP. He is a special young talent and there wasn't an obvious choice of rider who could do the job. I'm very hopeful Leon will back with the Shell team for Barcelona, he is healing fast."

Already enshrined as one of the most popular races of the season Sunday9s Italian GP is expected to attract a record crowd of noisy and enthusiastic fans to the picturesque Mugello circuit.

Set in a picture-postcard Tuscan valley near Florence the location provides a natural amphitheatre offering fabulous views of the GP action on a track that combines a classic series of fast and slow turns and a roller-coaster ride across both sides of a tree-lined valley. All finished off with an ultra-fast main straight that produces top speeds upwards of 310 kph.

-SAH

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Chris Walker , Leon Haslam