Japanese GP: Gauloises Yamaha Team preview

GAULOISES YAMAHA TEAM HEADS EAST FOR FIRST TITLE SHOT AT MOTEGI Gauloises Yamaha Team rider Valentino Rossi has his first chance to secure the 2005 MotoGP World Championship title next weekend, as the series heads east to the Twin Ring Motegi ...


Gauloises Yamaha Team rider Valentino Rossi has his first chance to secure the 2005 MotoGP World Championship title next weekend, as the series heads east to the Twin Ring Motegi circuit for the Grand Prix of Japan. The twelfth round of the season is the first of a string of five 'flyaway' races in just six weekends and Rossi, his team-mate Colin Edwards and the whole of the Gauloises Yamaha Team are travelling full of confidence. As well as boasting a healthy lead in the teams' world championship, Yamaha is also on top of the manufacturers' standings and Edwards is in a prime position to attack for the runner-up spot in the riders' standings behind Rossi.

Any number of result combinations could see Rossi crowned World Champion for the fifth consecutive year this weekend, but the Italian knows that a top-two finish will be enough to guarantee him the title. Rossi has won nine out of the eleven races so far this season and his current points total of 261 is the highest he has achieved at this stage of the season in any class previously. Having finished on the podium at the last fourteen races, a top three finish in Japan would equal the longest string of podiums in the premier-class by a Yamaha rider since Wayne Rainey managed fifteen between 1989 and 1990.

The omens are good for Rossi, who has a strong record at Motegi despite claiming that it is not one of his favourite tracks. He has finished on the podium in each of his five premier-class starts there, taking victory in 2001. The Italian is targeting a repeat result on Sunday, as he looks to improve on a career victory percentage that already stands him alongside the most celebrated names in Grand Prix history. Currently only John Surtees, Giacomo Agostini and Mike Hailwood can boast a better win ratio than the 26-year-old Italian in the premier-class, but Rossi could once again change history before the end of the season.

Rossi and Edwards are two of only three riders in the MotoGP class to have scored points at each race so far this season, and the American will be hoping to keep that consistency going in Japan as he aims to narrow a six-point gap to second place in the championship. After finishing a disappointing seventh in the last round at Brno, Edwards benefited from two days of tests at the Czech Republic circuit, where he and his crew focused on ironing out the rear grip problems he suffered during the race, and he is now confident of getting back to his best form. Rossi also made steps forward in the Brno tests, trying out a new front fork setting and completing valuable work with the engine mapping, aimed at optimising the set-up of the YZR-M1 for what promises to be an intense season finale.


Whilst a top-two finish will suffice for Valentino Rossi this weekend, the flamboyant Italian is not one to settle for second best. Rossi has sealed each of his previous four premier-class titles with a victory and he is not planning on changing the habit this time around. Motegi is the first of six 'match-point' races for the 26 year old.

"The advantage we have in the championship means that I can ride at each of the remaining six rounds without pressure and try to win every race," said Rossi. "The championship victory is really near and we have a great advantage. At Motegi, as at every race, we will try to fight for the victory. Winning is the thing I like the most and this will be my main aim!"

Rossi admits that Motegi, a remote countryside town located over 100 kilometres from the glitzy capital city of Tokyo, is not the ideal place for a celebration but he insists that any circuit in the world can become party territory when a world title is at stake. "Motegi is not one of my favourite tracks, and there are perhaps some places which are better for celebrating, but I won't be thinking about this; a championship victory is the same anywhere, it doesn't matter to me where we win, as long as we do!

"We had a two-day test after the Brno race, which was quite hard as I wanted to relax! However it was important to keep working, as anything can still happen in the championship and we needed to be fully prepared for the flyaway races. We didn't change anything big, since the bike is working well and we have a good set-up to take to Motegi, but it was a valuable test. We tried quite a lot of tyres for Michelin and I hope that this will help us over the last part of the season. It's been good to have a short break since Brno before the flyaway races, it's the hardest part of the year with so many races close together, so we need a lot of energy"


Colin Edwards travels to Japan in a determined mood after leaving the last round in Brno with mixed feelings. The American was disappointed with his seventh place finish in the Czech Republic but was encouraged by the progress made in the two days of tests and, with just six points separating him from second place in the championship, the incentive could not be much higher over the final six races.

"We tested after Brno and I hope that we've solved the issues that followed us through the weekend," said Edwards. "We really tried out a lot of things with the setting to try to fix the problem with traction and at the end of the two days I was feeling much happier about it. I think that we made some valuable progress with our race set-up, which will hopefully see us through to the end of the season. Fingers crossed, now we can really go for it over the last six races and try for the podium -- and the win -- everywhere! I've still got second place in the championship firmly in my sights."

One year ago Edwards was involved in an opening corner melee that saw six riders crash out of the race at Motegi, the only Grand Prix in which he has failed to pick up points since Valencia 2003, and he is determined to make up for that minor blot on his copybook this weekend.

"Last year in Motegi I got caught in the pile-up at turn one, it was the only race of the year where I didn't score points so it was pretty disappointing! I've only ridden at Motegi twice but I actually really like it. A lot of the riders don't like racing in Japan but I've always enjoyed it, the fans are really keen and the atmosphere is always good. The track is interesting, I like the four corners after the tunnel exit, and there are plenty of good places to overtake."


Gauloises Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio is confident that his staff are ready for an intense finale to the season and primed to rack up the kilometres as they prepare to tackle five races across three continents in just six weekends. Brivio insists the team are not yet thinking about title celebrations and are simply focusing on meeting all of their objectives between now and the end of the season.

"The next six weeks will be quite hard but we have an experienced team and they are used to the travelling, so we are only thinking about the job at hand," says Brivio. "Our only target right now is to go to Japan and try to make sure that both our riders get the best possible results. When the chequered flag waves then maybe we can think about celebrating, but for the moment that is not in our minds.

"We know Motegi will be difficult because it is the home circuit of one of our main competitors and also a local race for a rival tyre manufacturer so we can expect them to be strong, as they were last season. But it is also the only race we have in Japan so we want to put on a good show for all the Yamaha staff and supporters over there.

"This is the start of a tough finale to the season but we can look forward to it with optimism. We are on top of the riders', teams' and manufacturers' championships and we have Colin fighting at the top. So far the season has been excellent for us but we must also finish it in the right way, which means achieving all of our targets."


Grand Prix motorcycle racing arrived in Japan in 1987 and, for seventeen years, was held at the notoriously difficult Suzuka Circuit in the Mie Prefecture. During that time Suzuka witnessed some of Yamaha's most famous victories, but none more so than that of one of Japan's most celebrated racing heroes, Norick Abe. Abe made his name at Suzuka in 1995 when, at just 19 years of age, he clinched a stunning podium finish in his first full season of World Championship racing. However the youngster would etch his name firmly in the record books one year later, when he became the first home rider to win the 500cc Japanese Grand Prix, which turned him into a national hero overnight.

"I can remember everything about that race," smiles Abe, who went on to take two further 500cc victories for Yamaha at Rio in 1999 and Suzuka again in 2000. "It was my second season with Yamaha and I had been very fast in pre-season. The first two races of the year were in Malaysia and Indonesia but they both went very badly for me, worse than they had done in my debut season in '95. The third round was my home Grand Prix at Suzuka and there was so much pressure on me to do well, it was unbelievable.

"In practice and qualifying I was no good and by the time the race came around the pressure had built up so much that I couldn't even think about what I was doing. In the end it worked in my favour because I just went out and raced as hard as I could. Everything came really easily and I was so fast, it was a bit of a surprise! I finished over six seconds ahead of Alex Criville... I couldn't believe it really.

"I remember the next day the interest from the press, television stations and the fans was amazing. More importantly, people within the sport started taking me seriously. Some people weren't so sure that I had the talent to win races but after Suzuka '96 they started to look at me differently and trust in my ability. That race changed my life."


Now in its sixth year of inclusion in the MotoGP calendar, Motegi has matured into a challenging fixture. It has outstanding quality of build and facilities, although the tremendous paddock is not quite matched by the intricacies and character of a somewhat geometric circuit layout.

A bump-free surface offers good levels of grip without being particularly abrasive, but the proliferation of second gear turns, linked for the most part by mini-drag strips, means braking and acceleration are the main prerequisite to a fast lap time, and consistency the key to a good race.

A similar set-up to the hard-braking and hard accelerating required at Le Mans will be needed at Motegi, tailored to the particular nature of the Japanese track, which does enjoy some changes of elevation. The fast approach to the 90 Corner, followed by hard downhill braking and then a mini complex of corners, is often the final arbiter on who wins any Motegi race.

Balance and stability under braking are the keys at Motegi and with both Gauloises Yamaha Team riders on the podium at the similar Le Mans track earlier this year, Motegi could offer the prospect of another top weekend for Yamaha at the Factory's home race.


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Series MotoGP
Drivers Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Alex Criville , Colin Edwards , Giacomo Agostini , John Surtees , Davide Brivio , Mike Hailwood