Shell Advance Honda riders Chris Walker and Leon Haslam are confident that they can add to their World Motorcycle Championship points tally in Sunday's French 500cc Grand Prix at Le Mans. Walker is eyeing his first top ten finish of the season...
Shell Advance Honda riders Chris Walker and Leon Haslam are confident that they can add to their World Motorcycle Championship points tally in Sunday's French 500cc Grand Prix at Le Mans.
Walker is eyeing his first top ten finish of the season as he goes in to the fourth round of the championship having finally recovered from a nagging shoulder injury.
"My shoulder is now 100% and it will be good to race without having to think about it being a problem," said Walker who carried the injury through the two previous race weekends in Spain and South Africa.
Meanwhile teenager Haslam will continue his own private battle against rivals on the v-twin version of Honda's factory 500 GP machine.
Briton Walker, 29, spearheads the Shell Advance campaign on a Honda NSR500 V4 and he remains positive despite a series of falls in the opening races of the season. After racing with local hero Carlos Checa in Jerez last week Walker crashed out of the Spanish GP on lap six after posting competitive lap times.
Five crashes is three races is out of character for Walker who notes he only crashed three times in total during the 2000 British Superbike season.
"It's a little annoying, especially when I don't feel I have done anything wrong or been pushing the bike above its limits," Walker said.
"I made a mistake in Japan at the first race but since then there have been no real reasons and that shows up when the team looks at data from the bike set-up."
Walker feels the key to a change of fortune is a stronger qualifying performance and he intends to focus on that during the two days of practice and qualifying at Le Mans in advance of Sunday's race.
"I need to qualify better, towards the sharp end of the grid, and make a good start and then hopefully get towed along by the leading group," Walker said.
"I think starting closer to the front will make it easier to get away and stay out of trouble early in the races. Le Mans is not one of my favourite tracks but I have done plenty of laps there in endurance racing so I know the circuit."
Walker has not allowed the disappointment of Jerez to affect his positive outlook. Rather he is relishing the new challenge of 500 GP racing after switching from the British Superbikes.
"I felt we made a lot of progress at Jerez and the first five laps of the race were very positive, I'm not far away from a good result," Walker said.
For 17 year old Shell teammate Haslam the French GP will be another opportunity to continue his impressive debut 500 GP season. Haslam missed scoring points in Spain by just one place after qualifying strongly but then suffering a lack of front-end grip during the Jerez race.
"I'm hoping for a better result at Le Mans and to at least score some points again," Haslam said.
"At Jerez I was nearly off the bike a couple of times with big front end slides early in the race and I just wanted to make sure made it to the finish."
Shell Advance Honda team boss Jeff Hardwick believes that Walker needs just one strong race performance to make him a consistent top ten finisher.
"Being fully fit will have a big impact on Chris' confidence and this will be helped at Le Mans where he has had a lot of success in endurance racing," Hardick said.
"At Jerez there was a noticeable improvement in lap times and Chris felt a lot more comfortable after he tried new front fork components and settings. As for young Leon we should not forget he is only a teenager in his first 500cc season and he is doing a remarkable job.
"Leon will again be challenging to be the best of the Honda v-twin riders at Le Mans."
The Bugatti Circuit at Le Mans is 4.3kms in length and a much shorter version of the classic road course that annually hosts the famous 24 Hours sportscar race.
The track is all about acceleration and braking with a series of short straights linking tight corners, some almost U-turns. The pit straight, first chicane and fast downhill section after the start are part of the 24 Hours track however the reminder of the motorcycle GP circuit sweeps infield on the Le Mans complex.
-Shell Advance Honda