Spanish GP: Gauloises Yamaha Team preview

GAULOISES YAMAHA TEAM READY TO DEFEND MOTOGP TITLE IN 50th ANNIVERSARY YEAR The Gauloises Yamaha Team returns to the Jerez circuit in Spain this week to begin its defence of the MotoGP World Championship title after an intense winter of tests,...

GAULOISES YAMAHA TEAM READY TO DEFEND MOTOGP TITLE IN 50th ANNIVERSARY YEAR

The Gauloises Yamaha Team returns to the Jerez circuit in Spain this week to begin its defence of the MotoGP World Championship title after an intense winter of tests, which concluded at the Spanish circuit just eight days ago. In the year of Yamaha's 50th anniversary, current World Champion Valentino Rossi and his new team-mate Colin Edwards will be challenging for victory on the new, improved version of the impressive YZR-M1 machine, that swept to the title in Rossi's prodigious hands in 2004.

It's been a busy winter for the Italian, which began with an historic journey to Yamaha's head office in Iwata, Japan, to receive the certificate of ownership for his title-winning YZR-M1. The bike was given to Rossi as a personal 'thank you' from the company's president, Mr Toru Hasegawa, last November. Since then Yamaha's engineers and Rossi have worked extensively on the 2005 version of the machine at in-depth test sessions in Malaysia, Australia and Spain, where he has been joined by his new Gauloises Yamaha team-mate Edwards.

The new pairing have a similar riding style and, having previously worked closely together at the Suzuka 8 Hour Endurance race, have forged a close relationship that has helped accelerate development of the 2005 version YZR-M1.

The 990cc, 220+hp machine is a far cry from Yamaha Motor Company's first race motorcycle, the 5hp YA-1, which enjoyed a winning debut at the Mount Fuji Ascent Race in 1955. That historic victory made the YA-1 officially the fastest motorcycle in Japan and the philosophy behind its creation is what has driven Yamaha to building the championship-winning motorcycle.

Fifty years ago, Yamaha's then-President Genichi Kawakami challenged his team to "achieve the greatest possible results within the given conditions by making thorough preparations, checking operations for completeness and practising in actual race conditions". Rossi and Edwards worked precisely to that end during three days of IRTA tests at Jerez last week and are now itching to reap the fruits of their labour in this weekend's opening Grand Prix.

Traditionally the first European race of the season, Jerez this year opens the championship for the first time and is sure to welcome a capacity crowd. The 2004 event attracted record weekend attendances in excess of 206,000 people, with almost 125,000 turning out on race day, despite torrential rainstorms, to maintain the unique atmosphere that has become synonymous with one of MotoGP's most prestigious events.

VALENTINO ROSSI: RARING TO RACE

Valentino Rossi admits he is relishing the opportunity to go racing again after a long winter of public appearances and tests. In recent weeks the World Champion has worked intensively on the chassis setting of his 2005 YZR-M1 in order to make it as agile as last year's machine and, after experiencing some initial problems, the Jerez tests confirmed his rapid progress as he steadily worked towards a succession of highly-promising lap times on race tyres.

"I'm happy at last to have finished testing and to be going racing," says Rossi. "We've done so many kilometres with the bike and on planes that it already feels like the middle of the season! We've got a new bike and some things are very different to the old M1 so we've needed this development time. We've made some mistakes along the way but overall we've done some good work and I think we are ready to race now. I'm confident about the first race."

Rossi has a stronger record at Jerez than any other rider, winning here on no fewer than five occasions in the 125cc, 250cc, 500cc and MotoGP classes. However, the Italian admits he has a score to settle after a disappointing race last year, when heavy rain hindered his chances of finishing any higher than fourth place after qualifying in pole position.

"Jerez is one of my favourite tracks. It suits my riding style well; it's technical and difficult, with long, fast corners where the line is very important, and hard braking. I made a lot of kilometres here on the 125 and 250 bikes when I was younger and I almost always have a good race here. However after last year I have an account to settle with the circuit! I was very fast in the dry, with pole position, but then the rain ruined it on race day - I hope this year it will stay dry."

After taking the title in his first season with Yamaha, Rossi is now faced with perhaps the even bigger challenge of defending his crown with his rivals knowing exactly what to expect from the first race. "For sure this will be a very hard fight this year," he admits. "Last year we surprised everyone and they didn't expect us to win immediately. This year everyone will be trying to arrive in front of us from the first race. I think that Gibernau will be my closest competitor again but there are a lot of fast riders and it will be a big battle!

"To start the championship in Jerez is great for the fans and for sure there will be a big, big party for everyone. The fans that come here are amazing and I also hope for them that it doesn't rain!"

COLIN EDWARDS: MAKING HIMSELF AT HOME

Colin Edwards is also looking forward to getting back to competitive action in what will be his debut year for Yamaha in MotoGP. The American actually began his top-level career with the factory, clinching his first professional win on a Yamaha 250 at Daytona in 1992 before starting his World Superbike career with the factory three years later, and he has quickly felt at home with both the team and the YZR-M1.

Edwards, a specialist tyre tester, has worked extensively with Michelin and new Crew Chief Daniele Romagnoli over the pre-season. The Gauloises Yamaha Team rookie's swift adaptation to the demands of the YZR-M1 has allowed him to focus on specific areas of development, such as engine mapping, to help create a competitive overall package.

"I am happy with how I've rounded off the end of the preseason testing and I was really glad to do some good work on race tyres during the IRTA Test in Jerez," says Edwards. "It was useful to have a test at the same circuit as the first race and during all our hard work there we found a really good base set-up. I hope that when we get to Jerez on Friday we'll be able to start working straight away at the level we were at during the last test. Obviously it rained during the race last year, which wasn't good for me, but we had a good test in the wet during the IRTA test and I'm confident that we're ready for that, too.

"After so much flying this year, eight tests since Valencia and so many track miles already ridden, I'm really happy that we're going racing at last! After the last tests I'm pleased with the bike and quite excited about the good package that we've got to start the season with. I feel like I've come a long way since I first sat on the Yamaha last November. The tests have been hard work but there's no denying it's good to get so many laps under my belt."

Having only ridden at Jerez for the first time on his arrival to MotoGP two seasons ago, Edwards doesn't have the same history there as Rossi and can only boast a best finish of seventh at the circuit. However, the Texan built on his knowledge at last week's IRTA tests and says he's ready to challenge for the podium in any conditions.

"I rode a MotoGP bike for the very first time at Jerez and I've always liked the track. However I haven't had very much luck there since then and I'm looking to turn that around this year on the Yamaha!

"I'm determined to do well at the first race, I won't be happy with anything less than the top step of the podium. I feel good about the forthcoming season and I hope that I will be fighting for the championship from this very first GP. The track has a good layout and it's definitely a rider's track. I'm looking forward to seeing all the crazy fans as usual and I think it will be a good place to kick off the new season!"

DAVIDE BRIVIO: CALM AND CONFIDENT

Gauloises Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio is as keen to get back to racing as the riders, having worked equally hard over the winter to make sure the YZR-M1 is as competitive in 2005 as it was in 2004. Having won the team title as well as the riders' title last season, Brivio admits there is more pressure on his staff this time around but expressed his confidence in the diligence of their preseason preparations.

"After a long winter, during which we've done a lot of testing, it's really good to be finally going racing," commented Brivio, who has worked previously with Edwards during his time in the World Superbike series. "We're very interested to see the level of our bike against all the others; during testing everybody has been very aggressive but also everybody tends to try to hide some things about their bikes!

"We want to see where we really are against the others and this is the first real chance. We're feeling a little bit different to this time last year; this time everyone is looking at us and expecting us to be in front. Despite this added pressure we're really excited about it!

"With Valentino and Colin we've had some ups and downs throughout the winter, but it's generally been positive and we've concluded testing on a good note. Valentino was not bad during the Barcelona test and he set some good times in Jerez last week. There are still a few problems to solve on the new bike, but nothing big and I'm confident that we're ready for the first race. I am sure that the mechanics and engineers will be able to fix these things during the two days of practice before the race.

"Colin has spent the winter working hard to adapt to a new bike and a new team. We were pleased with his progress at the Jerez test and now we're looking forward to seeing how he does at the first race. I think he has a good chance to stay in the top group; this is our target for the first race. I hope that we can see both our riders on the podium together often during this season; this is our dream!"

BLAST FROM THE PAST: CELEBRATING 50 YEARS OF YAMAHA GLORY

Almost two decades have passed since Yamaha's first success at the Jerez circuit, when Eddie Lawson clinched victory in what was actually then called the 'Portuguese Grand Prix' in 1988. It was only the second race to be held at Jerez and Yamaha was completely dominant, filling the podium with new boys Wayne Rainey and Kevin Magee taking second and third places respectively behind Lawson.

The victory signalled a return to form for 'Steady Eddie', who had lost his title to Wayne Gardner in 1987 after two consecutive 500cc World Championship-winning campaigns for Yamaha. It also triggered a run of results that would see the Californian reclaim his throne for the third time, as he went on to win the next round at Imola and take four further victories from the remaining ten races.

"That race feels like 100 years ago now but it was a really important victory for myself and Yamaha," remembers Lawson, who ended his illustrious Grand Prix career in 1992. "To be honest there were so many close races that season against guys like Rainey, Gardner, Magee and Mamola that it's hard to remember the details, but one thing that always stands out in your mind from Jerez is the atmosphere. The sport had been made huge there at that time by guys like Angel Nieto and I guess the tradition has continued from there."

Before Valentino Rossi's historic title triumph last season for Yamaha, Lawson was the only rider ever to have won the premier-class for different manufacturers in successive seasons. It is a feat he admits he expected to be repeated much sooner and says that Rossi is a special talent.

"Records are there to be broken and to be honest I was sure mine would fall much quicker than it did. I suppose if there is anybody out there who had to do it, it would be Valentino. From what I have seen he is in another league to the other riders, he is very impressive.

"Above all I was pleased to see Yamaha win the title again. I've still got a lot of friends there and I'm delighted to see them enjoying the success they definitely deserve."

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

The 4.423km Jerez circuit features five left and eight right hand corners, a surprising degree of elevation and some camber changes on what, to the casual observer, is a largely flat track layout. Exactness of line makes precise chassis set-up a must, and to make the most of the squirts between corners a clean and predictable throttle response is needed throughout the rev-range.

With only a 600m main straight, absolute horsepower comes into play relatively infrequently, the most important factor being set-up for predictable performance through the regular changes of direction. Some heavy braking points around the track make that aspect of performance vital to a good race result, while the surface is neither the slickest nor most abrasive on the calendar.

With Jerez a well-known quantity, particularly after the three days of IRTA tests there just a week ago, the riders should find the right set-up for their bikes relatively quickly. The fight for pole position is sure to be a close affair, with seven riders having lapped inside Rossi's pole record at that final pre-season session.

Excitement in qualifying will be even higher this season, as MotoGP now features three free practice sessions and just one qualifying practice, which will be held on the eve of the race.

-gyt-

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Valentino Rossi , Colin Edwards , Wayne Rainey , Eddie Lawson , Wayne Gardner , Davide Brivio , Angel Nieto