HONDA RIDERS HOME IN ON 200TH WIN

As three vital races approach, Honda has three riders in the top four places of the overall MotoGP points standings.

Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) shares the lead on 99 points with Ducati’s Loris Capirossi. Marco Melandri (Fortuna Honda RC211V) sits third on 89 with Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC211V) fourth on 86.

This is shaping up to be a tough, tight title fight and the next three races, all on consecutive weekends, here in Catalunya, at Assen in The Netherlands less than a week later, and then at Donington Park in England, will be key in establishing who has the will to grind out an advantage in this enthralling World Championship.

In recent years the direction of the title has been strongly indicated at this stage of the season. But this year could not be more different. Four different winners of the six races so far compared to just two winners of the equivalent races in 2005 tells its own story.

The meteoric arrival of Honda’s race-winning and rostrum-grabbing rookies is perhaps the biggest change to the old order in 2006. Dani Pedrosa has already won in China in only his fourth race on a 990cc machine, and it is not in the least far-fetched to suggest that he could win his second race here at his ‘home’ track.

If he does it will be Honda’s 200th win in the premier class. Dani won here last year on a 250 and he also triumphed on a 125 in 2003 – who would now bet against him completing a clean sweep of the categories with a MotoGP victory on Sunday? His team-mate Nicky Hayden would.

Hayden has been a model of consistency so far this year. Continuing the rich vein of form with which he ended 2005, the American has now achieved eight podium finishes from nine starts. Impressive though this statistic is, Hayden knows he needs wins to cement his title bid, and whether it comes here, in Holland, or in England it needs to be happen before race winners eat away at his points tally.

Melandri won here on a 250 in 2002 and placed third here last year on an RC211V and in 2004 on a Yamaha. The Italian, who has won two races this season, must be among the favourites to shine this weekend. He is only ten points behind the series leaders and knows another victory would be of crucial importance both numerically and psychologically.

 

Whatever transpires in terms of the long haul of the 17-round World Championship, the Montmelo circuit is highly likely to provide a captivating race. The track lies 20km north of Barcelona. It is 4.727km long and features two long straights. Speeds of more than 210mph are attained on the main start/finish straight by the 250bhp MotoGP machines.

Two of the 13 turns at this track feature negative camber, making lean angle increase for a decrease in tyre grip. The rest of the corners are largely constant radius and hard on tyres especially the longer right-handers.

Chassis set-up requires good front/rear balance so that the bikes are easy to turn-in under hard barking and also so they have enough weight transfer under hard acceleration to allow the rear tyre to ‘hook-up’ and drive the bike out of turns without too much wheelspin. A relaxed ‘flowing’ style from riders is the key to a fast lap here.

Nicky said, “I quite like the Catalunya circuit. It’s quite fast, it’s got some quick corners and I’ve gone OK there in the past so I’m looking forward to it. This weekend starts off three back-to-back races so we’re going to have to get it on because there’s a lot at stake. We know how important it is to start these three weeks off strongly. I’ve tested at Catalunya and raced there so I know the track well, and the Spanish crowds always get really into it too.”

His team-mate Dani said, “I don’t really have more pressure being at home – I always want to get the best result I can – but it’s not a secret that a lot of people will come to the circuit for us and I would like to thank them for their support with a great race. I think we’re doing a good job with the team and Honda and we need to keep our concentration to continue this way.”

“I can’t wait to get back on track after the excellent results we had at the Mugello test,” said Marco Melandri. “Over the race weekend we worked hard to find better traction and on Monday we concentrated on speed through the corners and the results were positive. I’m feeling very confident about going to Barcelona – the track is similar to Mugello and with the good base setting we found there I should be able to do well also in Spain.”

Toni Elias (Fortuna Honda RC211V) said, “Racing in front of your home crowd is an incredible feeling and this time even more so because it can help you get over your difficulties. We had hoped to be arriving at this event with better results behind us but unfortunately we are still suffering from problems that have dogged us for the last three races. The days of tests at Mugello were useful and we studied a few alternative set-up solutions which I am sure will have good results in Barcelona.”

Kenny Roberts (Roberts KR211V) said, “We had a very good test at Mugello on Monday after the race. We have nothing new for Catalunya because we have found a good base set-up to work from. We will now try to get the second bike working as well as my number one machine. Generally we are in a good place going into practice and I like Catalunya more than Mugello.”

“I’m looking forward to this race,” said Casey Stoner (LCR Honda RC211V).
“I’ve got to make up for my crash at Mugello and this is as good a place as any to do it. The bike’s going well and I got a second here last year on the 250, so we’ll see what happens.”

Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V) said, “I love the Catalunya circuit, it’s cool and fast. Michelin has made a big step in helping me find the feeling I need with my bike, and I feel confident to be able to fight with the leading group in Catalunya.”
The 250cc category will be a fierce arena where Spaniards Jorge Lorenzo and his team-mate Hector Barbera (both Aprilia) will be aiming to claw back points on series leader Andrea Dovizioso (Humangest Racing Honda RS250RW).

 

Dovi, incredibly, is still searching for his first win in the class, and he would dearly like to do it here as the halfway point of the season approaches.

“I really like Montmel√≤ and I’ve always done well here,” said Dovi. “I have good memories from last year, where I finished third, after a bad crash during practice. It’s not a bad track for the Honda, even though there is a quite long straight. I’m a bit disappointed for not having taken my first 250cc victory at Mugello in front of my Fan Club and thousands of Italian fans. But then again, I have a 20 point lead in the World Standings.”

His team-mate Yuki Takahashi (Humangest Racing Honda RS250RW) said, “I’m happy with my fourth place at Mugello as I have showed again I’m a consistent rider. Last year in Barcelona I didn’t do well, but this year I’m confident I’m going to be more competitive, because I was fast during the winter IRTA test at Montmel√≤. Last Sunday I won the “Road to 8 hours” – Suzuka 300km, held at Suzuka, with Ryuichi Kiyonari riding a Seven Star Honda CBR1000RRW. I’d like to win this year’s 8hrs race for Honda. If we win, it will be Honda’s 10th win in a row.”

Reigning 125cc World Champion Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R) desperately needs the points a win would bring as he bids to atone for a poor start to the season. The Swiss lies 75 points adrift of current leader Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia).

Luthi said, “Barcelona is a track I have done well at and with my bike running so fast now I hope for a good result. I am not thinking about the World Championship now, just winning races.”

Gabor Talmacsi (Humangest Honda RS125R) who is equal on points with Luthi said, “At Barcelona we’ll have some new suspension parts so I hope we can find a better set-up on my Honda. The engine is competitive but we need to improve the chassis. I like the Montmel√≤ track and I know it well as I rode here many times even with production bikes. So I am confident I can be competitive again in Spain.”

 

 

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