Preview Portuguese Grand Prix, Estoril, Portugal

2007-09-12 14:57
The MotoGP season now enters its final phase with this, the 14th round of an 18 race series, promising tension aplenty as the points leaders in each class start to see the prizes on offer in clearer focus. And this is when those dreams
either turn to dust or become reality.

Last year here it looked as if Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V) had the MotoGP World Championship torn from his grasp when he and his team-mate Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) tangled and hit the ground in a storm of dust and
disappointment. But Nicky fought on despite that heartbreaking DNF and secured the title at the final round.

Now Casey Stoner (Ducati) has one hand on the
biggest prize in motorcycle sport - but he knows
that both Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) and Dani
Pedrosa have a mathematical chance of the title.
And riders of their calibre know that with 125
points still up for grabs there is still a fight
to be won - however long the odds might be.

But if Stoner wins here and Rossi finishes no
higher than sixth, the series will belong to the
Aussie Ducati rider. Although Casey failed to
finish here last year, the young gun is a
different proposition to last year and his
consistent speed and ceaseless aggression make him hard to bet against.

Although Dani has never finished higher than 4th
here in nay class, the 21-year-old Spanish flyer
has netted two pole positions, once on a 125 and
again on a 250. Still smarting from a failure to
finish two weeks ago in Misano he is champing at
the bit to get racing again here in Portugal.

Nicky was happy with the exhaustive testing
schedule carried out after the Misano race and
the American World Champion was second fastest on
the timesheets as well as the fastest
Michelin-shod runner. He has been nothing if not
dogged in his quest for a first win of the season
and the three podiums he has scored so far this
year are by no means enough for the Kentucky Kid.

Other riders who will surely figure in Sunday's
28-lap race are the Gresini pairing of Marco
Melandri (Gresini Honda RC212V) and Toni Elias
(Gresini Honda RC212V). Both are proven race
winners and although Melandri boasts the higher
number of wins, Elias' maiden MotoGP victory here
last year was the race of the 2006 season.

Elias has bravely fought back from a broken femur
suatained at Assen in late June and an 11th place
at Brno and then a gutsy seventh at Misano signal
a rapid return to something approaching full
form. Perhaps a win here is too much to ask from
the genial Spaniard when he is likely to be only
80% fit at best - but this is a track that seems
to suit Elias more than anyone else.

He is playing down his chances here and so is his
equally battered but unbowed team-mate Marco
Melandri. 'Macio' has broken a foot, gritted his
teeth through a herniated disc in his spine and
bounced back from a dreadful crash in qualifying
at Misano two weeks ago - but still he races
without visible sign of impediment.

A third place at Laguna Seca while 'nursing' the
foot injury and a fourth at Misano fresh from
debilitating back trouble and that massive
practice crash indicate that the UK-based iron
man will be a factor here on Sunday.

Estoril has only been on the calendar since 2000,
this wind-lashed track lies 20 miles west of
Lisbon and is close to the town of Sintra. The
4.182km circuit features a balance of medium and
slow-speed turns with nine rights and four lefts.
Built in 1972 the surface is still bumpy in parts
despite being resurfaced before last year's Grand Prix weekend.

Nevertheless the track offers a significant
challenge regardless of grip issues. The chicane
is the slowest turn in MotoGP racing requiring
patience and a smooth style to avoid catastrophe.
On the other hand a long, fast right onto the
start/finish straight, the 'Parabolica', is one
of the great corners in racing and loved by the best riders.

Turn one at the end of the 986m straight is a
favourite overtaking spot and so is turn six, the
'Parabolica interior' behind the pits complex.
The rest of the track is fairly unremarkable
requiring no out-of-the-ordinary machine set-ups.
But the wind blowing off the Atlantic Ocean is always a concern.

Dani said: "It will be really good to get to
Estoril and begin working with the team again.
It's so frustrating for everyone when you have a
race like the last one at Misano, especially when
it's out of your control, and so I know the guys
in my garage are as keen as I am to go for the
result we deserve in Portugal My results at this
circuit haven't been the best, but I've had a
couple of pole positions before and I think that,
if we can get the correct package this weekend,
we should be able to be competitive. The tyres
will be really important again of course and the
weather here can really play a part."

His team-mate Nicky Hayden said: "So we're back
in Portugal. It makes me smile now to think
about last year when I almost saw my dream of
being World Champion go out of the window there.
So it would be nice to get a little bit of
redemption this weekend. It's been a struggle at
times this year and we've had some bad luck and
made a few mistakes, so I am excited to go to
Estoril and try to turn it around. The weather
is always unpredictable which makes Thursday's
tyre choice really critical. One thing we've
learned this year is that our bike takes quite a
while to set up - we've really got to dial it in.
So we'll let it roll and see what we can do on Sunday."

Melandri said: "I'm highly motivated. The bike
and the tyres are at a high level and now we just
need the result to go with that. I'm keen to get
back on the podium, like I did at Laguna, because
it would be a nice way to pay back my team, who
have worked so hard and given me so much. It will
be a big challenge for us in Portugal - Estoril
is a difficult circuit with so many first-gear
corners and two long straights, one in fifth
gear, one in sixth, where we might struggle a
bit. The characteristics of our bike are better
suited to a more flowing circuit but I'm ready
for this race and the final rush that will take
us to Japan, Australia and Malaysia before
returning to Europe for the last round at Valencia."

His team-mate Elias said: "I'm happy to be
heading back to a circuit that holds so many fond
memories for me. The win last season in MotoGP
was probably the best of my career but now I'm
just looking ahead and trying to do well this
Sunday and trying to improve my performance race
by race. I got 11th at Brno after three races out
and seventh at Misano. They are not the results I
want but at the moment I am restricted by my
physical condition. I like the circuit,
especially the uphill chicane, which
characterises the kind of corner you get at this
circuit - slow but technical esses, probably the
slowest in the world. The straight is long,
almost a kilometre, and very fast, followed by
hard braking. The final bend is quite fast and crucial to a good lap time."

Carlos Checa (LCR Honda RC212V) said: "I thought
Estoril was a bumpy track until I raced at
Misano! Here I am aiming to continue the progress
we have made with Michelin at recent tyre tests.
Our results at Misano showed we're heading in the
right direction, especially with a new front tyre
specification. On the engine side Honda have made
a positive step and this will help us be
competitive through the infield sections, like
the uphill chicane. There are reasons to be optimistic."

Shinya Nakano (Konica Minolta Honda RC212V) said:
"Although it's a slow, technical circuit I enjoy
Estoril. Last year I qualified seventh overall,
although I had a problem in the race and was not
able to finish. I've had some top ten finishes at
Estoril so I'm hoping we can add another one this
weekend. I'm also hoping we can continue to make
some progress with the updated Honda RCV212V over the weekend."

Kurtis Roberts (Roberts KR212V) said: "We don't
have a lot of changes for Portugal, I cut my foot
quite badly after the race at Misano and didn't
test for Michelin so we have no feedback from
that test to work with. But we heard from the
other teams using Michelin that the tyre test
showed some improvements. I've been riding a dirt
bike and so far the foot is standing up to it OK."

In the 250cc class Jorge Lorenzo (Aprilia) looks
very much the World Champion elect with 241
points to the 187 of Alex de Angelis (Aprilia)
and the unshakeable Andrea Dovizioso (Scot Honda
RS250RW) who has 186 points. But Lorenzo will be
the first to attest that a points lead means
little until a title is in the bag, having been
hounded all the way to the title last year by the dogged Dovi.

Lorenzo has now won eight races so far this
season, all from pole, and it would be a brave
man who bets against the Spaniard securing
another 250cc world crown this year too. But, as
ever, only a fool would consider anything won until the points table proves it.

Dovi said: "I won here last year so I have a lot
of expectations also for this race, and this is a
favourable track for our bike because it's quite
slow. We have to forget the disastrous Misano
experience and have perfect races from now on to
figure in the World Championship. As ever we'll
do our best and hope luck will be with us."

His team-mate Yuki Takahashi (Scot Honda RS250RW)
said: "I like this Portuguese track. Last year we
had a good race and made a satisfying lap time.
This is an important weekend because this is the
race before the my home race, the Japanese Grand
Prix, where I would dearly like to be on the podium."

The 125cc title race now looks to be between
Gabor Talmacsi and Hector Faubel (both Aprilia)
with the Hungarian series leader on 189 points to
his Spanish pursuer's 179 with Japanese KTM-rider
Tommy Koyama on 145 points. While Britain's
Bradley Smith (Repsol Honda RS125R) aims to
consolidate a top ten overall finish in 9th at the moment with 82 points.

Smith said: "Last year at Estoril they had just
resurfaced the track and the conditions changed a
little over the weekend, and at the beginning we
didn't have a lot of grip. We're certain to have
more grip this year. I like the track because it
has quite a lot of different features, like the
slow curves, a chicane, and some long fast
curves, especially the one at the end. I enjoyed
myself last year and even though I fell, up to
that moment I'd been riding well, so I'm eager to get down to work again."

His team-mate Esteve Rabat (Repsol Honda RS125R)
said: "In the last race I didn't get the result I
expected and I'm confident I can do better and
learn. Above all I am going to Portugal eager to
ride. I don't know how things will turn out, but
I will do my best. I like this track even though
it's usually windy - so we'll have to look out
for that. There are many places to overtake here, which is good."

Source: Honda Pro Image

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