The world's biggest motorcycling nation plays host to World MotoGP Championship for the first time on May 1. And Ducati Marlboro Team riders Loris Capirossi and Carlos Checa aim to be in the thick of the action at this historic event, round three of the 17-race 2005 MotoGP World Championship.
The renowned Bologna-based squad comes to the People's Republic of China boosted by some promising performances at the recent Portuguese GP, where Checa scored the team's first front-row start of the season and came close to securing fourth place in the rain-affected race.
Both Checa and Capirossi suffered from injury at the season's opening two races but should be fully fit for Shanghai, where they have high hopes of running up front in China's first motorcycle GP. China is the world's biggest nation, where the motorcycle provides everyday transport for hundreds of millions of people and annual sales of powered two-wheelers exceed 16 million units. It is one of three new countries on this year's MotoGP calendar as the sport expands into important new markets.
"This event is definitely something very special," says Ducati Marlboro Team MotoGP project manager Livio Suppo. "MotoGP has never been to China before, it's a fascinating country, with an incredible history and an exciting future. However, it's difficult to predict the outcome of this race because none of the MotoGP teams have been to the track before. All we know is that Shanghai is a very impressive venue, with a massive infrastructure and an interesting-looking track. We're looking forward to the event because both our riders enjoy discovering new tracks: Carlos took pole at Qatar last year and Loris is always quick to learn his way around new circuits".
The Ducati Marlboro Team marks its first visit to China with a Desmo party "Ducati Comes To China" on Thursday April 28, with the cooperation of Shell Advance, the Emilia Romagna region and Three On the Bund. Members of the media are invited to attend the press conference at 8pm, followed by a buffet dinner at 9pm, at Three on the Bund, 3 Zhong Shan Dong Yi Road, Shanghai (entrance on 17 Guandong Road). A shuttle service will leave the circuit at 6pm (TBC) and a taxi service will be available for return.
CHECA MOVING FORWARD, FAST
Carlos Checa's storming ride to fifth place in treacherous damp conditions at Estoril proved his fast-improving pace on his Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici GP5. The Spaniard had already shown what he can do in qualifying, taking third place on the grid, just 0.254 seconds off pole position. He fought well during the race, recovering from a sluggish first few laps to briefly take fourth place, eventually finishing fifth.
"We can consider that fifth-place finish to be a positive result," says Checa, who was riding in some discomfort from the left shoulder he dislocated during preseason testing. "Now all I want to do is continue moving forward. Every race I learn a lot more about the bike and Shanghai will be especially interesting because it's a new track, so things will be more equal for everyone. I watched a few laps of last year's F1 race and the track looks very impressive. But at the end of the day all tracks are the same - just straights and corners!
"I'm looking forward to my first visit to China. I always like to move about and discover new cultures. I expect there'll be a big crowd, everyone seems to ride bikes in China, so I hope we can entertain them."
CAPIROSSI HOPEFULLY 100 PER CENT AGAIN
Loris Capirossi endured a difficult start to his 2005 MotoGP campaign, contesting the back-to-back Spanish and Portuguese GPs with a cracked bone in his left ankle. But the gritty Ducati Marlboro Team man reckons he should be 100 per cent fit for China.
"I know that the bike is working very well now, so I'm really looking forward to riding it fully fit," says Capirossi. "We are making plenty of useful progress, working on suspension, engine mapping and tyre development. I think we will soon be fighting up front once again.
"Shanghai should be an incredible weekend. I watched last year's F1 race on TV and the track looks interesting. It looks quite different from a lot of the tracks we use, I just hope that the surface is good. The first corner looks very strange - it's very, very long, so it'll be almost like riding around a roundabout! I always like new tracks, and we have three this year - Shanghai, Istanbul and Laguna. I've been to Laguna before but I've only ever ridden 125s and 250s there, so it'll definitely be a new track on a MotoGP bike!"
The Shanghai International circuit, situated outside China's prosperous metropolitan port city, hosted its first race just over six months ago but is already acknowledged as one of the most impressive race venues on earth. Vast grandstands overlook an equally impressive pits and paddock complex adjacent to the high-speed 5.451km/3.387 mile circuit. The track includes two very fast straights where bikes are expected to exceed 320km/199mph and a series of tight corners, including two long right-handers that take riders almost through 360 degrees. This is a new circuit to MotoGP bikes, so lap and race records have yet to be established.
DUCATI MARLBORO TEAM RIDER DATA LOGS
Age: 32 (born April 4, 1973)
Bike: Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici GP5
GP victories: 23 (1xMotoGP, 2x500, 12x250, 8x125)
First GP victory: Britain, 1990 (125)
First GP: Japan, 1990 (125)
GP starts: 218 (48xMotoGP, 59x500, 84x250, 27x125)
Pole positions: 36 (3xMotoGP, 5x500, 23x250, 5x125)
First pole: Australia, 1991 (125)
World Championships: 3 (125: 1990, 1991, 250: 1998)
Age: 32 (born October 15, 1972)
Lives: London, England
Bike: Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici GP5
GP victories: 2 (500)
First GP victory: Catalunya, 1996 (500)
First GP: Europe, 1993 (125)
GP starts: 170 (49xMotoGP, 92x500, 27x250, 1x125)
Pole positions: 3 (2xMotoGP, 1x500)
First pole: Spain, 1998 (500)
Source: Ducati Corse s.r.l.