The MotoGP World Championship paddock set up camp at the Shanghai International Circuit for the first time today, with the teams, riders and organisers all expressing their admiration for the sensational facilities. Reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi arrived only this afternoon but was taken aback as much by the quality of the circuit's architecture and infrastructure as the racetrack itself.
"My first impressions are very good," commented Rossi, who leads the standings after two rounds by seven points over Alex Barros. "The facilities are very nice - you could come here for a holiday, never mind a race! Also the track is incredible. I expected it to be fast but having had a look at it today it is actually quite tight and technical. All the riders have a lot of hard work to do finding the right setting for the bikes here."
Barros arrived in China full of confidence after victory in the last round at Estoril and is hopeful of adapting swiftly to the Shanghai circuit after also getting his first look today. "Like Valentino says, it is a very technical track and I expect it to be very physical because there are only two straights where you can relax a little on the bike. We'll have to keep an eye on the weather but the surface looks good and we should enjoy ourselves. Everybody is starting from zero here but I like conditions like that."
Two riders had more reason than most to feel optimistic this weekend, having been plucked out of the wilderness to take part in this Sunday's historic event. Whilst Olivier Jacque returns to MotoGP as a replacement for the injured Alex Hofmann at Kawasaki, Jurgen Van Den Goorbergh has made the dash from Europe to China after a late call-up to replace Makoto Tamada at Konica Minolta Honda.
"I still can't quite believe I'm here," said Van Den Goorbergh, who was given a surprise call by team boss Luca Montiron after Tamada failed a late fitness test on his injured wrist. "It worked well for me because I recently separated from my team in the World Supersport series and the chance to come back to MotoGP and race in such a historic event here in China was perfect. I haven't ridden a Grand Prix bike for a while but I have confidence in my ability, I have plenty of experience and I hope to pay back the faith shown in me by the team."
Whilst the Dutchman has not raced in MotoGP since the end of 2002, Jacque made a handful of wildcard appearances for Moriwaki Racing last season and admitted to feeling a little out of place on his return today. "In French we say I feel like a hair on the soup!" laughed the former 250cc World Champion. "I tested the bike at Estoril and then again two days ago in Japan and it was very strange to ride at 300km/h again. But I could still feel the fire inside me to race and I'm very pleased to be here."
Moriwaki also make a welcome return to MotoGP in China, with former factory Honda rider Tohru Ukawa preparing to ride their MD211VF prototype when the first free practice session gets underway on Friday morning.
250cc World Champion Dani Pedrosa, the leader of a blossoming teenage generation in the minor classes, revealed their usual technique for learning a new circuit would be obsolete this weekend. "Usually I play the Playstation to learn the track but we can't do that here because it is so new!" revealed the Spaniard, who leads the standings by five points from Andrea Dovizioso.
"On a scooter you don't get a real idea, although it can help to do a few laps on a Thursday afternoon. The gearbox ratio, track conditions, grip levels and other things like that... you can't get a really idea until you ride the circuit on your race bike. Anyway, it's the same situation for everybody so we will just try to make the best of the practice sessions."
Meanwhile, Mika Kallio arrives in China as leader of the 125cc World Championship for the first time in his career after his maiden victory in the second round at Estoril. The Finnish rider is aiming to end a run of forty-one races in the minor class without a rider winning back-to-back races.
Sourcd: DORNA COMMUNICATIONS