The MotoGP World Championship set up camp at the Le Mans circuit in bright and breezy conditions today with fingers crossed for a dry weekend at the Grand Prix Alice de France. After two consecutive wet races in Portugal and China, the fourth round of the season is again promising unpredictable conditions but the action is sure to be as spectacular as the first three rounds, which have seen Valentino Rossi open up a 25-point advantage at the top of the standings.
Rossi was in typically relaxed mood today, taking a cruise along the river Seine in Paris as he spoke to various local journalists. The reigning World Champion has a score to settle with the Le Mans circuit, one of only five tracks at which he missed out on the podium last season.
"Le Mans is not one of my favourite tracks, I had a difficult race there last year and only finished fourth," said Rossi. "I hope we leave there having resolved our problems, whatever the conditions are, and I have a feeling that we will. It can be quite tricky there if the weather is bad, so I really hope we have a bit of luck and it's dry, but at least if it rains we know we are in a much better position than in the past."
Whilst Rossi has dominated the championship standings ever since taking victory in the opening round at Jerez, his nearest challenger has changed with every Grand Prix. After Sete Gibernau and Alex Barros, the man now closest to the Italian after three rounds is his young compatriot Marco Melandri. However, Rossi admits that his biggest threat this weekend could come from home favourite Olivier Jacque, who is set for his second appearance after finishing just 1.7 seconds behind the race winner on his return to MotoGP as a replacement for Alex Hofmann in China.
"I am a bit worried about Olivier Jacque now because before the Shanghai race he said that he was only riding in China as a kind of training to learn the bike, and then he could concentrate on racing in Le Mans. He finished second in China so who knows what might happen in France!"
It has been a busy couple of weeks for Jacque since his incredible performance in China captured the imagination of the French public ahead of his home Grand Prix. The former 250cc World Champion was today joined by his team-mate Shinya Nakano at the opening of a new Kawasaki dealership in Le Mans and admitted he was looking forward to getting back to business on the track.
"The phone has not stopped ringing since I got back from China and, after more than a year away from MotoGP, it was hard to get used to," admitted Jacque, who will make way for Hofmann's return at the next round in Italy. "Now I'm quite impatient to get on the bike and start racing. For the fans and the show I hope the weather is dry, but in terms of results it would probably be better for me in the wet."
Whilst several other riders, including John Hopkins and Rubén Xaus, took a tour of the Musée Automobile de la Sarthe within the Le Mans complex this afternoon, Makoto Tamada was at the Clinica Mobile undergoing physiotherapy on his injured right hand. The Japanese rider missed the last round in China but has confirmed he will be taking part in this weekend's Grand Prix.
"I'm ready to get back on the track," said Tamada. "I still feel pain but I hope that day after day the situation will get better and I'm confident that I will be able to fight for the positions that count. If I didn't feel I had the opportunity to compete with the best, then I would have probably taken a different decision and maybe I would have postponed my comeback on the RC211V."
Dani Pedrosa arrived in Le Mans in determined mood as he looks to wrestle the 250cc World Championship lead back from Andrea Dovizioso. The Spaniard was dislodged by the Italian for the first time in a year in China but is confident of building on successive victories at this circuit for the past two seasons.
"I've always had good results at Le Mans and I think it's the circuit to get us back where we belong," said Pedrosa, who lies third in the championship behind Dovizioso and Casey Stoner. "We have information from last season that will be a good base for us to start from. I want to enjoy myself by riding fast again and I hope the weather is stable enough to allow us to work well all weekend."
Mika Kallio, who also visited the automobile museum with the MotoGP riders today, leads the 125cc World Championship by a single point from Fabrizio Lai. After Mattia Pasini's debut victory in China, both riders will be looking to extend a forty-two race stretch without a back-to-back winner in the class.
Source: DORNA COMMUNICATIONS