SEVEN RACES TO GO AS HONDA RIDERS HUNT POINTS

The Czech Grand Prix marks the start of the second phase of this tough season and Honda's experienced line-up of top performers know this is when they have to heap pressure on series points leader Valentino Rossi (Yamaha).

Although the reigning World Champion's points lead currently looks unassailable, enough title leads have been lost in the closing races of a season to make this chase more than just a fight for second place among the pursuing pack.

Marco Melandri (Team Movistar Honda RC211V) is the man best-placed to make the charge from second place overall, but his team-mate Sete Gibernau (Team Movistar Honda RC211V) is just one point behind the Italian and Max Biaggi (Repsol Honda RC211V) is just one point behind Colin Edwards (Yamaha) who lies fourth, in fifth overall.

From second overall to seventh overall, the points spread is a mere 15, putting at least runner-up and third overall well within the reach of five Honda MotoGP stars (the other Honda men being Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) and Alex Barros (Camel Honda RC211V) in sixth and seventh overall).

Melandri has won here on a 125 and a 250; twice in the smallest class in 1998 and 1999 and once in 2002 on a 250. His team-mate Sete won here last year on his RC211V and the Spaniard knows if he can score a first win in 2005, he is more than capable of repeating the feat regularly in the closing races.

But it's Max who should be the real danger-man here. The Roman ace has struggled so far this year, two podiums are way under what he expected to achieve by this stage. But he's been one of the most successful riders here in recent times. He won here four times (back-to-back) on a 250 between 1994 and 1997, and he has also scored three premier class wins here too in 1998, 2000 and 2002. Of all the riders hoping for a victory here this weekend, perhaps Max is man best qualified to expect one.

Troy Bayliss (Camel Honda RC211V) remains out of sorts this season and an early-season injury has made this year a struggle for Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V) who has way more to give than seen so far. Perhaps this three-week lay-off will give the hard-charging Japanese a chance to reassert himself at the front.

Brno lies 200km south-east of Prague and the area is steeped in the rich history of Grand Prix racing. Races were run on an imposing closed roads course before the dedicated circuit was built in 1987. The 5.403km track is a spectacular environment for motorcycle racing and its plunging turns and a power-sapping climb demand a maximum from riders and machines.

The track drops 73m from its highest to its lowest point and this gradient is felt chiefly by way of downhill corner entries that make huge demands on the front tyre. Some of these tricky entries are compounded by negative camber that further increases the need for dependable front-end grip. And from turn four to turn 11 - it's all downhill.

There are fast chicanes requiring a chassis set up for rapid changes of direction. Precise steering is a must here even though the track is exceptionally wide at 15m - without accurate turn-in at the high sustained speeds achieved here - not even this super-wide circuit can accommodate wayward exits resulting from inaccurate turn-in.

Another factor is the huge, enthusiastic crowd, The Czechs love their motorcycle racing and tens of thousands flock to Brno where the viewing facilities are excellent. The event won't quite attract the crowds of 250,000 who used to watch in the 1970s, but Brno, like the best tracks, always has a charged atmosphere.

Sete Gibernau said, "I'm looking forward to having fun on the bike again, having good races, and Brno is always a circuit I look forward to. Last year we won in the Czech Republic and I remember it as one of the most enjoyable races of the season. That victory and the good sensations I left with from the last race in Germany mean that I'm returning to the Championship feeling mentally strong."

His team-mate Marco Melandri said, "I feel in top shape, like at the start of the season, and I'm really looking forward to getting back on the bike, especially at Brno because it is a circuit I love and I've had some great races there. My best memory is from 2002 because I scored my sixth straight win and it helped me to the 250cc title."

Alex Barros spent the break in Brazil and is now ready for the tough run-in. He currently holds the lap record at Brno of 1m 59.302 seconds. He said, "It's the sort of track you have to ride clean, and be fast in the corners where the engine power delivery is very important. Normally the tyres aren't worked as hard as at the Sachsenring as long as it's not too hot, but that is something you really have to bear in mind. I'm not worried though because I'm sure that whatever happens, Michelin are perfectly equipped to deal with any eventuality."

Troy Bayliss did not go back to his native Australia but feels rested nonetheless. "We stayed in Monaco with a few friends," he said. "It's been relaxing, and it gave me the chance to forget about the last couple of races. I really like Brno, and I got on the podium in my first ever race there, but I'm not expecting a good result just because of that. In the last races we haven't demonstrated the steps forward we've made with the bike, but it doesn't mean we haven't been making them. With a little bit of luck we can do well in the next few races, beginning with Brno."

"This is my favourite circuit," said Max. "I like it because it's fast and I'm particularly fond of the four chicanes. Speeds are really high here and you need a lot of courage and commitment to make the changes of direction. I've taken victory several times here and the local people have given my name to a bridge not far away from the circuit. I've won here with all the bikes I've raced with except for the current one - this I hope to change."

Nicky said, "After Brno the season is going to click away real fast and like I said after the race in Germany - now I've tasted blood I want some more. Laguna was great and Germany felt ordinary just standing on the bottom step. The circuit makes for close racing and I'm ready for a fight now. It's so close between seventh and second spot in the championship and every race and every point is going to count for so much. I won't be happy to finish where I am at the moment. I look to start moving up from Brno."

Makoto Tamada said, "Here I am, finally back on track and I will be at 100% physically. The problems which slowed me down have gone. The time to pay back the trust of all the people who never stopped believing in my abilities has come. I am ready to get back on the saddle of my bike to restart at my best at the Czech Grand Prix."

In the 250cc class Dani Pedrosa (Team Movistar Honda RS250RW) is dominant. The Spanish sensation is 50 points ahead of nearest title rival Casey Stoner (Aprilia), but knows he needs to stay totally focussed in his customary manner to reap the rewards of a season of hard riding.

"I'm satisfied with what we've done during the first half of the World Championship," he said. "But I hope to finish it even better. I have to be back to full concentration at Brno and make sure I do a good job. Everything will go very quickly after this one and we have to be prepared for a very tough end to the season. But everything comes in its own time. For now the only thing to think about is this weekend, which will be tough because we're staying to test on Monday. I'm looking forward to riding the bike again."

Andrea Dovizioso (Scot Racing Team Honda RS250RW) lies third overall just seven points behind Stoner while Hiroshi Aoyama (Team Movistar Honda RS250RW) currently occupies seventh spot in the standings.

"In 2004 I was second here," said Dovi. "I like this track and in the last tests we tried different setting solutions so this weekend I'll go to work with important experience behind me. This year it'll be the first time I'll have ridden a 250 at this track and I'll be trying to run a very strong race to reduce the gap in World Championship standings."

Hiro said, "I've been in Barcelona for the past ten days preparing for the season to start again and I've almost forgotten about my holidays in Japan. Things are improving every week and I feel increasingly sure of myself. My relationship with the team is really good and my confidence just keeps growing. Brno will be very important so I can head to Japan in high spirits."

Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R) leads the 125cc title chase with 119 points to KTM's Mika Kallio's 116 and Gabor Talmacsi's 113 (also KTM). Every round becomes ultra-critical now and no one can afford any mistakes in this ultra-close run-in.

Luthi remains relaxed and measured as he prepares for the increased intensity of the remaining races, "I really like Brno," said the Swiss. "It's a fast track and I prefer racing on tracks with fast corners. Brno should be another great race."

Fabrizio Lai, who is currently seventh in the points standings said, "Last year I didn't get a good result because of problems with my bike. You need to have a perfect chassis-setting here. I also think Brno is a place where a good rider can make the difference because it's very technical and fast."

Alvaro Bautista (Seedorf Racing Honda RS125RW) is riding as hard as ever for that elusive first podium of the season. He said, "I'm confident with our improvements in the last races, and with what I can do. Brno is not a circuit I like very much, and I had problems here in my first two seasons in the World Championship. But this doesn't bother me now."



Source: Honda Pro Image

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