|One of the closest MotoGP World
Championships in history heads into its final stage this weekend as
the series heads out to Malaysia for the first of a five-race spell
across three continents. Races at Sepang, Phillip Island
(Australia), Motegi (Japan), Estoril (Portugal) and Valencia
(Spain), will decide the destiny of a title which for the past five
seasons has been lifted by Yamaha superstar Valentino Rossi. For the
Italian to retain that honour he must turn around a 38-point deficit
to current leader Nicky Hayden (Honda), although no fewer than nine
riders still have the mathematical odds to take the honours.
Rossi's chances were given a huge boost at the last round three
weeks ago in Brno, where a second place finish combined with ninth
for Hayden saw the gap between the pair slashed by thirteen points.
That race went down as the closest top-15 finish of all time in the
sport, strengthening this season's reputation as one of the toughest
ever and highlighting the number of points to be won and lost over
the remaining five events.
Brno also witnessed Rossi's 87th appearance on the podium in the
premier class and another top-three finish in Malaysia would equal
Giacomo Agostini's tally of 88 - a record bettered only by Mick
Doohan. Rossi has finished on the podium at Sepang for the last five
years, including a memorable victory for Yamaha in 2004 and a
title-clinching second place behind Loris Capirossi (Ducati) last
Colin Edwards says that his target for the remaining five races is
to assist Rossi's title quest in any way he can whilst turning a
consistent run of points-scoring finishes into at least a string of
podiums. Tenth place in the last round at Brno was the 33rd
successive race at which he has scored points - a MotoGP record
again bettered only by Doohan on 37 - but the Texan's goal is a
return to the potentially winning form he showed earlier in the
Valentino Rossi: One
of my favourites
Valentino Rossi is predicting a repeat of last year's tough battle
with fellow Italian Loris Capirossi this weekend as he looks to get
one over on his compatriot after another memorable duel between the
pair at Brno. The Yamaha man cites Sepang as one of his favourite
tracks and he is hopeful that recent developments with the 990cc M1
machine will make it equally inclined towards the Malaysian venue.
"As everyone knows, Sepang is one of my favourite tracks and it's
always great fun to ride the M1 there," says Rossi. "We made some
really good progress in Brno so hopefully everything will work well
from Friday morning and we can fight at the top all weekend. Last
year Loris was incredibly strong in Sepang, similar to how he was
two weeks ago in Brno and I am sure that this will be the case again
"This year I can't win the title in Malaysia so our aim once again
is to finish on the podium and take as many points as possible in
order to stay in the fight. These three races in a row are going be
very important and at the end of them the championship could be much
clearer. It's always hard work, with a lot of flying and time
changes in a short amount of time, but we will stay focused and do
the best we can!"
Colin Edwards: No looking back
Colin Edwards, who lives in his hometown of Conroe, Texas, is used
to long haul trips and is therefore undaunted by the demands of
three 'flyaway' races in as many weekends. The 32 year old insists
that thoughts of a poor run of form over the summer are now firmly
behind him as he simply concentrates on a grandstand finish to his
season over the final five races.
"Things really haven't gone to plan lately and I think it's fair to
say that I hoped to be in a better situation going into the final
run of races," admits Edwards. "But there's no point dwelling on the
past - we made some positive steps at the test in Brno so we'll see
if that helps. We discovered last year that what works in Brno
doesn't necessarily work everywhere else but we definitely
understand the bike better after that test so hopefully we will be
in a better position come Friday morning in Sepang.
"I really like the Sepang track and then Phillip Island is one of my
all-time favourites, so I am definitely looking forward to these
races. We have two aims - one is to keep working with the team to
find the best bike in order to give Valentino the tools to win the
title, and the other is to get some good results and get on the
podium. Having three 'flyaway' races in a row is always intense, but
I am feeling ready for the challenge!"
Davide Brivio: The final push
Camel Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio is asking for one final
effort from his team over the next two months as they cling on to
the possibility of defending the crown they have won with Rossi for
the past two seasons. The complicated logistics of five races across
three continents always puts a further burden on every member of
staff but Brivio is confident their extra exertions will once again
be rewarded by results on the track.
"After a very long and hard season, this is the start of the final
'push' for everyone and I know that the riders, the team and
everyone involved will give 100% through these final two months,"
explains Brivio. "After Brno we did two days testing, and these were
extremely important for the final few races. We tried a lot of new
things and made some big steps forward with the setting and we got
some very important information from our riders, which we hope will
help us to remain at a competitive level until the end of the
"Our number one aim now is to give Valentino the means to stay in
the running for the championship title, and then we will see what
the situation is in Valencia. We hope that the Brno test has also
given Colin plenty of confidence and we hope to see him getting some
good results now and ending the season on a high. Sepang and Phillip
Island especially are favourite tracks of both riders so hopefully
these races will be good to us!"
Technically speaking: Sepang according to Jeremy Burgess Sepang is
one of the widest tracks on the calendar, measuring 16 metres across
in some areas, and always features high track temperatures in the
tropical climate. Races can be won and lost due to the ability of
machinery to hold a line during turn-in at several points of hard
braking. With four major hairpins and some fast and frequent changes
of direction in its 5542m layout, Sepang provides a stern workout
for the entire bike set-up and its largely predictable, if
demanding, climate makes it the ideal winter testing venue.
"With the exception of Brno we have been to some tight and fiddly
tracks recently but I would call Sepang a 'real' Grand Prix
circuit," explains Jeremy Burgess, Valentino Rossi's Crew Chief.
"Sepang is a great test track because it has a bit of everything -
from two points that are fast enough for the riders to take in sixth
gear to some tight and twisty first gear corners. As far as the
corners are concerned there are some you accelerate through, some
you stop at, areas where you are braking from high speeds -
basically every area of the bike gets a workout.
"Last year we got caught out on tyres but we put a lot of laps in
during the winter tests and over the last couple of races this is an
area we have focused on. A good front-end set-up is also crucial at
Sepang because there are lots of points where the riders are braking
at full lean, so they need full confidence to know that the front
won't tuck. The heat is also an important factor and the rider must
be careful not to push the tyres too early."