Honda Racing press release:
The motorsport Mecca of Le Mans welcomes the 2009 MotoGP World Championship this weekend, with Repsol Honda riders Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso in optimistic mood after showing promising pace at Jerez two weeks ago.
Round four of this year’s 17 race series, the French Grand Prix has been kind to Honda over the years, the manufacturer winning 11 of the last 15 premier-class races staged at Le Mans and Circuit Paul Ricard. Going to Le Mans, Pedrosa is Honda’s top-placed MotoGP rider, the Spaniard currently third equal on points, while Scot Honda’s Hiroshi Aoyama heads the 250 series following his stunning Jerez victory.
Significant news in the lead up to this race is that the MotoGP pre-race practice schedule has been expanded, with the three 45-minute sessions increased to one-hour sessions. Practice time had been reduced for 2009 from the previous total of four hours, but riders and teams had voiced concerns that there was too little pre-race set-up time.
Pedrosa has every reason to feel confident on his return to Le Mans, where he has enjoyed much previous success. A hat-trick 125 and 250 winner in 2003, 2004 and 2005, Pedrosa scored a podium finish first time out on a MotoGP bike at Le Mans in 2006 and last year started the race from pole position. He arrives in France off the back of a brilliant ride to second place in the Spanish GP, despite having missed vital preseason testing at the track due to injury.
Pedrosa and his crew continue to refine the set-up of his Repsol Honda RC212V which has taken him to podium results at the last two GPs. This weekend they will aim for stability, traction and acceleration, the most crucial aspects of machine performance at a circuit characterised by heavy braking, rapid changes of direction and bursts of low-gear acceleration.
Team-mate and fellow 23-year-old Dovizioso is anxious to resume battle aboard his Repsol Honda RC212V after a Spanish GP that promised so much.
The Italian had an excellent pace going at Jerez but ran off the track during a charge which should have put him in with a chance of scoring a top-three finish. Dovizioso will continue his set-by-step improvement aboard his factory RC212V at Le Mans, where he always goes well – the 125 winner in 2004, he scored a hat-trick of 250 podiums at the track before taking eighth in last year’s MotoGP race. Like Pedrosa, Dovi has used Honda machinery throughout his World Championship career.
Also brimming with confidence this weekend is local hero Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda), who scored his best MotoGP result in more than a year at Jerez. The Frenchman’s fourth-place finish was the result of a superbly consistent pace which suggests that LCR Honda have found an excellent direction of development with their RC212V/Bridgestone package.
Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) and Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) have both been working on improving rear-end traction at recent races. And while their results haven’t been up to expectations, both men are certain they are moving in the right direction and are looking forward to Le Mans which will allow them to usefully evaluate their latest set-up improvements.
Yuki Takahashi (Scot Honda) scored his best MotoGP result so far at Jerez, proving that he is really getting to grips with his RC212V.
Takahashi hopes to keep moving forward at Le Mans, where in 2006 he won his first GP victory, beating then 250 team-mate Andrea Dovizioso.
Compatriot and current team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda) comes to Le Mans on top of the world in 250s, following his breathtaking last-corner victory at Jerez. Aoyama and his team are hoping that the RS250RW’s rider-friendly character will once again help him gain the winning edge at Le Mans, where slow corners dominate.
Aoyama’s team-mate and 250 rookie Raffaele De Rosa (Scot Honda) has never been a fan of the French track, but hopes the layout will work better for him now he’s campaigning a 250. De Rosa has scored two top-six results from his first three 250 rides, suggesting that the 22-year-old is a natural for the class after several seasons racing in 125cc GPs.
Le Mans is a long way from home for Shoya Tomizawa (Team CIP Honda) but the French GP is effectively the teenager’s second home GP. A newcomer to the World Championship scene, Tomizawa is now looked after by the small but enthusiastic Team CIP, based near Nimes in southern France.
The last two weeks have been a period of recuperation for Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda
PTT-SAG) who hurt his left ankle in a qualifying accident at Jerez. The Thai rider bravely rode out the 26-lap race to take 15th place and a single World Championship point, and has been working hard at physiotherapy ever since.
Team-mate Hector Faubel (Valencia CF – Honda SAG) has had an unlucky start to the 2009 season but the Spaniard believes he can turn things around at Le Mans where his Honda is known to work well through the tight turns.
GP rookie Bastien Chesaux (Racing Team Germany
Honda) came within two positions of scoring his first World Championship points at Jerez. That result has given the Swiss teenager some extra impetus in his efforts to break into the points in France
Le Mans has hosted motorcycle Grands Prix on and off since the late 1960s. This year’s event is the venue’s 21st motorcycle GP. All but one of those GPs have been run as France’s round of the World Championship, except the 1991 Le Mans GP which was staged as the ‘Grand Prix du Vitesse’.
MotoGP racers use the Le Mans 4.180km Bugatti track, a purpose-built circuit which only shares a kilometre or so of the mostly public-roads 24 hour car race circuit. The Bugatti layout features nine right hand turns and four lefts and is stop-and-go in nature, with several low-speed corners and short straights which make stable braking performance and acceleration performance primordial. Over the years the circuit has undergone numerous changes and improvements, with esses and chicane sections introduced to reduce speeds at once much-faster corners.
HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES.
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) says: “After the Jerez race I’m quite happy to be going to Le Mans because this is another circuit I like and I hope we can go well there again. It’s a track where the weather is often quite unstable and this means we usually have a busy weekend because we have to be prepared to set the bike up for a wide range of weather conditions and temperatures.
Still, we have 15 minutes more practice time in each session which should help us with this, and it’ll be interesting to see how our allocation of 20 tyres copes with the extra time too. Some of our rivals’ machines usually perform well at Le Mans so we need to be really focused on getting our bike to work well here. Personally, I’ve had some good results at Le Mans, including a few victories in 125 and 250, so it’s a circuit I where I have quite a lot of confidence. I hope to convert that into a good result this weekend.”
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) says: “I always look forward to racing at Le Mans and I’m determined to work really hard this weekend. I know that I have to improve and we also need to focus on getting the best out of our machine package. Dani’s recent results in Japan and Spain have given me extra motivation because he’s shown what the bike is capable of. I have always had good results at Le Mans so I’m hoping I can repeat those. The circuit is quite slow and narrow, and it has a lot of changes of direction – it’s a technical track. The changes to the first chicane have robbed Le Mans of part of its fascination, which is unfortunate, but it’s still a circuit I like. The only issue here is the weather, because it rains quite often and we’ve already had enough rain this year!”
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) says: “The Jerez weekend was simply perfect for me and the squad, but we must keep our feet on the ground. The championship is very long and it won’t be easy, but it seems we are working in the right direction. I am seventh overall in the provisional standings and I will keep trying to get as many points as possible. Racing here in Le Mans is always something special and the fans are very warm with me. But I have to keep my focus and get as consistent as possible. This track is very interesting, I like all the stop-and-go braking points. My bike is quite competitive now but we will probably miss some acceleration at this track.”
Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says:
“It has been a very difficult couple of weeks for me for a variety of reasons. After making a great start to the season with sixth place in Qatar we have struggled for set-up at Motegi and Jerez and I’ve had a couple of crashes, which are never helpful. Nevertheless, I don’t feel like we are entirely to blame and I have absolute faith in myself and my team that we can get back to the pace we know we are capable of. I’m pleased we are going back to an hour for each practice session because it means we don’t have to rush so much and take unnecessary risks in practice. At Le Mans we will work hard on our race pace but also try to secure a better starting position because I think it was this, as much as anything, that damaged our chances in Spain.”
Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says: “I was very disappointed with the level of our performance at Jerez but we cannot turn back the clock and we simply have to take whatever positives we can out of the situation. The truth is that I think we are making progress overall and whilst we still may not be able to challenge where we want to be at Le Mans, the important thing will be to continue getting closer. Le Mans is a circuit I like and it suits my style because there is a lot of hard braking, but the reality is that if we don’t find a good balance for the bike then it doesn’t matter how much I like it! I felt comfortable there with the Gresini Honda bike in 2007, even though the race didn’t go to plan, so hopefully I can get a good feeling again and it can be a positive weekend.”
Yuki Takahashi (Scot Honda) says: “I love this track – it is not a coincidence that I got my first 250 victory at Le Mans. However, there is something curious… In 250s, one of my best points was how to deal with the hairpins, but in MotoGP it’s an issue we have still to think about because we need to improve traction when we are accelerating out of the corners. This is very important at Le Mans because there are many slow corners, so we will be working hard on this side of machine performance.”
HONDA 250cc RIDER QUOTES.
Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda) says: “I like the layout of the circuit, which is similar to Motegi in that it has a stop-and-go character, but for some reason I never had really good results at Le Mans. Obviously I’m not happy about that and I’ll be aiming to change things this weekend. My best Le Mans result so far is fourth, back in 2006.
I’ll arrive at the track as leader of the World Championship, which is a very satisfying feeling, but my plan for the championship is simply to do the best possible at every race. Then at the end, we will see how things are.”
Raffaele De Rosa (Scot Honda) says: “To be honest, Le Mans is not one of my favourite tracks. Nevertheless, it really suits the Honda 250, so perhaps I will enjoy the circuit more on the 250 than I used to on the 125. I like my Honda RS250RW, and my feeling with the team is great. I still need to understand a few more things about the 250 to ride it at its maximum, but I already feel like our natural place is in the top six.”
Shoya Tomizawa (Team CIP Honda) says: “I have had a very interesting races to start my first full World Championship season. The results have been okay, but the important thing is that I am learning for the future, that’s my job at the moment, to learn as much about the tracks and about GP racing as possible. Le Mans is the home race for my team so I want a good result, of course.
Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT-SAG) says:
“Since Jerez I have been working hard at rehabilitating my left ankle daily and the injury improved considerably so I am hoping to be in good physical shape for Le Mans. But I’ve also had some bad luck this week – I had an accident at home and now have stitches in my hand. I hope that this little thing won’t be a problem at Le Mans, because I will be aiming for my first podium. I’m thinking about that every day.”
Hector Faubel (Valencia CF – Honda SAG) says: “I am feeling quite optimistic for Le Mans, because I know that the Honda 250 works very well at this track. So far the results haven’t been what we had been hoping for but I am confident we can achieve a favourable result in France.”
Bastien Chesaux (Racing Team Germany Honda) says:
“The last race was really good for us. We still need to find a better set-up to help the rear tyre, but I think the rest of the bike should be perfect for Le Mans. The track is slower than Jerez, which should suit us because recently I’ve only had problems with high-speed corners. I feel really good on the bike and the team shares the same goals as me.”