This weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix begins the final phase of the 2009 MotoGP season and will thus be a crucial race for everyone involved.
Estoril follows a four-week break for the championship and is quickly followed by the final three races of the year – the Malaysian, Australian and Valencia GPs.
Honda’s leading riders will all be chasing more victories in this quick-fire run of four races over six weekends, most notably Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), who is fighting for third place in the MotoGP World Championship, and Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda), who is leading the 250 World Championship.
Pedrosa comes to Estoril determined to continue the impressive showing he has made at recent races aboard his steadily improving Honda RC212V.
The Spaniard, who celebrated his 24th birthday on Tuesday, led the last two races in brilliant style. He eventually finished third at Misano and tenth at Indianapolis, after sliding off and remounting at the American track. He will be keen to use the impressive top speed of his RCV at Estoril to secure his first win at the circuit.
Estoril is one of only four tracks on the MotoGP calendar where the former 250 and 125 World Champion hasn’t won in any class – MotoGP, 250 or
125 – but he’s finished second on his last two visits and is keen to go one better on Sunday.
Pedrosa has certainly been keeping busy in the recent break – he climbed to the top of Mont Blanc!
While Pedrosa fights for third overall in the MotoGP points chase, team-mate Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) is only 24 points behind and aiming for fourth overall or even better. The Italian has amassed an impressive points haul from the last four races – scoring his first MotoGP victory at July’s British GP and following that up with three solid fourth places at Brno, Indy and Misano. Unlike Pedrosa, Dovizioso has winning form at Estoril – he won the 2006 250 GP at the track and finished second in the 2005 and
2007 250 GPs. This will be Dovi’s second race using Ohlins suspension, so he will be working extra hard on machine set-up for this tricky circuit.
Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) will be hoping for a better Sunday than he had at Misano, where he fell at the second turn on the first lap, bringing down rivals Nicky Hayden (Ducati) and Colin Edwards (Yamaha). De Angelis had scored a brilliant maiden MotoGP podium at the previous race at Indy and was obviously pumped up for a repeat. Now eighth overall in the championship, the San Marino man is currently chasing down Loris Capirossi (Suzuki) who lies seventh, just nine points in front. De Angelis likes Estoril – he has scored podiums there in 250s and 125s.
The longer than usual break following the San Marino GP (due to the inaugural Balatonring GP in Hungary being delayed until 2010), has given Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) crucial extra time to recover further from the broken left ankle he sustained during a motocross training accident following his third-place result at Donington Park. De Puniet recently renewed his contract with LCR to continue with the team for a third season.
Like team-mate De Angelis, Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) has also proved his speed at recent races, most notably at August’s Czech GP where he rode to a rousing podium finish aboard his factory-spec RC212V. Elias is one of several riders currently without a ride for 2010, so the ever-smiling Spaniard will be out to impress at Estoril, where he won the 2006 MotoGP race in unforgettable sideways style.
Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda) continues his apprenticeship in the elite class, getting better acquainted with his RC212V on every outing. The Hungarian, who made his name on 50 horsepower 125s, still has plenty to learn about the 200-plus horsepower RCV, but at least he goes well at Estoril; he took second place in the 2007
125 Portuguese GP, on his way to winning that year’s 125 title.
Honda has scored five elite-class victories at Estoril, with Valentino Rossi on his Nastro Azzurro NSR500 in 2001 and with Rossi again on his Repsol RC211V in 2002 and 2003. In 2005 it was the turn of Alex Barros to win on his Camel RC211V and in 2006 it was Toni Elias who won aboard his Fortuna Gresini RC211V.
Estoril is the second slowest circuit on the GP calendar, with a lap record of 154.5km/h, just 3km/h faster than the slowest track of them all, Indianapolis, where the lap record stands at 151.5km/h. Nevertheless Estoril presents a real challenge to riders and engineers. The contrast between very slow and very fast corners demands some tricky compromises in chassis set-up, with riders requiring manoeuvrability in the tight corners and stability in the sweepers. These two characteristics aren’t mutually exclusive but it’s not easy to create a motorcycle that excels in both situations, so compromise is the only answer. It’s the same with the engine – the contrast between the fast start-finish straight and the many slow-speed corners requires maximum peak horsepower as well as gentle low-rev performance.
But perhaps the greatest concern for riders is the track’s proximity to the Atlantic. High-speed winds whip off the ocean, blowing bikes and riders off course, and throwing dust onto the circuit, with potentially disastrous results.
Estoril hosts its tenth Grand Prix this weekend, though this is the 12th Portuguese GP. The nation’s first two GPs were held at Spanish tracks in 1987 and 1988, because Estoril failed stringent track safety standards.
HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) says: “It’s been quite a long break since the last race and I really enjoyed it – combining time to relax as well as taking the opportunity to put in some good training. It’s unusual to have three weeks off at this stage of the year, but now it’s time to get back on track and I’m very much looking forward to facing the last part of the season. We need to be very focused from the first practice on Friday to prepare the bike as much as possible for this race. At this track you need a machine that performs well on the brakes and over the bumps and is able to maintain good rear grip.
It’s quite a tough track from a riding point of view, but I feel confident on this front because physically I’m in really good condition now.
We’ll see how the weather is compared to last year when we raced in April. I have good memories from 2008 when we managed to finish second even though we had mixed conditions on Sunday with some light showers at the beginning of the race.
Obviously I would prefer to have stable weather and dry conditions, but whatever happens I’m looking forward to getting back on track.”
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) says: “Estoril is a track where I have achieved some good results and I’m really looking forward to getting back on the bike after this long break. Last year’s race here was going well for me too, and I was fighting with [Jorge] Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Valentino [Rossi] before I crashed, so I have a positive feeling coming into this weekend and I’m confident I can have a good race. It’s a very slow circuit and some parts are a bit tight and narrow for MotoGP machines. This means it’s not easy to tame these bikes around here and it takes a while to understand how to approach the track and fully exploit the MotoGP bike’s performance.
At the last race at Misano we collected important data on the way to fourth place and the team and I have some ideas of how to further improve the machine set-up with the Ohlins suspension. I‘m really curious to see how these new setting solutions will work out. We’re feeling confident for the final four races of the season and I’m definitely looking forward to racing at Estoril.”
Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says:
“I’ve been training hard over the break and taking out my frustrations of the last race at Misano, when I crashed at the end of an otherwise positive weekend. It left a bitter taste in my mouth but I am in great form at the moment and at a circuit like Estoril, where I always went well in the smaller classes, I know I can put things right. Unfortunately last year I had a 39°C fever and it was a miracle that I made it to the end of the race. This year I go to Portugal with everything in my favour because I am starting to get the full potential out of my bike and the typically changeable conditions at Estoril won’t worry me because we have already proved that we can be fast both in the wet and in the dry.”
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) says: “This break helped me a lot in recovering from the ankle fracture. I feel better now and can finally race at 100 per cent. In the last two weeks I practiced a lot of sport to be fit for the rest of the season and my ankle is responding well.
During the night it’s still a bit swollen but I am not worried about that. The Estoril track is not one of my favourites because it does not suit to my riding style but with four races to go I must do my best to score as many points as possible. Our target is to qualify in the top eight every race. After the new agreement with LCR for the 2010 I feel more relaxed and can concentrate in the final part of the championship.”
Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says: “I’ve spent this unusual and long break in training, having fun cycling in Zarauz in the Basque Country and surfing along the wonderful 20km-long beach at San Sebastian with my good friend Carlos Arguiñano, one of the best and most famous chefs in Spain. I also went to watch the Andorra Supermoto Grand Prix and spent a day with Mikko Hirvonen, the current World Rally Champion, riding with him in his WRC car, which was incredibly exciting. Naturally I was constantly thinking about getting back to competitive action myself and the next race at Estoril, where I won in 2006. It’s a circuit I love and where I hope to be amongst the frontrunners again. I’m in good form and my feeling with the bike is great so I can’t be anything but optimistic about this one.”
Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda) says: “Estoril is a hard-braking track, with a few tight corners that will be the acid test for us. The work we did at Misano, which in some ways is a bit similar to Estoril, will be useful for us.”