Honda Previews Catalunya

The following release is from Honda...

MotoGP rolls into Catalunya this weekend with three Honda riders pulling clear in the overall points standings. Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda RC211V) tops the table with 115, Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons RC211V) lies second with 83 and Sete Gibernau (Telefonica MoviStar Honda RC211V) sits third with 72.


There's a 26-point gap from Gibernau to Alex Barros (Yamaha) who is fourth on 46. With 25 points for a race win any of the riders below the top three need a win with any of the leaders failing to score before they can get on terms. But Loris Capirossi (Ducati) looks like he may be the man to close the gap on the top men.

The Italian finished a strong second at Mugello last weekend only 1.4 seconds behind winner Rossi and Capirossi proved that the Ducati is not short of speed as they head to the Catalunya track that features one of the longest straights in the MotoGP calendar.

Capirossi's V-four machine recorded a top speed of 332.4km/h [206 mph] during Sunday's race. And with the key to a fast lap time at Catalunya dependent to a large extent on a high top speed, the Ducati machine looks well-equipped to repeat or even better the second place Capirossi achieved last weekend.

The 4.727km track 20 km north of Barcelona is a challenging mixture of straights (there are two significant chutes), sweeping turns and two tight-radius corners. The emphasis on machine set-up is to achieve a well-balanced chassis to cope with the various demands of the very different type of corners and achieve a high top speed to make the most of the two straights.

The track requires a flowing riding style through the long, constant-radius turns. And as the bikes spend a great deal of time at maximum lean angle (especially on the right-hand side of the tyre) wear and grip levels are of critical importance. Two of the 13 turns feature negative camber so the track 'drops away' to the outside of the turn, effectively offering less grip for more lean angle.

The surface also suffers from unpredictability in grip levels too. There is sometimes a lot of dust thrown up by the wind and this can settle on the track surface making it slippy, until the circulating bikes have cleared the thin layer of dust and 'laid down' rubber. Owing to the amount of Formula 1 car testing that also takes place here, the surface is also bumpy in places where the tarmac takes a pounding from their 850bhp engines and massive braking forces.

But the Formula 1 cars top speeds are unlikely to match the speeds achieved by the new breed of four-stroke MotoGP machines that are now among the fastest machines in motorsport. The 328km/h top speed record at Catalunya is bound to be broken by the top riders.

Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda RC211V) won here last year and the year before, he also set the fastest race lap here in 2002 with a 1m 45.594s lap. With the total race time 12 seconds faster than last year in Mugello it looks likely that records will tumble at Catalunya too.

The World Championship leader is ready to shoot for his fourth race win of the season and is relishing the challenge put up by his two Italian rivals and the home hero Sete Gibernau (Telefonica MoviStar Honda RC211V) who is itching to win a third race this season. And if he could do it at home in Spain in front of a crowd expected to number close to 100,000, it would be some spectacle.

And Spain's main man can't wait to get down to business. "It really feels like home here," he said. "I tried so hard at Jerez and got nothing and now I can't wait to try and give the fans something back for supporting me. At Le Mans I won and it re-charged my energy levels after my disappointment at Jerez and now I really want to do the same here after a tough time at Mugello. But I have complete confidence the team can find a solution to the problems and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to racing here."

Rossi loves the Catalunya track and knows it's another opportunity to grab vital early season points. "It's my favourite track," he said. "The last two rights onto the long straight are key to a good lap here. Mugello was great for me, but Sete will also be very strong here and the race will be spectacular - that's for sure. We all need the points."

Max Biaggi lies second on the points standings and the Roman is keen to record a first win of the season after showing great consistency so far scoring points in every race with four podium positions achieved too.

"I like the Montmelo circuit and have been successful there with fur wins on a 250. Last year I took pole for the race." Biaggi said. "But I've had mixed fortunes at the track in the last couple of years. The one problem I always seem to have at Catalunya is to get the bike to steer into the corners. The asphalt is quite bumpy, especially at turn one at the end of the straight. The track is similar to Mugello in some ways. The straight is not as long as Mugello but the corner leading onto the straight is faster. The race could be just like Mugello last week." He concluded.

Hero of Mugello was fourth-placed Makoto Tamada (Pramac Honda RC211V) who rode through the entire field bar the top three after being as far back as 18th after a poor start from the third row of the grid. And the Japanese rookie will be looking for a repeat performance at Catalunya.

"We've had time to enjoy the success of Mugello," he said. "And now we have to focus on the next step we must take at Catalunya. The track is sort of similar to Mugello with a long straight and my bike is certainly fast enough to take advantage of that. The rest of the track I'll try to learn as I go and then I really have to get a good start in the race."

Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons RC211V) goes to Catalunya keen to put a disappointing Mugello behind him. "Catalunya is my favourite track and I can't wait to race there," he said. "The combination of high speeds and some really demanding turns is one thing but the Spanish fans and the whole atmosphere there is another and I like two races back-to-back because I can stay focussed."

Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) is looking forward to racing at a track he's already tested at. "Mugello wasn't so good for me," said the American rookie. "And I really want to get on the bike instead of sitting around so this weekend can't come too soon for me. We've got a good foundations to build on from testing here and I'm getting lots of help from Mick Doohan and Tady Okada."

Rookie Ryuichi Kiyonari (Telefonica MoviStar Honda RC211V) who finished 13th at Mugello last weekend is keen to accelerate his learning curve at Catalunya. "I've heard there is excellent ham there," he joked. "My performances so far have been helped by the support of an excellent team and I can improve still more here I hope. I just have to learn fast and ride fast."


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George Obradovich
George Obradovich

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