Preview of Donington Park GP

Elliot Strong
by Elliot Strong

2002 MotoGP 500 World Championship, round 8British GP, Donington ParkJuly 12/13/14 2002

ROSSI READY FOR BATTLE OF BRITAINThe first-ever four-stroke-based MotoGP season reaches its halfway mark atDonington Park this weekend, when Honda riders aim to continue their 100percent record in the class. So far the factory's stunning RC211V V5four-stroke has dominated at every Grand Prix of 2002, winning all sevenraces and establishing new lap records at all seven tracks...

And the man doing most of the winning Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda TeamRCV211V) has won six of the seven races counts Donington as his secondhome GP of the year. The Italian is now based in Mayfair, London, so he'llbe looking for a repeat of his impressive Italian GP victory at Mugellolast month, especially since he celebrates his 100th GP event this weekend.

The British GP is also a significant event for Honda. It was, after all, atthe British round of the World Championships that Honda made their entryinto world-level competition, competing in the 1959 Lightweight TT,counting towards that year's 125 World Championship. Now with more than 500wins behind them, Honda has established itself as the most successfulracing marque of all time and the world's biggest manufacturer of motorcycles.

The 220 horsepower RCVs of Rossi and team-mate Tohru Ukawa (Repsol HondaTeam RCV211V) are the latest successors to the 18 horsepower RC142s thatmarked Honda's entry into GP competition 43 years ago. Already clocked atover 200mph/321kmh, the RCV is proving to be a perfectly balancedmotorcycle, able to win whatever the circuit, whatever the weatherconditions. And the all-round performance of the Michelin-equipped RCV willbe as vital as ever this weekend for the weather forecast is not great andDonington is a complex track, with two starkly contrasting sections.

"I hope for some sun, both for me and the fans, it's a little like winterat the moment," smiles Rossi. "For sure, I love Donington but it's a verystrange track, with one part with very fast corners and another part withvery slow corners, like car parking. Anyway, I like it."

Donington is one of Rossi's best tracks. He won his first premier-class GPwin there in 2000, riding an NSR500 to victory in treacherous wet/dryconditions and last year he recovered from a high-speed practice tumble,and subsequent third-row start, to score one of his most breathtakingsuccesses. Previously he won the 1997 125 GP and 1999 250 GP at the venue,so this Sunday he goes for a fourth successive Donington win.

"I maybe make two of my best races at this track," adds Rossi, alreadywinner of 45 GPs. "Last year was a very big emotion, because we didn'texpect to win after the crash in practice."

But Rossi is not assured of another victory, far from it. He has come undersevere pressure from several rivals this season, but so far the only man tohave beaten him is Ukawa, who won a frantic last-lap tussle at April'sSouth African GP. "There are several four-stroke riders who have raced methis year but I think places like Donington and Sachsenring will also begood for the two-strokes," he reveals. "When the circuit is more slow, forsure the two-strokes can get near to us."

Ukawa, who finished fifth at the Dutch TT after tumbling at the final turnwhile going for third, is determined to be back on the podium on Sunday,preferably on the step above Rossi. "I always want to finish top three, butespecially at Donington," says Ukawa, who has yet to make the podium at theBritish venue. "I also want to beat Valentino to close the points gap. He'sa great team-mate but also very difficult to beat!"

At Assen two weeks ago, Alex Barros (West Honda Pons NSR500) was the manwho gave Rossi most to worry about. The Brazilian veteran, who has ridden201 GPs, pushed the youngster all the way at Assen, earning fulsome praisefor his efforts. "Since I came to the big class two years ago, I've neverseen anyone ride a 500 like that," said Rossi.

Barros is therefore well and truly pumped for Donington, where histwo-stroke's light weight and easy handling should give him another chanceto beat his young rival. "This is a difficult year for us because thefour-strokes are so fast," explains the Brazilian. "But there are sometracks where we can use the 500's advantages, and Donington is one of them.Assen gave me a lot of confidence and some time to see where I can beat theRCV. It won't be easy, but I'm looking forward to having another go."

Barros' regular team-mate Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500) iscurrently out of action after breaking his right forearm when he fellheavily at Assen. The Italian's place at Donington and next weekend'sGerman GP will be taken by 22-year-old Alex Hofmann, who impressed atAssen, subbing for injured Yamaha rider Garry McCoy.

The former 250 GP rider aims to make the most of his second MotoGP chance."Last winter I lost my sponsor just five weeks before the start of thechampionship and since then I've only ridden in the German World Superbikeround and the last two GPs," says the German. "This is a fantasticopportunity. I don't normally need much time to adapt, so I'm sure that Iwon't have too many problems this time. I don't know what I can achieve andI won't make any promises, but Honda is the best constructor in thechampionship and I'm riding with a great team."

Reigning 250 World Champion Daijiro Kato (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR500),who dominated last year's British 250 GP, aims to get back on track for his500 debut at the track. Kato, who harried Rossi in May's Spanish GP, hashad a tougher time of late as he works to fully adapt to his NSR500.Twelfth at ultra-difficult Assen a fortnight ago, he feels he should gobetter this weekend. "Donington is a more conventional circuit, I think wecan get a better result there," says the Japanese. "You'll see that I willcome back from my last few results and run at the front again."

Compatriot Tetsuya Harada (Pramac Honda NSR500) is also feeling inconfident mood, despite some ongoing discomfort from the left shoulder heinjured during preseason testing. "Every weekend I feel more comfortable onthe bike," says Harada, 1993 250 World Champion. "And I think Doningtonwill be good for me Dunlop tyres always work well there and I scored oneof my two 500 podiums there in '99, when I was riding the Aprilia twin."

Two weeks ago at Assen Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Kanemoto Racing HondaNSR500) scored his first top-ten result of the year, bringing the Dutchmanto Britain with renewed determination. Van den Goorbergh's main job thisseason is to help Bridgestone develop its new range of MotoGP tires, and hefeels the tires get better with every outing. "I'm giving them a lot offeedback and we keep getting improved tires," he says. "But I wouldn't mindif it rains at Donington. I was fastest for a while during wet Assenpractice, and I feel we're probably more competitive in the wet at the moment."

There will be little time for relaxation after racing finishes on Sunday.The Grand Prix circus packs up and heads back to the Continent, for nextweekend's Germany GP at the Sachsenring, in the former East Germany.

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