Fiat Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi reckons his quest for a tenth world title in 2010 will be one of the toughest of his illustrious career. Speaking on the eve of the first race in Qatar, the 31-year-old said he expected a fierce challenge from the likes of factory Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo and Ducati star Casey Stoner during the 18-round series.
Rossi was in ominous form throughout winter testing and never finished outside of the top two on the timesheets on the impressive new factory YZR-M1 machine.
The Italian said: “The first motivation is always great rivals and trying to beat the other guys. In these last two seasons I’ve enjoyed it a lot, having some great battles. On paper also this year it will be the same, because all the other top riders are in a good shape with good performances in the test.”
Rossi said his motivation was stronger than ever as he prepares to embark on his 15th world championship campaign, having won the title in 2008 and 2009. The seven-time MotoGP world champion added: “Another season starts and it is always a good feeling and very exciting. I think anyway we work well and I was quite fast here and also in Sepang, so it looks like the new bike is already quite good. Starting from tomorrow is another story. The races are different, but I think we are ready.”
Rossi has raved about the performance of his YZR-M1 machine during winter testing and he touched on some of the improvements made by the Japanese factory again today at the Losail International Circuit.
Rossi added: “We’ve improved our bike. We try to work on the engine for the new rules and the feeling is positive. We try to modify also something in the weight in the chassis for a better grip and the bike work very well in Sepang and Qatar. So this is positive, because especially here in Qatar last year we had some problem and this time I think it’s possible to make a bit better.”
After mixed results in 2009 and a mysterious illness, Stoner appears back on track in 2010 with title hopes alive.
Casey Stoner reckons improved tire life from Ducati’s new Big Bang GP10 motor will give his hopes of success in this year’s MotoGP world championship a massive boost. The 2007 world champion, who is chasing a fourth straight victory under the Losail International Circuit floodlights on Sunday evening, said tire endurance has improved dramatically with Ducati’s smoother and more rider-friendly 2010 motor.
The Aussie, who topped the timesheets at the recent night test in Qatar, said: “The new engine is a lot smoother off the bottom end. It was the biggest issue. The chassis we had at a very good point, but we just couldn’t get the bike hooked up out of the corners. So we needed that extra torque, the smoother engine delivery and we’ve definitely got that with the engine. Of course there’s a few small setbacks with the new engine. We’ve lost a slight bit of top speed, but I believe with the extra acceleration we’re getting out of the corners we’re not losing anything in the end anyway. The biggest difference is definitely at the end of our tire life. In the past we wouldn’t drop down just a little bit in tire performance, we’d drop down a lot. With this engine we actually don’t find almost any dropdown. It will be a lot easier to ride at the end of a race.”
Reigning World Superbike champion Ben Spies has played down hopes that he can make an instant impact in his first full season challenging Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner in MotoGP. Spies has impressed throughout the winter testing campaign with a series of top six finishes on the new YZR-M1 machine. The 25-year-old Texan, who completed a double victory in Qatar in World Superbikes last year and won a record 14 races onboard Yamaha’s R1 that season, told a packed pre-event press conference in Doha today:
MotoGP rookie Ben Spies has shown a lot of promise in pre-season testing, with the Texan looking to turn that potential into tangible results on Sundays.
“I’ve got to be realistic. We’ve had a couple good tests and that’s been great, but they’re tests. We haven’t raced yet and seen what we can do. A lot of the races are going to be new tracks. So we can have a good test and then you go to a track you don’t know and you’ve still got to learn. As soon as you do a good test everybody starts putting more pressure on you and wants results. And it’s hard enough to come in as a rookie and just to race in this series. And then in the first year when people are already starting to stay ‘you may do this, you may do that’ it’s tough. So the good testing we’ve done hasn’t really done us favors on that front. But it’s what I’m doing. I read some article that 13 of the 17 riders have won some sort of a world title. It’s pretty tough company to step into.”
Spies might have an element of trepidation ahead of his first full premier class campaign, but he’s still excited at the prospect of challenging himself against the elite. He added: “It’s going to be tough. I could have stayed in World Superbikes and been competitive, but I wanted to go out and try something new and try to push myself again.”
Respol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa insists he’s got no regrets about not opting to switch to Ohlins suspension when given the chance by Honda last August.
Much of the triple world champion’s pre-season problems have centered around a struggle to make a smooth transition to Ohlins after an entire career spent on Showa suspension. The Spaniard goes into the eagerly-anticipated season opener in Qatar on Sunday night on the back of a nightmare winter testing campaign on the new factory Honda RC212V, having ended winter testing in a dismal 13th position under the Losail International Circuit floodlights last month.
With Dani Pedrosa still battling issues with his bike, it leaves plenty of room for Repsol Honda teammate Andrea Dovizioso to shine.
Pedrosa confirmed today that he will run a modified chassis in Qatar to try and solve a major stability issue that has dogged him throughout the winter campaign in Malaysia and Qatar. Pedrosa, who finished third in the 2009 MotoGP world championship, said: “I have no regrets about that (not switching to Ohlins in ’09). Right now I can’t find the feeling. That’s why the winter was not good and quite difficult. For some reason right now with my bike or me something is not working. The bike is shaking all of the time. I have something to try with the chassis. I hope it works and I can have a better feeling. It is just a modification to the chassis because it is so difficult to know what is missing and how to fix it is not that easy.”
Pedrosa’s Italian teammate, Andrea Dovizioso, did switch to Ohlins in Brno last season and while he initially struggled, he’s been the best Honda rider in winter testing and finished third-quickest in Qatar last month at the night test.
Last year’s MotoGP world championship runner-up, Jorge Lorenzo, is hopeful his damaged right hand will not give him serious problems during this weekend’s Qatar clash in Doha. The 22-year-old claims he’s still short of 100% fitness having badly broken his right thumb in a training crash back in February. The injury forced Lorenzo to miss the second Sepang test and he rode at the final winter test in Qatar last month with a special carbon protective glove.
The Fiat Yamaha rider said: “This injury is quite difficult for a rider because the right hand is very important. I am much better than I was at the test but I’m not at 100%. For sure though I will be able to be a little bit faster than the test. Maybe I’m 80%. It is not impossible to think about winning, but some other riders have more options than us at the moment.”
Lorenzo revealed that he’s been undergoing daily physiotherapy for 90 minutes in Barcelona to help speed up his recovery and added: “I was trying to push the hand to gain some flexibility. The problem is when I brake the pressure I have to make with the hand causes me a little bit of pain. We’ll see if I can brake as normal.”