Hayden and Pedrosa set to strike back for Repsol Honda
The Twin Ring at Motegi hosts the next instalment of an enthralling 2006 MotoGP season this weekend. Repsol Honda, fresh from the drama of the Australian Grand Prix last Sunday, has its sights firmly set on a strong result at Honda's home circuit. With just three races to go, the World Championship is moving into its closing stages with everything to play for.
Championship leader Nicky Hayden arrives in Japan buoyed by an exceptional recovery ride at Phillip Island. From being placed 16th at the end of the first lap, the 25-year-old from Kentucky, USA rocketed back to take fifth at the chequered flag. Hayden has a 21-point cushion in the points standings ahead of Valentino Rossi, though the Repsol Honda rider can consider himself unfortunate not to have extended the lead further after Rossi's overtake under yellow flags in the Australian race went unpunished by race officials. Hayden scored his first MotoGP podium at Motegi in 2003, his debut MotoGP season.
Dani Pedrosa will approach the race at one of his favourite circuits eager to bounce back after an unlucky race at Phillip Island. The Spaniard has won twice at Motegi in the smaller Grand Prix classes, on the 250cc in 2004 and in the 125cc category in 2002. Though not yet fully fit, Pedrosa, the reigning 250cc World Champion, continues to recover from injuries suffered in a practice crash at the Malaysian Grand Prix only three weeks ago. He rode without pain-killing injections at Phillip Island last weekend and the tough 20-year-old rookie can be expected to be ever closer to the extraordinary pace he has set all season.
"Well that's14 races down and three to go and it's really getting to crunch time now. At Phillip Island last week I had a good scrap with some guys for the podium on the last lap and I really enjoyed it. Although the result wasn't great, and battling for third is not like going for the win, there was a lot on the line and we were on a drying track with rain tyres – that was fun. I think we need to tweak the flag-to-flag race rules to make the pit road a little less busy because it was filled with so many people in the way. But I really like switching bikes – I used to love racing the Daytona 200 just for the pit stops and I thought it was fun in Australia".
"I practised the changeover this winter during testing so my guys were really ready for this situation and that helped us. So I look forward to moving on to Motegi. I got third place here in my rookie year, though I've had some weaker results since and struggled a bit, so I'm planning to do better for my Japanese fans this year. I always get lots of support in Japan and I'm gonna be really trying to make my supporters proud, and the guys in my team because they've been working really hard. It's Honda's home race too so it would be nice to give the Honda fans something to shout about."
"I'm looking forward to this race very much. Motegi is a circuit that I really like and I've had some good results here in the past. It's a well-balanced track with a variety of corners and some really hard braking zones. I haven't ridden a MotoGP bike here before so I'm hoping to adapt quickly. This race is the last of three in a row and they've been quite difficult for me because of the injuries I picked up in Malaysia".
"But each time I ride the bike it's a little easier and I'm hoping to make a good result here. At the last race in Phillip Island I wasn't able to give my best performance in the race but this was mostly because of the weather conditions and traffic jam in the pit-lane while I was changing bikes. Of course we'll have to see what the weather's going to do in Motegi because it's possible it will rain here too. Philllip Island didn't really help my championship position but my aim this season was to learn as much as possible and perform to my maximum and this is what I'll try and do until the end of the year."
Repsol Honda Team