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First competitive MotoGP action takes place at Official Test in Jerez

First competitive MotoGP action takes place at Official Test in Jerez

Some MotoGP riders call it Grand Prix Zero; a chance to take an early psychological advantage ahead of the season proper.

Some MotoGP riders call it Grand Prix Zero; a chance to take an early psychological advantage ahead of the season proper. Others see it as another important opportunity to fine tune their latest novelties. All will be hoping that they can leave the MotoGP Official Test in Jerez this weekend with their only worry being where to store a brand new BMW sports car.

Such is the nature of the traditional final European test of the preseason. All 18 regular MotoGP riders, in addition to some of those for whom testing is a full time occupation, will be present at the Circuito de Jerez from Saturday February 16th for two days of action, culminating in the ever-popular 40 minute BMW M Award shootout.

Before Sundays first competitive battle of the premier class grid, there is still the not inconsequential matter of further testing to be addressed. Most riders last appeared at Jerez in the final test of 2007, although a lot has changed even in such a small period of time.

Reigning MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner will be the man to watch over the course of the two day visit to southern Spain, with both fans and fellow riders alike eager to assess the Australians form and get some idea of what 2008 has in store. The 22 year-old has not had the best of fortunes in Jerez, with a history of crashes including one in the final hour of last years Official Test and a more recent accident in late November. The latter forced the Ducati factory rider to curtail his testing schedule on the second day, with a shoulder injury requiring him to take things at a slightly more leisurely pace upon his return.

Stoner has still been on excellent form in the 2008 timesheets despite his comparative lack of fitness, blowing away the competition in particularly impressive style at his home test in Phillip Island. The last visit to Jerez marked the maiden appearance of the Ducati Desmosedici GP8, and the focus for the title holder and his team-mate Marco Melandri will be getting further accustomed to the machine.

Another new edition of last years bike is that ridden by Hondas MotoGP competitors. Development of the RC212V has been divided between work with a pneumatic valve engine and the more conventional version, but now the Japanese factory claim to have something special up their sleeve for the Official Test and beyond. All the satellite teams are expected to receive the new engine in Jerez, but the litmus test for the late addition will be the Repsol Honda factory team duo of 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden and returning team-mate Dani Pedrosa.

Hayden has been the rider with the most laps on the board thus far in 2008, although that hasnt always correlated with his level of satisfaction with his bike. The Kentucky Kids fastest times have all come courtesy of the latest batch of Michelin qualifying tyres, sometimes flattering the package on days where he has been frustrated with a lack of a firm direction.

Pedrosa is in the unenviable situation of making his comeback from injury at a very late stage in the preseason. The Spaniard has only one day of testing under his belt this year, at a time when getting back to fitness is key for a rider. The 2007 runner-up, who qualified on pole for last years race in Jerez and was only just beaten by Valentino Rossi in the timed shootout, underwent surgery on a hand fractured in Sepang less than a month ago.

The aforementioned Rossi has just one focus at the moment, having announced the resolution of issues that saw him featured on the front and pink pages of the newspapers nearly as much as the sports section in 2007. The Italian is a previous winner of the BMW M Award on two occasions, and this year he will be using the shootout as a first opportunity to try his new Bridgestone qualifying tyres in a live setting. The Fiat Yamaha rider operates out of a partitioned garage this year, in order to respect the data of Michelin-shod team-mate and twice 250cc poleman and winner in Jerez, Jorge Lorenzo.

Joining Pedrosa on the treatment table in recent weeks has been Kawasakis John Hopkins, who tore an abductor muscle in a highside at Phillip Island. Like his Spanish counterpart, the Anglo-American is expected to return to action at the Official Test, and his motivation for doing so is particularly high; last year he was unable to compete with a fractured toe and wrist injury picked up in testing in Qatar, and said absence put him out of the running for both the one-off and season-long BMW M Awards.

Suzuki line up Loris Capirossi and Chris Vermeulen for their first ride at Jerez with the new GSV-R, with the pair having tested in Phillip Island last year whilst their rivals put in laps at the Spanish track. Capirossi is the winner of the 2006 race at the scene of this weeks test, and has been adapting very well indeed to his new machine after a long association with Ducati.

Other Jerez debutants with their new hybrid engines are Colin Edwards and James Toseland, the lineup for the Tech 3 Yamaha team. Edwards has shown blistering race pace in recent tests, and knows exactly what the BMW M Award entails after winning the 2006 competition, whilst Toseland rides an 800cc prototype as part of his rapid adaptation to the premier class.

The rookie contingent, including Toseland and Lorenzo, is completed by former 250cc standouts Andrea Dovizioso and Alex de Angelis for the JiR Honda and San Carlo Gresini Honda teams, respectively.

The battle for the BMW Z4 Roadster will take place on the afternoon of Sunday February 17th, preceded on Saturday by a full day of MotoGP testing. Following on from the premier class, 250cc and 125cc riders will take to the track to continue their preparations for the coming season.

MotoGP, 2008

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