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Star-studded MotoGP fivesome speak at Qatar press conference

Star-studded MotoGP fivesome speak at Qatar press conference

Building up to the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar, five MotoGP riders faced the press to speak about their preseason and hopes for Sunday's opening race of the 2008 season.

Building up to the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar, five MotoGP riders faced the press to speak about their preseason and hopes for Sunday's opening race of the 2008 season.

An impressive line-up of 2007 World Champion Casey Stoner, runner-up Dani Pedrosa and respective third & fourth placed riders Valentino Rossi and John Hopkins were joined by the oldest competitor on the MotoGP grid, Loris Capirossi, to give the inside track on the historic weekend of action ahead.

Stoner, the undoubted centre of attention as he begins his title defence, gave the ominous news to his fellow rivals that he is now almost fully recuperated from his shoulder injury from last November. Conceding the testing top spot to Jorge Lorenzo last week, the Australian admits that the newcomers are in fine form, but is as assured as ever with the poise of a champion.

"In the end I didn't have a lot of rest over the winter because it has been a pretty hectic preseason, so now I'm really just looking forward to racing. With the injury I stretched the ligaments in my shoulder so the collarbone has been sticking up. It was quite sore when we started testing but I've done a lot of work on it and I think I'm close to 100% now," volunteered Stoner when questioned as to his physical condition.

"Testing has gone very well and we are hoping to eliminate weaknesses at certain circuits which we experienced last year. I'm approaching this season with more confidence than last season. I have been impressed by some of the rookies in testing but I think the main contenders will be the people alongside me here."

Longtime rival of Stoner throughout his time in both MotoGP and 250cc, Pedrosa was next in the firing line. He has also had his share of injury concerns, having to undergo an operation on his hand after a crash in Sepang, and did not have the best of times at the opening night test in Qatar.

"Because of the injury I have not done so much work at the tracks and have had to work more at home. It's not at 100% yet but I feel a little better every week," said the Repsol Honda rider. "The first race will be the most difficult but then we have some time off to recover more before Jerez."

"The night race should be interesting. Although there are a few shadows it's not too bad. The first day my eyes were hurting because you have to concentrate so much, but the second day of the test it was fine."

Five-time MotoGP World Champion Rossi was in positive spirits ahead of what will be a crucial year for the Italian. Fiat Yamaha's former title holder has seen his fair share of newcomers in his time in the World Championship, and believes that this year's crop –amongst them colleague Lorenzo- could spring a few surprises. "When the season starts there is always interest in performance levels and we got a good base in the tests. I am happy with the Bridgestone tyres but they are quite different so there has of course been a lot of hard work. However, the potential is very high," assessed Rossi.

"Yamaha have done a fantastic job and the bike is very good and very fast, so I can't wait to be in a race situation. Casey was good in almost every race last year so we know we have to make an improvement. With some of the new riders coming in maybe the battle will be more open this year."

Another injured rider in attendance was Hopkins, on the recovery trail after tearing his abductor in Australia. The Anglo-American gave a ‘glowing' tribute to the Musco lighting project in place at Losail, but made no bones about the fact that he will have a difficult time at less than full fitness.

"I had a pretty big ‘get-off' at Phillip Island in the test and I ended up with a torn abductor muscle. It's a muscle which we use quite a lot and it's been hard to keep general fitness levels up," said Hopkins, who changes teams for 2008.

"The Kawasaki guys are great but I haven't been able to do quite as much testing as I'd have liked.

"Once the temperature drops at night here we have seen that it can get a bit chilly, so we might be struggling to get warmed-up, but I think they've done an excellent job with the lights."

In peak physical condition, veteran Capirossi nonetheless didn't have the best of times in Qatar last week. The Italian is nonetheless relishing a new challenge, and feels at ease with the new scenario of night riding.

"This is my 19th season so I'm quite used to the feeling and I already have a good relationship with the team. We don't have things at the level we want yet but we aim to go improving race by race and I feel quite confident." "I'm quite comfortable with riding at night and the conditions are going to be the same for everyone."

Tags:
MotoGP, 2008, Commercialbank GRAND PRIX OF QATAR

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