The Fiat Yamaha Team head for the ante-penultimate installment of this year's MotoGP World Championship in Australia this weekend in the knowledge that the title has slipped from their grasp but with the clear focus of race wins and improved performance from the YZR-M1 machine to come over the last three rounds. Whilst the long-term target of the team has switched to a stronger challenge for honors in 2008, there is still the important matter of three race victories and the runner-up spot in the championship up for grabs over the next month.
It was largely with this in mind that Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards put in a day of testing following the last round at Motegi, with the pair completing valuable tyre work alongside Michelin and Rossi getting the chance to try two new prototype chassis. The breathtaking scenery of Phillip Island will certainly put the bike and riders to the sternest of tests, with its sweeping and flowing nature making for the ultimate challenge of machine control and throttle accuracy, not to mention the sheer bravery required from the rider.The track's exposed location on the cliffs facing the Bass Strait means that weather is a constant focal point, as proved to be the case last season, when intermittent rain saw the flag-to-flag rule employed properly for the first time in MotoGP.
Whilst Rossi and Edwards suffered mixed fortunes in the ensuing tyre gamble - the Italian finishing on the podium but the Texan crashing out of a race won by Marco Melandri - both riders boast an impressive record at the Australian venue. Rossi had taken MotoGP victory there for the previous five straight seasons, adding to two earlier successes in the 250cc class, whilst Edwards built up a strong record during his World Superbike career, finishing on the podium on no fewer than eight occasions, including a win in 2001.
Valentino Rossi - "Some great memories" The Australian Grand Prix marks the start of an unusual season finale for Valentino Rossi, who enters the final three races of a campaign without any possibility of winning the world title for the first time in his career. The Italian remains philosophical about his current situation and highly motivated for his eleventh visit to Phillip Island, where he has stood on the podium on no fewer than nine occasions in all classes - including his first title-clinching victory for Yamaha in 2004.
"Our championship is over but we still want to win and find a way to finish the season in a good way," said Rossi. "Japan was very disappointing but we had a good test on the Monday after the race and we found some things that we hope will help us for the final three races. Phillip Island is one of my favorite tracks, I've won there many times and I have some great memories of it, especially winning my first championship with Yamaha there in 2004.
"I am determined to have a good race there. It's an especially important race because many of my mechanics are Australian so for them it's their home race. I love the track and Phillip Island is a special place; I'm really looking forward to this race. It's a pity that we couldn't keep the championship alive a bit longer but we have no pressure now, we will just take it race by race and try to win all three."