Continuing improvements with the Yamaha YZR-M1 machine and the enhanced performance of Michelin's latest tyres make for another promising weekend ahead as the Fiat Yamaha Team head east for the next round of the MotoGP World Championship in Japan this weekend. A frantic pack-up operation took place at the Estoril circuit on Sunday evening as the entire paddock prepared to make the gruelling 11,000 kilometre journey from the western tip of Europe to far east Asia, where Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards will do battle for Yamaha in the factory's home country.
The long trip to Motegi has at least been taken in buoyant mood thanks to Rossi's stunning fourth victory of the season in Portugal. The Italian kept his slim World Championship hopes alive with a breathtaking ride that saw him cut the gap to series leader Casey Stoner to 76 points with four rounds and a maximum haul of 100 points remaining. The race in Japan is followed by trips to Australia and Malaysia before the series returns to Europe for its traditionally grand finale at Valencia in Spain.
Designed in 1997 as a test venue, Motegi has ultra-modern facilities although the outstanding paddock is not quite matched by the intricacies and character of a somewhat geometric circuit layout.A bump-free surface offers good levels of grip without being particularly abrasive, but the proliferation of second gear turns, linked for the most part by mini-drag strips, means braking and acceleration are the main prerequisite to a fast lap time, and consistency the key to a good race.
Valentino Rossi - "Motivation and confidence high"
Valentino Rossi's fourth win of the season was his 29th for Yamaha and with four races remaining before the end of the year he is keen to add to that tally. The 28-year-old's army of Japanese fans will be supporting him all the way this weekend at a circuit he admits is not high up on his list of favourites - despite holding the lap record of 1'47.288 - and he plans to continue his winning ways.
"Portugal was a great, great race and it was fantastic to win again after so long," said Rossi. "Now we go straight to Motegi and the motivation and confidence within the team is very high. We know that our rivals are always very strong in Motegi and we expect the same from Stoner this year, but I've never won there with Yamaha so I will be doing my best to change that this week.
'We're not thinking of the championship, we know it's probably out of our reach, but we can do the best we can to try to keep it open for as long as possible and this will be our goal next week. Our top speed is much better with the new engine, our tyres worked well in Portugal and now we hope we have the same situation again in Japan.'
Colin Edwards - 'Time is running out'
Twice a winner of the Suzuka 8 Hour race, one of those alongside Rossi, Colin Edwards enjoyed plenty of success in Japan during his Superbike career. After a difficult weekend in Portugal, he hopes those positive memories and the support of the Japanese fans can help him recover points and, just as importantly, confidence ahead of the season run-in.
'To finish tenth at Estoril, one of my favourite tracks, was really demoralising but at least we don't have time to dwell on it,' said Edwards. 'I've never had a great race at Motegi but this has got to be the right time to turn that around! We had a really good test there last year so with any luck some of that data will help us out this year.
'We're just going to have to get our heads down from day one and get on with it. Time is running out and I want to get back on that podium before the end of the season. I know both myself and Valentino have a lot of supporters in Japan, especially after winning the Suzuka 8 Hour together a few years ago, so hopefully that can propel us to a top result this weekend.'