With just three months remaining before the city of Beijing plays host to the XXIX edition of the Olympic Games, China opens its doors to an equally talented array of athletes and a similarly historic championship this weekend as the MotoGP World Championship lands in Shanghai for the fourth round of an already intriguing season. The Fiat Yamaha Team heads for the Orient in fine spirits after a sensational start to the season, which has wielded five podiums and leadership of both the teams’ and riders’ standings.
Pivotal to that success is the early season form of rookie revelation Jorge Lorenzo, who has made the most successful ever start to a modern-day MotoGP career after three races. An unbroken pole to podium record so far have taken the youngster to the top of the standings on 61 points – a tally he aims to add to in China on his 21st birthday.
A debut premier-class success in Portugal two weeks ago made Lorenzo the fifth youngest rider to achieve the feat – outshining legendary names such as Mike Hailwood and his own team-mate Valentino Rossi – and the youngest to finish on the podium at three successive races. Having conquered Estoril on his first visit with the YZR-M1, a circuit at which he had never previously won in any class, Lorenzo can fully expect to be competitive at Shanghai, where he dominated with pole position, victory and a new lap record in the 250cc class last year, especially after undergoing successful surgery to cure a troublesome ‘arm-pump’ condition.
In 2005 Valentino Rossi himself made history by taking victory in the first ever MotoGP race to be held in China, which was affected by heavy rain. The Italian was forced to retire in 2006 but he bounced back with second place last year and his focus for this weekend is to go one step higher on the podium. Rossi is confident that his blossoming relationship with Br idgestone tyres is ready to bear fruit and see him join Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa on the winners’ list for the season.
Combining fast straights and hard braking zones with a series of slow and difficult corners, Shanghai is not dissimilar to Estoril in terms of bike set-up, with the engineers required to find a compromised balance between nimbleness and straight-line speed. As at any Herman Tiilke-designed circuit, horsepower is a crucial factor and Shanghai is no exception, boasting the longest straight on the calendar at an incredible 1202 metres.
Valentino Rossi – “We should fight for victory”
“After Estoril we had a test and the primary focus was tyre testing with Bridgestone, working on material for Shanghai. We found some good things and I hope that we’ll be starting in good shape. We’ve had three races together now and I think the last two podiums, especially in Estoril which isn’t such a good track for Bridgestone, have shown that we’re making good progress in our relationship and I hope that Shanghai is going to be the place where it finally all comes together. We’re not in such a bad place in the championship and there is a very long way to go, but our rivals are very strong so we can’t afford to make mistakes and we need to try to take as many points as possible from now on. Last year in China we weren’t quite able to win but this year our bike is working very well and, together with our tyre package, I think we should be fighting for the victory. The race in 2007 was very exciting I think, a long battle with Stoner; this year I hope for a similar battle with my rivals but with a different outcome!”
Jorge Lorenzo – “Realizing a dream”
Each day I am feeling better after my operation; I feel great and I think the recovery is going very well, without problems. I am going to China in perfect shape. The victory in Portugal was like a big present that I had never expected, but in a way it wasn’t a perfect victory because I couldn’t enjoy it so much! The pain in my arms changed the celebration but I believe the most important thing is to make sure I am fit for the future. I am calm because I am realizing a dream and for me the target for the season has already been reached. Now we must continue to work like this and I have to concentrate on the next race. I have had mixed fortunes in China – I had many problems in 2006 and I couldn’t finish but last year I won and it made the championship easier because it took me to 95 points after only four races. Shanghai is a modern track with a long straight, fast corners and big braking areas. It is the second circuit where I’ve never ridden in MotoGP so I don’t know what my performance will be like here but I was very comfortable at this track in 250cc, so I hope it will be the same on May 4th.”
Davide Brivio – “We can go and attack”
“Normally in China we have always been competitive but last year we couldn’t win, we finished second. This year we’ll try again but the competition will be much stronger because it is not only Stoner who is capable of fighting for victory, there are other competitive riders too. We were very pleased with the results in Jerez and Estoril because we knew they were tracks that weren’t the most favourable for us so it was a case of going there to defend. Now we hope that China is the first of the tracks where we can go and attack. It has been a really interesting season so far with three different winners in the opening three races. Lorenzo is the rookie and it’s very surprising what he’s doing but all three are young and it shows that the new generation is very strong. I think the three race winners so far are our toughest competitors for the World Championship so now we hope it is Valentino’s turn.”
Daniele Romagnoli – “We’re expecting another good result”
“Of course we are all surprised by Jorge’s results so far – I don’t think anybody expected him to win so early in the season or to start from pole in each of the first three races! It is down to a combination of things: firstly, the talent of the rider, secondly the incredible support he has received from Yamaha and thirdly the performance of Michelin’s tyres, which have improved so much this year. Also, I think the team are doing a great job trying to adapt the M1 to Jorge and altogether it is fair to say we are more than satisfied with his progress! This race is a similar story to Estoril in that Jorge has never ridden our bike here before but everybody saw what he did in Portugal and this is a similar layout; there is a very high-speed straight and some tight sections where the handling of the Yamaha excels, so we’re expecting another good result. I don’t know exactly how Jorge will be able to ride after his operation – the doctors say he is 100% but we will have to wait and see. I have confidence in them though and this was definitely the right time to operate. In theory he should be even faster than before!”
Valentino Rossi : Information
Lives: Tavullia, Italy
GP victories: 88 (61 x MotoGP/500cc, 14 x 250cc, 12 x 125cc)
First GP victory: Czech Republic, 1996 (125cc)
First GP: Malaysia, 1996 (125cc)
GP starts: 195 (134 x MotoGP/500cc, 30 x 250cc, 30 x 125cc)
Pole positions: 49
World Championships: 7 Grand Prix (1 x 125cc, 1 x 250cc, 1 x 500cc, 4 x MotoGP)
Jorge Lorenzo: Information
Lives: London, UK
GP victories: 22 (1 x MotoGP, 17 x 250cc, 4 x 125cc)
First GP victory: Brazil, 2003 (125cc)
First GP: Jerez, Spain, 2002 (125cc)
GP starts: 97 (3 x MotoGP, 48 x 250cc, 46 x 125cc)
Pole positions: 28 (2 x MotoGP, 23 x 250cc, 3 x 125cc)
World Championships: 2 x 250cc
Shanghai: Record Lap
D.Pedrosa (Honda) 2006, 1’59.318
Shanghai: Best Lap
V.Rossi (Yamaha) 2007, 1’58.424
Grand Prix Results: Shanghai 2007
1. C.Stoner (Ducati) 44’12.891
2. V.Rossi (Yamaha) +3.036
3. J.Hopkins (Suzuki) +6.663
Jorge Lorenzo Result: Shanghai 2007
1. J. Lorenzo (SPA) Aprilia 44’17.095 (250cc)