This Turkish round is followed by a mid-May trip to China before the French Grand Prix later that month and the rider who can lever any sort of points advantage before the European campaign begins will have a crucial psychological edge as well as a numerical one.
Consistent Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) has scored podium finishes in both races so far and he lies just five points behind series leader Loris Capirossi (Ducati). Nicky notched a third place here last year and the hard-charging American will be expecting to do even better than that this weekend.
His team-mate Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC211V) has surprised everyone except himself and those close to him with a meteoric start to his debut MotoGP season. The 20-year-old Spaniard currently lies third in the points standings after a fine second place in his first race and a steady sixth in his second. He finished second here last year on a 250.
Toni Elias (Fortuna Honda RC211V) is proving he can more than cope with the demands of competition in the premier class after a troubled debut season in 2005. He currently sits fifth overall and will be aiming for a maiden rostrum finish this weekend.
But he will face opposition from his team-mate Marco Melandri (Fortuna Honda RC211V) who knows he needs to do better than the fifth place at Jerez and a seventh in Qatar so far if he is to mount a serious bid for the title this year.
Rookie Casey Stoner (LCR Honda RC211V) is currently ahead of Melandri in the points table after a sixth in Spain and a fifth in Qatar after starting from pole in only his second ever MotoGP outing. He won here on a 250 last year.
Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V) is still struggling to find his best form while Kenny Roberts (Roberts KR211V) has defied critics with two solid top ten finishes on his Honda-powered machine.
This 5.430km track, situated on the Asian side of the huge city of Istanbul, is one of the better ‘new’ circuits to be built. It features six right-hand turns, a medium-length 720m straight and eight left-hand turns.
Designed by Hermann Tilke, the man responsible for the Shanghai track, the Otodrom International Circuit is something of a pastiche of existing circuits. Turns one and two are an unashamed copy of the Senna Esses at Sao Paulo while turn 11 mimics Eau Rouge at Spa Francorchamps. A degree of elevation makes many corner entries blind and challenging.
Turn eight is a double-apex high-speed left that will demand inch-perfect precision riding and raw nerve of a rare degree. This corner is critical for a good lap time – entry, mid-turn and exit are all equally important – get any parts wrong and the time penalty will be a heavy one.
With this race now in late April temperatures will be higher than in October when MotoGP first visited this track last year. This will mean new set-up parameters and different tyre requirements for teams.
Hayden is ready to race. He said, “The track’s got some really high speed stuff, some hard braking and then at the end of the lap there’s some really slow first gear corners. Turn one is pretty wild and the fifth gear right hander at turn 11, which you take almost flat out, is about as good as it gets on a MotoGP bike. The last little bit of the circuit I don’t like too much because it’s a bit too tight for MotoGP – but the rest is pretty good. We’re going to Turkey at a completely different time than last year and we’ll find out how much difference that makes.”
Pedrosa said, “In Istanbul you really notice the designer of the circuit also designed Shanghai, although I think that this is a much more balanced and varied circuit. It combines uphill and downhill sections and has good asphalt. It’s quite wide and grip is not bad. It has some rather slow sections, but I guess it’s because it’s been designed with Formula 1 in mind. This weekend we need to do the same as always: try to understand the circuit as soon as possible and to find a good set-up for the race.”
Elias said, “I’m heading to Istanbul feeling very motivated. My feeling with the bike improves from race to race and the test at Qatar confirmed that we’re working in the right direction. Now I have to follow it up in the race with a performance that I believe justifies my potential. I have to try and take another step forward because we have not yet managed to achieve the results I am hoping for.”
Stoner is eager to ride and said, “The Istanbul track is a little strange with a combination of slow and very fast sections, so it is a compromise on set-up. There are also some hard braking areas but I feel comfortable with the track and I have good feeling with how far I can push. Hopefully the base set-up which felt so good at Qatar will transfer to Istanbul and I can be as competitive on the MotoGP bike as I was in 250s.”
Melandri, winner here last year, said, “I would prefer to be heading into this event with a better performance behind me but I’m sure the feeling we found in testing will give me plenty of encouragement. The 2005 Grand Prix of Turkey was a truly memorable event and I can’t ever forget the moment I crossed the line.”
Roberts has yet to race here. He missed out on a visit here last season due to injury and will be aiming to build on his solid start to this season. “I’ll have to get on the pace here quickly,” he said. “We’re moving forward with the bike and it’s up to me to keep things going in the right direction.”
Tamada said, “I took advantage of the two week break to work on my concentration because it’s important to be properly motivated at a difficult moment like this. I can only guarantee that I’ll make the best use of my capacities to get good results. I like the Istanbul circuit and I hope the weather conditions will be favourable so that I’ll have the best conditions in which to express myself.”
Andrea Dovizioso (Humangest Racing Honda RS250RW), who currently lies second to Jorge Lorenzo (Aprilia) in the250cc World Championship, will be aiming to deprive the series leader of a third consecutive win. He finished fifth here last year and after a third place in Spain and a second In Qatar, Dovi is hungrier than ever for his first win in the class.
Sebastian Porto (Repsol Honda RS250RW) has had a difficult start to the season and the Argentine currently lies tenth overall. He said, “The circuit is quite complicated and we’ve raced here only once before so none of us has much experience. We just hope that everything works out fine. We’ll try to work and adapt the bikes well. The Hondas did a good job there last year so we hope the bike will be more competitive this weekend.”
This is a new track for Porto’s team-mate Shuhei Aoyama (Repsol Honda RS250RW) who said, “I’ve only seen the circuit on TV so I haven’t got much information about the track and its technical features. I think it’ll be less complicated than Qatar. There are some gradient changes and a more varied layout and I think I’ll feel more comfortable here. But I also know that if I want to get a good result I’ll have to be much more focussed than in Qatar.”
The 125cc category is currently the domain of Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia) who has won both races so far. Reigning World Champion Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R) has not begun his title defence as he would have wished and Turkey represents a chance to get his challenge back on track.
Mike di Meglio (FFM Honda RS125R) won here last year and should be one of the men to set the pace here in 2006 too, while new Honda recruit Gabor Talmacsi (Humangest Honda RS125R) will be looking to get a win under his belt here.
But the track is all new for 15-year-old rookie Bradley Smith (Repsol Honda RS125R), who said, “The team has sent over a DVD of the race last year which has been a big help for me learning yet another new circuit. Ilove the look of the fast right-hand bend just before the start and finish complex and it should be very interesting to ride.”