Hayden admits he is a ‘confidence’ rider, and now he’s on a roll after his resounding Laguna Seca victory two weeks ago. He feels he now has the mental strength to really take the fight to his rivals.
But Rossi, at least in World Championship terms, is going to be hard to catch. The Italian is 79 points ahead of his nearest challenger, Marco Melandri (Team Movistar Honda RC211V), who has racked up the points. Max Biaggi (Repsol Honda RC211V) lies third in the overall standings and the intense Roman has left it late to begin a title charge, but he has won here before, in 2003 in the MotoGP class, and twice on a 250, so he cannot be ruled out for a return to winning form.
Donington Park usually provides an eventful race and with the track completely resurfaced in 2004, the better grip that saw lap records destroyed last year should give riders another chance to raise their games, provided the unreliable British weather doesn’t conspire to provide wet conditions. Many riders have a great deal of affection for Donington Park. It’s a track that rewards competitors who relish fast, open, sweeping turns.
But it’s the dramatic downhill fifth-gear Craner Curves that are the high point of a Donington lap. This section of the track requires bravery and inch-perfect commitment to a line and if a rider struggles to come to terms with these turns, a fast lap is but a distant hope.
Donington demands two main machine characteristics that are hard to provide simultaneously. Stability on the brakes and quick turn-in is required for the Esses and Melbourne Loop sections while perfect high-speed manners are needed for the other parts of the 4.023km track. Good acceleration is also vital while top speed is less of an issue than at other tracks.
Nicky Hayden: “At the end of the Laguna weekend the whole three days went to plan and it was like a dream come true. Race day was just amazing but we have to all move on. I said that we Haydens work well on momentum. It took me a while to win races back home in AMA but when I did they seemed to come – same thing with my brother Tommy.
“I now know I can do it at this level and I won't be happy till we can do it again. A repeat performance of Laguna will be a very long shot but I come here with a new spring in my step knowing that we – that is me, my team, and Honda, and Michelin and all my sponsors – have the capability to shock and that is what I want to do again.”
Max Biaggi: “Donington is a good one, I like it. In 2003 I got a pole position and I also won the race. We’re just coming away from a good performance in Laguna Seca two weeks ago, so I’m thinking ‘why we can’t go for a great result here?’ Currently I’m in third position in the Championship, but I will do my best to move up the order. During the break after the American race, I’ve trained a lot and I feel ready for Donington.”
“I don’t find the track easy at all,” said Sete Gibernau (Team Movistar Honda RC211V). “The bike has to be set up to perfection to handle the heavy braking and steep downhill sections. My favourite part is the last two bends, traditionally the setting for some spectacular overtaking.”
For Marco Melandri, this is a chance to shine at his ‘home from home’ race.
The Italian currently lives close by. “Donington is something special,” he said. “And the secret behind a good lap time at Donington Park? The secret lies in finding the right compromise between hard braking and smooth handling.”
Alex Barros (Camel Honda RC211V) is always ready for a challenge, and said, “I really like the Donington track, it’s got its very own character. I’ve already had some good results there and I want another there now, especially now. At Laguna Seca I was very frustrated, angry even, but I cleared things up with Melandri, and now I want to get over it with a good result in England. After the crash in America I took another blow to the back which limited my movements for a few days, but I should be okay by Friday.”
Aussie battler Troy Bayliss (Camel Honda RC211V) is a favourite with the British crowd and badly needs a strong result. “At Laguna Seca we did some brilliant work in practice,” he said. “But I couldn’t get the same feeling in the race. We did however show that we can be quick, now we need the consistency. I would love to have a good race in Britain, my first country after I moved from Australia to take part in the British Superbike series.”
Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V) managed a seventh place in the States, his best result of the year so far. The Japanese is only just catching his form after injury and could be a man to watch. He said, “My physical condition is now optimal and I will give my best efforts with the knowledge that I must get a positive result now the season is nearly halfway through.”