Four riders are still realistically in with a chance of taking the World Crown: Hayden on 236 points, Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) with 224, Marco Melandri (Fortuna Honda RC211V)on 209 and Loris Capirossi (Ducati) with 205. Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC211V) has 202.
The title is a long shot for Melandri and Capirossi and probably now out of Pedrosaís reach, but Rossi is in form at the right time with four podiums (including a win) in the last four races, while Hayden has laboured to a ninth, a fourth and two fifth places.
But Nicky is nothing if not resilient, and as the only rider to have scored points at every round so far, he is now in the position of being confident enough to recapture the form that saw him win in Holland and the USA.
Portugal has not been a happy hunting ground for Hayden so far. Nicky was seventh here last year, but the American ace has upped his game now to such an extent that this weekendís outing is likely to bear little relation to previous visits here.
Estoril has only been on the calendar since 2000 and in those years since ts arrival Rossi has finished third in 2000 and won here for the last four years in the premier class, while Alex Barros took the win last year on a Honda RC211V.
This wind-lashed track lies 20 miles west of Lisbon and is close to the town of Sintra. The 4.182km circuit features a balance of turns with nine rights and four lefts. Built in 1972 the surface is now bumpy in parts and some riders are unsure over the asphaltís ability to provide dependable grip over a race weekend.
Nevertheless the track offers a significant challenge regardless of grip issues. The chicane is the slowest turn in MotoGP racing requiring patience and a smooth style to avoid catastrophe. On the other hand a long, fast right onto the start/finish straight, the ĎParabolicaí, is one of the great corners in racing and loved by the best riders.
Turn one at the end of the 986m straight is a favourite overtaking spot and so is turn six, the ĎParabolica interiorí behind the pits complex. The rest of the track is fairly unremarkable requiring no out-of-the-ordinary machine set-ups. But the wind blowing off the Atlantic Ocean is always a concern.
Nicky said, ďIím quite excited about the whole weekend in Portugal. Itís a huge race for me Ė I know that and Iím prepared for it. The team had a couple of days testing after the last race in Japan and we made some progress there, so Iím definitely looking forward to this one. Last year I didnít have a very good result here and I struggled a lot so Iím looking forward to definitely improving this time around.Ē
Dani said, ďThe target is to get a good result here because the last two results in Australia and Japan have been a little disappointing for me. Estoril is not one of my favourite tracks and my previous results here could have been better, but Iíve been on pole position twice before so itís a track I can go well at. I havenít ridden the RC211V here before though, so Iíll have to learn the track quickly on Friday. Of course the weather could play a part because itís quite unstable at Estoril and it often rains.Ē
ďNow we go to two circuits that I like,Ē said a buoyant Melandri. ďIím ready for this final challenge. Iíve shown Iím competitive in all conditions and Iím ready to fight to win every Sunday. The Championship has never been as open as it is this year and Iím not in a position to defend, so I can take a few risks and just focus on setting the bike up to enjoy myself. Itís important at this circuit that the bike is well balanced, stable under braking and agile in the direction changes.Ē
Toni Elias (Fortuna Honda RC211V) said, ďTogether with the team weíre doing a really good job now and we take another step forward every time. A second row start and sixth place in the race in Japan means I can look forward to the next round with optimism. Iím determined to turn this difficult season around and I hope things can go well from the start at Estoril. I like the track, especially the uphill chicane, which is the distinctive section of the track Ė a really slow but technical 'S', probably the slowest on the calendar.Ē
Casey Stoner (LCR Honda RC211V), who won here last year on a 250, said, ďThe two weeks holiday after the Japanese race have been really relaxing. Iíve spent time hanging out at my parents farm and finally teaching my girlfriend to ride a horse! Estoril and Valencia are two tracks Iíve had success at in the past, so hopefully I will have a chance to make up for recent races; Phillip Island and Motegi, that did not go to plan. Honda has done well at Estoril in the past so Iím hoping we can find a comfortable set-up early and be on the pace.Ē
ďI like the Estoril track,Ē said Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V). ďHere, in 2004, I set the pole position and ended the race in second. These moments are still alive in my mind and I hope to find the solution to the problems Iím facing and to be competitive again. I also hope for a good weather in order to start working immediately on the bike setting for the race.Ē
Kenny Roberts (Roberts KR211V) said, ďWeíre back in Europe now and this gives us a chance to speed up development work. Even though weíre getting to the end of the season, we canít lose sight of the fact that weíve had some better finishes than just top tens Ė and we need those again.Ē
In the 250cc class the dogged and consistent Andrea Dovizioso (Humangest Racing Honda RS250RW) refuses to let series leader Jorge Lorenzo (Aprilia) clinch the title. Lorenzo has 265 points to Doviís 238 and a win for Lorenzo would seal the series Ė but Lorenzo has proved fallible twice this year, where Dovi has scored in every race. Dovi said, ďEstoril is not one of the most interesting circuits in the calendar, but Iíve always been strong here because at the slow tracks Iím able to fully take advantage of my Honda RSW and take very good lines. I have 27 points to recover from the leader and itís not easy to close the gap with two races to go, but I go to Portugal with the aim of winning and reducing the gap to Lorenzo.Ē
Yuki Takahashi (Humangest Racing Honda RS250RW), who currently lies sixth in the points standings said, ďIíve signed a contract with the Humangest Racing Team for 2007, and so I will face the last two races of the season with less pressure and with the aim of getting on the podium. When we tested here earlier in the year I was very fast and with the way Iím riding at the moment I expect to be competitive. We have a bike that turns well and with Estoril having so many corners Iím optimistic we can have a good result.Ē
Shuhei Aoyama (Repsol Honda RS250RW), currently eighth overall, said, ďIíve never been to Portugal before so I donít know much about the track. The only thing I know is that I have to push harder because Iíve had enough average results this season and I want to get on the podium. If I keep my same riding style I will continue with these results and thatís something I want to change. So Iíll give my very best in Portugal.Ē
David de Gea, standing in for the injured Martin Cardenas, (Repsol Honda RS250RW), said, ďI know Estoril quite well and I like it a lot. Itís a very technical layout, and I think that the Honda can do well there. Despite having some fast straights it also has some slow sections like the chicane and other very technical sections in which we can make very good use of the features of our bike. I obviously know the bike much better after Japan and now I can at least imagine what Iím going to be facing.Ē
With Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia) the newly crowned 125cc World Champion, and Mika Kallio (KTM) likely to secure the runner-up spot, the 125cc race is still likely to have all the intensity of any small class contest as riders fight to secure rides for next season.
Gabor Talmacsi (Humangest Honda RS125R), currently eighth in the standings, said, ďLast year I was doing very well at Estoril as I was leading the race before crashing out. So this is a track I like that suits my riding style, so there is the chance to get a good result. But we have to work on the set-up of the bike and find a better solution compared to the previous races.Ē
Rookie Bradley Smith (Repsol Honda RS125R), who scored his first top ten finish in Japan, said, ďPortugal will be another new track for me to learn, but Iíve shown over the last couple of races that new tracks havenít been a problem for me. Maybe the first days havenít been so good but after two sessions on the track itís all clicked together. Iíll try to learn it on the Playstation as well as I can.Ē