Nicky, having led the World Championship all season, is now eight points adrift of the leader Rossi after Estoril. A win here for Nicky with Rossi finishing third or lower would be enough for an overall victory for Hayden in this 17-race World Championship series.
The omens are good for Hayden here. Last season Nicky was second to Marco Melandri by just under one tenth of a second with Rossi third. Hayden rates it one of his favourite tracks, while Rossi, despite winning here in 2003 and 2004, is not a fan of this largely second and third gear circuit.
There are other factors in Hayden’s favour. Three other Honda riders have proved they can win in the premier class this season: Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC211V), and the Fortuna men Marco Melandri (Fortuna Honda RC211V) and Toni Elias. This can help Nicky if they can get between him and Rossi.
Casey Stoner (LCR Honda RC211V) and Kenny Roberts (Roberts KR211V) are also capable of figuring high in the points, although no one should underestimate the resolve of Rossi.
Nicky has to win to stand any real chance of denying Rossi another World crown. If Hayden can only manage second place, then Rossi only needs a fifth place finish to clinch the title. If Hayden manages a third place, then Rossi only needs a ninth, so the American will be all out for the win hoping that his team-mate Dani can do him a favour here. Pedrosa is three times winner here, twice on a 250 and once on a 125.
The 4.005km Ricardo Tormo track was designed to fit in the ‘bowl’ of a natural amphitheatre, so that the huge crowds (200,000 plus) can track the progress of riders almost all the way around a full lap. With 14 turns (five rights and nine lefts) packed into this tight space, and only a short 876m straight, it’s ideal for spectators – but hard work for riders.
There is no time to rest here. With many turns in quick succession and only the short chute on which to ‘relax’, the ‘Cheste’ track is punishing. Despite a slow average lap time at around a 150km/h average speed (the second slowest on the calendar next to Estoril) the bikes are on the edge of their tyres for long periods – precisely where riders need to apply maximum concentration.
The two fast turns at either end of the main straight are hard on rubber too, so set-up means making the most of available grip and having a machine that turns easily without too much physical effort from the pilot. Progressive acceleration out of those turns is vital too.
Nicky said, “When I think about the last race I still feel pretty sick but the truth is I’ve got to get over it. My shoulder is feeling a little better, the clutch is finally better and my boy Elias did me a huge favour at Estoril and gave me hope! Valencia is a track I really like, and the atmosphere there is unreal – it’s as good as it gets as far as a crowd to race in front of. So I go there with nothing to lose – I need to win and hope that Rossi has a bad weekend.”
Dani said, “It’s been quite a difficult time since the race at Estoril, for obvious reasons. It’s hard to just forget such an incident, especially when it was so important for Nicky and the team, but that is what I must do now. I have to put it behind me and focus on getting the best possible result this weekend.
I’ll do everything I can to help Nicky – we have a big challenge ahead but we can make it. Valencia is a small circuit, but it’s a good test of the bikes. On a MotoGP machine it’s going to feel very tight and the key will be to get a good balance from the bike in the many medium and slow corners.”
Melandri said, “After such a tough race in Portugal I still managed to hold on to third in the Championship and on Sunday I’ll try to defend that. I’d like to end the season with another good result and I’ve had a lot of joy at this circuit in the past – you only have to think about my victory here last season. Hopefully we can find a good compromise between the bike and tyres and be up there from the start. Sunday will be a highly-charged race with a tense atmosphere and I think the title won’t be decided until the very last corner of the very last lap.”
“The victory at Estoril was a wonderful surprise,” said a happy Elias. “But also the fruit of a lot of hard work from the team, confirming that we are working in the right direction. I want to thank the whole team, especially my chief mechanic Fabrizio Cecchini, who always believed in me and made me feel relaxed and confident. It would be great to put in another top performance at Valencia, in front of the Spanish fans. I don’t really like the track itself but the fact it is in Spain, with so much support and an incredible atmosphere, makes up for that.”
Stoner said, “We have done a good job this year and even though we’ve made some mistakes, I’m hoping to finish the season with a decent result at Valencia, a track where I have always been competitive.”
Kenny Roberts said, “We’ve shown what we can do this season and it would be great to finish really strongly with a podium or better. The bike has the potential for that and it’s up to us to make sure we get everything dialled in early so we can concentrate on qualifying well.”
Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V) said, “Racing in Spain is always special for the passion transmitted by the fans. The track is not difficult but it is fun. On Sunday’s race, I’ll try to be a protagonist and obtain a good result to thank the Team for the job done during these four years in MotoGP. I’ll do my best from the start in order to obtain a good position on the starting grid.”