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Oct 16, 2002

Honda Previews Phillip Island MotoGP

From a press release issued by Honda:<BR><BR>HONDA RACING INFORMATION <BR><BR>2002 MotoGP World Championship, round 15 <BR>Australian Grand Prix, Phillip Island <BR>October 18/19/20 <BR><BR>HONDA RIDERS READY THEMSELVES FOR THE PENULTIMATE CHALLENGE <BR><BR>The strain and adrenaline surge of three flyaway MotoGP races, held over three consecutive weekends, culminates at the wondrously sculpted Phillip Island circuit in Australia this weekend; one of the most popular races on the 16-round MotoGP calendar. For riders, teams and support staff alike, Phillip Island will nonetheless be reached with a sense of relief that the taxing trio of Pan Asian races are about to be completed. Motegi in Japan was the first halt on the whistle-stop tour, then the steamy haze of Malaysian circuit Sepang, and now the southbound circus descends on the environs of Australia's second city, Melbourne, on 18/19/20 October. <BR><BR>Phillip Island, located two hours drive from the city, on the Southern tip of the state of Victoria, has been a MotoGP circuit for many years, alternating with the Eastern Creek track near Sydney on occasion, although 'The Island' is now a virtually permanent fixture on the GP campaign trail. <BR><BR>The generally grippy 4.445 Km circuit features every type of corner and undulation imaginable and is unsurpassed as a test of rider racecraft and machine-set-up, with suspension and chassis solutions having to be matched to the heavy braking loads, slow hairpins and flat out cornering forces generated by the track's unique topography. Picturesque and welcoming, the ocean-side track can nonetheless feature extremes of weather, although all expectations are for a much cooler event than the previous Japanese and Malaysian races. <BR><BR>Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) has scored no fewer than 10 race wins out of the 14 events thus far, winning the title in Brazil with four races to go. Until that point only two riders had overcome the surge of the Tavullia rider, the last man to win a 500cc Championship and now the first rider to secure the title in the new 990cc four-stroke era. <BR><BR>Since his Rio rampage Rossi has yet to win another race, having to settle for second at the last race in Sepang and being put to the samurai sword in Japan by Honda's latest four-stroke 'rookie', the veteran premier class competitor Alex Barros (West Honda Pons RC211V). <BR><BR>Suffering from the wrath of two new factors which were avoided in the early season - a clutch of previously undiscovered set-up problems and simply more and more competitive riders mounted on the 990cc four-strokes Rossi acknowledges that he has some serious work to do to follow up on his 2001 Phillip Island race win. Nonetheless his enthusiasm for the Victorian circuit is clear in his pre-race comments. <BR><BR>"For sure I look forward to racing in Australia. I love the circuit and have some great memories from Phillip Island," he stated after the race at Sepang. "We did test there before the season, but we tested at Sepang before the season and that didn't seem to give us any advantage! We've had some problems with the bike's set-up over the last few races. It is moving a lot on the brakes, much more than at the beginning of the season. We need to look at what we have changed and maybe go back to some of the older settings. We sometimes get new parts but I am not so sure we are going in the right direction sometimes. The competition at the front is strong now. We need to improve for the last two races of the season." <BR><BR>Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) battled hard in the last few races, also experiencing some previously unknown set-up problems on his officially entered V-5, although it all came together nicely in Sepang. <BR><BR>"I like the circuit at Phillip Island and am looking forward to the race," said Ukawa. "At the moment I have a good feeling from the machine. The team worked really hard in Sepang and we managed to get good power, good drive from the engine and a good feeling from the suspension, which allowed the tyres to work well in difficult conditions. I nearly crashed several times in the race but that was because the battle was so fierce! Let's hope we can find the optimum set-up for Phillip Island so I can keep the pressure up for the rest of the season. We have two races left and 50 points to fight for and I am now only seven points behind Biaggi, who is second in the championship. Second position is my target!" <BR><BR>For the aforementioned Barros, his season has been transformed since his first exposure to the awesome RC211V four-stroke at Motegi, a race he won. Setting pole at Sepang, Barros led the race for some time, before tangling with the world champion, eventually settling for third place. <BR><BR>"We have taken two podium finishes, one of them a win, since we received the four-stroke, so we have been successful from the start," said Barros in the run-up to Phillip Island. "I am glad to have been given this opportunity and I hope to continue our good form through Phillip Island and take another win or two in the last two races. The bike is easier to work on than the two-stroke as well and that helps a lot." <BR><BR>Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500), Barros' team-mate has been battling hard on the two-stroke NSR, and qualified an outstanding fourth at Sepang. As he himself predicted, it was to be a different story in the race, with the increasing numbers of four-stroke competitors swamping the former 125 and 250 World Champion on Sepang's two long straights, pushing him to ninth. Phillip Island is a very different circuit to Sepang, and maybe there Capirossi will experience less of a disadvantage than of late. <BR><BR>"I think Sepang is the worst possible track for two-strokes, but still we finished top in the race-within-a-race," said the Italian rider. "I hope to not only do that again but finish higher up the order at Phillip Island. Our task is not getting any easier with so many four-strokes coming onto the grids - and there will be another one at Phillip Island as well." <BR><BR>Daijiro Kato (Fortuna Honda Gresini RC211V) was one of the riders blessed with four-stroke power mid-season, and despite some great rides the reigning 250 Champion has yet to score a race win in his rookie year of premier level competition. He was particularly disappointed to have a no-score at Motegi and a fifth at Sepang. <BR><BR>"Now I have to think about Phillip Island and find a victory, this fifth place is not my maximum performance," said the lone Fortuna rider. <BR><BR>Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Kanemoto Racing Honda NSR500), will be joined by wild card rider Shinichi Itoh (Kanemoto Racing Honda NSR500) at Phillip Island, each continuing development of Bridgestone's MotoGP tyre programme. As van den Goorbergh himself stated at Sepang, the main factor holding back his set-up and race performances is the sheer workload at races. <BR><BR>"Our main problem is that when we arrive at the track we have to spend a lot of time sorting through many tyres, to find out which combination is going to perform best," affirmed van den Goorbergh. "This costs us a lot of time." <BR><BR>Tetsuya Harada (Pramac Honda NSR500) has found his return to the premier category particularly tough, as he helps to develop Dunlop's MotoGP product on a somewhat outgunned two-stroke. He looks to Phillip Island to improve on his season best of tenth place, searching for race-long longevity of grip at each race. <BR><BR>Robby Rolfo (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) scored a battling third place at Sepang, to maintain his third place in the 250cc championship, and will be looking for at least another podium at Phillip Island. <BR><BR>"Set-up will be crucial at Phillip Island, and if we get the right setting I hope to take at least a podium, especially after scoring third at Sepang, a track on which we lost out on acceleration somewhat. I really want to win a race and we will, as always, try our best to get it."<BR><BR>Rolfo's team-mate Emilio Alzamora (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250), out for a race mid-season as he recovered from an arm operation, sits eighth in the championship but has been rallying his colours in the last race or two. <BR><BR>"At the end of the Sepang race I was running the same pace as the leaders, so with good work in qualifying I will be trying to keep that pace throughout the race." <BR><BR>Three Honda wildcards will join the Phillip Island tempest of 250cc talent, and they are Peter Taplin (EMS Racing Honda RS250R), Mark Stanley (Stu Avant - MSR Elf Honda RS250) and Brendan Clarke (Team Armstrong Honda RS250) Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Jr Team Honda RS125R), cruelly robbed of second place after a shortening of the race distance in the 125ccc Sepang race, will be going for a win and nothing less at Phillip Island. He injured his back and feet in a big pre-race accident at Sepang but still challenged for the lead throughout. <BR><BR>"I think my back and feet injuries will be a lot better by the time Phillip Island comes around. I was pleased to run at race pace at Sepang and I will be trying to win in Australia." <BR><BR>In addition to Pedrosa's team-mate Joan Olive, and the other Honda 125 regulars, there are a gaggle of local Honda wild cards in the Island mix. Peter Holmes (Holmes Earth Moving Honda RS125R), Tim Inkster (CMSA Protectaprint Honda RS125R), Jeremy Crowe (Ruffnuts Honda RS125R) and Sepang entry Joshua Waters (Waters Racing Honda RS125R) make up the short handful of local hopefuls. The final race in the inaugural MotoGP season takes place at the compact and bijou circuit of Valencia on November 3, two weekends after the Phillip Island race.<BR><BR>