This weekend’s British Grand Prix is a historic event both for Honda and for MotoGP. It was 50 years ago this summer that Honda made its World Championship debut in the British round of the 1959 world series and it was in Britain 60 years ago that the first-ever World Championship event was staged.
Both those events were held over the notorious Isle of Man TT circuit, which was finally deemed too dangerous for World Championship competition in the mid-1970s. The British round moved to Silverstone in 1977 and then to Donington Park in 1987. Next year MotoGP moves back to Silverstone, swapping venues with the Formula 1 car series.
Honda has enjoyed victories at all three British World Championship venues and this weekend – the fourth MotoGP round in just five weeks – the company’s MotoGP riders and engineers will focus on more success at Donington, round ten of this year’s 17-round MotoGP series. Honda has won ten premier-class races at the Midlands venue over the past two decades.
Repsol Honda ace Dani Pedrosa has high hopes for Donington, where he scored a runaway victory in his maiden MotoGP season in 2006. The Spaniard was a much-deserved winner of the US GP earlier this month and scored a close-run third-place finish in Germany last Sunday so he’s got every reason to be in with a chance of more success this weekend. The factory Repsol Honda team has benefitted from engine and chassis upgrades in recent weeks that have helped Pedrosa regain his strong early season form.
Team-mate Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) has had a more difficult last few races, but until last month’s Dutch TT the Italian had been on an excellent run of results, always getting closer to scoring his first podium finish of the year. Dovi goes well at Donington and has won two GPs there – the 2004 125 race and the 2007 250 race.
His intelligent riding style suits the complex layout, so he’ll be aiming to get back on track during MotoGP’s final visit to the track.
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) won the 2005 British 250 GP at Donington but, unlike Dovizioso the Frenchman isn’t a fan of the circuit. That won’t hamper him this weekend, however. De Puniet obviously knows the fast way around Donington and that’s all that matters. Last weekend in Germany he looked all set for another great result on his non-factory RC212V until a high-speed fall put him out of the race
Team-mates Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) and Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) cross the English Channel in high spirits following their rousing fifth- and sixth-place finish at the Sachsenring. That result went some way to repaying Fausto Gresini’s squad for all the hard work they’ve put in so far this year, but Germany could so easily have been better because Elias had to start from 17th on the grid after a tumble in qualifying. Elias and De Angelis have both stood on the 250 podium at Donington and if they have a good two days of practice there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be in with a chance of a top-three result on Sunday.
Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda) continues his baptism-by-fire MotoGP apprenticeship at Donington. The former 125 World Champion graduated to the elite class at last month’s Catalan GP and has the huge task of learning to ride a 200-plus horsepower RC212V during official MotoGP practice sessions. Last Sunday Talmacsi recorded his first MotoGP points, this weekend he will continue improving step by step.
Donington Park has hosted Britain’s motorcycling GP very year since 1987. Honda riders have won ten of those 22 premier-class races: Wayne Gardner (Rothmans Honda NSR500) was Honda’s first Donington winner in 1992, then fellow Aussie Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda NSR500) won a hat-trick of victories between 1995 and 1997. Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda NSR500/Repsol Honda RC211V) won the last two British 500 GPs in 2000 and 2001 and then the track’s first MotoGP event in 2002.
The following year it was Max Biaggi (Camel Honda RC211V) who was declared the winner. Honda’s most recent Donington success came in 2006 when Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC211V) took a dominant victory. Honda has also won eight Donington 250 GPs, the most recent with Andrea Dovizioso (Scot Honda RS250RW) in 2007, and nine Donington 125 GPs.
Donington is one of Britain’s oldest race circuits. The first event at the venue was staged over a gravel course around the estate of the Donington Park stately home in 1931. The track was closed down during World War Two and only reopened in the late 1970s. Donington has two very contrasting sections. The first, from Redgate to Coppice, is fast and flowing. The second, from Foggy’s Esses to the final Goddard’s Hairpin (added in 1986 to bring the track up to minimum GP length), is tight and slow. These two sections demand larger-than-usual compromises in machine set-up and riding style, requiring engineers and riders to work hard to link the whole lap together.
This year’s British GP completes MotoGP’s busiest period of four races over five weekends – in the Netherlands, the USA, Germany and Britain. The GP circus now enjoys a two-weekend break before reconvening at Brno for the Czech GP on August 16. Donington is round ten of this year’s MotoGP World Championship which climaxes at Valencia in Spain on November 8.
HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) says: “We’ve built some momentum with our good results in the last two races and we’ll be looking to take that to Donington this weekend. It’s a circuit I like and I’ve had some good results there so I’m confident we can have a strong weekend. To be honest, while the podium in Germany wasn’t a bad finish and we weren’t far behind the winners, we thought another win was possible last weekend. So our motivation is high to fight hard for that in Britain before the summer break. Naturally, the weather is always a consideration at Donington so we need to be prepared for anything. We gained some valuable experience on the Bridgestones in the wet in Germany so we’ll be working to make maximum use of the practice sessions, whatever the conditions. It’ll be sad to see the back of Donington because the track itself is very good to ride and one I like. I hope I can sign off there with a good result.”
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) says: “Unfortunately this year will be the last time that we race at Donington Park and it’s a pity because the circuit is fascinating to ride. I like it, in particular the first section which is very fast, and of course the Craner Curves which plunge down hill and take your breath away every time your ride them. Last year I had a good race at Donington and I have always liked this track. We arrive this time after two difficult races where I had the pace to fight with the leaders but for different reasons, we didn’t get the results. But our motivation is high and everybody in the team is working hard. Honda is working hard too and we’ve had machine updates recently which are moving us in the right direction. So I arrive in Britain determined to get a good result at out last visit to Donington and to prove our real potential.”
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) says: “I had a positive week end in Germany until the first lap of the race and my machine was almost perfect so I just want to forget that ‘zero’ and start again in Donington. I think that the English track is very interesting and very technical: we could win some tenths as the straight (564m) isn’t very long. My overall package is getting better race by race but honestly I do not like the layout of Donington Park very much. Last year I got 12th place there, this weekend I hope for a top-ten finish.”
Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says: “I’m really pleased that after the progress we have been making during practice in recent weeks I was finally able to back it up with a result at Sachsenring and the target for Donington is a repeat performance on every level. It was important that we showed our pace in both wet and dry conditions in Germany because that gives us confidence going into a Grand Prix where the weather is similarly unpredictable. Donington is a circuit I like a lot so it is a shame this time is the last for MotoGP. I have always gone well there, up until my crash last year, so we have nothing to fear and I’m confident and excited about this weekend.”
Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says: “The performance and result were good at Sachsenring but we want more. If it wasn’t for my crash in qualifying we would have started from a position that would have allowed us to get to a better finish in the race so that is the objective from Donington onwards. We need to look at how we can qualify better and that way target even better results than sixth place. The track surface at Donington can be very slippery – especially if the temperatures are low – so it will be crucial for us to find good grip from day one and progress from there. Hopefully the weather is kind to us!”
Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda) says: “I travelled to Donington Park straight from the Sachsenring without going home to Budapest. The team did the same – driving direct to the UK from Germany. We have had a technical meeting to discuss how to approach this next race and we will see how things go on Friday. In the past I’ve never really had too much luck at Donington Park. On this visit the crux of the matter is to find a good feeling with the bike and to take another step forward.”