Honda’s Grand Prix riders are all set for the traditional Valencia season finale this weekend, with much still to play for at this hugely popular event. Last year’s Valencia GP was attended by more than 204,000 fans over the three days and a similarly vast crowd is expected this season to watch the racing and the thunderous fireworks display that always follows the MotoGP race.
This Sunday it will be MotoGP star Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) and 250 ace Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot
Honda) who will be aiming to steal their own thunder at Valencia. Pedrosa continues his battle for the final place on the MotoGP World Championship ‘podium’ while Aoyama is fighting for nothing less than the last 250 World Championship. If Aoyama wins the title, his success will have a special historic resonance at Honda, because Honda won its first-ever World Championship in the 250 class, way back in September 1961, when Mike Hailwood secured the 250 crown aboard his four-cylinder RC162. Next year the 250 class will be replaced by the all-new Moto2 series.
Pedrosa goes to Valencia lying fourth overall, 11 points behind Casey Stoner (Ducati), so the Spanish hero will need a strong weekend if he’s to displace the 2007 MotoGP World Champion for third. Their duel should be fascinating, since the pair have been one-two finishers on their last two visits to Valencia. Pedrosa beat Stoner to the win in the 2007 Valencia GP, while Stoner returned the compliment last November. Both men might have been fighting for something more than third overall if they hadn’t had their troubles during 2009. Pedrosa’s early season races were marred by injury, while Stoner missed three midseason races with a mystery illness. So far this year Pedrosa has scored one victory (at Laguna Seca) and nine further podiums, as well as nine front-row starts including two pole positions.
Pedrosa’s team-mate Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol
Honda) also has a battle on his hands at Valencia, the Italian disputing fifth-place overall with Colin Edwards (Yamaha). Dovizioso currently leads the American by just four points, following his DNF in the rain-lashed Malaysian GP a fortnight ago. Dovizioso, who won his maiden MotoGP victory earlier this year at Donington Park, knows he will need a good weekend to see off Edwards’ challenge.
Slightly further down the championship order, team-mates Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) and Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) are currently dead equal on points in ninth place, with Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) also equal on points and Marco Melandri and Loris Capirossi just three points ahead of the trio. That’s no less than five riders contesting seventh place in the championship! De Angelis and Elias have scored podium results for Fausto Gresini’s squad this year and both men will be out to complete the year with another top-three result.
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) slid off in Malaysia and is determined to make amends for that mistake with a great end to the season at Valencia. De Puniet broke an ankle in July but is now back to full strength; just as well, because Valencia is a very physically demanding racetrack. The Frenchman lies four points behind Elias and De Angelis.
Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda) graduated to MotoGP midway through the 2009 season, joining the class as a total rookie when his rivals were fully up to speed. It has been a baptism by fire for the former 125 World Champion who wants to sign off his rookie season with a good result at Valencia.
Aoyama’s thrilling Malaysian 250 GP win (his fourth of the year) puts him 21 points ahead of Marco Simoncelli going into the final race. The mathematics are therefore straightforward – if Simoncelli wins on Sunday, Aoyama needs to be 11th or better to write himself into history as the last 250 World Champion. But the Japanese star doesn’t want to ride the percentages, he believes the best way to defend that points lead is to attack at the very front of the pack.
Valencia isn’t one of Aoyama’s favourite venues – his best result at the track is his 2008 fifth-place finish – but he has full faith in his Scot crew to give him the bike he needs for the race.
Team-mate Raffaele De Rosa (Scot Honda) may not be wrestling for the 250 world title, but he is fighting for the honour to be 250 rookie of the year. The young Neapolitan has had a sensational debut season in the soon-to-be-defunct 250 class, scoring 11 top-ten finishes including his first podium at Phillip Island. He currently leads fellow rookie Mike di Meglio (Aprilia) by just one point.
Hector Faubel (Valencia CF-Honda SAG) had a straightforward aim for 2009 – to finish in the 250 championship top ten. In fact he is fighting for fifth overall. And Faubel couldn’t have hoped for a better place for a last-race showdown. The rider from Valencia won the 2006 and 2007 125 GPs at the track and last year scored his best 250 result there. Team-mate Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT-SAG) is currently 13th overall and will be keen to score his best result of the year, bettering his fifth-place at Le Mans. Faubel and Wilairot have a third team-mate this weekend, Joan Perelló (CEV Team SAG-Castrol Honda) who makes his GP debut after securing third overall in the 250 CEV series.
Shoya Tomizawa (Team CIP Honda) and Valentin Debise (Team CIP Honda) both complete their rookie GP seasons at Valencia, having already proved that they are fast learners and regular points scorers. Tomizawa is out to for his second top ten of the year while Debise wants to continue his recent run of points-scoring rides.
The Frenchman has netted points at five of the last six races.
Shuhei Aoyama (Racing Team Germany Honda) has been making great strides forward since his surprise return to 250 GPs in Portugal. He scored his first top ten in Malaysia and will be out for another great result at Valencia.
HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) says: “I always look forward to the Grand Prix here, and this year is no different. It’s a circuit I really enjoy riding at, even though it’s quite a tight layout, but what makes it really special is the way that you can feel the support from the fans all the way round the circuit. And of course, being a Spanish rider, I get a lot of positive attention here which gives you some extra motivation too.
I’ve had some good results at Valencia in the past, and this weekend it would be great to finish off the year with a win – that’s what I want. It’s not been the easiest of seasons and we haven’t been able to challenge for the championship so I’m even more determined to sign off on a high note. The result at the last race, where I got on the podium for the first time in wet conditions, has given me a lot of confidence too. We know it can rain at Valencia, so we’re ready for anything this weekend.”
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) says: “The atmosphere at Valencia is always incredible and that makes it a special way to finish the season.
I’m really looking forward to the race, even though this is not actually one of my favourite tracks because the layout is quite slow and twisty. The grandstands around the track are always packed and the spectators can follow the action and see all of the race, so it’s kind of like a stadium environment. I’m coming into this weekend with mixed feelings after the last race.
I could have had a good result in Malaysia if I hadn’t crashed so I’m really determined to do well here, for myself and for the team. I’d like to finish the year with a good result to thank my guys, and also Honda for all the work done this year. I had a decent result here last year so I’m determined to be fighting at the front this weekend again.”
Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says:
“It is a circuit where a strong engine is not fundamental, because there are few places where you hit high speeds, but you do need to have a bike that handles well in slow corners and this is an area we have struggled with this season. It is a tricky track and I remember at the start of my career I struggled to get to grips with it.
However, over the last few years the situation has changed and I have been strong there, even winning the 250cc race in 2006, so hopefully that can give us a strong base to build from on Friday. It will be a sad day for me because it will be my last race with the team, which is disappointing because we have had a strong second half to the season. Anyway, we will keep fighting to the end and do everything we can to take seventh in the championship. In racing you never know what is around the corner!”
Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says:
“Australia and Malaysia were not perfect for us but the important thing is that we arrive back in Europe still in a strong position in the championship and with a good opportunity to improve on it in more ‘normal’ conditions. We have had difficulty all year with rear traction and on paper Valencia is not an ideal circuit for us but I hope my knowledge of the track and the home support can really help us. If we can make a strong start on Friday then we have every reason to be confident. It is the last race of the season and I am sure the atmosphere will be incredible, so hopefully I can give my fans and my team something to celebrate on Sunday night.”
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) says: “I could have had a good result in Malaysia if I hadn’t crashed, so I’m really determined to do well here, for myself and for the team. This track makes physical demands and I want to be in the best shape I can to give the team something to be really happy about, now that the season is about to end. I’ve had success here with a 250, so let’s hope we can repeat that on Sunday. We will try to get a good overall package for the race in every conditions and I am determined to be fighting at the front again.”
Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda) says: “I’ve good memories of Valencia. I got good results there in the last years. I hope this can help me to conclude the current season with a good MotoGP race.”
HONDA 250cc RIDER QUOTES
Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda) says: “The Maths says that we are in a good position, but the only figures that really count are the ones that you add up after the last race. I like the track, and several friends of mine will come to Valencia from Barcelona – where I live during the season – to attend the race. Do you want to know what my strategy will be? Easy: attack is the best form of defence. Sepang proved it!”
Raffaele De Rosa (Scot Honda) says: “I have mixed feelings about this weekend. From one side, I have determination and concentration because there is the Rookie of the Year title at stake, and my competitor is a former World Champion. On the other side, I feel a sort of melancholy:
Valencia will be the last race of the season and, moreover, the last of the 250 class, become from next year the 250cc two-stokes will be replaced by the Moto2 four-strokes. It feels a bit like the last week of summer holidays before school begins. Valencia has a peculiar layout with the spectators seated all around the track, so it’s like racing in a stadium. The atmosphere is great and the weekend will be fun.”
Hector Faubel (Valencia CF-Honda SAG) says:
“Clearly this last race has a lot of meaning for me because it is my home Grand Prix and the way things stand now in the championship, there is no doubt that I will give everything I have. Mattia Pasini is 23 points in front and although clearly it is complicated, there remains the possibility of being fifth overall and I will not give up that goal until I finish the race in Cheste.
During these last two weeks I have been to several events prior to the race, one was to see the Valencia CF team play. The players motivated me even more for a great result and they all work together to achieve a single objective which is similar to my team. On our part we will not give up until the flag comes out for the final race of the 250 two-strokes.”
Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT-SAG) says:
“During this week I’ve been going to physical therapy for recovery and my back has improved considerably. This is the final race of the year and I would like to have a great result before we say goodbye to the 250 two-strokes. It’s a sad end of the season for all the teams and for the history, so I will enjoy this race meeting and give it full gas!”
Shoya Tomizawa (Team CIP Honda) says: “This is the last race of my rookie Grand Prix season so of course I want to get the best-possible result.
This has been an incredible year, very tough at times, but I never expected World Championship racing to be easy, and I have learned so much. I am extra motivated to get a good final result on the 250, before we switch to Moto2 in 2010.”
Valentin Debise (Team CIP Honda): “It will be good to be back to a track I know, after racing at a few circuits which were totally new to me. I know Valencia from my time in 125s, so that knowledge will hopefully help me during the weekend. We have scored points at quite a few races recently, so it would be good to get a good finish at this final race of 2009, and also the final race for the 250 two-strokes.”
Shuhei Aoyama (Racing Team Germany Honda) says:
“I think Valencia will be a challenge because it will be much colder than Malaysia. That’s good for the engine, but of course it makes the feeling with the track a bit worse. I don’t mind Valencia but I do find some parts of the layout quite difficult. I will focus on those areas and try my best to get another top ten.”
Joan Perelló (CEV Team SAG-Castrol) says: “Last Sunday I raced at Albacete for the European championship, finishing third, and this weekend I’ll be participating as a wildcard at the Grand Prix of Valencia. For this event I will have to raise my level and try to absorb as much as I can from the World Championship riders. It is a great challenge for me and my team that always gives 100 per cent.”