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Thursday, May 14, 2009

World Superbikes : Le Mans opens doors for MotoGP arrivals on Thursday

Preparations begin for Grand Prix de France, with events in Le Mans and Paris.

The MotoGP paddock in Le Mans on Thursday bore stark contrast to the Sunday of the Spanish round at Jerez two weeks previous, with a quiet, relaxed atmosphere and a grey colour scheme provided by the cloud hovering above the historic French track.

One reason for the subdued atmosphere was the organisation of a Paris press conference for reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi, which saw the Italian riding a Yamaha R1 street bike through the country’s capital, doing a burnout underneath the Eiffel Tower –and nearly missing an engagement at the Official MotoGP Pre-event Press Conference. The event, which stopped traffic at the Arc de Triomphe as the Fiat Yamaha made his way down to the Champs-Élysées, was put on by Rossi’s personal sponsor Monster.

After a speedy helicopter trip to the Le Mans circuit, Rossi joined up with Casey Stoner, Colin Edwards, Randy de Puniet and Marco Melandri in the media centre where the quartet had been holding court. Already there had been some confident claims from the men looking to take the victory this weekend, with Ducati rider Stoner a prime candidate despite his lack of visits to the top step of the podium in France.

“You can change things around anytime,” said the 2007 MotoGP World Champion. “This is quite a difficult track for me, and maybe that’s something to do with me not being able to get my head around the circuit. We’ve had lot of podium opportunities at this track, but never managed the result that we want. I seem to flow well here, but come race day we haven’t got it together. This year we’re confident of being competitive –the result in Jerez proved that.”

Besides the expected battle between Stoner and Rossi -who described the Le Mans track as “always very good for Yamaha, and especially last year with the Bridgestone tyres”- special interest will be given to home rider Randy de Puniet when he lines up on the grid on Sunday. The LCR Honda man has been building up his confidence over the opening three races, and placed fourth at the previous round.

“The race in Spain was an important boost for my home Grand Prix,” said De Puniet. “However, we have to start from zero here. We’ve been getting better with the tyres and are looking to improve our setup with every race.”

Marco Melandri rounded off proceedings with a review of his stunning resurgence in form since moving to Hayate Racing, topped off by his own phenomenal fifth place last time out. The Italian won the 2006 Grand Prix de France, and finished on the podium in 2007.

Practice sessions for the French round of the 2009 MotoGP World Championship begin at 1.55pm local time for the premier class, returning to a one hour duration. Riders had pushed for the move over the past few weeks, but the notoriously no-frills Edwards had the last word and a different take on the switch.

“Just tell everybody to come on Sunday. We’ll warm-up, qualify and race. With the Yamaha we have things pretty good right off the bat, so it would work to our advantage!”


World Superbikes winner MSMW2012