Friday, 17th March 2006
After topping the final pre-season test at Jerez, Ducati Marlboro riders Loris Capirossi and Sete Gibernau are eagerly anticipating the start of the 2006 MotoGP season - at the same venue, on March 26.
Capirossi has been with the Italian team since its 2003 debut MotoGP season, and won all three of the team's races since then. However, an inconsistent technical package has left Capirossi with a best championship finish of fourth (2003).
As proven last year, when the Desmosedici/Bridgestone package is working well the #65 knows he can win, but its what can be achieved on the bad days that will determine if Capirossi and Gibernau will be 2006 title contenders.
Either way, a good start to the season would be a massive boast and Capirossi admits that, unlike last year's season-opening Spanish Grand Prix - when he limped home in 13th during Ducati's first race with Bridgestone - his bike now "feels perfect for Jerez".
"I think we are well prepared for the first race," confirmed Capirossi. "The team and Bridgestone are really strong at the moment, my bike feels perfect for Jerez after the set-up modifications we made during the final tests. It's not always easy to find perfect settings but the bike is great now, and hopefully what we learned during the last tests will help us at other tracks. We have worked very hard this winter. The bike is better than before, the engine is more rider-friendly and the tyres have also improved a lot. Bridgestone have done very good work over the winter, so my thanks to them.
"Jerez is a good track, it's nice to ride and very technical. To got quick at Jerez you need a well-balanced bike and a good front end because you need confidence to attack all the fast corners," added the double 2005 race winner.
New team-mate Gibernau, who has switched from Honda and Michelin to Ducati and Bridgestone during the winter, endured a nightmare 2005 Spanish Grand Prix - when he lost the race after that last corner clash with Valentino Rossi.
Despite being the quickest qualifier throughout 2005, Gibernau never quite seemed to recover from the Jerez 'incident' - but comes into 2006 boosted by strong pre-season testing performances and the knowledge that Bridgestone seem capable of challenging at a variety of circuits.
"Thanks to the great work from the team and Bridgestone I can't wait for the season to start," said Gibernau. "It's not easy having the first race at home but I don't think I can ever remember an easy race in this championship. It's going to be a tough year but we are strong mentally and everyone's going to need that strength to keep going through the 17 races. I'm ready to fight and to give my all, and if we get the results, the payback will be amazing!
"Maintaining momentum is what really matters at Jerez - it's the kind of track where the more you fight the bike, the slower you go. You need good front-end contact but that's not easy because the gearbox is pretty short, so the bike is always trying to wheelie," he revealed.
Ducati MotoGP project leader Livio Suppo is also confident of a strong start to the season at Jerez - but warned that the team's rivals could well close the gap by the time the race starts.
"Our final Jerez tests went well, but maybe we had an advantage because we already tested there last November, so we are reasonably happy but we also know that our rivals will get stronger," he said. "We just need to keep working and maintain our motivation.
"Loris and Sete have both worked hard all winter and done a great job giving feedback to the Ducati engineers and Bridgestone technicians, which has helped us to build a better machine. The rider can make a huge difference in this sport, so our thanks to them. Over the last two seasons we struggled at the first few races, so I hope that this year we've got a competitive package from the start," he concluded.
The first two free practice sessions for the Spanish Grand Prix will take place on Friday March 24.