After another long three-week break the MotoGP World Championship returns to action at Le Mans this weekend for just the third race of a stop-start opening to the season.
The French motorcycle racing event finally signals the start of a regular run of races leading up to the summer and after their most recent performance at Jerez both Marco Melandri and Marco Simoncelli are eager to get back on track.
The pair improved their feeling with the Honda RC212V Moto GP bike during the Spanish race and in a day´s testing that followed it and they are confident there is still room for improvement.
They have complete faith in the team and in Honda, a partnership they know can propel them to the top of the order. The Grand Prix de France has been a fixture on the calendar since 1952, with the first races taking place at the Albi circuit.
Since then the location has changed on eight occasions, with Clermont-Ferrand, Magny-Cours, Nogaro, Paul Ricard and Reims Rouen all playing host until it moved to its current home in 2000 – where it was also run from 1969 to 1995.
Today´s Bugatti circuit layout measures a little over 4km, whilst the legendary 24 Hour race, in its 78th year this time, is run on an extended 13km track.
Marco Melandri says: "Things are looking much more optimistic after the last race at Jerez and I was happy with the test we did there on the Monday. I think my feeling with the Honda RC212V is much better compared to the first two races and we are starting to learn about the things we need to change to improve it."
"We´re heading to some circuits where we have no winter testing data so it will be more difficult for every body to find a set-up. You also have to consider that the weather can be decisive at Le Mans so is important to find a race setting as quickly as possible in practice."
"Le Mans is traditionally my strongest circuit in MotoGP – I won there in 2006, I was on the podium in 2007 and 2009 and only just missed out in 2005 so I have lots of good memories of France. Naturally I´m not going to Le Mans feeling totally convinced we will come away with a great result but I feel confident that I can put up a fight, like I did at Jerez, but this time higher up the order."
Marco Simoncelli says: "I was a little disappointed to have an extra weekend off because I wanted to race straight away. I´m confident after the work we did at Jerez, especially the test because we improved a lot under braking and that will be decisive at Le Mans. I can´t wait to go racing again and I head to France in high spirits and hopeful of improving on my race from Jerez."
"I had fun in Spain and even though I would have obviously preferred to finish at the front of the group I was fighting with it was a great battle. Maybe with a little more determination I could have finished seventh and if I could make that my objective at Le Mans it wouldn´t be bad."
"It isn´t one of my favourite circuits but I always seem to have done well at Le Mans, including one of my best results of the 2007 season, a second place in 2008 and a victory last year, so I am confident. You never know what will happen with the weather but with the new track surface it should be less of a concern."
Fausto Gresini says: "I am curious to go to Le Mans and verify the progress we made during the Grand Prix at Jerez and the Monday test, which was positive for both riders. We think we have taken a really important step forward, having worked well with both Melandri and Simoncelli, and I am eager to see if the modifications also work on a completely different kind of circuit."
"At Jerez I was delighted to see them battling together although I must admit I was a little apprehensive! I had the scooter ready to go and pick one of them up or even just run away! I was watching their battle with Mr Vitaloni, the President of Gruppo Alimentare San Carlo, and we were saying how nice it was to see but we both had a lump in our throat."
"Le Mans is a strange circuit – it is very technical and old-fashioned, where the weather can be really decisive. I have great memories from there, such as the last corner win for Gibernau and an outstanding win for Melandri after a fantastic race. I have had to close my eyes for the last lap there on several occasions! "
TEAM GRESINI AT LE MANS
The Bugatti circuit at Le Mans has been one of the Gresini Team´s happiest hunting grounds in the MotoGP class.
Whilst their first win came in the 250cc category with Daijiro Kato in 2001, a glorious run of form in the premier class started when Sete Gibernau took an emotional victory in honour of his late teammate in 2003, crossing the line just 0.165 seconds ahead of Valentino Rossi following a titanic struggle.
The Spaniard repeated his success with victory by a much bigger margin in 2004, following up with second place in 2005 as Rossi eventually got his revenge.
However, the pendulum swung back in favour of the Gresini Team in 2006, with Marco Melandri dominating a rain-hit race to take his second win from the opening five races of the year.
In even wetter conditions in 2007 Melandri came through the pack to take an outstanding second place.
Le Mans Moto GP Facts
Right corners: 9
Left corners: 4
Longest straight: 450m
Circuit Record: Valentino Rossi (Yamaha, 2008), 1’34"215
Best Pole: Dani Pedrosa (Honda, 2008), 1´32"647
MotoGP Race: Sunday 23th May @ 14:00h CET (GMT +2)