Toni Elias has vowed to 'fight hard' on his Gresini Honda return in this weekend's 2009 MotoGP season opener, at Qatar, when he will be armed with a factory RC212V for the first time in race conditions.
At the final pre-season test at Jerez, Elias made the most of his new machinery by clocking the highest top speed. Unfortunately, chassis set-up is not yet of the same standard, and Elias finished the pre-season in ninth place, 1.6sec from the top.
“We have struggled a little more than we expected in testing but we know where the problems lie and it is good to be going back to a circuit where we already have lots of data,” said the Spaniard. “I'm happy to be going racing with this team again, with Honda and on this fantastic bike.
“Ideally I'd like to be starting the season in better shape but the truth is we have work to do in a short space of time when we get out to Qatar and we'll be pushing hard in every aspect to approach the race in the best possible way.
“Racing at night makes it a bit tricky but Losail is one of my favourite circuits and I've started on the front row there twice before - both times with this team. I remember in particular three years ago we were three seconds off the pace on the first day and still managed to qualify on the front row.
“That just shows how quickly things can change in racing so we'll go there with optimism, fight hard and see what happens,” declared the 2006 Estoril race winner.
Elias took a best Qatar race finish of eighth in 2005 and 2006, but has been just 14th across the Losail finish line for the past two years.
Meanwhile, team-mate Alex de Angelis failed to finish on his MotoGP debut in the inaugural night race one year ago, but went on to take fourth place finishes in the Mugello sun and Sachsenring rain.
“I love Qatar as a circuit, it is one of my favourites, but I just hope it is a little warmer than when we were there for the test so that we can get more heat into the tyre because this is the area we're struggling with the most,” said the San Marinese, who will again be equipped with a satellite spec Honda, although now with pneumatic-valves.
“We haven't had much time to work on the bike this winter and it was a real shame that it started to rain after the 'qualifying' session at Jerez because we were planning to do a race simulation, which I haven't managed to do yet this pre-season,” he revealed. “It means we go out there with a few question marks, particularly regarding tyre wear over race distance, but even so I am confident and excited to be going racing again.”
“We are going to Qatar armed with a lot of data from testing and with the determination to work hard and sort out the few doubts than we still have,” said team manager Fausto Gresini. “We know it is a good machine but we're struggling to get 100% performance out of the chassis and making progress with this is our target for Qatar.”