But the back-to-school feeling lasted only until Friday morning, when the serious business of practice for the 11th round of 18 in the 2011 MotoGP World Championship began under warm skies. The wide 5,403 kilometre circuit is a favourite amongst fans and riders alike due to its flowing, undulating layout, with a crowd of 150,000 expected to pack the stands and surrounding hills on Sunday.
The central European country first hosted world championship motorcycling in 1947 while under socialist rule, with the present purpose-built track replacing the previous road circuit in 1987.
With an elevation change of almost 80 metres and 14 turns (8R/6L), the circuit taxes both brakes and tyres to the limit. The overall challenge is further compounded by a rule change which comes into effect this weekend: Riders will have a choice of three front tyres, with a soft option being added for safety to cope with low temperatures, and a greater choice of rear tyres.
Following vacations near their homes in Italy and the USA respectively, Ducati riders Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden are looking forward to a return to action. However, for PUMA’s partner team the relentless task of developing the GP11.1 continued, with Ducati’s test team developing electronics for the red machines through the break.
‘I’m always happy to be here,’ said Valentino ahead of the race weekend. ‘I like the track not only because it’s very nice, wide and fast, and I’ve always gone well here, but also because it’s a special place for me since it’s where I earned my first pole, my first win and my first world championship.
‘During both the race weekend and Monday’s test, we’ll continue concentrating on the bike’s setup, with the goal of reducing the gap to the lead group,’ added the legendary nine-time world champion, who first won here in 1996 while contesting the 125cc category.
Nicky, too, is champing at the bit. For the American, world champion in 2006, work continued during the two-week break, with the 30-year old Kentuckian visiting Indianapolis, scene of the next round, for promotional activities.
‘It’s been a bit of a break,’ he explained, ‘but fortunately not all of it was away from bikes! On August 5th, I had an opportunity to ride a Ducati 1198 SP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the entire infield section has been resurfaced, from Turn 5 to 16.
‘I’m ready for Brno now. It’s a very different circuit to what we’ve been to for the last two races at the Sachsenring and Laguna Seca. Those are tight with short lap times, and Brno is definitely a big, open track.’
Sunday’s 22-lap Grand Prix starts at 14:00 local time, with qualifying hour commencing at 13:55 on Saturday. The warm weather is expected to continue through the weekend, with dry, 27C skies being forecast for the race.