MotoGP heads to Spain for round two

There are five races on the Iberian Peninsula but one race stands out above them all. While the Catalan Grand Prix brings the culture of Barcelona to MotoGP and Valencia guarantees to closes the season with fireworks, it is Jerez that holds the title of the Spanish Grand Prix and a special place in the hearts of everyone associated with MotoGP.

The Jerez Circuit

This 4.4km circuit has hosted MotoGP since 1987 when Wayne Gardner was victorious in the 500cc class. From that moment onwards Jerez has been the home of the Spanish Grand Prix.

The lap starts with a slow uphill right hander that is also one of the prime overtaking zones. From here the riders face a series of tight corners before the tracks begins to open up through the fast turn four. The back straight sees the bikes reach their highest speeds of the lap, approximately 290kmp/h before braking into the tight Dry Sack Hairpin, another great overtaking zone.

From here the riders start their run into the fabled stadium section with the Nieto Corners the principle area for fans to congregate before speeding out into the Criville Curve which leads riders into the final corner, and the last chance to move past a rival.

This final corer was the scene of arguably one of the most significant clashes in recent years when Valentino Rossi barged past Sete Gibernau on the final lap to take the victory in the 2005 season opener.

Qatar threw up some questions for leading riders

The opening round in Qatar saw Casey Stoner dominate proceedings but it also posed many questions that will only begin to be answered this weekend. Can Stoner find the consistency of his 2007 title campaign? How will Dani Pedrosa deal with the nerve damage that plagued him in Qatar? What can Valentino Rossi do to recover from a poor race in Qatar?

Since entering the premier class in 2006 Stoner has consistently been the pacesetter in Qatar so his result in the opening round should be taken with a pinch of salt. The true test of the Australian’s title mettle will be this weekend in Jerez. Stoner has stood on the rostrum just once in nine races at the Spanish circuit and even in his dominant title campaign it was arguably his least competitive performance of the year. As a result it is crucial for Stoner to show that his performance in Qatar can be replicated this weekend.

Stoner has long been viewed as the fastest rider in MotoGP over a single lap but his race-craft has left a lot to be desired in the past. Relentlessly pushing as hard as possible since winning the title Stoner has suffered badly at the hands of the fickle Ducati and crashed while leading on numerous occasions. His move to Honda should allow him to adjust his style and change his approach to racing. In Qatar Stoner had the pace to open a gap to his rivals but the risk of crashing meant that he waited until the time was right before pressing his advantage.

When Pedrosa started to fade due to his injury Stoner knew that the time was right and from half distance he started to open a gap to his pursuers. The days of Stoner racing at the limit for the entire distance could be over and, if Qatar is anything to go by, he has now added maturity and patience to his relentless speed. Jerez will give a much better insight into whether this maturity can last for the rest of the year.

Dani Pedrosa went to Qatar thrilled at finally being in a position to start a MotoGP season in full health. The Spaniard looked to be in superb form during the week but at half distance his pace started to fall off and his archrival, Jorge Lorenzo, came past. When the race came to a close it was clear that the three times world champion was struggling due to an injury.

Following the race it was discovered that Dani had not yet fully recovered from his broken collarbone as a result of his Motegi crash at the end of last year. The Spaniard will be under tremendous strain once more this weekend but his past form at Jerez will mean that he should not be underestimated.

Each year since 2005 Pedrosa has stood on the rostrum at his home race, taking two wins. With the exception of his rookie 125cc season in 2001 Pedrosa has never finished below fourth at Jerez and last season was arguably one of the best rides of his career. Though he did not take the victory Pedrosa came to Spain on the back of a miserable Qatar race where he suffered from unbelievable instability aboard his Honda.

Pedrosa battled to take pole position and led nearly the entire race before Lorenzo took the win with a daring last lap manoeuvre. There was little reason to believe that Pedrosa could achieve even a podium heading into that race so with the diminutive Spaniard racing in front of his home crowd this weekend on the back of a heartening opening race he should be a contender once more.

Doctors have said that his injury will need time to heal and with the Japanese round postponed Pedrosa will have a month to recuperate for the next round of the championship. As a result he will think little of pushing himself as hard as possible this weekend. The battle between Stoner and Pedrosa will dominate the headlines throughout the year but this weekend looks set to be a pivotal race for both riders.

Valentino Rossi and Ducati are just one race into their relationship but because it did not offer the instant success of the Italian superstars move to Yamaha in 2004 questions are being asked about their hopes for the coming season.

Rossi struggled in Qatar, finishing 16s behind Stoner, and there is no doubt that he is yet to find his pace on the Ducati. There were however positives to be taken from the season opener. Throughout the race Rossi had stages where his lap times were very competitive but it was his inability to get down to that pace fast enough that was the problem.

The current 800cc MotoGP era has been dominated by an ability to immediately get the tyres up to temperature and lap as fast as possible on the second and third laps. In Qatar Rossi, and indeed Ben Spies, were unable to do this and both found themselves in “no man’s land“when the race came to a close. Both riders were considerably faster than the rest of the top ten runners but by the time they were able to lap at their true pace it was too late to challenge the leaders.

The night racing conditions in Qatar could have played a role in both riders inability to generate heat in their tyres and as a result Jerez should be a much better indication as to their performance potential for the coming season.

What to expect this weekend in MotoGP

Once more MotoGP will be dominated by the same figures this weekend.

The Repsol Honda domination of Qatar, topping the times in each session, is unlikely to occur once more this weekend and Lorenzo looks certain to be very fast this weekend. The champion’s past form at home is superb and his victory last year showed once again that he will fight right until the end of a race. It was Jorge’s first win on home soil in the premier class but since then he has added Catalan and Valencia victories to his resume.

This weekend he will be eager to take his first win with the number one plate on his Yamaha. The manner in which he took second place last time out showed that he is as eager as ever to win races and take another title. It was ominous for his rivals that Lorenzo and his team overcame their testing woes to challenge for the win in Qatar and this weekend he will ready to dominate from the outset.

In Qatar Lorenzo’s teammate, Ben Spies, showed that he had the pace to challenge Lorenzo but his race was marred by his inability to get up to speed at the very start. This was a problem that beset the American in his rookie season and until he figures out a way to rectify this problem he could have a very long season in the shadow of Lorenzo.

Rossi will also need to solve this problem if he is to challenge aboard the Ducati. Since 2007 it has been clear that if riders struggle in the opening laps of a race there is little hope of getting back into contention even if they have to pace to match the front runners.

While the fight between Stoner and Pedrosa is the most intriguing on the grid the fight between the other two factory Honda riders is almost as compelling. Last season Andrea Dovizioso needed to rely on a performance clause in his contract to stay on factory machinery with Repsol Honda and not be jettisoned to Gresini as teammate to Marco Simoncelli,

The pair of Italians enjoyed a spirited battle in Qatar, with Dovizioso eventually coming out on top, and the battle between the pair should be just as intense this weekend. Simoncelli has fond memories of Jerez having taken his first two Grand Prix victories at the venue while Dovizioso has struggled there in the past.

The Repsol rider showed in Qatar that he is ready to make a step up in his performance and the threat of losing his factory ride has clearly been enough to put fear into his riding. As a former 125cc champion there is no doubting his credentials but his inability to convert a factory ride into anything more than a single, wet weather, victory has left a lot of pressure on his shoulders. Simoncelli looks primed for a superb season, and eager to heap extra pressure on his compatriot.

While it can be all but assured that the factory riders will dominate the races the battle behind them to be the leading satellite rider can be just as intense. In Qatar Colin Edwards took the honours and the American looked to be riding with an intensity not seen in recent years. The Tech 3 team has last year’s title winning Yamahas at their disposal and Edwards looks to have put a disappointing 2010 campaign behind him and eager to show that even at 37 he is still able to cut it as a Grand Prix rider.

Edwards should have competition this weekend from the likes of Randy de Puniet, Loris Capirossi and Hiroshi Aoyama.

John Hopkins will make his return to MotoGP this weekend in place of the injured Alvaro Bautista. The American showed flashes of brilliance in his early years in the class but left the sport in a cloud of mystery following battles with alcoholism. In recent years he has sought to rebuild his careers in Superbike racing, and will compete in the British championship this year, but with Bautista injured Hopkins could spring a surprise on his return to GP racing.

Can Moto2 return to form at Jerez?

The opening Moto2 race of the year was uncharacteristically dominated by Stefan Bradl. There is little to suggest that a similar story will play out this weekend.

Much of the winter testing has been conducted at the Spanish venue and as a result all of the leadings teams and riders are very well acquainted with the demands of Jerez. Last season one second separated the first five rows of the grid and it would be of little surprise if there was a similar occurrence in qualifying this weekend.

Andrea Iannone struggled for form in practice at Qatar but when the lights went out on Sunday the Italian sprang into life and battled through to finish second behind Bradl. There is little reason o believe that he will have troubles qualifying at the front this weekend and as a result the 21 year should start the weekend as favourite to take the victory.

Bradl’s form in the opening weekend showed that he is ready to fulfil the promise of his breakout 2008 125cc season. The German has struggled since then but has shown consistent progress aboard the 600cc Moto2 machines. Having won two of the last three races he knows that it is crucial to take advantage of this momentum with another strong result.

Scott Redding impressed in winter testing but the Englishman’s opening weekend of the season ended in bitter disappointment with an early crash relegrating him to a 31st place finish in Qatar. A much stronger weekend can be expected in Jerez but the former Spanish championship rider who always excelled at this circuit in the 125cc class.

Even though he crashed out of the Qatar race Marc Marquez had a superb opening weekend to his Moto2 career and while he still needs to adapt to the hard-charging style of racing in the intermediate class he looks ready to challenge for the podium already.

The Moto2 race in Qatar was a strangely flat affair with the battle behind Bradl intriguing rather than thrilling. The class was home of the most exciting racing in 2010 and this weekend should see a return to form for the intermediate class.

Can anyone stop Terol in 125s?

Pol Espargaro and Nico Terol ran away from the field in last year’s 125cc race following Marquez’ opening lap crash. There is little to suggest that Terol will have any competition for the win on Sunday.

This could be a theme repeated at numerous venues throughout the season and until the likes of Sandro Cortese, Hector Faubel and Sergio Gadea can show that they can consistently challenge the Aspar rider there is little reason to suggest that Terol will face competition during the races.

This is a pivotal race for the rest of the class. If Terol can dominate at Jerez in a manner similar to Qatar, where he lapped one second per lap faster than his rivals, it could be a very long season. Hector Faubel looks the most likely to lead that charge over the course of the season but the Spanish veteran has only one podium at Jerez in the past and has generally struggled at his home Grand Prix.

The likes of Alberto Moncayo and Jonas Folger have gone well at the circuit in the past and could challenge for the podium but unless someone finds a magic formula Terol will be a comfortable winner once more

Weather for this weekend

The forecast for this weekend sees sunny skies for Friday and Saturday with 24C expected on both days before rain clouds appear on Sunday with a 40% chance of rain affecting race day. Rain has not been an issue in Jerez since 2004 with Simoncelli, Roberto Rolfo and Sete Gibernau taking the honours.

Predictions for the weekend

If it rains all bets are off and anything could happen in the three classes.

If however it is dry Nico Terol will have a relatively easy run to victory in the 125cc race ahead of a chasing pack led by Gadeo, Moncayo, Cortese and Folger.

The Moto2 race will, as ever, be a lottery but Iannone should take the title lead with a victory with a Alex de Angelis, Redding, Bradl, Marquez and Julian Simon all battling the Italian for the victory.

In the premier class Dani Pedrosa’s Jerez form is impossible to look beyond and the Spaniard will take the first win of his season ahead of teammate Stoner with Lorenzo rounding out the podium places.

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