The Spanish Grand Prix inJerezfor many generally marks the start of the MotoGP season. After the unique season opener inQatarthe paddock is full once again. The team’s hospitality units and trucks are present in Andalucía rather than the huts and porto-cabins of the desert.
Whereas at Losail there is only a handful of spectatorsJerezwill be heaving with fans. All of them eager to see a Spaniard claim a victory. Having claimed victories in all three classes inQatarit has to be expected that the locals will have plenty to cheer about this weekend.
With Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa dueling for the premier class victory, Marc Marquez gunning for another victory in Moto2 and Maverick Vinales leading the Moto3 championship the conveyer belt of talent from theIberian Peninsulashows no signs on slowing.
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 Jerezhas 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.
The middle section of the lap sees the riders start enter the fabled stadium section with the Nieto Corners the most sought after seating 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 always provides excitement with the 2005 clash between Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau on the final lap having long been part of racing lore.
Weekend of landmarks in MotoGP
This weekend is filled with landmarks throughout the premier class with the race marking Valentino Rossi’s 200th start in the top tier of racing. It also marks the 100th MotoGP race of Dani Pedrosa’s career. The diminutive Spaniard has claimed 15 wins in this time, and stood on the rostrum 57 times, but having won three world championships in the 125 and 250cc classes his lack of a title is still clearly a glaring hole on his CV.
Other landmarks this weekend include Alvaro Bautista making the 150th start of his career. The former 125cc champion had a strong race in Qatar to finish 7th but was never truly happy with his bike with Bautista saying, “It was a tough weekend for us inQatar because I struggled to find the confidence with the bike that I had enjoyed during preseason testing. We tried a lot of things without ever establishing a good feeling and I had to work very hard in the race to get 100% out of what we had. It was important for us to finish the race and to finish it in seventh was a positive way to finish a difficult weekend.”
Bautista impressed last year with Suzuki but with the European season starting it will be very interesting to see his rate of improvement aboard the Gresini Honda. In Qatar Bautista was involved in a thrilling fight for sixth with Stefan Bradl and Nicky Hayden and looked comfortable aboard the RCV213 following two years racing for Suzuki.
Jorge Lorenzo was victorious in Jerezlast year but this weekend’s race will mark the 10th anniversary of his GP debut aboard a Gilera. Lorenzo turned 15 on the Saturday and in the days of two qualifying session he was too young to venture on track for the opening days qualifying session.
Lorenzo went on to start the race 33rd and finished 22nd. Since then however he has become a triple world champion and gone from strength to strength in the MotoGP class.
Usual suspects will set the pace
Following his victory in Qatar Lorenzo leads the championship but withJerezand Estoril being favourites of Jorge it is crucial for Casey Stoner that the Australian can regain the initiative.
Stoner has never won at either circuit and having suffered from arm pump in the season opener he can ill afford for Lorenzo to take another two victories in the next ten days. Stoner was as secretive as ever following the race inQatarand unwilling to discuss how he plans to attack the injury.
Jerezis a punishing circuit with numerous heavy braking points and will put severe pressure on the champion. With Lorenzo reveling in the 1000cc Yamaha it is clear that Stoner needs to be at full fitness if he is to prevail this weekend.
The Honda was quick in testing atJerezover the winter but as ever testing pace will count for little on race day. With poor weather forecast for the race it should be less taxing physically for Casey but until he proves that his arm pump is no longer an issue question marks will hang over the Repsol Honda rider.
His teammate, Pedrosa, was very competitive inQatarand for the first time in what seems like years Dani is racing without any injuries. He beamed after the Qatar race that he say little difference between the 800cc bikes and the current spec. Pedrosa always goes well in Jerez and with the Honda not having suffered from chatter during testing at the venue Dani will surely be optimistic of another strong race.
Lorenzo however has to start as favourite. The 2010 champion has always loved theJerezcircuit and racing in front of his home crowd always brings out the best in the Spaniard.
“The competition will be tough,” commented the 25 year old. “I expect Casey and especially Dani to be very fast. Qatar was a perfect start to our season; we worked very hard for that incredible victory. Now we get to race in front of our home fans, I will try to make sure we make a good show for them!”
Midfield battle set to thrill again
The intra team battle at Tech 3 was the most exciting element of the opening weekend of the season.
With Bradley Smith long confirmed as a MotoGP rider for the French team it had been expected that Andrea Dovizioso would easily retain his seat with the squad.Qatarhowever showed that Cal Crutchlow can more than hold his own at the highest level.
After a tough rookie campaign where the Englishman showed flashes of potential but also struggled at other times it was expected that Dovizioso would outperform his English teammate and retain a spot on the best satellite bike in the field.
A front row starting position and a superb race performance to fourth position however has shown that Crutchlow is much more comfortable on the one litre bikes. The clockwork regularity of the 800s did not suit his aggressive style but the more forgiving 2012 bikes have shown Crutchlow has the potential to race at the front of the MotoGP field.
In Qatar Crutchlow looked much more like he did aboard a World Superbike. Chucking the bike into the corner and braking incredibly late. His performance in defeating his teammate also showed Crutchlow has now found consistency aboard to a MotoGP bike.
If he can continue to progress it will be very interesting to see how the 2013 Yamaha rider lineup battle develops.
After a miserableQatarrace Ben Spies is eager to put his chatter woes behind him butJerezhas been far from a happy hunting ground for the Texan. In his rookie season he struggled with a difficult motorcycle and last year he crashed out of a podium position in the closing stages.
Having experienced no chatter problems until race day in Qatar Spies was mystified by his problems in theMiddle East. A good performance in theJereztest though has left Spies in a positive frame of mind ahead of the race:
“I’m feeling good, I haven’t had great results at Jerez yet but we had a really positive test there so I’m confident,” said Spies. “The Yamaha M1 is working well at all circuits we’ve been to so far. After a tough start at Qatar my goal at Jerez is starting the season again, I’m going to do the best I can to deliver. We had a good Qatar weekend except for the race, we know our pace is strong, the bike is competitive and I’m riding well so we should have a successful weekend.”
While Spies is expected to bounce back from hisQatarnightmare the same cannot be said for Valentino Rossi. The Italian endured a miserable weekend in Losail and was completely outclassed by even his teammate, Nicky Hayden.
It was the first time in his career that Rossi looked like an ordinary rider and it clearly struck a chord in his psyche. Following the race Rossi was very vocal with Italian TV about his mindset with Ducati and how much he is struggling to adapt the Ducati to his riding style.
In the intervening three weeks however it seems that Rossi has, for the first time, admitted that he may need to make a change to his riding style. Ducati have developed numerous chassis and swingarm combinations, multiple engines but all to no avail.
On Italian TV Rossi staged an interview with his father where he asked questions relating to himself and it was illuminating to see some of the responses offered. When asked about what Valentino needed to do to improve his position Graziano spoke of his son’s bravery but crucially his need to dig deep and find performance.
Seeing Rossi struggle so badly inQatarwas gut wrenching for the majority of fans, and the sports paymasters, but now is the time that Valentino needs to show just how good he is. Being outperformed by Hayden, Hector Barbera and Karel Abraham clearly shook Rossi but now is the time for him to prove that moving to Ducati was the right decision.
Having burned bridges at Honda and Yamaha Rossi must surely know that there are no realistic opportunities for him to find a competitive bike in MotoGP other Ducati. He needs to dig deep and start performing well aboard theBolognamachine and having won eight times atJerezthere is no time like the present for the most successful premier class rider in history to refind his mojo.
Marquez a Marc-ed man in Moto2
Marc Marquez’Qatarvictory was controversial given his final lap clash with Thomas Luthi. In my eyes the move was very aggressive but acceptable. In the ultra combative Moto2 class it was typical racing and Luthi should have conceded the corner and lived to fight another day.
As it was his domination in the desert counted for little and he handed Marquez the initial championship advantage. With the championship favourite having missed most of the pre-season, as a result of a lasting eye problem from his huge Malaysian practice crash, it had been expected that he would take some time to regain his race fitness.
As it was he was in superb form during the race. He progressed through the field and claimed the victory from Andrea Iannone in the closing metres after slipstreaming past the Italian on the run to the line.
Having failed to finish inJerezthe last two years however Marquez will be keen to show in front of his home fans just how good he is but as the Spaniard admits the ultra competitive intermediate class means nothing can be taken for granted:
The win in Qatar gives us plenty of confidence, but we have to stay alert because the pressure and desire to do well in front of the Spanish fans could take its toll,” he said. “There are many riders who are fast there, so we will have to be 100% focused in order to have a good weekend.”
Iannone was clearly stung by his defeat in the closing stages inQatarbut overall he impressed with a solid race where he was decisive when overtaking opportunities presented itself.
Last year the Italian struggled in qualifying and regularly found himself forced to battle through the pack on Sundays. Over the two years of Moto2 one thing has become crystal clear-to win you need to qualify at the front. Iannone now needs to show that he can consistently match the one lap pace of his rivals if he is to challenge for the title.
Vinales the favourite in Moto3 but there are interesting subplots
Last year Maverick Vinales was a promising but ultimately unheralded 125cc rider. Twelve months later and he is leading the Moto3 title chase and racing with the expectation of winning each weekend.
Jerezwas his worst weekend of his rookie Grand Prix season in which Vinales amazed on a consistent basis. This year however the youngster is the highest rated young rider in the paddock. His talent is beyond doubt but it is his maturity that really impresses.
Last time out he was unexpectedly caught in a race long battle with Romano Fenati but waited until the Italian debutant’s pace to start to fade before moving into the lead and pulling away.
By finishing second on his debut Fenati earned himself the distinction of becoming the first rookie in over 15 years to start his career with a rostrum finish. The Italian will be the focus of a lot of attention this weekend as the paddock waits to see just how good he can become.
The Italian Federation backed rookie, riding an FTR, and clearly is one to watch out for but the first race of the inaugural Moto3 championship showed that young riders will clearly have a chance to shine throughout the season.
Whether or not Fenati and the rest of the rookie class can maintain theirQatarform remains to be seen and the likes of Sandro Cortese, pole sitter atJerezlast year, and Danny Kent are sure to be much more competitive this weekend. Cortese stood on the rostrum in the opening race but was almost one second per lap off the pace of Vinales.
The German obviously needs to improve this weekend but it would be very surprising if the Ajo KTM rider, and his teammateKent, were not on the case of Vinales this weekend.
Weather for Jerez
When you think of Andalucía you instantly think of sunshine and warm temperatures but, as was the case last year, rain is forecast for this weekend. Low temperatures and cloudy skies are expected for Friday with rain forecast for Saturday and Sunday.