Weather set to play a key role again in Portugal

After a damp and dreary Jerez weekend the MotoGP paddock moves on to Estoril for the third round of the championship.

With similar weather conditions expected in Portugal-wet on Friday and Saturday before a drier race day-there is the potential for some unusual results throughout the three classes.

Lorenzo has won three times at Estoril and it was only last year that his perfect record in the premier class at the circuit ended. Dani Pedrosa ended Jorge’s run of form with a superbly judged victory from his compatriot. Having claimed second and third place finishes thus far in 2012 and he will be eager to claim his first victory since last year’s Japanese Grand Prix.

The Estoril Circuit

The Estoril circuit sits close to the Atlantic coast and as a result poor weather has had a history of interrupting proceedings at the Iberian venue. Having hosted races since 2000 it is now all but certain that this year’s race will be the final event held at the track.

The lap consists of a mixture of slow speed corners with a handful of fast corners. The most infamous of these is the final corner, the Parabolica.

Having once again struggled in the dry race at Jerez Valentino Rossi is looking forward to Estoril where he will look to use a different set up in a bid to finally race closer to the front of the field.

“I like the Estoril track, said Rossi. “It has some sections that are a bit tricky and the weather can be very unpredictable, but I like to race there.”

With numerous slow speed corners having a bike that is stable under heavy braking is crucial to have any chance of a strong result.

From a tire perspective Estoril also provides challenges as explained by Clinton Howe, Dunlop’s operation manager for the Moto2 class.

“Estoril is always a difficult circuit to determine tyre choice,” said the Englishman. “The track is made up of three different surfaces making it one of the most punishing because the tyres have to interact in different ways with surfaces ranging from smooth to abrasive.

“The temperature range at the track also can make things difficult. If it’s cool you need a strong compound as there is a lot of abrasion on the right hand side of the tyre, but this becomes less important when the track surface is warmer, and a softer compound can be used.”

Howe also went on to comment that, “The wind can be quite problematic, especially given its location near the coast as this can mean sand and dust gets blown on to the racing line, especially from the run off areas. The Atlantic seaboard means that the weather is quite quick to change and the weather we have experienced in the past has been very variable, making it difficult to come to solid conclusions for which compounds work best at this track.”

Usual suspects start as favourites

Casey Stoner is still suffering from arm pump but having claimed his first victory of the season he should be in high spirits as he heads toPortugal. The Australian spent a couple of days relaxing at home with his daughter inSwitzerlandand he seems ready for the challenges of Estoril.

“We need to fix the arm pump issue as it’s held us back a little,” admitted the reigning MotoGP champion. “It’s disappointing we weren’t able to fix it before Jerez. We’ve had some really good results at Estoril in the past; I got my first 250cc win there so I’ll be aiming for another good result.”

Stoner is still looking to claim his first premier class victory at the venue but having set the pace in Qatar before his arm pump woes surfaced there is little doubt that he will be there or thereabouts at the end of the race.

Jorge Lorenzo leads the championship having claimed 45 points from the opening two races and Estoril track is a personal favorite of the Spaniard having claimed his first MotoGP victory at the venue.

That win came in only his third premier class start after the then reigning 250cc champion started from pole and dominated proceedings. Since then he has evolved from an aggressive and somewhat crash prone rider into a mature and consistent racer that still has the same devastating turn of speed.

Having availed of Stoner’s arm pump issues in Qatar to open the season with a victory Lorenzo was devastated to miss out on a home success last time out. He blamed his failure to win on a poor choice of tyres but it was clear how much it hurt him not to be able to claim a third consecutive Spanish GP victory.

Can anyone spoil the big three’s party?

With Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa having monopolised the podium positions in the opening races another weekend of expected showers might provide the rest of the field with an opportunity to spring a surprising result this weekend.

Following his stunning Spanish performance Cal Crutchlow is probably the most likely contender to stand on the rostrum with the leading riders all tipping him as a potential podium threat in the upcoming races.

Jorge Lorenzo said, “The 1000cc gives more opportunities to riders like Cal who is more comfortable on it,” said Yamaha’s 2010 champion. “Cal has done two great races.”

Dani Pedrosa was also keen to emphasise just how many riders could potential upset the dominance of the leading trio.

“Looking at the results, really Cal has made the biggest step [from last year],” said the Spaniard. “But still Andrea [Dovizioso] is also close and Nicky [Hayden] is doing well on the Ducati.”

With Hayden having qualified on the front row of the grid inJerezthere were signs of encouragement for Ducati at the Spanish venue and if it is a wet race the speed of the Italian machine is beyond doubt.

Can Valentino show signs of improvement?

As ever the focal point of interest in the MotoGP paddock will be Valentino Rossi. The Italian superstar’s inability to perform aboard the Ducati has been well documented but his decisions inJerezshowed that he is now ready to adapt himself to the bike.

Whereas for much of his first 18 months with the Bologna factory the nine times champion has done his best to tailor the bike to his demands it now seems that he is finally ready to accept that in order to get the best out of the bike he will have to change his style.

One of the key areas for this is for Rossi to adjust the setup of his bike. InJerezhe admitted that after the catastrophic season opening Qatar Grand Prix he was ready to make wholesale changes to his preferred setup for the bike.

At the Spanish race Rossi said that he went to the weekend looking to try the new bike setup, which is more in tune with Nicky Hayden’s settings, but the wet weather on Friday meant that he had to revert to a known setup.

The settings used were similar to those that he used at the IRTA test in the winter. At that point Rossi seemed much happier that at any point before with Ducati but since then he has once again lost his way with the setup of the bike.

Transitioning to the new setup will give us all a much firmer indication of how Rossi will fare this season. With Ducati set to bring their first upgrade to the French Grand Prix it will be interesting to see just how many changes they have made to the GP12.

Moto2 set to see a tight battle

After claiming the first intermediate class victory of his career Pol Espargaro the Spaniard is second in the Moto2 championship standings. His intelligent performance atJerezsaw the Pons rider get to the front at the crucial moment in case of rain.

He clearly had a large element of luck with conditions worsening and hastening a red flag but with two podiums to start the season it is clear that his second season in the class will be much more competitive than last year.

Armed with a Kalex chassis, the same as used by Stefan Bradl last year, Espargaro should be a force to be reckoned with over the course of the year but ever the field will be chasing Marc Marquez this weekend.

The former 125cc world champion, and Moto2 vice champion last year, made his Grand Prix debut in Estoril four years ago and also claimed a fabulous victory in 2010. That race was a rain effected one and Marquez crashed on the sighting lap to the dummy grid before his team fixed the damage and got him back on track In time for the start.

“We are highly motivated heading to Portugal,” commented Marquez. “We are in really good shape right now, after the win in Qatar and second place at Jerez. We will be very focused, because [Estoril] is a tricky track. We had a very positive test last year there and there will be some useful reference points to help me for the race. I am really looking forward to getting back on the bike.”

With Julian Simon having changed to a Suter chassis the Spaniard will look to get some useful information on his new mount this weekend with the former 125cc champion looking to finally show the form that made him a regular contender as a rookie two years ago.

Estoril is one of his favored tracks with a front row starting spot as a rookie and a podium finish last year. Combined with a 125cc pole position he could spring a surprise following a difficult opening to the season.

The Marc VDS riders showed promise atJerezwith Scott Redding finishing fourth and Mika Kallio, who claimed his first GP winner at Estoril, running off track in the closing stages.

Redding needs to start finishing on the podium and winning races if he is to warrant his high standing amongst paddock veterans but his form over the course of the last year has left a lot to be desired.

His opening to the year though clearly has left a lot to be desired with his team having openly looked to change chassis at various times. They have seemed to find their feet this year and Estoril should give a good indication of their potential for the rest of the season.

Can Fenati continue his rich vein of form?

Romano Fenati’s stunning start to his Grand Prix career has been one of the best stories of the season so far. The Italian is the reigning European 125cc champion but even so his adaptation to the rigours of life as a Grand Prix regular has been incredibly smooth.

A close runner up finish to Maverick Vinales inQatarand a dominant victory last time out inJerezhas made Fenati a genuine contender for the title.

Vinales remains the title favourite and last year, in just his third GP, Estoril gave us the first true glimpse at his potential. Vinales raced through the 125cc pack from 11th on the grid to finish fourth before winning the first GP of his career at the following race inFrance.

Vinales was caught out by the mixed conditions at Jerez but the Spaniard is now ready to move forward and get back to winning ways.

Estoril is a track that I like,” said Maverick when asked about his prospects this weekend. “We had a great result there last year and this time around we have to be at 100% to give our best. Leaving Jerez with a sixth place means that we have to change our mentality and maintain our motivation. The good thing about having two races back-to-back is that we can quickly forget about Jerez and a difficult race, moving onto the Portuguese round with much excitement.”

With Fenati having never raced at Estoril it will be a challenging weekend for the Italian but Vinales seems eager to show no mercy and get back to the top step of the rostrum.

The Repsol Moto3 team is sure to be competitive again this weekend. They will be led again by Miguel Oliviera with the Portuguese rider racing in front of his home fans the long awaited podium for a Portuguese rider could come to an end this weekend.

He dominated practice in the wet conditions last weekend and if rain does affect this race weekend he should be well placed to get to the front of the field. WithJerezpole sitter Alex Rins backing him up the Repsol squad should have another promising weekend.

Alex Marquez will wild card again for the team and the Spanish youngster was very impressive atJerez. Both Rins and Marquez showed their potential inSpainand both will be very eager to consolidate their positions as promising youngsters. Both riders are inexperienced at the track with Rins having competed at Estoril once.

The KTM riders seemed to enjoy a top speed advantage in Spain with Sandro Cortese looking particularly impressive and the Austrian manufacturer will be keen to get to the top step of the podium following a brace of FTR victories to open the season.

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