The MotoGP World Championship arrives at Spain's crucible of grand prix racing with three candidates in the thick of the championship and a fourth looking to rebound and repeat his 2008 victory at Barcelona's majestic Circuito de Catalunya (called...
The MotoGP World Championship arrives at Spain's crucible of grand prix racing with three candidates in the thick of the championship and a fourth looking to rebound and repeat his 2008 victory at Barcelona's majestic Circuito de Catalunya (called Montmelo by locals).
The area around Barcelona has produced more MotoGP racers than anywhere else in the world and the best among them is Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa, the 2008 race winner. Just days prior to the start of the GP weekend Pedrosa confirmed that he wouldn't allow injuries suffered in the previous race in Mugello to keep him from defending his title. The 23-year-old hails from Castellar del Valles, not 30kms from the circuit, and can count on the support of a weekend crowd that should approach 200,000. Pedrosa, who now makes his home in London, spent the one weekend break between races resting and had one final checkup before getting the green light to race.
Pedrosa won last year's race by 2.8s, setting a new lap record along the way. It was one of Honda's seven wins at the Montmelo circuit, which has hosted a round of the World Championship since 1992, and where Spaniards have excelled.
Carlos Checa, who was born in Sant Fruitos de Bages, just north of Pedrosa's hometown, won the 1996 race on the venerable Honda NSR500. Mick Doohan won the next two before Alex Criville, also from the Barcelona area, won in 1999. Pedrosa also has wins in the 125cc and 250cc classes at Montmelo.
The 2009 Catalunya GP is the sixth race of a season that has three riders currently separated by just nine points at the top of the MotoGP point standings, followed by Pedrosa and Repsol Honda teammate Andrea Dovizioso. Entering the previous round in Mugello, Pedrosa was within striking distance of the leader. But Pedrosa crashed after switching from his Honda RC212V fitted with rain tyres to his second bike with slicks in the wet/dry race. The crash ended a streak of three successive podiums. Pedrosa had entered the race at less than fighting strength, the Spaniard having damaged a tendon in his right hip while fighting to maintain control during Saturday morning practice. The same episode caused an incomplete fracture in the thigh bone at the top of the femur. Doctors later determined that the race crash did no further damage.
Andrea Dovizioso makes his Repsol Honda debut at the track where he was the second Honda rider to Pedrosa in 2008. The Italian arrives in Spain riding a streak of two races where he fought for the podium, only to miss out by one position. The track is one of his favourites for its fast, flowing nature.
LCR Honda's Randy de Puniet also lists the track north of Barcelona as one of his favourites. De Puniet won two 250cc races at Montmelo, but hasn't been able to repeat that success in the premier ranks. The Frenchman was in the top six last year when he crashed. But his second year on the Honda RC212V makes him confident of a good result this weekend.
Toni Elias is another local hero who honed his skills on the numerous GP calibre Spanish tracks. But strangely, the San Carlo Honda Gresini rider, who grew up in Manresa, northwest of Barcelona, has yet to score a point in the premier class at Catalunya. Elias has been fighting back to full fitness following an operation to cure 'arm pump' in his right arm and is keen to secure a strong finish in front of the hometown crowd.
In recent races San Carlo Honda Gresini teammate Alex De Angelis hasn't been able to equal the sixth place he earned in the season-opening race in Qatar. De Angelis has been hampered in his search for rear grip in the dry by too many wet sessions. He's hopeful that with three dry sessions prior to the race he can make significant progress.
The Montmelo circuit is yet another that Scot Honda's Yuki Takahashi will have to re-learn on a MotoGP machine when he arrives in Barcelona on his rookie tour of the class. The 24-year-old from Saitama, Japan can draw on his recent experience in Mugello, which has some similar characteristics as Montmelo.
Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda) hopes to replicate the success he had during his last visit to Spain, when he won the Jerez GP three races ago. Aoyama, who lives in Barcelona during the season, hasn't finished worse than seventh during five previous visits to Montmelo. And Aoyama hasn't finished lower than eighth this year; the reward for that consistency is second place in the 250cc World Championship.
Aoyama's Scot Honda team-mate Raffaele De Rosa knows that the competition, especially from the Spanish hopefuls, will be tough this weekend, but he hopes that his affinity for the Montmelo circuit will be rewarded. De Rosa has scored four top ten finishes in the first five races.
Hector Faubel (Valencia CF -- Honda SAG) will be aiming to repeat the podium result he achieved at last month's French GP, where the former 125 winner proved his ability with a brilliant ride to second place. Team-mate Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT-SAG) makes his third visit to Montmelo, two races after a top-five finish at Le Mans, and is still fighting to regain full fitness after recently suffering a couple of injuries.
Shoya Tomizawa, Team CIP Honda's 18-year-old GP rookie, continues his grand prix education with yet another new circuit. Tomizawa will try to reverse the bad luck from the past two races after scoring points in the first three.
Young Swiss rider Bastien Chesaux (Racing Team Germany) has finished four of five races in his rookie season and could break through and score his first point this weekend.
The Montmelo weekend comes two weeks after a similarly challenging weekend at Mugello. Both tracks have a long start-finish straight followed by technical sections of both fast and slow corners, elevation changes, and a dramatic conclusion to the lap. The 4.727kms circuit includes a 1.047km straight where top speeds reach 328.7 km/h before hard braking into a right-left sequence that leads to an uphill climb and the first of several constant radius right-handers. The middle infield straight leads to another hard-braking turn, this time a left-hander into a stadium section that will be filled by tens of thousands of partisan fans getting a glimpse of the final corner sequence before the downhill double-rights leading to the front straight.
With eight right-hand corners, many of which are long and fast, and five slower left-handers, the track taxes the left and right sides of MotoGP's Bridgestone tyres very differently.
Riders and their race engineers will spend their three hours of practice and qualifying searching for a good all-around package; stability under hard braking, the ability to hold a line through the long corners, acceleration off the slower corners onto the two long straightaways, and compliant suspension. Even though the track was re-surfaced before last year's race, a steady schedule of testing and the annual Formula One race have left it bumpier than most.
HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) says: "I'm really looking forward to my home Grand Prix even though the build-up has hardly been perfect. For the past week I've just been resting and that's pretty boring. But today I went to see the doctor and the results of the new scan have been quite positive. They decided to give me a trial pain-killing injection so that I can judge how it will feel ahead of the weekend. And today's scan really helped them pinpoint the best location for the injection so it can have the maximum effect, which was something they weren't able to do in Mugello. The feeling was good, so it looks like I'll have an injection before riding each day. Obviously it's still not going to be comfortable riding the bike but I'm feeling positive that we can go into the weekend and aim for the best possible result. In spite of the problems, my motivation for my home race is still the same. I've been waiting for this race for a long time and I want to get the best possible result for all the fans who will be there to support me. I hope I can give them a good weekend."
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) says: "Montmelo is one of my favourite circuits of the year. I love this track because of the long, fast corners and it's a great feeling when you find the right flow from one turn to the next. There is also a fantastic atmosphere at this track, and when you enter the final four corners it feels like a stadium and the sensation is incredible. So I always look forward to this race and my previous results here have been good, including last year when I had a great race and finished fourth. After leading the last race at Mugello and finishing so close to the winner I'm feeling really motivated and I think the team can have a good result this weekend. It's true that the conditions were unusual -- first wet and then dry -- but my feeling with the bike has improved so I think we will be stronger at Barcelona."
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) says: "The Barcelona race track is one of my favourites. I won two races in the 250cc class with Lucio's team and I like the Spanish atmosphere. Unfortunately last year I crashed but I was lapping consistently fast and, after our positive result at Mugello I feel confident about this GP. Basically we will start with the same set-up we ran at Mugello. Last year between the Italian GP and the Spanish GP we made some adjustments with good results so we already know which direction to follow. I hope the weather will be fine this time!"
Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says: "I think we are ready. We come here having found some improvements but without having shown it on track in terms of results. We have had a bit of bad luck so far, so we will keep working and pushing hard. Hopefully it will be at Montmelo where things change and we start to get the kind of results we are looking for. We have had a few problems and it is hard to fight against them to put things right but we are giving it all we can and we are getting better. We are working on our issues one by one and reducing them gradually and we just need to make sure we aren't affected by bad luck or unexpected problems and hopefully at Montmelo we will get our first strong result of the year, as we are getting close. The fans there are very important and they always give us a push in terms of motivation, so we need to take advantage of that and get a good finish which we can build on."
Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says: "I was disappointed with the last race in Italy because we missed out on some vital points but we'll keep working hard in Catalunya, especially in the search for rear grip, which is the problem that is still affecting us the most at the moment. I remember being really, really fast at this circuit in the wet last year but it seems our problems this year are the same in the wet and dry conditions, so it is something we desperately need to iron out if we want to move forward and be more consistent. I like Barcelona as a circuit and I was having a good race last year until I crashed out with Capirossi. We were challenging at the right end of the field on that occasion so we go there with optimism, confidence and feeling calm."
Yuki Takahashi (Scot Honda) says: "I did not like Montmelo when competing in the 250 class, but I believe this is going to change because I feel really better in the fast corners with a MotoGP bike. Moreover, in Mugello my set-up was really good."
HONDA 250cc RIDER QUOTES
Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda) says: "Barcelona is my second home track, as I live here during the season. I like the layout of Montmelo and I'm confident I can improve my best result at this track, which is fourth. A lot depends on the conditions of the surface because the track recently hosted an F 1 race, so we don't know how the tarmac is, especially in the fast corners. Apart for that, I hope it's a sunny day. I know that we must work hard to set up the bike at the best, but I'm confident and my feeling is positive."
Raffaele De Rosa (Scot Honda) says: "Montmelo is one of the best tracks I know; demanding, but I like it. Spanish riders are always very strong here. Against them it's going to be a fight, as usual. But I'm confident. By now I've got enough experience to aim for a good result. But you have always to wait and see; in Mugello, for example, the rain changed everything. I hope for some sunshine in Spain."
Hector Faubel (Valencia CF-Honda SAG) says: "The race in Montmelo is another home race for me, which is always an extra motivation to try to get a good result and get more promotion to the situation. I like the track and have some good memories, especially my podium in the 2006 125 race. It will be a busy weekend, with many fans and a lot of work, but I think we can get the bike working well so I can hope to make bigger memories this time round."
Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT-SAG) says: "Physically I'm not so concerned with the injury to my right hand because I have adapted to braking with the middle finger only, but the leg I hurt at Jerez is still giving me a little bit of grief. This week I have been training in the gym and I also enjoyed watching the second race of the CEV-2009, supporting my fellow riders in the SAG-Castrol Honda Team. Last year we achieved a reasonable result at the Circuit de Catalunya and I aim to achieve a much better result this year. If all goes well I hope to have a great battle and finish in the top five. "
Shoya Tomizawa (Team CIP Honda) says: "We have not finished the last two races, so it's very important for me to get a finish this time. Hopefully we will have good weather for this weekend, which will make everything easier for me. It is very difficult to learn new tracks in the rain! Anyway, I must keep pushing and keep learning -- this year learning is the number one priority."
Bastien Chesaux (Racing Team Germany Honda) says: I'm very excited to ride at Barcelona. The track is just amazing with very fast corners and full acceleration. We have a good opportunity there; the bike is very fast and stable at the end of corners. I've progressed at each race. Sure it's difficult, because I must work on the track and I've got to work on myself too, on my head, so I can prepare for the next races. During each session I must acquire more experience. I'm very confident with everything, I must just keep full gas!"