Following its three-race tour in Asia and Australia, MotoGP returns to Europe for two season-ending events on the Iberian peninsula, this Sunday's Portuguese Grand Prix and the following Sunday's Valencia Grand Prix. This weekend's event will...
Following its three-race tour in Asia and Australia, MotoGP returns to Europe for two season-ending events on the Iberian peninsula, this Sunday's Portuguese Grand Prix and the following Sunday's Valencia Grand Prix. This weekend's event will depart from the norm in having four practice sessions for each class, instead of the usual three.
At Estoril, 30km (18 miles) from Portugal's capital city of Lisbon, Honda's six-man MotoGP line-up should be back to full racing strength with the return of Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V). The Spaniard, who broke his left collarbone in a crash at the Japanese GP on October 1, attempted to race at the Australian GP on October 17 but had to withdraw from the event because the shoulder was too painful and too weak for racing. The injury had been pinned and plated in Barcelona the day after the accident.
Pedrosa is a famously brave rider, prepared to grit his teeth whenever necessary to reach his chosen goals, but Phillip Island was a race too early for the former 125 and 250 World Champion. Following his abortive Australian trip the 25-year-old Spaniard is hoping he will have recovered sufficiently since then to defend his second place in the 2010 MotoGP World Championship.
Until the accident at Motegi, Pedrosa had been sitting comfortably in second place, with a mathematical chance of winning the title following an impressive midseason run of results. Two wins and two second places at the four races preceding Japan had closed the gap on Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha), but with three no scores he is now just 23 points ahead of 2007 World Champion Casey Stoner (Ducati).
Pedrosa has podium form at Estoril, with three top-three finishes at the last three Portuguese GPs, though he has yet to win a race at the challenging circuit which mixes ultra-fast sweepers with MotoGP's slowest corner, the left/right chicane. Second in 2007 and 2008, he was third in 2009.
While Pedrosa is involved in a battle for the runner-up spot in the championship -- after countryman Lorenzo secured the title at the Malaysian round -- his team-mate Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) is battling for third place in the highly competitive 2010 series. The 24-year-old Italian is currently fifth, just 14 points behind Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) and 26 points behind Stoner, following a DNF at the last round in Australia. Dovizioso has been on fine form at recent rounds, scoring two second-place finishes at Motegi and Sepang. Although a 2010 victory still eludes him, the former 125 World Champion had proved that he has winning pace, finishing just behind Stoner at Motegi and a fraction of a second behind Rossi at Sepang.
Rookie Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) has climbed the championship standings with a run of strong results at recent races. The 23-year-old Italian gets faster and more spectacular with every ride aboard his RCV and he's finished in the top six at two of the last three races. This improvement has impressed HRC staff, who invited Simoncelli to visit the company's R&D facility on his way home to Europe to test new bodywork, specially adapted to fit the lanky Italian. This was his second wind-tunnel outing this year.
Simoncelli's sixth place at Phillip Island moved him into eighth overall, ahead of Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V). Marco Melandri (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) is the third Honda rider in the battle for eighth, just seven points behind de Puniet. Simoncelli has good reason to be confident that this will be another good weekend for him because he goes well at Estoril -- he won last year's 250 race at the track and was second in the 2008 250 encounter.
De Puniet and Melandri have yet to make the top three in the elite class at Estoril but both have stood on the 250 podium at the track; de Puniet in 2003, 2004 and 2005, Melandri in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda MotoGP RC212V) scored his best result of the year three weeks ago at Sepang, taking a brilliant seventh-place result. This weekend the Japanese MotoGP rookie -- who missed five midseason races after breaking a vertebra at June's British GP -- wants to get back inside the top ten after a challenging three days in Australia.
Toni Elias (Gresini Racing Moto2, Moriwaki) may have wrapped up the first MotoGP World Championship at the recent Malaysian GP, but there is still plenty of racing to be done in the fast and furious intermediate category. Elias will certainly want to be back on the podium in front of his Spanish fans, after finishing outside the top three in Australia and Malaysia. And then there is his compatriot Julian Simon (Mapfre Aspar Team, Suter) who had been knocking on the door of his first Moto2 win for months -- the Spaniard has already scored seven podiums, including four consecutive second-place finishes -- and is determined to climb the top step before the season is done.
Simon is locked in an intense contest for the championship runner-up spot with Andrea Iannone (Fimmco Speed Up, Speed Up) who scored his seventh podium at Phillip Island. The impressive Italian has already won three Moto2 races this year, so there is no doubt that he will have winning pace at these final races. The man on form in Phillip Island was Alex De Angelis (JIR Moto2, Motobi) who took pole position and the win in what was only his fifth race with the JIR squad. So far this year the San Marino rider has ridden for three different teams in two different categories, and finally it seems he has found the rich vein of form he deserves.
Estoril is one of the slowest circuits on the MotoGP calendar, with a lap record of less than 155km/h (96mph). Nevertheless the track presents a real challenge to riders and engineers. The contrast between very slow and very fast corners demands some tricky compromises in chassis set-up, with riders requiring manoeuvrability in the tight corners and stability in the sweepers. These two characteristics aren't mutually exclusive but it's not easy to create a motorcycle that excels in both situations, so compromise is the only answer. It's the same with the engine -- the contrast between the fast start-finish straight and the many slow-speed corners requires maximum peak horsepower as well as gentle low-rev performance.
But perhaps the greatest concern for riders is the track's proximity to the Atlantic. High-speed winds can whip off the ocean, blowing bikes and riders off course and throwing dust onto the circuit, making for challenging conditions.
Estoril hosts its 11th Grand Prix this weekend, though this is the 13th Portuguese GP. The nation's first two GPs were held at Spanish tracks in 1987 and 1988, because Estoril failed stringent track safety standards.
HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES
Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa says: "We get back on track this weekend at Estoril and, in principle, the situation should be much better than it was for me in Australia. The Estoril circuit is not as demanding as Phillip Island and this should help me to feel more comfortable on the bike. Plus I've had some more time to recover which should help too. This kind of injury needs time to heal and with two more weeks having passed I'm really looking forward to seeing how much the shoulder has improved. I went to visit the doctor last Tuesday to have the stitches removed, and the scar is fine. I've been doing some more rehabilitation on the muscles and I have some more strength, but I will not be able to fully judge how much difference there is until I get on the bike on Friday morning. Also, I think it can be positive for me that there will be two practice sessions on Friday again, as we had in Aragon. In terms of the track layout, Estoril has some hard braking areas and it's bumpy, but the fact that it has more right-hand corners than left can be good for us. So, I'm looking forward to getting there with my team and seeing how I feel."
Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso says: "We head into the Grand Prix of Portugal with a lot of confidence and I think we can get a good result at Estoril. We had two strong second place finishes in Japan and Malaysia, and we could have had another podium finish in Australia too, so there's no reason to expect anything less this weekend. I know that we are competitive in Portugal and we are determined to have a good race and to fight for another top-three finish. Estoril is a track where I have achieved some good results in the past and, even though I was seventh last year, this wasn't indicative of our potential. The circuit itself is quite difficult because the layout is slow and narrow, which makes controlling the power of a MotoGP machine a major challenge. This also means it's really important to understand the track's characteristics very well and to find a good compromise with the machine set up. We will make full use of the extra practice session on Friday morning and we're looking forward to these last two races of the season."
LCR Honda rider Randy de Puniet says: "Estoril is a very interesting race track and I cannot wait to race there. I am bit worried about the weather which can be similar to Phillip Island, and the weather forecast is not very good at the moment. Anyway I think we can be fast there and we need to be fast to end the race in the top eight. I need to score important points for the championship as the season is coming to an end. Last race was not bad but I could finish in a better position. I must take the best from my machine in the final two rounds."
San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Marco Simoncelli says: "I was really satisfied with the race at Phillip Island but I want to see my performances reflected in numbers. It was a nice race in Australia but it was still a sixth place in the end so I need to work on my consistency. It won't be easy but that is what I will be trying to do alongside the team. After Phillip Island I had a 'bonus trip' to Japan for another visit to the wind tunnel. Honda are looking at using a new cowling so that I can tuck in my over-size frame. As soon as I got home to Italy I started thinking about Estoril, a circuit I like a lot. I won there last year and finished second in 2008 and it seems to be a place that suits my riding style so if we can find a good feeling with the bike I'm sure I can have another good race."
San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Marco Melandri says: "At Phillip Island we were dancing to the same old tune. I can't get a feel for the bike, so it's hard for me to ride. It is a tough situation but I have not lost hope and at Estoril I will try again although I think we need a miracle. We'll see but I would love to finish the season with a good result."
Interwetten Honda MotoGP rider Hiroshi Aoyama says: "I hope we can improve in Estoril. I like the track, but it is so different to the last two racetracks. Estoril is similar to the Motegi circuit and I hope it suits the bike. My race in Malaysia was so good and I had a lot of confidence, but in Australia it was not good and I lost the confidence again. You never know in advance what will happen on the racetrack until you are really on it, so it is not easy to predict what will happen in Estoril and Valencia. The conditions will be different and for sure the bike will react different on that, so we will see where we are on Sunday afternoon."
Moto2 RIDER QUOTES
Gresini Racing Moto2 rider Toni Elias says: "It was a difficult weekend at Phillip Island because we were held back by a mystery gearbox problem. The team worked really hard to fix it but the problem persisted throughout the race. It was a shame because I had a great feeling with the bike but couldn't make the most of it. I was disappointed after the race but also happy because I still had a good race and a great last lap. I am sure we will make up for it at Estoril, where I took a MotoGP win that will forever remain in my heart. After the celebrations that were put on for me in my home town of Manresa I want to do the title justice in Portugal. I want to do the thing I was unable to do in Australia and I will tackle it with the same determination as always and with the continued support of a fantastic team."
Mapfre Aspar Team rider Julian Simon says: "Phillip Island wasn't as easy race after I had crashed in warm-up, but we finished fourth, just behind Iannone, so we didn't lose too many points to him. That means that we still have a very good chance of taking the runner-up spot in the championship, so you can sure we will keep fighting till the very end. Estoril is a tricky track and it also looks like the weather will not be perfect this weekend. We will keep our heads down, keep working hard and do our best to score out first win in Moto2."
Fimmco Speed Up rider Andrea Iannone says: "These last two races will be a lot of fun -- everyone wants to finish the year well. We have had some great results, but of course we always want more and we will be doing everything in our powers to score a fourth win at Estoril. The good thing is that I know that I can rely upon my team to work hard and do a great job this weekend."
Interwetten Moriwaki Moto2 rider Thomas Luthi says: "I was looking forward so much to be back home after the long trip outside of Europe. Estoril is the first of the last two races and I hope that other than in the last races I can collect some more points in these two races. Estoril and Valencia for me is like one race. It is the big finale and I have no idea what is waiting for us there. I really hope we can get in front a little bit more. I am looking forward to these last two races."
HONDA 125 RIDER QUOTE
Marcel Schrotter, Interwetten Honda 125 Team: "I hope I can continue like I did in the last races. Of course my target also for Estoril is to get some points and it would be great if I could finish the race in the Top 12. If I can achieve that I would be very happy. The last couple of races I was quite satisfied. I cannot say much about Estoril itself as I never visited this track before. I will watch some of the races from the last couple of years and see if I can get some grips out of them."