There's always an extra level of enthusiasm when the MotoGP™ title reaches the Continent for the first time every year – and more so because it's recently been at the motorcycle racing heartland of Spain.
At Jerez this weekend, around 200,000 passionate spectators will pack the grandstands and perimeter of the famed 4.4km circuit as Italian great Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) takes an unexpected – well for him – lead into round four of the championship over teammate Maverick Vinales and reigning World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda).
And Rossi's 6pt lead could even be extended on Sunday, because he's always been fast at Jerez with its many camber changes, hard-braking zones and fast sweeping curves. In 2016, Rossi brought up his seventh premier class win at the venue.
"I would never have expected to come to Jerez as a leader of the championship," said Rossi. "I‘m very happy because we managed to solve some of the problems we had encountered during the winter tests and we are doing really good races.
"We still have to improve the bike a lot, that's for sure. The weekend in Jerez will be very important. This is the first European race and it‘s a circuit I really enjoy. We have improved a lot in Austin since the first free practice and now it will be important to improve again in Jerez.
"We understand how to work with this bike and I‘m sure we will be able to find what we are looking for."
Of the top six riders in the championship – Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) is fourth from Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) – Rossi is the only one to have finished all three races so far – and all on the podium.
Meanwhile, Vinales won the first two races in Qatar and Argentina before crashing out in America, while Marquez bounced back to win round three.
Marquez, who finished third at Jerez in 2016 behind Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, says racing at home "in front of my fan club is always special".
"I’m happy the next round is back in Spain after three flyaway GPs," said Marquez. "Of course our win in Austin gave the whole team more confidence and motivation to keep up the hard work and to try to understand how to further improve our bike’s setup, although Jerez is one of the most difficult and tricky circuits from that point of view.
"It’s kind of an ‘old school’ track: very short, very narrow, with heavy acceleration points and strong braking areas. You have to make the bike turn well but you also need good stability under braking, because that’s where you can get good lap times.
"It’s a circuit where our opponents are always very fast, but anyway, I think we’ll be able to do well if we work well starting on Friday morning.”
Meanwhile, Pedrosa is a two-time MotoGP™ winner at Jerez, so he'll be in the thick of the action this Sunday, and the likes of Crutchlow, Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone will also be pushing for podium finishes. Iannone's teammate Alex Rins will miss with injury, and has been replaced by Japan's Takuya Tsuda.
Of the rookies, Monster Yamaha Tech 3 pair Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger have been impressive in 2017, with the latter a second place finisher in the 2016 Moto2™ race.
And even riders like the rejuvenated Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Ducati) are capable of finishing well inside the top 10.
Aussie Jack Miller (EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda) is currently 10th in the championship, and now takes on a track where his RC213V works well. He said: "It's been a good three opening races for me in Qatar, Argentina and America, but I'm looking forward to getting to Jerez and starting the European phase of the championship.
"I like Jerez… so I'm feeling positive going into the weekend. Now we need to take what we've learnt in the overseas races and during preseason testing and apply it this weekend in Jerez.
"We've had three top 10 finishes on the trot and that's good, but I'm definitely looking for more now we're back racing in Europe."
Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) is the man of the moment after three wins from as many starts in 2017.
The Italian is in ominous form, but again he'll have the likes of teammate Alex Marquez, Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten), Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing) and Xavi Vierge (Tech 3 Racing) out to steal his thunder.
Aussie Remy Gardner (Tech 3 Racing) will make his return from a broken right ankle at Jerez, although he still isn't at full fitness.
All three Jerez Moto2™ placegetters from 2016 – Alex Lowes, Jonas Folger and Alex Rins – are now in MotoGP™.
After two wins to open the year, Joan Mir (Leopard Racing Honda) showed he wasn't untouchable in America, crossing the line in eighth as Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers Honda) took a stunning first win of the year.
Aron Canet (EG 0,0 Honda) will be looking to bounce back after being lightning fast in America before crashing out, while his teammate Enea Bastianini is on the improve after a slow start to the year.
Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3 Honda), John McPhee (British Talent Team Honda), Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) and Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46 KTM) will also be fast.
Bulega finished second in 2016 behind eventual world champion Brad Binder.
The three world championship races at Jerez will be held over the following distances and times:
- MotoGP™: 27 laps, 119.4km, starting at 2:00pm local time (10:00pm AEST)
- Moto2™: 26 laps, 115km, starting a 12:20pm local time (8:20pm AEST)
- Moto3™: 23 laps, 101.7km, starting at 11:00am local time (7:00pm)