Valentino Rossi has always thrived on producing the goods when the pressure meter's ramped up to high, and that's the situation the Italian great finds himself in as Round 13 of the 2016 MotoGP™ World Championship title makes its way to Misano this weekend (September 9-11).
Misano is just a stone's throw from Rossi's home town of Tavullia, and the Movistar Yamaha rider returns to the circuit still a huge 50pts (210 to 160) behind Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) in the battle for the World Championship.
That's a mountainous challenge at its best, and it means that Rossi can ill afford to have another DNF – he's already failed to finish three times this season – while continuing to rack up big numbers over the final six rounds.
If any location can stir those fighting qualities it's at the 4.2km long Misano where Rossi has won three times previously in his illustrious career.
"Misano will be the most special weekend of the season, because Misano is "my race", it's my home," said Rossi. "Usually we are quite good there, so we hope to be competitive. There will be a great atmosphere: a lot of fans, a lot of people around and also a lot of pressure, so we have to try to give 20 per cent more than the maximum!"
Rossi's teammate Jorge Lorenzo has also been a multiple winner at Misano, and a victory – or a podium finish at the very least – is imperative if he is to keep his flickering hopes alive of retaining the MotoGP™ title. Lorenzo was on pole at Misano in 2015, and also set a new lap record, but he fell back in a chaotic race held in mixed conditions.
However, even if Rossi and Lorenzo hit a rich vein of form, Marquez is still firmly in charge after a season where he has only finished off the podium three times, including last Sunday at Silverstone where he was fourth after a titanic tussle for second alongside Rossi and Cal Crutchlow – Maverick Vinales (Ecstar Suzuki) well ahead as he waltzed to his maiden MotoGP™ win and Suzuki's first since 2007. Vinales was also the seventh separate MotoGP™ winner in 2016.
Rossi was third at Silverstone, trimming 3pts off Marquez's lead.
“All in all we got an okay result in England, as even though we didn’t make the ideal choice with the front tyre, in the end we lost just three points," said Marquez. "Now we head to Misano, which is quite a different track as it is twisty and slow.
"In San Marino I expect to fight again for the podium if we work well during the weekend. I’m happy to go racing in Italy, where I really hope the weather will be nice and give us the chance to make the most of every session.”
If they maintain their searing form, Vinales and Crutchlow certainly shape as key figures in the final six rounds, and it could all start at the demanding and technical Misano with its – according to tyre supplier Michelin – "medium severity layout".
Vinales is still on a high after his win at Silverstone. He said: “I’m enjoying the happiness for my first MotoGP victory and also the first for Suzuki in recent times.
"This as a result of the excellent job we have done as a team. Although I like Silverstone, and I had good feelings for the weekend, winning a MotoGP race is never an easy thing, and it came because both me and the bike have improved a lot, both in this year-and-a-half and also over the weekend in the UK.
"I feel comfortable and confident, my crew and the factory are supporting me with their best efforts and the victory is a reward to our job. After such an emotional weekend it is good to go immediately racing again and I will exploit this enthusiasm as a further push in Misano."
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) also hit some form at Silverstone which he'll want to continue at Misano, while Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) will compete after a nasty collision with Loris Baz (Avintia Racing Ducati) in England which saw them both carted to the medical centre.
Baz isn't so fortunate, and will be replaced by Spanish world superbike rider Xavi Fores at Misano.
Aussie Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda) still has plenty to aim for in the last third of the season, and the next step in his development will be cracking regular top 10 finishes – and if it's wet he's capable of shooting all the way to the front, as he showed in his famous Assen win.
Marquez was the winner at Misano in 2015 from Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Scott Redding, then a Honda rider and now in the Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati stable.
All tight again at the top of the Moto2™ standings, with Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) – who must have thought his 2016 title hopes had been seriously dented when he crashed in training ahead of the British GP and broke his collarbone – only 10pts behind reigning world champion Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport).
Misano is a happy hunting ground for Zarco, who won last year from Tito Rabat and Takaaki Nakagami, while Rins' collarbone will be feeling much better after another week of rest.
Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini) remains third in the standings, even after he was pushed wide by Zarco at Silverstone and lost control of his bike as the two riders headed off the track. The Brit crossed the line in P21 after the incident and failed to score -- but Zarco's subsequent Race Direction penalty classified the reigning champion one position lower.
Garage Plus Interwetten rider Tom Luthi won at Silverstone and has moved back to fourth in the standings at the expense of Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP).
Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) will be on the lookout for another podium at his home track, as will teammate Alex Marquez. Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) was a frontrunner in the British GP, too.
Aussie Remy Gardner will be in action on the Tasca Racing Scuderia machine.
Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) must be feeling just a little good about himself as he takes an 86pt lead into Misano after key rivals Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Moto3) have suffered from recent woes. Meanwhile, Binder has kept himself at the front or on the top step, which is why he has such a massive lead with six rounds to go.
Navarro is second in the standings from Francesco Bagnaia (Pull & Bear Aspar Mahindra).
Bastianini comes into his second home race of the year with the best memories of anyone on the grid; taking an incredible win last season in a classic fight at the front. Bastianini will also be looking to stamp some authority on rookie teammate Fabio Di Giannantonio, as the new kid on the Gresini Racing Moto3 block continues to impress.
The three world championship races at Misano will be held over the following distances and times:
• MotoGP: 28 laps, 118.3km, starting at 2:00pm local time (10:00pm AEST)
• Moto2: 26 laps, 109.9km, starting a 12:20pm local time (8:20pm AEST)
• Moto3: 23 laps, 97.2km, starting at 11:00am local time (7:00pm AEST)