Can anyone overpower Movistar Yamaha's ice man, Jorge Lorenzo? That's the million dollar question which will be answered at Catalunya this weekend as the MotoGP title returns to Spain for the second time this year.
Lorenzo has cantered to victory in the last three races, and the only consolation for his arch-rivals is that the Spaniard's ordinary start to the year means that he isn't leading the world championship by a big margin.
In fact, Lorenzo doesn't lead at all, with his industrious teammate Valentino Rossi still holding that honour by 6pts (118 to 112) after finishing on the podium in every race this year, followed by Ducati pair Andrea Dovizioso (83) and Andrea Iannone (81) and world champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda, 69).
Between them, Rossi (six) and Lorenzo (three) have won nine premier class races at Catalunya, the 4.7km circuit 12km from Barcelona which is hosting grand prix motorcycle action for the 24th consecutive year. Only three current venues have a longer on-going sequence of hosting grand prix events: Jerez, Mugello and Assen.
Last year at Catalunya, Marquez took the chequered flag just in front of Rossi and lap record holder Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), with Lorenzo in fourth. Marquez is facing somewhat of a mini crisis at the moment however, after crashing in the last round at Mugello—his second DNF of the year. Marquez has identified a number of issues with his RC213V that appear to be holding him back, while a number of his rivals have made huge strides in 2015. Still, Marquez's brilliance and thirst for the occasion will surely come to the fore at Catalunya, as he looks to get his season back on track and reduce the gap to the championship leaders. But maybe not from pole position: only two riders have won the MotoGP race at Catalunya from the top spot since 2002.
“It was disappointing to crash out in Mugello but this can happen when you’re on the limit," said Marquez. "This weekend we head to Catalunya for my home GP and we have a lot of work to do to prepare the bike. I’ve had good results at this track and won there last year, so will hope to do the same in front of all my fan club! Let’s hope we can have a good battle and put on a good show.”
Marquez won't just have the old firm of Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa to worry about, as Iannone will be looking to build on his first MotoGP pole position and his best ever race result (second) at Mugello, and he's also a former Moto2 (2012) winner at Catalunya. And his teammate Dovizioso is on the rebound after a rear sprocket issue forced him to retire at Mugello—the frustration compounded as the open and flowing circuit was a good match for his ultra-fast Ducati. The last podium finish by a Ducati rider at Catalunya was Casey Stoner's third place in 2010.
Meanwhile, Suzuki Ecstar will be bringing an engine update to Catalunya which will come as an added bonus for riders Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales, while the tussle for the satellite riders took a further twist in Italy as CWM LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow crashed out of the race with just three laps to go, allowing his compatriot Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) to cross the line in fifth and open up a 10pt lead. Crutchlow dislocated his ankle in the crash, and will have to pass a medical inspection by before he can race.
After four DNFs in six races so far this year, Aussie Jack Miller (CWM LCR Honda) is acutely aware that simply finishing will be the main goal in Spain—but with the strong pace he has shown in patches that could also translate to another point-scoring opportunity for the Townsville rookie.
The intermediate Moto2 class is starting to tighten, with world champion Tito Rabat (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) winning at Mugello and moving into second place, although he's still a fair margin (31pts) behind the rock-solid Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport). Tom Luthi (Derendinger Racing Interwetten), Dominique Aegerter (Technomag Racing Interwetten), Jonas Folger (AGR Racing), Sam Lowes (Speed Up Racing) and Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) are also contenders, while Aussie Anthony West (QMMF Racing) will again be knocking on the door.
None of the riders currently competing in the Moto3 class has had a grand prix victory at Catalunya, so it will be a new frontier for one rider—most likely championship leader Danny Kent (Leopard Racing), although his best result at the circuit is only 11th. Kent is currently a massive 46pt leader over Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Team), while Australia's Remy Gardner (CIP Mahindra) is slowly moving within reach of a world championship point.
The three world championship races at Catalunya will be held over the following distances and times:
• MotoGP: 25 laps, 118.2km, starting at 2:00pm local time (10:00pm AEST)
• Moto2: 23 laps, 108.7km, starting a 12:20pm local time (8:20pm AEST)
• Moto3: 22 laps, 104km, starting at 11:00am local time (7:00pm AEST)