After a mesmerising first half of the 2015 MotoGP season, everyone needed to catch their collective breath — it was intense. With the four-week rest period over, it's now back to business at the famed Indianapolis circuit in America this weekend as world champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) looks to start hunting down dominant Movistar Yamaha pairing Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to keep alive his hopes of three titles on the trot.
At the moment, that appears to be a long shot, with Marquez only fourth in the standings — Ducati's Mr Consistent Andrea Iannone is third — and a massive 65pts behind Rossi and 52 in arrears of Lorenzo with nine races left in the season.
The one saving grace for Marquez is that his factory 'hybrid' Honda — 2014 frame, current engine and electronics — is finally performing at a level that will allow him to consistently push for race wins. His bike just wasn't right at the start of the year as Yamaha out-foxed its long-time grand prix rival, but it burst back into life in Germany's round nine when he won from Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) and Rossi.
Marquez has won the last four races at the 'The Brickyard' — twice each in Moto2 and MotoGP — so he will again be the rider to beat as Honda looks to stretch its five-race unbeaten streak in the premier class at the famed American venue.
"It’s been great to have some time off to recuperate and recharge the batteries ready for the second half of the season," said Marquez. "After the Misano test I went to Ibiza with some friends for a week which was fantastic, and much needed!
"I love racing on American soil and appreciate the enthusiasm of all the fans. I like the Indy track it can be tricky with the changes in asphalt but as always we will work hard from Friday, and get back into our rhythm as quickly as possible!"
Marquez could also help create history for Honda at the 16-turn 4.17km Indy layout, as two victories on Sunday will take the racing powerhouse to a combined total of 700 GP victories in world championship racing. Before Marquez tries to do his bit, it will all depend on what happens in Moto3 — but the odds are bright with Briton Danny Kent dominating that title so far on his Leopard Honda. Of the 698 wins for Honda in GP racing, Aussie champ Mick Doohan has the most with his 54 500 GP successes in the 1990s.
However, there's no show without the tireless Rossi, with Wayne Gardner recently lauding the Italian for the energy and commitment after such a long and successful period in the sport.
"You are always a good rider, but it's the drive and vigour that normally wane as the years roll by — instead Rossi can now round his career off at 10 world titles. Amazing."
With his third place finish in Germany, Rossi broke the record for the longest interval between the first grand prix podium finish and the latest podium finish across all grand prix classes. Spaniard Angel Nieto previously held the record for the last 29 years.
Rossi is a winner at Indy, in 2008, while Lorenzo (2009), Pedrosa (2010-2012) and Casey Stoner (2011) have also tasted success.
"I'm ready to start racing again during the second part of the season," said Rossi. "I had a few days of rest, I went on holiday with my friends and I also trained. After nine races, this stop was very important so I could recharge myself.
"Now there are another nine races waiting for us and each of these will be very important for the championship. The first part went very well with nine podiums in nine races and I hope that the second part of this season will go just as well. Some of the tracks we're going to I really like, I have to be defensive at others. We start with Indianapolis, not one of my favourite circuits but there's always a great atmosphere here and the circuit is very nice. I'm ready to go!"
After nipping at the heels of Rossi a few rounds ago, Lorenzo is now 13pts behind his teammate, but once the Spaniard gets a run he's hard to stop. His battle with Rossi in the second half of the year will be intriguing, especially with Marquez and Pedrosa — now back to his best — set to be constant flies in the ointment.
Iannone will also be pushing hard for a win at Indianapolis, while his teammate Andrea Dovizioso is on the rebound after a bright start to the year has turned sour. He now clings onto fifth in the championship on a countback from Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), who hasn't been in rest mode like his contemporaries: he instead linked up with MotoGP teammate Pol Espargarò and Japan's Katsuyuki Nakasuga to win the Suzuka 8 Hour world endurance race in late July; Yamaha's first success since 1996. Stoner made his comeback to racing at Suzuka but crashed heavily after the throttle on his Honda stuck open when he was leading.
Smith is battling with Briton Cal Crutchlow (WCM LCR Honda) for satellite honours in 2015, and they are sixth and eighth in the standings respectively, sandwiching Pedrosa. Espargaro and Ecstar Suzuki rookie Maverick Vinales complete the top 10, with Aussie Jack Miller (WCM LCR Honda) in 18th.
After spending some time back home in Australia during the month break, joined by Kent for most of it, Miller's looking forward to returning to action at a circuit were he was third in Moto3 last year.
Aleix Espargaro (Ecstar Suzuki) will be another to watch this weekend, especially if he gets his qualifying mojo, while Aprilia's Alvaro Bautista will have a new teammate in German Stefan Bradl, who was granted a release from his contract with Forward Racing Yamaha after that team's boss was arrested and charged with a number of offences. Frenchman Loris Baz remains at Forward Racing, but the team won't be making it to Indy as it scrambles to secure funds and see out the season.
Former MotoGP race winner and Moto2 world champion Toni Elias will act as a temporary replacement for the injured Karel Abraham (dislocated left toe at Catalan GP) in the AB Motoracing team. Elias, fresh from competing for Moriwaki in the Suzuka 8 Hour, is taking over from HRC test rider Hiroshi Aoyama who filled in for the Czech rider at the Sachsenring.
In the Moto2 class, Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) is a runaway leader from world champion Tito Rabat (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), having accumulated the highest points total (179) after nine races in the intermediate class since Dani Pedrosa in 2005. He is yet to win at Indy so this could be his year, although Rabat, 2014 winner Mika Kallio (Italtrans Racing Team), Austin winner Sam Lowes (Speed Up Racing), Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40), Tom Luthi (Derendinger Racing Interwetten), Xavier Simeon (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) and Jonas Folger (AGR) may have other ideas.
Moto3 has also been fertile ground for Kent, who has spent a large chunk of the break with Miller in Townsville. Reenergised, he will be hard to conquer in Indianapolis, with Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing), Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and Romano Fenati (SKY Racing Team VR46) his biggest threats, as well as his teammate Efren Vazquez who won at Indianapolis in 2015 — his first ever GP win.
Australia's Remy Gardner (CIP Mahindra) will continue to chase an elusive world championship point on his underpowered machine in Moto3, while his compatriot Anthony West (QMMF Racing) will be in Moto2.
The three world championship races at Indianapolis will be held over the following distances and times:
• MotoGP: 27 laps, 112.6km, starting at 2:00pm local time (4:00am AEST, August 10)
• Moto2: 25 laps, 104.3km, starting a 12:20pm local time (2:20am AEST, August 10)
• Moto3: 23 laps, 95.9km, starting at 11:00am local time (1:00am AEST, August 10)