British motorsport's crown jewel, Silverstone, take its place at the 2016 MotoGP™ table this weekend as the battle for championship honours reaches a critical juncture.
With seven rounds remaining and a maximum of 175pts available, Marc Marquez' 53pt lead on the factory Repsol Honda is telling, and another impressive performance by the Spaniard at the 5.9km Silverstone layout will further strengthen his claims of winning a third MotoGP™ title.
Marquez is a past winner at Silverstone, as are his major championship rivals Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi (both Movistar Yamaha). And the championship leader enjoys the circuit – a former Northamptonshire airfield – despite its propensity for unpredictable weather.
"Cold and rain are variables you have to be prepared to face," said Marquez. "We’ve encountered ‘mixed conditions’ situations more than once this year, and we saw how important it is to remain focused and make the right choices.
"We’ll see what happens during the weekend and we’ll try to manage the situation with the same mind-set that has gotten us this far. I like the track a lot; it has a slower first section but then there’s a series of ‘esses’ where it’s possible to make the difference if you find a good setup for the bike. I’ve always enjoyed racing there and we’ll push at the maximum to get the best result possible.”
Rossi was the victor in a wet British GP in 2015 ahead of Italian compatriots Danilo Petrucci (OCTO Pramac Yakhnich Ducati) and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), while Lorenzo was fourth from lap record holder Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda). Marquez and Aussie Jack Miller crashed out in the slick conditions.
Lorenzo is particularly fast around Silverstone – he's won there three times – and is more than ready for a change of fortunes after being on the practice and qualifying pace in the last round at Brno before the heavens opened on race day and he fell back through the pack.
Lorenzo slipped to third in the standings behind Rossi as a result, while Pedrosa remained in fourth from Maverick Vinales (Ecstar Suzuki), Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team), Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Dovizioso.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) was the big improver at Brno, moving up to 10th after becoming the first British winner of a premier class race since Barry Sheene in 1981.
Meanwhile, Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda) returns to action at Silverstone after missing Brno with injury. It was at Silverstone last year where Miller took out his great mate Crutchlow in the wet – the pair then teammates at LCR Honda.
Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) will miss Silverstone and the following week at Misano after injuring his right leg in a practice crash at the final round of the world endurance title in Germany last weekend. He will be replaced by Yamaha's world superbike rider for Alex Lowes for the two races. Alex is the twin brother of Moto2™ contender Sam Lowes.3
The big talking point ahead of Silverstone is the broken collarbone sustained by Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) in a training accident. Rins, currently 19pts behind reigning world champion Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) in the Moto2 standings, will need to pass a medical examination ahead of the race as he hopes to return to the scene of both a Moto3™ victory and a rookie podium in Moto2™.
Sam Lowes (Gresini Racing Moto2™) took an impressive podium in Brno to keep himself in the title fight, a further 25pts behind Rins. Since having spent time at Misano testing the Aprilia MotoGP machine he will ride next year, Lowes will be fired up to take another step forward at Silverstone.
Add to that the fact that the Brit will be racing at home, Lowes is sure to be a threat for a win or podium and a gain in the championship. Fellow home rider Danny Kent (Leopard Racing) will be hoping to follow his compatriot into the echelons of home success, too, after he recorded one of his best Moto2™ finishes to date at Brno.
Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP) won in the wet at Brno and moved ahead of Garage Plus Interwetten rider Tom Luthi in the title standings. Luthi, who had shown good pace all weekend in the Czech Republic, was unable to take part in the race on Sunday after a highside crash in qualifying saw him taken to hospital with concussion.
Luthi's compatriot, CarXpert Interwetten rider Dominique Aegerter, is another whose participation will depend on being declared fit after he suffered a crash in a motocross training session and has torn ligaments in his shoulder and a small fracture in his ribs.
Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) and his teammate Franco Morbidelli are also in strong form.
Until the Czech GP, Red Bull KTM Ajo rider Brad Binder had only had one irregular result in 2016, during the Dutch GP at Assen. With a 67pt lead going into the Czech GP, however, Binder went for broke – and crashed out of the lead.
The South African lost some points back to Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda), but the damage was quite minimal and it now appears to be a battle between those two for the title – third-placed man Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Honda) is over 80pts in arrears with seven races to go.
Scottish rider John McPhee (Peugeot MC Saxoprint) took the honours at Brno, and other leading lights this weekend include Francesco Bagnaia (PULL&BEAR Aspar Mahindra), Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing KTM) and Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold Honda)
The three world championship races at Silverstone will be held over the following distances and times:
• MotoGP™: 20 laps, 118km, starting at 3:30pm local time (12:30am Sep 5 AEST)
• Moto2™: 18 laps, 106.2km, starting a 2:00pm local time (11:00pm AEST)
• Moto3™: 17 laps, 100.3km, starting at 12:00pm local time (8:30pm AEST)