After the closest MotoGP™ finish in five years at Mugello, attention now turns to the next instalment of a fascinating 2016 season at Catalunya in Spain this weekend (June 3-5).
After pipping countryman Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) by just 0.019secs at Mugello, world champion Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha) leads the championship by 10pts, which in the context of such a tight season is a handy buffer after six rounds.
And Lorenzo is returning to a circuit where he won in 2015, and has triumphed four times in the MotoGP™ ranks. It's that colossal form at Catalunya and a two-race winning streak which will see him start this Sunday's 25-lap race as the slight favourite.
"Here we are, at my home race. Barcelona is so special for me. It's a track I love and most of my people are coming to this Grand Prix. I lived here for a long time and here I feel at home," said Lorenzo. "I'm still savouring my last win in Mugello; that one was so special because of the many ingredients that were mixed in.
"It was an important race for the championship. Now in Montmeló we need to add more points obviously but we will try to show our potential and try to fight again for the victory."
As usual, the opposition for Lorenzo will come thick and fast from Marquez and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) — with Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), Ducati pair Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Vinales (Ecstar Suzuki) also capable of being a part of the leading group.
Marquez, who is second in the standings, has won twice at Catalunya — located just 12km from Barcelona — which includes a MotoGP™ win in 2014. He crashed out of second place in 2015, with the race won by Lorenzo ahead of Rossi and Pedrosa.
Marquez is relishing another chance to strut his stuff on home turf, at a circuit where he holds the lap record and has the fastest speed (347.1km/h).
“There’s nothing like racing at home in front of your crowd and your fan club to make you feel good and give you extra motivation, even if in the end you must try and be as professional as always and to completely focus on the job at hand," said Marquez. "We’ll see how it goes there, and as always we’ll work hard on the bike setup in order to make the most of what we have, an approach that has worked well enough so far.
"I know that Honda is working at 100 percent and at Montmeló we'll give our best to get another good result. Then at the Monday post-race test we’ll see if we’re able to find that half a tenth that could help us a lot, as we were able to do last year on the same occasion.”
Marquez was unlucky not to bring up his third win of the season at Mugello after leading onto the strait for the final time, but the extra zip in Lorenzo's Yamaha saw him inch past. But at least Marquez fared better than Rossi, whose Yamaha lunched an engine while he was on the tail of Lorenzo.
The DNF left the Italian on 78pts, and he now trails Lorenzo (115) and Marquez (105) by a fair margin. Back in 2009 Rossi produced one of his most memorable races of all time, besting Lorenzo at Catalunya after an epic duel. And he's won six times there in MotoGP, so he can never be discounted.
In 2015 Vinales and teammate Aleix Espargaro started from the front row at this GP and, based on the massive improvement in the Suzuki since then, the pair will fancy their chances of doing it again — and also produce far better finishing positions.
Vinales has already been on the podium once this year, and is fifth in the standings on 59pts, just seven behind Pedrosa.
Pedrosa has been victorious in all classes in Catalunya, winning the 125cc race in 2003, the 250cc GP in 2005 and the MotoGP race in 2008. He has earned six additional podium finishes in the MotoGP class, including each of the last five years.
Meanwhile, Dovizioso and Iannone will certainly appreciate the Ducati's top speed in Barcelona along the 1km straight. In the last three years, Iannone and Dovizioso have only once finished inside the top five between them, Iannone fourth in 2015.
Of the Independent Team riders, Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) was back on form in Mugello, taking the spoils in that battle just ahead of Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati). But it's Smith's teammate Pol Espargaro who still leads the Independent standings from Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing Ducati).
Aussie Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) failed to finish at Mugello after being the innocent victim of a turn one crash, and he now wants to hit back with a point-scoring response in Barcelona.
“The race didn’t finish like we wanted in Mugello but I’ve got to take the positives out of a bad situation and I definitely think we found some improvement with my race pace in Italy," Miller said. "I can’t dwell too much on Mugello and I’ve got to forget about that and be fully concentrated on bouncing back with a strong performance in Barcelona.
"I’m really looking forward to this weekend. My European base is not too far away from Barcelona in Andorra, so it is like a second home race for me. I really like the track and it seems to suit the Honda as well, and last year I had my best result in MotoGP (11th), so that also gives me confidence.”
Miller's teammate Tito Rabat will try to race after breaking his collarbone in practice at Mugello, and then being operated on in Barcelona, while Loris Baz (Avintia Racing Ducati) is already a scratching after suffering multiple fractures in his right foot in Italy. The Frenchman will be replaced by Italian Michele Pirro.
There's still no clear favourite in the 2016 Moto2™ title, with just 17pts separating first-placed Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP) from last-start winner and world champion Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) in fourth. Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2™) and Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) are the men in the middle.
Lowes and Rins continue to swap the lead as each wins or has a difficult weekend. Neither was able to finish on the top step in Mugello, but Lowes left as the championship leader thanks to his third place.
Lowes has never stood on the podium in Barcelona, while Rins arrives at his home round with two second place finishes including one in the Moto2 race in 2015 — won by Zarco.
Meanwhile, since 2010 Luthi has achieved three podiums in Barcelona: second in both 2010 and 2012 before finishing third in 2013.
The leading four in the championship arrive as the fancied runners, but Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Team) remains an ever-present threat to the podium. In the past three races he has twice crashed while challenging for a top three finish, finally able to put it all together at home in Mugello to take the best result of his career with second.
The start to Danny Kent’s 2015 season was one of the most dominant in the light-weight class, the Brit leaving the sixth round of the year in Mugello with 124 points.
Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) may not have won races by over eight seconds, but his performance is no less impressive. Since taking his incredible last to first win in Jerez, he has also scored 25pts at the last two rounds, including the freight-train madness of Mugello.
He arrives at round seven with 127pts, 49 clear of Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda, 78), with SKY Racing Team VR46 KTM teammates Romano Fenati (67) and rookie Nicolo Bulega (55) next in line.
Mugello proved to be a disastrous weekend for Navarro, who was brought down after contact with another rider, while Fenati retired with a broken chain. Both are on the rebound at Catalunya, while others in the leading group should include Francesco Bagnaia (Aspar Mahindra Team Moto3), Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold Honda) and Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Honda) — the 2015 title contender yet to score a podium in 2016. Bastianini was second at Catalunya last year behind Kent.
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)
Images courtesy of MotoGP.com