After Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa became the eighth separate MotoGP™ winner at Misano two weeks ago, the championship now makes its way back to Spain in what could potentially be a make or break round.
Pedrosa's masterful display in San Marino was undoubtedly overshadowed by a post-race spat between Movistar Yamaha teammates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo over an overtaking tactic deployed by Rossi, so how that intra-team battle unfolds will be intriguing in itself.
While that's playing out, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) has a 43-point championship lead to defend over Rossi, and if the Spaniard wins at the 5.1km Aragon layout his claims for a third MotoGP™ title will be irresistible. Conversely, if it all goes pear-shaped for Marquez, Rossi – and Lorenzo to a lesser extent – could be back in town at the blink of an eye, which makes Aragon probably the most critical round of the year.
Marquez knows what's at stake, but is also aware just how unpredictable this season has already been.
“Aragón is a circuit that I like more than Misano, and I think it suits my riding style better," said Marquez. "That said, it’s also true that a particularity of this year is that things may change a lot from race to race, so we’ll see if we’re able to manage things well and if we can have a good weekend.
"We’ll approach the race ready to adapt to the situation we encounter, but of course we’ll try to fight for the podium again in front of my home crowd and my fan club.”
Meanwhile, Rossi is just playing it race by race: "Even though I wanted to win in Misano, I can say that it was a good race anyway. In all the next races we will do our best to get always the best result, just like we did in Misano.
"The only thing that interests me now is to do good races. In Aragón we will have to work well from day one, as we have been doing this entire season. This circuit has fast corners and hard braking, so it will be important to have a good bike, with a perfect set-up. I really like the track and, even if it is not one of my favourites, we will try to do our best."
The current balance of power at the technical and spectacular circuit lies with Yamaha, and in particular Lorenzo who has won the last two races at the circuit, with Marquez the victor in 2013 and Pedrosa in 2012. Aussie Casey Stoner won the first two MotoGP™ races at Aragon – one of just five circuits on the current grand prix schedule that run in an anti-clockwise direction – starting in 2010.
Competition will be high again at Aragon, not only between Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa but also from Maverick Vinales (Ecstar Suzuki), the Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda). Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing Ducati) will also be pushing for top 10 finishes, as will Alvaro Bautista on the rapidly improving Aprilia Racing Team Gresini machine.
Espargaro's teammate Bradley Smith and Loris Baz (Avintia Racing Ducati) will return from injury at Aragon, while Aussie Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) will miss with his wrist injury first sustained in Austria, to be replaced by a familiar face – 2006 MotoGP™ world champion and now Honda world superbike rider Nicky Hayden.
“The hand is the main issue at the moment, but I've still got three broken vertebrae in my back as well," said Miller. "Not riding 100 per cent fit with all of the injuries I've got at the moment seems like an unnecessary risk.
“So we decided to sit out (at Aragon) to try to be as ready as possible by the time I get to Phillip Island for my home race. It's one of my favourite tracks and somewhere I believe we can be really good at.”
Lorenzo won at Aragon last year from Pedrosa and Rossi, while Marquez crashed out on lap two.
The slate will be clean at Aragon: not one rider currently competing in Moto2™ has won an intermediate-class grand prix at the circuit.
So it's anyone's race this Sunday as the championship battle has seemingly reached two critical junctures: for first place between defending champion Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) and Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40), and for third place between Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten), Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP), Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) and Takaaki Nakagami (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia).
Rins is the man on the move, and is now only 3pts behind Zarco with five rounds remaining. He was second at Misano behind Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Team) – despite the pain in his shoulder from a collarbone break ahead of the British GP a week before – while Zarco battled through to cross the line in fourth.
Zarco has twice finished on the podium at Aragon – second in the 125 race in 2011 and third in the Moto2 race two years ago – while Rins started from pole in the Moto3 race in both 2013 and 2014. In 2013 Rins won the race after a long battle with Maverick Viñales, and two years ago finished fourth. Last year in Aragon he battled for the lead of the Moto2 race throughout with Tito Rabat, finally losing out by just 0.096 seconds.
Aussie Remy Gardner will again compete on the Tasca Racing Scuderia machine.
Like Moto2, a first-time Moto3™ winner will be crowned at Aragon – and the way he's riding that's more than likely to be Brad Binder on the Red Bull KTM Ajo machine.
Binder, who will join Moto2 in 2017 in an all-new KTM team, leads the championship by a colossal 106 points from Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Honda), which means his first chance to clinch the championship will be on offer at Aragon.
If he leaves the track with a more than 100-point advantage, he is world champion. If the gap is 100 points exactly and Bastianini takes the victory in Aragon, the South African will have to wait – but Bastianini would have to win every single remaining race of the season and Binder would have to suffer a DNF or DNS.
Complicating matters for Bastianini is that Honda has never won a lightweight-class grand prix at Aragon, although Alex Marquez came close in 2014 when he finished on the tail of Romano Fenati.
Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0) is another leading light, only 5pts behind Bastianini.
The three world championship races at Aragon will be held over the following distances and times:
• MotoGP™: 23 laps, 116.8km, starting at 2:00pm local time (10:00pm AEST)
• Moto2™: 21 laps, 106.6km, starting a 12:20pm local time (8:20pm AEST)
• Moto3™: 20 laps, 101.6km, starting at 11:00am local time (7:00pm AEST)