Another brilliant season of MotoGP™ competition wraps up at the traditional finale in Valencia this weekend, in what will also be a swansong for almost half the grid with their current teams.
With the likes of triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo (from Yamaha to Ducati) and Maverick Vinales (from Suzuki to Yamaha) on the move after Valencia, the final round really does pass as an historical marker.
And to add even more intrigue, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing will be making its debut in the premier class ahead of its full-time involvement in 2017, and while that's happening a 10th separate MotoGP™ rider could greet the chequered flag in the 2016 season.
Italian Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) became the ninth different winner this year in Malaysia and, such has been the unpredictable nature of the competition, it certainly wouldn't be a massive surprise to see a 10th rider get up – especially if the weather turns sour.
However, if it's dry the winner will most likely come from world champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda), Valentino Rossi, Lorenzo (both Movistar Yamaha), Vinales (Ecstar Suzuki) or Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), while Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) are also fancied runners.
Ordinarily, the name Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) would be included in that group, but after missing the last three races with multiple fractures he may not quite have the speed and fitness to push for the win.
But if he does come back strong – watch out, as he's a three-time MotoGP™ winner at Valencia, equal with Lorenzo.
In 2015, Lorenzo prevailed ahead of Pedrosa and Marquez to clinch the world title from Rossi, who started from last spot on the grid after his now infamous altercation with Marquez at the previous round in Malaysia.
Lorenzo's last dance in blue colours could also be one to remember, adding to the 43 race wins he already has with Yamaha.
But the man who feels most content is Marquez, who has now been world champion for three rounds.
“It has been good coming back home after the three flyaway races with the title already won, and to celebrate it with all my family and friends," said Marquez. "I had the chance to chill out a bit and get back to my usual training, both indoors in the gym and outdoors with some motocross and cycling.
"‘Thanks to the jetlag, I had the opportunity to enjoy some really spectacular dawns on my bicycle! Anyway, the season isn’t over yet, as we’ll race in Valencia on Sunday, and after that we’ll have two important days of testing.
"Our target for the race is of course to try and finish on a high in front of our fans, possibly with a win or at least a podium. It was good to see that Dani is getting better and to know he’ll be back in Valencia.”
Meanwhile, the eyes of the world will be on Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, with test rider and GP winner Mika Kallio on board. It will be the first race benchmark for the Austrian factory in the premier class of road racing.
Aussie Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) will also take his place on the Valencia grid, bookending a season which has delivered his first MotoGP™ win but also a multitude of lows, including injuries and crashes. Miller will be keen to finish the season on a strong note and then complete a full pre-season – something which injury prevented in 2016.
After flying Frenchman Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) retained the Moto2™ title in Malaysia, the main interest is now the battle for second in the championship between Tom Lüthi (Garage Plus Interwetten), Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP40) and a charging Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS).
Luthi is 11pts ahead of Rins, who in turn has 6pts to spare over Morbidelli – still shooting for his first Moto2™ win.
Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) and Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP) are also potential race winners.
Aussie Remy Gardner (Tasca Racing Scuderia) returns to a circuit where he has raced dozens of times in Spanish domestic competition, complete with world championship points after finishing 13th in Malaysia.
This year's world champion Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) is back on Spanish soil after last racing in the country at the Aragon GP and securing the crown. Crashing last time out in Sepang, the South African will be focused on winning one final Moto3 race ahead of his move up to the intermediate class.
The other key riders will include Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda), Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Moto3 Honda), Francesco Bagnaia (Pull&Bear Aspar Mahindra), Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46 KTM) and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing Moto3 Honda).
Bastianini looks safe in second place in the championship, while just 2pts separates third-placed Bagnaia from Navarro.
Navarro finished second at Valencia in 2015, just behind Miguel Oliveira.
The three World Championship races at Valencia will be held over the following distances and times:
- MotoGP™: 30 laps, 120.2km, starting at 2:00pm local time (12:00pm AEST)
- Moto2™: 27 laps, 108.1km, starting a 21:20pm local time (10:20pm AEST)
- Moto3™: 24 laps, 96.1km, starting at 11:00am local time (9:00pm AEST)