Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo heads the MotoGP field as it heads into Round 3 of the championship at Estoril.
The 2011 MotoGP Championship will reignite this weekend in Portugal after an extended break due to the postponement of the Japanese GP. The series left off with Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo snagging his first win of the season at Jerez, the defending champ toppling Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa and Ducati’s Nicky Hayden. Of course, the biggest news out of Jerez was the collision between Valentino and Casey Stoner, with The Doctor punting his Australian rival off the track for a DNF. Rossi would go on to finish the sloppy race a solid fifth.
Now, the championship embarks for Estoril where Lorenzo will look to build on his newly-established points lead in the series. A war is brewing between the Yamaha and Honda garages, and the next round will play a pivotal in deciding each team’s trajectory for the remainder of the season.
The four-week hiatus has been especially important for several riders who’ve attempted to recuperate from injuries and surgery, including Pedrosa, Pramac Ducati’s Loris Capirossi, Randy de Puniet, Tech 3 Yamaha’s Cal Crutchlow and Suzuki’s Alvaro Bautista. It will be a deciding round for Pedrosa as he assesses his fitness after undergoing surgery to correct the discomfort felt in his left arm, which spoiled his Qatar opener.
Lorenzo is perhaps the favorite to win the upcoming round. Fresh off his recent win at Jerez, the Mallorcan has an impressive record of three consecutive wins in Portugal. Lorenzo has also managed to finish in the top-four for the past 22 races – a remarkable run of consistency.
The defending champ is being chased in the standings by Pedrosa. Pedrosa has cemented himself as a top contender in the title race this year. However, his fitness remains suspect as he struggles with lingering problems from the collarbone he broke back in 2010. Despite the Spaniard’s pain, however, he recently accomplished the 90th GP podium of his career at Jerez, becoming only the 10th rider in history to achieve such a feat.
“I did what I had to do in these three weeks off and I look forward to getting back on the bike after this period which has been good for me to undergo surgery and start rehabilitation,” said Pedrosa. “Last week I had the stitches removed, so everything is still very fresh and I don’t know how I will feel in Estoril, but I’m excited to see if everything went well and if I can put the issues aside once on the bike. It would be very good because we had a good start to the season and I wish to compete in the best conditions.”
Casey Stoner (#27) has never won a MotoGP race at Estoril and is coming off a disappointing performance at Jerez.
Still in the hunt for his first MotoGP win at Estoril, Stoner has made it on the podium twice in Portugal and claimed a 250cc win there in 2004. The Aussie is coming off a frustrating race, having been taken out by Rossi at Jerez. Stoner has been flawless in practice and qualifying so far this season and will look to improve on his poor raceday luck at Estoril.
“I had a good rest in Switzerland and I feel very good at the moment,” said Stoner. “I’m looking forward to Portugal after a difficult last race in Jerez, we were looking for a good result in Spain after positive practice sessions and qualifying so we are happy to get back on track. Estoril is not one of my favorite tracks but we have had good success there in the past. We will be looking to get back some points against Lorenzo as he has been the strongest there in the past three years.”
After earning his first podium since September of 2010 at Jerez, Hayden is the highest-placed Ducati rider on the grid – sitting fourth overall in the points. Just three points ahead of teammate Rossi, Hayden kept control of his GP11 during a crash-filled match in Spain and held off a late challenge from San Carlo Honda’s Hiroshi Aoyama. The Kentucky Kid is eager to pull his first win since 2006 and is just two points away from breaking into the top-three.
Rossi will have a great opportunity for a breakaway performance on his Ducati at Estoril. The Italian has only finished off the podium once at the circuit in the premier class and has five wins to his name. His pace was strong in the last round before his crash, and he reported improved conditions with both his shoulder and his bike. As with Stoner, Rossi’s start will be crucial as he aims for the first podium of the season aboard the Italian marque.
Ducati teammates Nicky Hayden (above) and Valentino Rossi (below) are separated by three points and finished in the top-five in the last round at Jerez.
Aoyama also comes to Portugal in good spirits after grabbing the best finish of his career in the premier class at Jerez. Currently sixth in the standings, the Japanese rider leads the way for the satellite Honda teams and is just two points ahead of Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso. But Aoyama could very well see his position in the series change; Dovizioso scored a podium at Estoril in 2010, making him a dangerous competitor for Aoyama.
San Carlo Honda’s Marco Simoncelli and Yamaha’s Ben Spies are both hungry for results at Estoril. Now that Simoncelli has experienced what the lead feels like in MotoGP, the Italian will be driven to claim his first podium finish in the premier class. On a similar note, Spies will try to overcome a disappointing crash at Jerez which saw the American record his first DNF of 2011. Meanwhile, Rizla Suzuki’s Alvaro Bautista will be attempting a return to the racing scene since fracturing his left femur six weeks ago at the opening race at Qatar.
“I have been working very hard to be back in time for Estoril and I believe I will be able to take part in the race,” said Bautista. “I know it will be difficult, but I think the sooner I can get on the bike the more it will aid my total recovery and help my way to full fitness.”
Also on the mend, Crutchlow used the four-week break to have surgery on his right arm to resolve arm pump issues. The Yamaha rookie suffered a spill in the last round and finished eighth despite numbness in his arm and hand. He now comes to Portugal to race a circuit he’s never seen before. Crutchlow’s teammate, Colin Edwards, saw a rare podium opportunity fizzle at Jerez thanks to mechanical failure. Spain proves the Texas Tornado is still in the mix on any given Sunday.
In the Moto2 division Speed Master’s Andrea Iannone claimed his first win of the year in the previous round at Jerez. The Italian has yet to finish off the podium this season and plans on extending his lead as the series blasts into Portugal.
“The season has started well for us, so we are very happy,” said Iannone. “The team is doing a great job and we were on the podium at the first two races, and we know that consistency is so important. But everything isn’t yet perfect. We have had a few issues with the bike in dry conditions, so during the few weeks away from racing we have had meetings with Suter to make things even better than they already are.”
However, just nine points adrift of Iannone is Viessmann Kiefer Racing’s Stefan Bradl and Interwetten Paddock Moto2’s Thomas Luthi, with Bradl having scored a victory in the first round of the season. Also adding to Bradl’s strength in the upcoming round is the fact that the German rider won at Estoril last year.
“So far (Andrea) Iannone is the strongest rival,” Bradl said. “He won three races last year, is very fast in the rain and a real fighter. But I am convinced I can give him a real run for his money in the dry.”
Luthi has also managed podiums in both matches, putting the Swiss rider and Bradl in a tie for second. Ioda Racing Project’s Simone Corsi has launched a solid start to his 2011 campaign with a third-place finish at Jerez. Meanwhile, Mapfre Aspar’s Julian Simon will be eager to record his first podium result of the season after finishing outside the top-five in both contests so far.