The thirteenth round of the 2009 FIM MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend as the riders and their teams visit Misano for the Gran Premio Cinzano di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini.
Although World Champion Valentino Rossi has a special relationship with Mugello this is his true home event with the Misano circuit lying just 14km from his beloved hometown of Tavullia. The Italian maestro will again enjoy massive support from the home crowd as he attempts to repeat his 2008 victory at this event and get his title defence immediately back on course after his Indianapolis disappointment.
Rossi’s Indy DNF was the first time he has failed to finish a MotoGP race since Valencia at the end of the 2007 season, but he is unlikely to dwell on his Sunday crash for too long as he focuses on increasing the 25 point advantage he holds over his talented young Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo with five rounds to go.
For Lorenzo his championship dream has been revived by the results at Indianapolis, with the Spaniard bouncing back spectacularly from two consecutive DNFs at the previous two rounds to take a superb victory and halve the deficit at the top of the standings. The man from Majorca won the 250cc race at Misano two years ago from pole position and last year he was second in the MotoGP race.
In the continued absence of Ducati’s Casey Stoner, who is due to return at the round after Misano in Estoril, the Fiat Yamaha team will again expect the principal threat to come from Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa who sits fourth in the standings, 71 points behind Rossi and 46 behind Lorenzo. Pedrosa was in great form over the Indianapolis weekend, until a crash when leading the race hindered his progress and he ended up tenth, but he does not have a brilliant record at Misano.
There is an intriguing battle for fifth place in the standings between Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards and Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso, with the American currently edging it by just three points. Misano is not Edwards’ favourite track and he knows Dovizioso will be desperate for a good result on Italian soil, so he will be determined to spoil the party.
One rider going into this round on a massive high is San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Alex de Angelis, who proudly rides at his home event on the back of a well-deserved first MotoGP podium at Indianapolis. That result could not have come at a better time for the San Marino rider who is still looking for a team for 2010.
The home fans will also be getting behind the likes of Rizla Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi and Hayate Racing’s Marco Melandri, who sit eighth and tenth in the standings at present, whilst ninth placed LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet will battle through the pain of his ankle injury in order to try and get a decent points haul at what is a home event for his team boss Lucio Cecchinello.
The Ducati riders will also be keen to keep the Ducatisti fans happy on ‘home turf’ with Nicky Hayden looking in better shape after his first podium result for the Italian factory arrived at his home GP at Indianapolis. With Mika Kallio continuing to temporarily ride as a substitute for Stoner alongside Hayden in the works team, the impressive Aleix Espargaró gets another substitute ride on the satellite Ducati with Pramac Racing.
The 250cc battle this weekend will be another crucial episode in the title race, with current standings leader Hiroshi Aoyama and second placed Álvaro Bautista coming under increasing pressure from World Champion Marco Simoncelli.
The ultra-consistent Aoyama has a 16 point advantage over Bautista in the general classification with five rounds remaining, having scored good points at every GP this season – missing the top five on just two occasions. The Japanese rider got his sixth podium of 2009 on Sunday at Indianapolis, in second place, and has also featured on the rostrum at Misano previously, when he was the runner-up in the 2007 250cc race.
Had Bautista not crashed out in Assen earlier this year he would be in charge of the championship fight at present, but he conceded further ground at Indianapolis in third place. The Spaniard has now gone five races without a victory and he would love to halt that trend this weekend by repeating his 2008 Misano win, which he achieved from 11th place on the grid.
The man of the moment following his Brno and Indy triumphs, 250cc title holder Simoncelli will be the man to beat on the Rimini coast. The long-haired Italian now trails Aoyama by 27 points and will be extremely keen to improve his record at Misano – which is less than 5km from his home town of Cattolica – having never been on the podium there.
In fourth place in the standings, Héctor Barberá’s two consecutive third places at the San Marino event in ’07 & ’08 mean he will be confident of improving his current form this weekend, having been outside of the top five at the last three rounds.
In addition to Simoncelli, there are three additional Italian riders in the current top eight, fifth placed Mattia Pasini (the 2007 125cc Misano race winner), sixth placed Raffaele de Rosa and eighth placed Roberto Locatelli, which should make this Sunday’s 250cc race an extra spicy affair.
None of the riders currently competing in the 125cc class have previously won a Grand Prix at the Misano circuit, but on the basis of their 2009 form so far Julián Simón, Nico Terol and Bradley Smith are likely to have a say in proceedings.
A dramatic last lap at Indianapolis saw five riders competing for glory, with a maiden Grand Prix victory ultimately seized by Spanish youngster Pol Espargaró and with Simón ending up at the back of that quintet. The result will not overly trouble Simón, however, as he still enjoys a 52.5 point advantage at the head of the standings.
Simón has of course been racing in the 250cc class for the past two years, and his Misano results were tenth in 2007 for Honda and fifth last year on a KTM.
Like Simón, Terol also lost out in the final stages at The Brickyard, crossing the line fourth after leading for much of the race. That result kept him second in the classification, with a one point lead over Englishman Smith.
Bancaja Aspar rider Smith finished second last year at Misano which equaled his best result of 2008 and was also the position in which he finished the race at Indianapolis on Sunday, a tenth of a second behind the victorious Espargaró.
In fourth place overall is Simón and Smith’s team-mate Sergio Gadea, who was a disappointing 15th at Indy, whilst in fifth place in the points table sits the frustratingly inconsistent Andrea Iannone who crashed out in the States having been on the podium two weeks earlier at Brno. The Italian will hope to be on his best form as he visits Rimini from his native Abruzzo.
Indianapolis victor Espargaró now occupies sixth place in the championship and is set to make his 50th Grand Prix start on Sunday.
Free practice at the Gran Premio Cinzano di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini commences at 12.40pm local time for the 125cc class, with the MotoGP riders starting at 1.55pm and the 250cc field getting underway at 3.10pm on Friday 4th September.