The fourth round of the World Championship, the Grand Prix de France, takes place on May 17th at the famous Le Mans circuit.
>> An eleven point gap separates MotoGP World Champion and current premier class leader Valentino Rossi from nearest rival Casey Stoner heading to the continental showdown, with the duo in top form thus far in 2009.
>> Fiat Yamaha rider Rossi won his first race of the year at the last round in Jerez, and is the only man with a 100% podium record still intact after the opening three races. Last year he headed an all-Yamaha top three at Le Mans, and a repeat of that result would leave him just one win shy of a century of victories -an honour that he could take at his home race in Mugello.
>> Stoner has only finished on the podium at Le Mans on one occasion, with a third place in a wet 2007 race. The Ducati Marlboro star could regain the lead of the World Championship on Sunday, depending on the results of his immediate rivals.
>> Tied on points in third and fourth place are the Spanish duo of Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, representing Fiat Yamaha and Repsol Honda, respectively. Lorenzo crashed out of his home race at Jerez, while Pedrosa took a second consecutive unexpected rostrum whilst in less-than-peak condition.
>> Just eleven points cover positions five-thru-ten in the overall classification, With Andrea Dovizioso at the head of the ‘mini table’ and targeting a better feeling with the Honda RC212V. The Italian has a four-point advantage over Colin Edwards, competing in his Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team’s home race on Sunday.
>> Randy de Puniet follows up his fourth place at Jerez with a chance of home glory with his LCR Honda machinery, the Frenchman in a rich run of form.
>> The remaining riders in the top ten have all won races at the Le Mans circuit across the three World Championship classes, with Marco Melandri and Chris Vermeulen previous premier class victors at the track and Loris Capirossi a victor in the lower cylinder categories.
>> A return to one-hour practice sessions is brought in from the Grand Prix de France onwards.
The 250cc World Championship has been a typically close affair so far in 2009, with three different race winners and as many series leaders from the opening trio of rounds. The current holder of the top spot is Hiroshi Aoyama, who took the win at Jerez to take over from Álvaro Bautista. Four points split the Scot Racing rider and his Mapfre Aspar rival, and the past two Grands Prix have seen the pair battle amongst each other for the victory.
A further eleven points down is Héctor Barberá, winner of the first race of the year in Qatar. Pepe World’s Spanish star has yet to finish on the podium at Le Mans, where this weekend the series will take another twist.
Whilst Barberá’s form has been erratic, that of Thomas Luthi has been steady, if unspectacular. The Swiss rider lies fourth in the World Championship standings, ahead of this weekend’s highest-ranked home rider Jules Cluzel, category rookie Gabor Talmacsi, Mattia Pasini and French 125cc World Champion Mike di Meglio.
Reigning 250cc titlist Marco Simoncelli took his first points of the year at Jerez with a podium placing, and props up the top ten below Raffaele de Rosa.
As a result of the four-lap 125cc race that opened the season in Qatar, some riders have less than a point separating them from their closest rival, and the general standings show no runaway leader heading to round four.
Andrea Iannone had played his part in eking out a lead over the first two races, but at Jerez the Italian also managed to tighten up the field. The only rider to win two races so far in 2009, Iannone crashed in the early stages of the Spanish date, leaving victory to his principal challenger Bradley Smith.
Le Mans has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for Smith, who trails Iannone by just one point. The Briton has twice finished on the podium at the French race.
Pol Espargaró is just six points adrift of Iannone in third place, with a 1.5 point advantage over Julián Simon -another crasher at the Jerez circuit. Also in the immediate hunt for the series’ top spot are Sandro Cortese, Marc Marquez and Sergio Gadea, all of whom have finished on the podium once in the first three races.