The sixth round of the 2009 FIM MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend at the Montmeló circuit close to the Mediterranean port city of Barcelona, with another huge crowd expected for Sunday’s racing.
Having ended Valentino Rossi’s seven-year winning streak at Mugello last time out Casey Stoner heads to the Gran Premi Cinzano de Catalunya as the standings leader, with his Italian triumph his first victory since the opening round in Qatar. The Australian Ducati Marlboro rider was the winner of an epic Barcelona race in 2007 and finished third last year.
Second in the general classification and the only other rider with two wins to his name thus far in 2009, Jorge Lorenzo is out to set the record straight at his home GP. The man from Mallorca trails Stoner by four points and will be keen to perform well in his first race in MotoGP in front of the Catalan crowd, having missed out last year due to concussion after a Friday practice crash.
Reigning World Champion Rossi, meanwhile, trails Stoner by nine points and aims to close that gap at one of his strongest circuits. The Italian Fiat Yamaha star has never finished off the podium at Montmeló in the premier class, with five wins, three second places (two of which have come in the past two seasons) and one third place at the track.
Last year’s racewinner and home favourite Dani Pedrosa has victories to his name in all three Grand Prix classes at the venue, but he faces a late fitness test to see if he is ready to participate. The Repsol Honda rider damaged his right thigh when he severely stretched his hip in Mugello in practice, then crashed out of the race.
Pedrosa’s teammate Andrea Dovizioso lies just one point behind the Spaniard in the championship, having missed the podium by less than a second at the last two rounds. He will be keen to add to his solitary MotoGP podium to date as soon as possible and as a former 250cc Barcelona racewinner he will fancy his chances this weekend at a circuit where he placed fourth in 2008.
Home representation also comes from Toni Elías (San Carlo Honda Gresini) and Sete Gibernau (Grupo Francisco Hernando) as they both try to bounce back from recent operations and climb up the general standings. Gibernau missed both of the past two races after picking up shoulder and collarbone damage in France, and makes his comeback at the scene of his 2006 crash.
The weekend will also see the next chapter of an intriguing 250cc title race unfold at Montmeló, with championship leader Álvaro Bautista out to prove a point after his battle with Marco Simoncelli in Italy at round five.
Bautista and Simoncelli ran off track together when the Spaniard was under pressure for the race lead from the Italian at Mugello. Simoncelli took second place and penalisation from Race Direction away from the event, whilst Bautista finished third.
Mapfre Aspar rider Bautista has tasted victory at the Barcelona track before, albeit in the 125cc class en route to the 2006 title, and he finished second to Simoncelli in last year’s 250cc race. Simoncelli is third in the overall standings, currently 22 points behind Bautista.
Trailing Bautista by seven points is Scot Racing’s Hiroshi Aoyama -a Barcelona resident. In his five Grand Prix appearances at Montmeló, all in the 250cc class, Aoyama has never finished on the podium.
Also featuring in the group of top five competitors who have all won races this season, Valencian rider and 2004 125cc Catalonia victor Héctor Barberá and Mugello top man Mattia Pasini can all be expected to push for classification elevation this weekend.
The second visit to Spain in 2009 means another home race for many of the 125cc stars, but the current leader in 125cc hails from Britain and is equally familiar with the circuit. Bradley Smith heads Bancaja Aspar teammate Julián Simón by 3.5 points, although both have yet to finish on the podium in northeast Spain in the World Championship.
After his strong start to the year Andrea Iannone’s season has taken a turn for the worst in recent weeks, and he has home talents Pol Espargaró and Sergio Gadea biting at his heels. Espargaró was second in last year’s race at the track which is within a short scooter ride of his Granollers home.
The Gran Premi Cinzano de Catalunya takes place on Sunday, June 14th, with practice starting on the afternoon of the previous Friday.