Cardion ab Grand Prix Ceske republiky - Tuesday 11 August Preview
The 2009 FIM MotoGP World Championship recommences at Brno in the Czech Republic this coming weekend, following a short summer break and a historic last ever visit to Donington Park which saw title holder Valentino Rossi increase his lead at the head of the standings, in somewhat fortunate circumstances.
Although Rossi suffered his second worst result of the season so far at Donington, crossing the finishing line in fifth place having crashed out of the race lead, the misfortunes of his main rivals played into his hands as the Italian opened up a 25 point advantage in the title race.
En route to his sixth premier class crown last year Rossi was victorious at Brno - in addition to the venues for the two races which follow round eleven, Indianapolis and Misano - and he will look to turn the screw on his opponents as the MotoGP season intensifies. Brno was also the venue for Rossi's first ever GP win back in 1996 in the 125cc category and he boasts four premier class Czech victories in total dating back to 2001.
Behind Rossi in the MotoGP classification is his talented young Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo who went into the summer break bruised and deflated after picking up injuries at Laguna Seca early in July and then suffered his second DNF of the year in Great Britain. The Spaniard was 10th in his first Czech MotoGP appearance in a difficult race for the riders on Michelin tyres in 2008, but has a strong Brno record having won there in both the 250cc and 125cc championships.
Unfortunately for Ducati the conclusion of the summer break has coincided with the news that 2007 World Champion Casey Stoner will miss the next three races due to ongoing health problems. From the race at Barcelona in June onwards Stoner has been battling against a virus which brought on gastritis and anaemia symptoms and doctors in Australia have advised him to remain there and rest for the coming weeks.
Already trailing leader Rossi by 37 points in third place - Donington was a disaster for Stoner and his team-mate Nicky Hayden (13th in the standings) as they gambled on wet tyres on the wet-drying track and both finished outside the top ten - the news of Stoner's absence at the forthcoming three rounds effectively ends his 2009 title challenge.
Elsewhere, following his superb win at Laguna and a podium finish at Sachsenring Dani Pedrosa's inconsistency was apparent again at Donington as the Repsol Honda rider struggled in the tricky conditions and could only manage ninth - from second on the grid - dashing his hopes of a dramatic title comeback. The Spaniard sits fourth in the standings at present, two places ahead of Italian colleague Andrea Dovizioso who will be highly enthusiastic about returning to race action, on the back of his brilliant maiden MotoGP win at Donington.
The same can be said of fifth placed Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Colin Edwards who equaled his best ever World Championship result in second in England, ahead of Randy de Puniet on the Donington rostrum.
De Puniet sits eighth overall in the general standings - just behind Hayate Racing's Marco Melandri - but the LCR Honda man's good 2009 results could be affected by a motocross training accident on the weekend after the British Grand Prix, which resulted in a broken left ankle. The Frenchman is expected to ride at Brno but is unlikely to be at 100%.
MotoGP's current top ten is completed by Rizla Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi who are under pressure to deliver good results in the Czech Republic having finished 13th and 11th in the UK at round ten. A repeat of Capirossi's 2008 Brno podium would be a great boost for him and the team.
After nine races in the 2009 250cc championship Scot Racing's Hiroshi Aoyama has emerged as the title favourite and the series leader, courtesy of his three wins, two additional podiums and his consistent overall form.
The Japanese rider currently enjoys a 15 point lead over second placed Álvaro Bautista and a repeat of his 2006 Brno 250cc podium would therefore keep him at the head of the standings, even if the Spaniard were to be victorious this weekend.
Following his costly late crash in a duel with Aoyama at Assen Bautista has bounced back with two consecutive podiums and the Mapfre Aspar rider was a winner in the Czech Republic in 2006 during his 125cc title-winning campaign. As the title race intensifies Bautista will look to go one better than his second place at Donington and prevent another 2009 Aoyama victory.
Indeed, Bautista was second in last year's 250cc Brno contest just ahead of reigning World Champion Marco Simoncelli who finished third. The Italian Metis Gilera man is also third in the current classification and will be looking for better form in the second half of the year after a rollercoaster season so far, as he prepares for his move up to MotoGP with San Carlo Honda Gresini.
Just one point behind Simoncelli at present is another Spanish rival Héctor Barberá who saw a run of four consecutive top five results come to an end in eighth place at Donington. Last year's Czech 250cc winner Alex Debon, meanwhile, lies sixth overall in the standings, just behind Mattia Pasini.
In the 125cc class the Bancaja Aspar team have a strong grasp on the championship courtesy of their three riders Julián Simón, Sergio Gadea and Bradley Smith, who hold the top three positions in the points table.
Simón has a huge 50 point lead at the head of the standings and has performed well all year having dropped back down into the 125cc category for a title assault. The Spaniard rode intelligently again at Donington to grab victory in the rain-interrupted race - adding to his win the previous weekend in Germany - and he will go into the Czech round full of confidence.
For his team-mates Gadea and Smith the visit to Brno is a chance to re-find their form after a torrid time at Donington. Gadea crashed out having finished first and second at the previous two Grands Prix, whilst there was heartbreak for Briton Smith at his home event as he hit the deck in the second part of the race when leading the way and ultimately finished 20th, having also crashed out at Sachsenring.
Behind the Aspar contingent in the standings sits Nico Terol, the Spanish Jack & Jones Team rider, who has overcome his early season problems to put together a string of solid top five results in the last five rounds.
Although Andrea Iannone has won three races this year his form has been highly unpredictable and no points at Donington in the difficult conditions saw him slip back to fifth overall, behind Terol. Last year's 125cc race-winner at Brno Stefan Bradl is having a tough time in 2009 and after failing to finish the last two races he is down in 12th place in the championship.
The first free practice sessions at the Cardion ab Czech Republic Grand Prix take place on the afternoon of Friday 14th August.