As the MotoGP Championship travels to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, many riders would typically fear nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi due to his history at the 2.748-mile circuit.
The Italian has the most wins of any rider in MotoGP at Jerez de la Frontera, taking six wins in the premier class (five in 800cc class, one in 500cc).
But due to Rossi’s struggles adapting to the Ducati Team GP11, and his (lack of) performance so far in 2011, the bigger threat at Jerez this weekend lies within the Repsol Honda team.
First, there’s Casey Stoner. From the very first pre-season test to his all-out dominance at the opening round of 2011 MotoGP in Qatar, Stoner has proved he can quickly adapt to the Honda RC212V.
Stoner has only been on the Jerez podium once (2009, Ducati), but one look at his performance during his debut on the Honda easily makes him the favorite on the Andalucian track for the Gran Premio bwin de Espana.
Stoner’s teammate, Dani Pedrosa, is equally as big a threat. Since joining the premier class in 2006, Pedrosa has finished on the podium at every Spanish Grand Prix, including his 2008 win. Plus, Jerez is the first of four home races for the Spaniard (Catalunya, Aragon, Valencia).
But if Pedrosa’s shoulder begins aching as it did in Qatar, he may not have enough strength to win at Jerez.
The third Repsol Honda rider, Andrea Dovizioso, hasn’t had much luck at Jerez, but his fourth-place finish at Qatar proves the Italian also has speed aboard the RC212V.
Another Spaniard who will be seeking domination at home will be the reigning MotoGP Champion, Jorge Lorenzo.
The Yamaha Factory Racing YZR-M1 rider has two victories in the 250cc class at Jerez, and took his first premier-class win last season with a last-lap pass on Pedrosa, beating his fellow countryman by 0.543 of a second. Lorenzo finished in second at Qatar, the only Yamaha in the top five.
His teammate piloted the second fastest Yamaha at Qatar. The 2010 MotoGP “Rookie of the Year” Ben Spies, who beat out Rossi in Qatar for sixth, didn’t finish at last year’s Jerez race; his satellite Yamaha (Monster Tech 3 M1) had mechanical problems, forcing a DNF.
As for another duo of Honda RC212Vs, the San Carlo Honda Gresini team is also showing much promise for 2011. The team’s sophomore rider, Marco Simoncelli, finished fifth at the opening round in Qatar, and has tasted victory at Jerez in the 125cc Class. His teammate, Hiroshi Aoyama, has also won at Jerez in the 250cc Class.
As mentioned before, Rossi is the most successful MotoGP pilot at Jerez, but two factors are holding him back this year: adaptation to the Ducati GP11 and attention to a recovering shoulder. But if VR46 finds the proper setup, and is a bit stronger, he’ll be a major contender.
Rossi’s teammate, the American Nicky Hayden, he has only been on the Jerez podium once during his MotoGP Championship winning season in 2006 (Honda). And like Rossi, Hayden has equally struggled with proper setup on the Ducati GP11.
The final American in 2011 MotoGP, Colin Edwards, has one podium finish at Jerez (2007, Factory Yamaha). The Texan finished eight in Qatar aboard the Monster Yamaha Tec 3 M1. His teammate, Cal Crutchlow, will compete at his second premier-class race in Jerez, a new track for the rookie; the Brit finished 11th at Qatar in his MotoGP debut.
The Pramac Racing Ducati Team will be looking to redeem itself after some bad luck at Qatar. Both Randy de Puniet and Loris Capirossi failed to finish the race due to a crash on the opening lap involving both riders.
The sole Frenchman was immediately sidelined, and Capirossi a lap later due to bike issues.
Another Ducati on the 2011 grid, the Mapfre Aspar Team GP11, has also shown promise in pre-season testing, but couldn’t stay with the top riders at Qatar. Mapfre Aspar rider Hector Barbera finished 12th, and will also seek redemtion.
Toni Elias has struggled with adaption to the LCR Honda RC212V all through 2011 MotoGP, and crashed out of the opening round with four laps remaining. Elias has some luck at Jerez, though, taking victory there last season during his championship-winning Moto2 debut.
Finishing last at Qatar was the other 2011 MotoGP rookie besides Crutchlow, Karel Abraham on the Cardion AB Motoracing Ducati. Abraham has struggled with the MotoGP machine throughout the pre-season.
Suzuki wasn’t represented at Qatar due to its sole rider Alvaro Bautista breaking his leg during Free Practice. As the Spaniard recovers, Rizla Suzuki will rely on the American John “Hopper” Hopkins as the substitute rider at Jerez. Hopkins has a best of seventh at Jerez (2008 MotoGP, Kawasaki; 2003 MotoGP, Suzuki).
Riders will be on Jerez Friday for FP1 and FP2, followed by FP3 and qualifying on Saturday. The race is set for 2 p.m. local time Sunday.
Jerez MotoGP TV Schedule
SPEED TV will broadcast the Spanish Grand Prix at 8 a.m. (EST) Sunday, April 3.
2011 MotoGP Point Standings (After 1 of 18 Rounds)
- Casey STONER / Honda / AUS / 25
- Jorge LORENZO / Yamaha / SPA / 20
- Dani PEDROSA / Honda / SPA / 16
- Andrea DOVIZIOSO / Honda / ITA / 13
- Marco SIMONCELLI / Honda / ITA / 11
- Ben SPIES Yamaha / USA / 10
- Valentino ROSSI / Ducati / ITA / 9
- Colin EDWARDS / Yamaha / USA / 8
- Nicky HAYDEN / Ducati / USA / 7
- Hiroshi AOYAMA / Honda / JPN / 6
- Cal CRUTCHLOW / Yamaha / GBR / 5
- Hector BARBERA / Ducati / SPA / 4
- Karel ABRAHAM / Ducati / CZE / 3