Thursday, May 23, 2024

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Welcome to Jerez: see you at the final corner

Welcome To Jerez: See You At The Final CornerMotoGP™ returns to a true classic: a rider & fan favourite with a final corner just made for a grandstand finish.

The Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto is legendary for a reason, with plenty of history already made here and a guarantee that more is just around the corner. With a packed-out stadium section, a wealth of chances to overtake and a layout that builds to that final “Jorge Lorenzo” corner, itself perfectly poised to invite a last lap lunge, there’s not much we can add. Except a word on the atmosphere, which is only another reason to get suited and booted to head for Spain’s own motorcycle racing cathedral. So where were we?

MOONEY VR46 RACING TEAM
If you’d asked for predictions of which single team would have been on every Grand Prix podium so far, with both riders, and would be leading both the teams’ and riders’ Championships on the way to Jerez, few would likely have said the VR46 camp. But they are, and it’s truly a deserved feat. Marco Bezzecchi remains the Championship leader after a less explosive but perhaps alarmingly, for his rivals, consistent Americas GP – and now we’re back onto turf he knows even better. If he can take two sixths and keep banking those points at a tougher track, what can he do when we get to venues that really do suit?

Luca Marini, meanwhile, finally got that first Grand Prix podium to add to the feat he achieved in the Tissot Sprint in Argentina, and is another not to be underestimated. We’ve seen it before: hitting that milestone can unlock some form. So what can the duo do at Jerez?

DUCATI LENOVO TEAM
How do you solve the problem of the fastest man+machine combo in the world? That’s an issue the field haven’t actually had to deal with as yet, with Francesco Bagnaia heading up a near-perfect Portuguese GP with a mixed bag of results since. The Termas Sprint seemed calm and controlled, and the Sunday crash was in the rain, so it seemed a blip as he bounced back in the Texas Sprint. But then… down he went again on Sunday. As much as the outside picture could be one of a season derailed already, and the inside one a painful experience for the rider in the middle of it, the reigning Champion is still securely second overall – and Jerez is turf he reigned last year. Betting against him bouncing back would have lost you a lot of money in 2022.

The reprieve of the rest seeming to take it in turns to challenge Bagnaia may soon be over, however. Enea Bastianini is expected to be back in business this weekend, and will travel to Jerez to do a medical check on Thursday. If he is back, the ‘Beast’ will not be shy. Will he be back to full fitness yet though? That remains to be seen, but his presence will be more than welcome after pre-season promised much in the red rivalry. Having only really seen his pace at Portimao, and that not one of his best venues, Jerez will be an interesting stock take.

LCR HONDA CASTROL/IDEMITSU
If Alex Rins’ CV didn’t impress you enough before, what do you think about it now? Few riders have won on two different machines, few riders have won with an Independent Team, and no riders other than Marc Marquez have won with Honda since 2018. Qualifying was one of Rins’ best, the Sprint was impressive, and then Sunday was simply a masterclass. Can he follow it up? It may be a little much to ask for him to do so in Jerez, but his pure quality has been underlined once again – and it brought Honda a much-needed boost, ending their longest winless streak since they returned to the premier class full-time in 1982.

On the other side of the garage though, if there wasn’t enough pressure to perform for Takaaki Nakagami before, there sure is now. The Japanese rider went through a fair bit with injury struggles towards the end of last year, but he will want to move forward a little after watching his teammate win. So that will likely be the aim at Jerez – and at a venue where he’s taken his equal best result so far of fourth.

APRILIA RACING
Considering pre-season form, it’s not got off to the best start for Aprilia in 2023. But that said, the season is long, the speed has been there, and every weekend is a new opportunity to see it all come together. Maverick Viñales currently sits comfortably in the upper echelons of the Championship thanks to some consistent finishes, but he’ll want some more visits to parc ferme – and to sort out those starts. One of the fastest riders in the world once the race is underway, Viñales has given himself a lot of work to do off the line at times. But then, he’s more than got that work done and made his way back through. Without it, though, you’d imagine he’d be even further up the table and buying some excess baggage for the trophies.

Aleix Espargaro, meanwhile, has had some bad luck and trouble to start to the season. Still, the number 41 has shown some good speed and a venue like Jerez, much more familiar turf for all, is probably a better place to start assessing the lay of the land for Aprilia. Can both factory machines move back forward this weekend?

PRIMA PRAMAC RACING
It’s been a quieter start to the season than Pramac are used to, in terms of points at least, and both Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin will want a good few more from Jerez. Zarco has already been on the podium in the wet and will want to polish off that dry pace, and Martin remains searching for some consistency between amazing speed, bad luck, and mistakes. For the former there’s also still that first win on the table – and this is the last round before his home turf.

For the latter, Jerez is that home turf already, and represents a new opportunity to get the season back on the rails. Sunday form is likely a focus as Martin has not scored more than 13 points at a single round yet, and he wants much more than that from 2023 as he aims to prove a point about his credentials vs the likely-returning Bastianini…

MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA MotoGP™
Bad luck doesn’t last forever, and finally Fabio Quartararo has reason to believe that. The 2021 MotoGP™ World Champion was back on the podium in Texas to put his Sprint crash – and Argentina bad luck – to bed, and that can only be good news for everyone except his rivals. Jerez is a venue he has had truly impressive speed at, and to head in with that first podium of the season under his belt whets our appetite to see what he has in the locker on more successful stomping grounds.

For teammate Franco Morbidelli though, it’s gone the other way, or at least it did in Texas. It’s now hard to tell whether COTA was a blip after Argentina proved a turning point, or whether Argentina was the positive blip in a tougher season so far. Jerez, at least, is a land of data – and one he’s known success at before. Can he find that frontrunning form from Termas as we head back to Europe?

GRESINI RACING MotoGP™
Alex Marquez is in need of some luck. After being sick in the Sprint in Texas and then getting wiped out by a slightly ironic Jorge Martin on Sunday, it just didn’t go his way. Marquez has also been left needing to calm down the training ahead of his first home GP to fully recover from the impact. That all said, he’s already a podium finisher with the Ducati, had some amazing speed on Friday in Texas, and now we’re heading for a venue he’s always gone well at – possibly one he’d take as a free choice for where to try and bounce back from a tougher weekend. Wish granted, what can the number 73 cook up on home turf?

Teammate Fabio Di Giannantonio will be hoping the change of scenery can improve his situation too, with a good record at Jerez. After a difficult few races so far with only flashes of pace, the Italian will need to stay calm and collected as he looks to take a step forward.

RED BULL KTM FACTORY RACING
There hasn’t since been the blast of fireworks to echo Brad Binder’s Argentina Tissot Sprint win, but the South African has remained quick if in search of some better luck. When he did have it, it was a fifth place in the Sprint in Texas. Now at Jerez, with a lot more experience and some incredible memories from that back of the grid very first Moto3™ win, can the number 33 find that calling card consistency to pair up with his pace? For teammate Jack Miller it’s a similar search. The Australian has impressed from the outset and will be aiming to bounce back from that crash out of a podium place in the Americas, and Jerez is a circuit where he’s won in MotoGP™, too.

Someone else who’s ready to race this weekend has been on the top step in Jerez: Dani Pedrosa. The MotoGP™ Legend and three-time World Champion returns to the ranks at Jerez as a wildcard, on track to provide even more information to the Austrian factory’s push towards the front. Hopefully, to enjoy it too. And for the fans in the stands it’ll be something special – a hero of another era still making his mark in this one.

CRYPTODATA RNF MotoGP™ TEAM
We missed him in Argentina and we certainly noticed his return in Texas. Miguel Oliveira had a solid Sprint as he got back in action, and then followed it up by immediately getting back into the top five in the Grand Prix. He was also right on Maverick Viñales for a few laps, although the Top Gun managed to pull away. What can Oliveira do in Jerez with even more time to recover?

Raul Fernandez, meanwhile, continues to struggle to make those steps we’d started to see in pre-season. Aprilia – and RNF – seem patient with the former Moto2™ record breaker, and it is a lot to ask to immediately go from rookie on one machine to frontrunner on another. He’ll want to get something to click soon though, and Jerez is another chance to take on more familiar turf as he searches for that speed.

GASGAS FACTORY RACING Tech3
Rookie Augusto Fernandez is having a solid start to his MotoGP™ career, with some good consistency and managing to get up in the mix a couple of times. He’s also now had his first top ten finish, and he’s scored points at every round. With a first home race on the horizon, he’ll be aiming to do the same again, but one step better. Meanwhile, Jonas Folger will be on a similar mission to home in on his new teammate. His debut at COTA saw him garner a couple of points in a race of attrition, and the German will be wanting to take another step forward at Jerez.

REPSOL HONDA TEAM
On one side of the Repsol Honda garage, Joan Mir will be looking to reset as the paddock returns to Europe and to home turf. After some bad luck and some injury struggles, it’s a good venue to arrive to as he continues his adaptation – and he’ll want to stay calm despite Rins’ early lead in those stakes. It’s still early doors, both for Mir on the Honda and the Honda on its mission to take a step forward. Stefan Bradl is also expected to be back out wildcarding, so that’s some more data.

The biggest question, however, was the 93 side once again… but now we have the answer. Marc Marquez won’t be back just yet, and instead it’s a familiar face from our paddock and that of WorldSBK who is set to step in: Iker Lecuona. It’s been a hot minute since he was out on track in Grand Prix racing, but he’ll be back in the saddle in front of his home crowd, now with Honda.

SHOWTIME
Friday’s practice sessions decide the automatic entrants to Q2, before the MotoGP™ grid qualify on Saturday morning. This weekend the Tissot Sprint remains set for lights out at 15:00 on Saturday, but the Grand Prix race is an hour later, so it also starts at 15:00. Set your alarms!

Tissot Sprint: Saturday 15:00 (GMT +2)
Grand Prix Race: Sunday 15:00 (GMT +2)
See you there!
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