MotoGP: Title fight fires up in Jerez de la Frontera

Five riders arrive in Jerez, Andalucia, within eight points – Dovizioso, Marquez, Viñales, Crutchlow and Zarco. It’s show time!

Speed, sun and the south of Spain. The Gran Premio Red Bull de España is coming, with Jerez one of the true greats on the calendar; a classic that has staged some true classics. In addition, it’s an extra special edition this year as the track gets renamed – becoming the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto in honour of the Spanish great who sadly passed away last year.

MOTOGP – With the stunning stadium section always packed to the rafters and the final ‘Jorge Lorenzo’ corner sure to provide some fireworks, everything is perfectly placed to go down to the wire as five riders arrive at the track within eight points.After his sixth straight Americas GP win, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) comes into the Spanish GP off the back of a big statement in the title fight and only one point off the lead – but now it’s back to Europe and the Circuito de Jerez. With only one win in Andalucia, in 2014, it’s a track that the number 93 often picks out as one he finds tougher – will that be true this season?

The man he’s chasing down in the standings is currently Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). After winning the opening race of the season and then taking two solid top six finishes, ‘DesmoDovi’ is back on top. He came fifth last year at Jerez, but was a good haul of points below where he is at this point in 2018. A good omen? Consistency is the Italian’s calling card. His teammate, Jorge Lorenzo, was top Ducati in 2017, however – taking his first podium in red…

And what of Marquez’ teammate Dani Pedrosa? After breaking his wrist in the Argentina GP, the three-time World Champion put in a stunning ride in Texas to – somehow – come home seventh on one of the most challenging tracks on the calendar. Now he’s had a good few more days to recover, can he replicate that superhuman performance? Pedrosa is the most recent winner at the track, decimating the field in 2017, so he can’t be counted out from a challenge despite his injury.

Last year leaves some other questions to be answered, too. Movistar Yamaha MotoGP duo Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi had a tougher weekend suffering with grip in 2017 – but it seems so far that big progress has been made for the Iwata marque. The year before that, too, it was Rossi who was uncatchable on Sunday – the third in a row of four men on pole who have gone on to win. Rossi has a little ground to make up in the points, but Viñales could even take the lead in Jerez – only a handful off the top. It will be a big weekend for Yamaha, but as a stock take or another incredible challenge at the front?

Challenging at the front was the modus operandi for Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) in Texas as the ‘Maniac’ was the only man able to get close to Marquez in practice and then on race day, so he’ll be guns blazing in Andalucia – and so will his teammate Alex Rins, racing on home turf and keen to claw back some ground in that duel. Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) is wanting more too after a P6 in Texas and he impressed in Jerez last season as a rookie – as well as being equal on points at the moment with Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol). Crutchlow was leader on the road to COTA before a crash out, but remains up there in the higher echelons as the two men take the challenge to the factory riders.

MOTO2 – Bagnaia vs Marquez: will the battle continue in Jerez? It was a duel at the Americas GP, and now the stakes get even higher. Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) took his second win of the season last time out at the Circuit of the Americas, but it was far from easy. Getting past Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) took some doing, and now we could be ready for Round 2 at Jerez – where Bagnaia took his first Moto2™ podium, and Marquez took his first Moto2™ win.

Bagnaia did it as a rookie last season, and he’ll have that extra bounce in his step to add to his race wins and the fact he’s leading the Championship. But he won’t have the crowd behind him, with Marquez now racing on home turf for the first time this season. In 2017, too, Jerez was his first big statement of the year. Taking off from pole and uncatchably fast throughout the weekend and race, Marquez dominated the venue for his first win. Bagnaia arrives with good memories, but Marquez’s are even better.

Another rider coming to Jerez with good memories is 2016 Moto3™ World Champion Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo). His first ever win, in Moto3™, was at Jerez – riding from the back of the field through to catch and pass the leaders. The South African disappeared once he’d hit the front, too, in one of the most impressive performances in recent history. So far this season fellow Red Bull KTM Ajo rider Miguel Oliveira has taken the spoils, but could that change at Jerez? It could be a good battle, with Oliveira already on podium form this season – and taking a rostrum finish last year in the Spanish GP.

Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team), the Argentina GP winner, wasn’t far off that podium last year, however, and Xavi Vierge (Dynavolt Intact GP), the man he dueled at Termas de Rio Hondo, will want to get back in the fight at the front – and on home turf.

One confirmed absentee, however, will be Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing), as the Swiss rider has been sidelined for the Spanish GP following a crash in training. He’ll be hoping to be back on track as soon as possible and was one of the riders who rode through the pack in Texas after a first corner incident – along with Joan Mir (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS). Mir came from outside the top 20 to fourth – could he be a dark horse for the podium in Jerez?

MOTO3 – Martin and Canet hunting for home glory. As the paddock returns to Europe and Spain, there’s a lot at stake for the two men at the top of the standings. Following his stunning win at the Circuit of the Americas, Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) now returns to his first home race of the year leading the Championship. With two wins from three so far, it’s looking good for the Spaniard – but compatriot Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) is hot on his tail, and wants exactly the same thing: home glory, something he took in 2017.

So can either of the two take victory in Jerez? The men trying to stand in their way on track will likely be the same as those next up in the standings: Argentina GP winner Marco Bezzecchi (Redox PruestelGP), Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) and Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing). For the Italian trio, the stage matters not – it’s just about the race. And an added curve ball? ‘Diggia’ has been getting close to a win, but is yet to take that maiden victory…is that as big an incentive to push as the promise of home glory?

Moto3™ is never protagonised by such a small group, however. Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Skull Rider), Andrea Migno (Angel Nieto Team Moto3) and Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) have all shown big flashes of pace and had some top results, and riders like Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing), who has leapt up the timesheets this season, add another challenge to the grid for those who want that 25 points.

The fight for Rookie of the Year is another to consider. The rider currently leading that charge is Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0), and Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai), Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46), Kazuki Masaki (RBA BOE Skull Rider) and Makar Yurchenko (CIP – Green Power) will want to start scoring bigger as soon as possible. Their ace card? Familiar territory, with all having raced at Jerez before.

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