Spanish Grand Prix, Jerez – Preview: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
When Championship contenders crash, there are usually consequences. After a dramatic race at COTA that saw Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) slide out the lead, that’s definitely true as 25 points slithered away from the seven-time World Champion at a venue where his name is usually penciled in next to the word ‘winner’. The number 93 was unscathed and the damage was in the standings – and maybe a little pride – but that’s something to give some serious consideration as we head back to Europe for the Gran Premio Red Bull de España. Errors can breed less margin for error, and that’s what Marquez has now after losing one of his aces.
So as we head for Jerez – and the 300th MotoGP™ race since the category was introduced – it’s not the Spaniard at the top, it’s Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati). The Italian has been on damage limitation in the second and third races of the season over the last couple of years, but in 2019 he emerges nine points clear of Marquez as the ‘European season’ begins and he hits the milestone of 200 premier class starts. His record at Jerez isn’t the best and it can be a more difficult track for Ducati, but we’ve said that before and watched the number 04 defy that idea as the Italian machine continues to develop. Is ‘DesmoDovi’ armed for a serious attack on Andalucia? Or will those walking taller after Texas have the upper hand at a venue where Marquez has never been imperious?
The first name to mention is the second man in the standings: Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). The ‘Doctor’ has a great record at the track – as he does at most – but it includes a more recent triumph as Rossi obliterated the competition in 2016. Only three points behind Dovizioso now, a win in Jerez could catapult him back to the top. And teammate Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) will be hoping the bike is underneath the two to try and do just that, but all signs have been positive in 2019 – the Spaniard seems to have the tools to dig himself out of P12 after a tough start. In front of the home crowd he’ll be aiming to do just that – as will Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team).
After a tough start to the season marred by injury, Lorenzo is back to nearer fully fit and only gaining experience on the Honda. Jerez has been serious hunting ground for him with the Spaniard’s record at the track enough to make anyone jealous – and it’s where he took his first podium with Ducati. In a stage of adaptation once again, there could be no better place for the number 99 to race next and the final corner even bears his name. Will it be a turning point for him?
In Texas though, we may have witnessed a turning point for someone else: first time premier class winner Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar). Rins fought off Rossi like a veteran and kept calm to carry on under some serious pressure, crossing the line to make a serious statement. The Suzuki man has arrived, and there’s no reason why he won’t be fighting for a similar result in front of the carnival home crowd at Jerez.
Meanwhile in the Independent Team rider standings, it’s another COTA hero: podium finisher Jack Miller (Pramac Racing). His first premier class podium in the dry couldn’t have come at a better time and the Australian is on good form in 2019. The fastest man in Jerez testing, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) isn’t too far behind him though, and the Japanese rider’s teammate Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) dented his place in the standings with a crash at COTA. The three-time Grand Prix winner will want to hit back quick and take top Independent honours, if not much more.
Rookie of the Year should be a thriller in Jerez, too. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) has led the way for much of the season and the Frenchman will be confident he can continue the trend in Spain – giving him a good foundation for his upcoming home race in France. But Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) is gaining some traction and Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) has been quick when avoiding errors like his COTA jump start. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3), meanwhile, has been shining and causing a headache for new Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider Johann Zarco – can he continue that in Jerez? And can the top man for the Austrian factory, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), continue to pull out all the stops as he impresses race on race?
The Gran Premio Red Bull de España Rolls into the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto from the 3rd to 5th May as MotoGP™ starts to gain momentum and the season hits top gear. Will Marquez find some redemption in front of the rowdy home crowd? Can Dovizioso protect or increase his lead? Or is the ‘Jaws’ music set aside for the two men who ruled COTA – Rins and Rossi, on a roll and ready to rock…
After two sublime wins in a row for Moto2™ Championship leader Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) to begin the season, the best word to describe the Italian’s form was imperious. But then came Texas and his crash at COTA showed he was far from unbeatable, with key rival and veteran Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) taking over on the top step and closing the gap down – as did teammate and second place finisher Marcel Schrötter. Now we head back onto more successful hunting grounds for Baldassarri, how will the cards play out in Jerez?
The bad news for his rivals is that the number 7 will definitely be walking into the venue high on confidence despite the COTA crash. Texas has always been a more difficult track for him, he’s still ahead in the standings…and he won the 2018 Spanish GP. That’s certainly enough for everyone to have a serious eye on the Italian as a favourite, although the likes of Lüthi and Schrötter will be gunning for more glory and are within striking distance in the points.
Home hero Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) is another man who’ll be fired up as well. With one podium so far this season, taken in Argentina, the number 73 has had some good pace so far – and was the man who took the win in Jerez the year before Baldassarri. It was his first in the intermediate class and the 2014 Moto3™ World Champion was just unbeatable from pole, so he can’t be counted out and will be looking for that tiny bit more than his pace in testing at the track. In preseason he rounded out the top five, though there’s plenty mileage been raced since then.
Two men hoping that’s not changed all that much will be the fastest duo back in preseason: Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), who ended the test split by thousandths. Neither have had the start to the season they likely imagined back before the lights went out in Qatar, but the Spanish GP could be the perfect reset button so dominant were the two on the timesheets.
Then there’s the likes of Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team), home hero Xavi Vierge (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46)…and Jorge Navarro (HDR Heidrun Speed Up), who took his first intermediate class podium last time out. And the fight for Rookie of the Year sees a lot at stake too, with Spaniard Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo) looking to make up some ground on home turf.
There’s everything to play for in the Red Bull Gran Premio de España and plenty of riders gunning for glory in front of one of the most incredible crowds of the year. Will the home heroes fly the flag, will the pacesetters in testing fight back, or will Baldassarri blast right back out the blocks where he left off in Argentina? It’s one thing to win two in a row, it’s another for that to be the new normal.
Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) took his fourth Grand Prix win in Texas to pull level on points with Argentina winner Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai) at the top of the Championship, but now the paddock returns to Europe and the races come thick and fast. Amping up the pressure even further, first up is home turf for the two men at the top – the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto – and that’s where Canet won his first ever GP. So the veteran has form, but what of the competition?
Masia certainly has. The sophomore took the second best result of his rookie campaign at Jerez in 2018 as he came home fifth, a highlight of an incredibly impressive debut year. Now he’s a year older, a race winner and the Championship leader it’s a different kind of pressure in front of the home crowd but he’ll be gunning for glory for sure. COTA podium man Andrea Migno (Bester Capital Dubai), meanwhile, was the highest finisher still in the class when Moto3™ raced at Jerez last season, but it’s another Italian who has the best record in Andalucia: Romano Fenati (VNE Snipers). So far the returning rider has struggled to find some clear traction, but Jerez was his first win in 2012 and another win in 2014 – a better rap sheet than Canet. Could this be where it starts?
There’s more. Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) can’t be counted out now he’s back up to full health, Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) wants to make amends for his COTA crash, Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers) has shown great speed this season and the likes of John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) have seem yet to show their hand. The fight for Rookie of the Year could play a role near the front in Jerez too as Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Raul Fernandez (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) are split by only a point just outside the top ten in the standings – and both have more than enough experience at the track to really get in the mix. Meanwhile the Italian duo in third and fourth overall and aiming to spoil the home party as the paddock heads back to Europe are Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) and Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse), neither of whom have records to write home about when it comes to the Spanish GP, but can they turn that around?