Almost four weeks after the Jerez round – the extended break being due to the postponement of the Japanese GP until October – the MotoGP World Championship returns to action at Estoril this weekend, where the bwin Grande Prémio de Portugal hosts Round 3 of the 2011 season. This will be the 14th occasion that there has been a Portuguese GP.
There was no shortage of talking points following Round 2 in southern Spain, where defending World Champion Jorge Lorenzo took his first win of 2011 in the wet, and was followed onto the podium by a Dani Pedrosa struggling with his recovering left arm and Nicky Hayden. Casey Stoner’s inability to finish the race after being taken down in an incident involving Valentino Rossi, the latter of whom managed to remount his bike and finish fifth, merely added to what was a highly eventful race at Jerez.
Yamaha Factory Racing rider Lorenzo has a formidable recent record at the Estoril track, having won for the past three consecutive seasons from pole position. The Spaniard has now finished inside the top four for 22 straight races, and leads the early Championship standings by nine points ahead of rival Dani Pedrosa. The Repsol Honda man arrives in Portugal hopeful that surgery immediately after Jerez will have eased the discomfort caused in his left arm, and despite that he secured a 90th GP podium in the last round making him only the tenth rider to reach the milestone in the World Championship’s 63-year history.
Stoner will be eager to put the DNF from Jerez firmly behind him and regain the momentum he has established in the early stages of the season. The Repsol Honda rider has twice stood on the Estoril podium in the premier class but is yet to win there in MotoGP (he has a 250cc victory to his name), and will view such a result as the perfect response. Nicky Hayden is the highest placed Ducati rider in the standings after two rounds, with factory team-mate Rossi close behind. The Italian has only once finished off the podium at the circuit in the premier class, and counts five victories amongst his haul of rostrum results there.
Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) and Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) experienced different fortunes in the previous round, the Japanese scoring his best premier class result to date with fourth whilst the Italian ended the race 12th. Dovizioso’s last premier class podium came at Estoril in the penultimate round of 2010.
Héctor Barberá’s (Mapfre Aspar Team) sixth at Jerez was another premier class personal best and the Spaniard will aim to build on that further, whilst rookie Cal Crutchlow (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) finished eighth after a fall in the wet and now heads to another new track in Estoril. The Brit is another rider to have taken advantage of the almost four-week break to have undergone surgery, having an arm issue sorted out. Fellow rookie Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Motoracing) will be confident after taking seventh at the last outing.
Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini) will be more determined than ever to record a first premier class podium having crashed out whilst leading at Jerez, likewise Factory Yamaha Racing’s Ben Spies will want to make up for taking no points at Jerez having been set for a podium finish when he fell whilst riding in second position. Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) will also feel he has a point to prove after crashing in Spain, Toni Elías (LCR Honda) returns to the sight of his sole premier class victory, and Pramac Racing duo Loris Capirossi and Randy de Puniet will hope for an upturn in fortunes. The Frenchman had a screw removed from his left knee following Jerez, as he underwent follow-up surgery from his broken leg suffered last season.
Hoping to make a welcome return after missing the opening two races of the season following a fractured left femur, suffered in Qatar, is Álvaro Bautista. The Rizla Suzuki rider has been working hard to regain fitness and make his comeback just six weeks to the day after he sustained the injury, and has been named on the entry list for Estoril.
Italian Andrea Iannone is the early Moto2 standings leader after taking victory in the wet at Jerez last time out, and the Speed Master team rider will aim to maintain and stretch his lead at the top after hitting his stride immediately in 2011. Hot on his heels however are two riders who have also enjoyed strong starts to the campaign in the shape of Stefan Bradl and Thomas Lüthi, who are currently level on points.
German rider Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing) won the season opener in Qatar and was the victor at Estoril last season so will be confident of pushing at the front, whilst Lüthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2) has registered podium finishes in the two rounds of the season so far.
Simone Corsi (Ioda Racing Project) and Alex de Angelis have both had encouraging starts to the season, the former scoring a podium in Jerez and the latter having stood on the rostrum at Estoril in last year’s race, whilst Moto2 rookie Bradley Smith’s first two races in the category on board the Tech 3 machine have made a distinct impression and the Brit was a podium finisher in the 125 class at the Portuguese track for the past two seasons.
Julián Simón (Mapfre Aspar) will be hungry for a first top-three result of 2011 whilst for fellow Spaniard Marc Márquez (Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol) the aim will be some first Moto2 points, after the reigning 125 World Champion experienced a tough introduction to the class in the opening two rounds. Scott Redding (Marc VDS Racing) will be determined to pin down his first points of the season, as will Kenan Sofuoglu (Technomag-CIP) who made such an impact in his World Championship debut as a wildcard in this race last season. Mika Kallio (Marc VDS Racing) will look to mark his 150th GP start with a memorable result, as he becomes the first Finnish rider ever to reach the milestone.
South African rider Steven Odendaal will again ride on a Suter for the MS Racing outfit as a wildcard entry, after debuting at Jerez.
With two victories from the opening two rounds of the season Nico Terol is in fearsome shape, and will be the man to beat at Estoril having already opened up a 19-point advantage at the top of the Championship. Aside from Terol’s blistering start to 2011, there have been impressive displays from the riders following, one being young German talent Jonas Folger. The Red Bull Ajo Motorsport man, who placed fifth in Qatar and second at Jerez (his second World Championship podium), will be confident of pushing for a similar result in Portugal, whilst his compatriot Sandro Cortese (Intact Racing Team Germany) will also be eager to challenge for a first victory.
The wet race at Jerez saw six riders in the 125 class score their best ever GP result, and Frenchman Johann Zarco (Avant-AirAsia-Ajo) was amongst them. A first podium for Zarco has placed him as part of a closely grouped trio which includes Folger and Cortese. Meanwhile the confidence of young Brits Danny Kent (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) and Taylor Mackenzie (Phonica Racing), who both finished inside the top five, will be high, and the more experienced Spanish duo of Efrén Vázquez (Avant-AirAsia-Ajo) and Sergio Gadea (Blusens by Paris Hilton Racing Team) will be pushing at the front.
Héctor Faubel (Bankia Aspar) will be desperate to kickstart his campaign after finishing outside the top ten in the first two races, whilst Miguel Oliveira (Team Andalucía Banca Cívica) will not only be riding in front of a home crowd but will also be determined to score a good result after crashing whilst running in third at Jerez. Mahindra Racing pair Marcel Schrötter and Danny Webb will also attempt to add to the first Championship points scored for the Indian manufacturer by the German rider, who placed 13th at Jerez.
Luis Salom (RW Racing GP) will be fit again after surgery on an injury to his right hand sustained in a crash during the Jerez race, whilst German rider Kevin Hanus (Team Hanusch) will again ride as a wildcard on a Honda.
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