A four-way fight on the final lap, a freight train battle of the ages before that…Mugello showcased the best of MotoGP™. And when all was said and done, Danilo Petrucci (Mission Winnow Ducati) may have been the man making the history, but Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was the man making the gains. A P2 for the points leader, ahead of closest rival Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati) despite the defeat, means he’s 12 points clear heading into the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya and however much a win in enemy territory means, a win on home turf is something different. The number 93 will be gunning for glory and revenge all at the same time at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and on a very special occasion: the 70th anniversary of the Championship.
The good news for the competition is Ducati were back on the top step in Mugello and last year a win in Tuscany preceded one next time out. In addition, Catalunya isn’t a track where the number 93 has been imperious to the point of competitors needing to start the Jaws music. Even more good news is that some serious smart racing in the front group at Mugello – with Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) in the mix – made it hard work for Marquez at the front and gave him no chance to escape. Can the likes of Miller, Rins, Dovizioso, Petrucci take on the reigning Champion once again this weekend? Rins and Dovizioso in particular will be focused on better grid positions to try and do just that.
The man who made the most famous move in the history of the circuit in Montmelo, meanwhile, has a top record at the track and he’ll need to add to it. For Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) it was a nightmare home weekend, but the ‘Doctor’ has been a master of the comeback on many given Sundays and he’s now the one with that extra incentive of winning in ‘enemy’ territory. Teammate Maverick Viñales has that home venue extra motivation, however, and so the battle between the two should be a highlight. And, as always, there will likely be Iwata marque Independent Team runners Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and teammate Franco Morbidelli to contend with. Quartararo may have had surgery for arm pump before Barcelona, but he’s also a record-breaker despite being a rookie and has form at the track.
Speaking of form, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) is another man of the moment. Impressive in Italy – as ever – and taking the fight forward for the Austrian factory, Pol Espargaro – along with brother Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) – is a true home hero. The two are from just up the road and that adds something extra special to the Catalan Grand Prix. Add to that the battle between KTM and Aprilia in the standings and it’s a fight with a lot on the line.
For Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) that’s also true as the number 99 continues to struggle on the Honda, but with injuries now playing much less of a role in his races and his record in Barcelona a shining one, a turning point could be just around the corner. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) also wants a turnaround of sorts after a tougher run, and he’ll want to hit back against sophomore teammate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) after the Japanese rider was top Independent Team rider at Mugello and took his best premier class finish yet in fifth.
So many questions remain ahead of Barcelona. Can Marquez strike back? Did Petrucci begin to turn the tide? Can Dovi capitalise in the title fight? Will Rins be an even bigger threat if he gets a better Saturday under his belt? Can Quartararo last the distance? And can Rossi and Viñales, two of the fastest men in the world, come out swinging in Catalunya?
Le Mans was an impressive victory for Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), but a few weeks and a follow up demolition job at Mugello later it’s time to ask whether it was a little more than simply a first win of the season. Was Le Mans the point at which Marquez’ full hand was played, and Mugello proof he’s the new man to beat?
If we rewind to Jerez and play a little game of what if with what seemed like bad luck at the time, the Championship could look pretty different. Marquez has form in Spain and destroyed the opposition in 2017, and what we’ve seen since Jerez this season has been more than mere ‘form’. That’s enough to merit some questions about the standings: Marquez is two points off the top as it stands, and a win or podium at Jerez would have put him 14 to 23 points clear. And, if one Marquez looking imperious wasn’t enough, the last time Alex Marquez took back to back wins was in 2014 and they came at Catalunya and Assen – the next two tracks on the calendar. Barcelona and home turf will be a test for the EG 0,0 Marc VDS rider, but expect him to come out swinging.
Championship leader Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP40) will be the first of those aiming to stand in his way. After a ‘win or bin’ beginning to the season, he’s hanging on to the top and Mugello was a big positive despite the number 7 not taking a podium at home – he didn’t crash out and rode back from P15 on the grid to an impressive P4. Those points were valuable, as a single position lower would see him equal on points with Marquez. And then there’s Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP), who is only four points off the top and the third of the three men to have shared the wins so far this year. The Swiss veteran didn’t have the pace at Mugello for the win but he kept it on the podium and consistency is key. After a tricky Le Mans, that’s a good sign and he will surely be a threat again at Catalunya.
Jorge Navarro (MB Conveyors Speed Up), meanwhile, remains a threat as well. Mugello saw his podium run come to an end, but let’s not forget that next up is the venue Speed Up dominated last year with Fabio Quartararo. And then Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) is another who, like Navarro, has hit the ground running this season – and he took pole in Italy. Unfortunately the German is also recovering from having injured his foot in training, but every day that passes means that progresses. And Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) took his first podium last time out, citing a much better feeling – the same he had when he went on a podium spree and took his first win last season…
Championship leader Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) isn’t on the roll of form that saw key rival Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) move within three points of the top at Mugello, but he’s been a consistent points-scorer this season and already has one win to his name. Now it’s his home turf, he’ll be gunning to make that two and put Dalla Porta back on the back foot. Can Canet pull the pin now it’s his home turf?
So far Moto3™ has been anything but predictable though, and that’s borne out in 11 different winners in a row stretching back into the latter half of last season. So will it even be Canet and Dalla Porta warring over the win? Or Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers), John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing), Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse), Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai) or Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia)? Or will it be another name entirely on the top step once again this season?
If it is, two big candidates are Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3), a man with both podium form at Catalunya and pace in 2019, and Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse), who so far has remained the bridesmaid. But there are plenty of fast riders in the lightweight class, and plenty of riders who could mix it up in that classic Moto3™ freight train at the front. But Catalunya has also been a track where a rider has managed to escape the melee and take a commanding 25 points – so there’s always a chance at that if someone can pull the pin.
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