After three distinct, exciting and nail-biting races to get 2017 in gear, the MotoGP paddock now touches down to begin the run of races at the heart of the season: Europe. Classic venues each with inimitable character, the first stop for class of 2017 sees the Circuito de Jerez preparing to host – and it’s hard to think of a better place to begin.
The ‘Cathedral’ of Spanish speed, this season marks 30 years since the first GP was held at the venue and more history seems to be made every year. Packed out and passionate, the roar of the crowd through Nieto and Peluqui preface the approach to one of the most legendary final corners on the calendar, Jorge Lorenzo, and the atmosphere in Jerez is one of pure electricity. The name is correct – here, the grandstands worship racing.
The man at the head of the standings as the faithful prepare for the carnival is Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP). The only man on the rostrum in the first three races, the nine-time World Champion has shown the old adage true and used consistency as its own weapon. Patiently waiting to pass Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) in Argentina and then stalking Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) in Texas, the ‘Doctor’ is now feeling better on the 2017 bike – and knows he can last the distance. From here, the venues read like a greatest hits playlist for the Italian – beginning with one of his recent number ones in Jerez, where he won last year.
The road to glory on ‘enemy’ territory never did run smooth, however. The Spanish are a veritable armada in 2017, with a host of riders ready, willing and able to push the veteran for the win. One man sure to do that is teammate Maverick Viñales, who won the first two races of the season before making his first in-race mistake for over a year. Fastest in testing, fastest in Qatar and fastest in Argentina, the Spanish Yamaha rider may have lost the lead in Texas – but he’ll be gunning to take it back on home turf.
The duel we were promised in Texas between Viñales and reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) never did arrive, as the number 25 slid out of contention early. But the timesheets have built the showdown and sooner or later it will come. Will that be in Jerez? It could be the perfect place in many ways, with a home crowd like no other. Viñales is looking to bounce back, but Marquez already did that at COTA – back on the top step for the first time since Motegi last year and full of confidence. A good record at the track for the number 93 also makes good reading – something shared by his teammate.
Dani Pedrosa’s start at the Circuit of the Americas was one of the most electric moments of the race. Lightning quick off the second row, the ‘Baby Samurai’ shot round the outside to take the lead – and keep it for a good number of laps. Tyre wear in Austin negated a fight against Rossi for second, but Pedrosa took an impressive podium and the result speaks more for his 2017 pace than Qatar and Argentina. A winner previously at the track, Pedrosa could well be a key player.
Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) is another with a winning record in Andalucía. With a strange weekend with the weather in Qatar followed by a crash out on the first lap in Argentina, Texas saw some much more tangible progress for the ‘Spartan’ – graduating to Q2 and starting from the second row, before holding station behind his teammate Andrea Dovizioso for much of the first part of the race. Suffering tire wear in the latter stages like Pedrosa, Lorenzo was still positive with the steps forward in Texas – and the number 99 has tested the Desmosedici at Jerez. On Thursday, it will be his 30th birthday, and 15 years since his debut in the World Championship. Motivation will be high.
‘DesmoDovi’ will also be pushing for the Borgo Panigale factory, to get back into the higher echelons of the timesheets following his fight for the win in Qatar and subsequent tougher races. Also on Ducati machinery and aiming high will be Pull&Bear Aspar’s Alvaro Bautista, who starts his home race with a top four already under his belt in 2017 – and Reale Avintia Racing’s Hector Barbera will be looking to unlock more of the potential of his GP16 on home turf. Also racing on a form of home turf are EG 0,0 Marc VDS, with Jack Miller looking for another top ten and local hero Tito Rabat looking for another points finish.
With rookie Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) out through injury, Andrea Iannone will be lining up for the Hamamatsu factory alongside test rider Takuya Tsuda. Rins was top rookie in Qatar but that honor has since moved to Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) in both races ahead of the Spanish GP, and the Frenchman has been nothing short of stunning – two top fives, two top rides and just a few ruffled feathers. Zarco, teammate Jonas Folger and certainly Argentina podium finisher Cal Crutchlow will join Bautista on the hunt for Independent Team glory in Jerez – with competition tighter than ever.
Consistency has been key so far, but the showdown of the century is never far away when the world’s best face down the world’s best venue. Against the backdrop of one of the sporting wonders of the world, MotoGP head out in Jerez for FP1 at 9:55 on Friday (GMT +2), and it’s carnival time on Sunday at 14:00.
It’s three out of three for Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) as the paddock heads back onto European soil, and the man of the moment has seemed the same unfazed whirlwind of speed at every venue. With only his recent exploits to make him the favorite going into Argentina and the Americas, the Spanish GP arrives, however, with already proven speed - and the Jaws theme tune to go with it.
In some ways, the race in Texas threw the previous formbook out the window for the top four. Like Morbidelli, neither second placed Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten) nor fellow podium finisher Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) had a great record at the track, but that makes for an exciting prospect ahead of Jerez. As ominous as Morbidelli may seem, both Lüthi and Nakagami have form at the venue. Lüthi, who is bucking his trend of being a rider who gains strength throughout the year, will surely take some heart from his record in Andalusia – with three previous podiums and only one finish outside the top ten. Surprised by his ability to stay with Morbidelli in Texas, maybe Jerez will help close that gap and open up the battle.
Nakagami also has some good finishes in Jerez, with two top fives to his name already. The Japanese rider may not have been on the podium at every round like his Swiss and Italian rivals, but a blip in Argentina doesn’t diminish the Japanese rider’s speed. Then there’s Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) – already getting the new KTM intermediate class chassis onto the podium in its debut season – who is sure to put up another challenge as he settles into life as a frontrunner in Moto2. And Jerez was the first test venue of the year for the Moto2™ grid, meaning the Austrian factory have data.
Last year’s Spanish GP saw home hero Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) crash out, but the 2014 Moto3 World Champion has shown some serious pace this season. Especially strong at the start of races in Qatar and COTA, the rider from Cervera also had some real speed for his teammate in Argentina until his last lap bad luck. Despite that incident, Marquez is the only man who has been within striking distance of Morbidelli on a final lap so far in 2017.
Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing) was a strong performer in Texas on the Suter, a track where he was one o the few to have a great record, and will be looking to try and keep that solid form in Jerez – as will Tech 3 Racing’s Xavi Vierge. Vierge, an impressive and consistent performer on the Mistral 610, is even in the top five in the standings as we head to his home race – and will be looking to keep his incredible roll going in Andalusia.
FP1 sees the gloves off for the first time on Friday at 10:55 local time (GMT +2), with the race firing up on Sunday at 12:20.
After two wins to open the year, Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) showed he wasn't untouchable at COTA, crossing the line in eighth as expected Championship rival Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers) took a stunning first win of the year. Now it's his home race, and the points leader will be looking to fight back fast – but the field seem to be closing in.
Texas had seen compatriot Aron Canet (EG 0,0) dominate the timesheets in almost unbelievable style, before the Spaniard dramatically highsided out of the lead under pressure from Fenati. The EG 0,0 rider will be looking to write a different story on home turf in Jerez, and teammate Enea Bastianini will also be keen to join the charge at the team's home venue - having shown much improved pace in Texas to come home fourth.
Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) is the man looking for much of the same after his form so far in 2017. The only rider on the podium every race and now second in the standings, Martin knows consistency wins trophies - and will have even more motivation in his home nation. The rider just behind him on points, John McPhee (British Talent Team), should also be a force to be reckoned with - debuting well on the Official Test timesheets first time out with his new team at Jerez earlier in the year.
The Italian charge, alongside Fenati and Bastianini, will surely also feature Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) and Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46). ‘Diggia’ had a tough start to 2017 with a broken collarbone in preseason, and crashed out in Argentina after an incident for which Bulega was penalised. But back on the podium in Austin, the Gresini rider goes into Jerez with higher confidence and ready to get back to his stunning 2016 form.
Bulega is the man who will be hoping to keep his traction in Jerez, after two tough races and then a top five in Texas – after a rookie and first ever pole at the Spanish GP in 2016, the VR46 academy man was also top in Official Testing at the venue. Good reading for Bulega ahead of lights out.
The Moto3 grid is deep in 2017, and it could be anyone’s game once again. Now back at a track where many have much more experience, the fight is sure to hot up in Andalusia – and Mir is sure to give everything to get back on top.
FP1 begins at 9:00 (GMT +2) on Friday, before the race on Sunday at 11:00.