PARIS: Just 10 points separate Spaniards Jorge Lorenzo of Yamaha and Marc Marquez of Honda ahead of what promises to be another epic struggle at the fast and challenging Montmelo track at the Grand Prix of Catalonia on Sunday.
It will not be lost on current world champion Lorenzo (115 pts) or the 2014 winner Marquez (105 pts) that 15 of the last 19 winners here went on to lift the world crown.
And anyone who watched the pair overtake each other several times during the last lap of an Italian GP won last time out by a wafer-thin 0.019 second by Lorenzo will know a swashbuckling show will likely be laid on for the locals.
“I’ve watched the Mugello last lap a few times since,” smiled Lorenzo on Thursday, referring to their Italian showdown.
“But here we are now. I’m going to be racing at home. I lived in Barcelona for many years and this is like coming home for me,” said Lorenzo, who is from the nearby island of Mallorca.
“The Italian GP was super important for the title and I’ll be fighting every inch of the way again,” he added.
Lorenzo is targeting a third straight victory in the championship after clinching wins at Le Mans and in Italy and can claim a fifth top-level win at Montmelo.
Catalan native Marquez may look tough when flying into corners but revealed a softer side when he admitted: “Nothing is more motivating than being in competition in front of a crowd of admiring fans.”
Marquez won here in 2014 and is doubly desperate to bounce back after he fell in last year’s edition. A win would put him back in charge of the championship race ahead of the France GP in two weeks.
Also in the mix is the veteran nine-times world champion Valentino Rossi, whose Yamaha M1 suffered a rare engine failure in Italy.
The affable Italian is third in the standings on 78 points and while he has won here six times, the 37-year-old biker’s last win in Catalonia dates back to 2009.
“There is a lot to regret looking back at what happened in Tuscany two weeks ago,” he said.
“But for me what I have to focus on and build on is just how amazingly fast we were before the incident,” Rossi added.
‘Nothing to prove’
There is also the prospect of another Catalan rider winning here in the form of Dani Pedrosa of Honda, fourth in the standings 12 points adrift of Rossi and a winner here in 2008.
“The title is my greatest dream and I’ll be fighting for it,” vowed Pedrosa, who has struggled to find his full flair this season on new tires, but who has just signed an extended deal with Repsol Honda.
“But I have nothing to prove, I have achieved so many of my childhood dreams,” he told Motogp.com.
Returning to the issue of new tires, Ducati’s Andrea Iannone, third in Italy, feels his team will do much to end a four-year poor spell on the Montmelo track because “the tires and electronics suit us better now.”
“The podium in Italy is very good, but I had the potential to fight for the victory,” he added.
Suzuki are also hoping for success after Aleix Espargaro got on pole last year and Maverick Vinales registered the second-fastest lap.
French reigning champion Johann Zarco is climbing back up the knife-edge rankings in Moto2 after his win in Italy and while he is fourth in the world championship, he is only 17 points off Britain’s Sam Lowes, who took a two-point lead at Mugello over Spaniard Alex Rins.
South African Brad Binder can consolidate his Moto3 lead by reeling off a fourth successive win and already enjoys a 49-point lead over second-placed Spaniard Jorge Navarro.
All three category winners from last year — Lorenzo, Zarco and Danny Kent — went on to be crowned world champion at the end of the season.