Preview Portuguese Grand Prix, Estoril, Portugal

2012-05-03 15:37
The third round of the 2012 MotoGP World Championship arrives with Honda riders ready to continue their winning ways on the Estoril Circuit near the Portuguese coast.

Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner broke through with his first ever win in the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, with team-mate Dani Pedrosa a strong third in challenging conditions.

Stoner has not won in Estoril in the MotoGP class, though he has three MotoGP podiums and a win in the 250cc class 2005, his last year before moving to Honda in 2006. But he also had not won in Jerez before last weekend, and that is no longer the case.

On a track blighted with wet patches, Stoner started strongly, taking the lead from Pedrosa on the third of 27 laps, then fending off the constant advances of Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo. What was not known until after the race was that Stoner was struck once again with same arm pump issues that had caused him to abandon a certain victory in the season-opener three weeks earlier in Qatar.

In Jerez, Stoner adapted to the lack of feeling in his hands, modified his riding style and rode through the pain to a triumphant victory, one of his best, he said. Now the reigning world champion is in a race to be fit as he takes to the track just five days after his 41st grand prix victory. Before the Champagne had dried, he immediately returned to his European base in Switzerland to spend time with his wife and young daughter, while continuing the treatment regimen that he hopes will find his arms trouble-free in Portugal.

Pedrosa kept intact his enviable record of never finishing off the podium in Jerez with his third place finish. He had started fast, fallen back into the pack, then mounted a comeback that had Lorenzo in his sights as the laps counted down. A few more laps and he might have finished second.

Now he heads west to Portugal, where his record is almost as impressive. Pedrosa won the 2011 MotoGP race in Estoril, one of four podium finishes in the premier class. He was third in 2009 and second in 2008 and 2007. Of the 12 premier class races in Estoril, six have been won by Honda riders.

Alvaro Bautista (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC213V) won a trio of races in Estoril in the 250cc class from 2006 through 2008, though he is not a fan of the circuit, which itself is often hit with weather challenges. His two years in the MotoGP class have not been as productive, but his proven record of success should serve him well as he rides the San Carlo Honda Gresini RC213V in Portugal for the first time.

Bautista shook off a practice crash in Jerez to finish sixth in Jerez, a progression of one position on is finishing position in Qatar.

Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda MotoGP RC213V) won his first Moto2 race of the 2011 season from the pole position in Estoril, a victory that was the launching pad for the 2011 Moto2 World Championship. Bradl also won the 2010 running of the Moto2 race.

Given his affinity for the track, and his continuing progress in his rookie year in the MotoGP class, Bradl believes he can improve on his seventh place finish in Jerez.

Michele Pirro (San Carlo Honda Gresini FTR-Honda) has only raced in Estoril twice. Last year he finished out of the points, as he had done on his first race in Portugal in 2005. The Italian was in position to score valuable championship points in Jerez when he was forced to the pits with an electrical issue on the still developing San Carlo Honda Gresini FTR-Honda.

Unlike team-mate Bautista, Pirro enjoys the Estoril layout and qualified on the second row last year. That mindset has him looking forward to continuing the development of the FTR-Honda and the most immediate goal of scoring his first MotoGP points.

Moto2 championship leader Marc Marquez (Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol � Suter) was leading last weekend�s Moto2 race when rain forced race direction to throw a red flag. Scoring reverted to the end of the previous lap, when Pol Espargaro (Pons 40 HP Tuenti � Kalex) was first across the stripe. With the race being called official, having passed the two-thirds distance, Espargaro was the declared the winner; it was his first Moto2 victory.

Espargaro won the 125cc Portuguese Grand Prix in 2009 and has top ten finishes both years in the Moto2 class. The 20-year-old Spaniard is one of the few riders who likes Estoril, partly because he took his first podium there in 2007, when he took third in the 125cc race.

Marquez won the 125cc GP in 2010, en route to the 125cc World Championship. Last year, the race was held in early May, during the early part of the season when he had yet to hit his stride. This year the early part of the season echoes to his strongest stretch of 2011, after his early missteps and before the crash that sidelined him for the final two races, and most of the winter. The 2010 125cc World Champion held off Andrea Iannone (Speed Master � Speed Up) to win a thrilling Moto2 race in Qatar and led the most laps of the shortened Moto2 race in Jerez.

Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2 � Suter) earned his second podium in the 125cc class in 2005. He has a pair of fourth place finishes since then, but has not had much luck since the switch to Moto2 in 2010.

The Swiss rider finished last weekend�s Spanish Grand Prix in third place.

The first year of the Moto3 World Championship has been a pleasant surprise. The biggest part of that is because of the stunning performance of 16-year-old Italian Romano Fenati (Team FMI Italia � Honda). In his first grand prix, grand prix rookie very nearly stole the opening Qatar season-opener from Maverick Vinales (Avintia Blusens FTR-Honda), only losing out by .046s. Three weekends later, he proved that performance was not a fluke. On a partly wet track that claimed more than half the Moto3 field, Fenati kept calm and stayed on two wheels. More than that, he was the fastest rider in the class by more than a second a lap and won the race by a stunning 36s.

To win his first grand prix in only his second race was a major accomplishment. The last GP rookie to finish on the podium in his first two races was Japanese rider Nobu Ueda back in 1991. Fenati�s win was the first for an Italian in the smallest displacement class since Andrea Iannone won the 125cc race in Catalunya in 2009, nearly three years ago.

Fenati�s victory brought cheers from the Italian contingent in Jerez, who have been waiting for homegrown talent to emerge. The likeable young rider from Ascoli Piceno is sponsored by the Italian Motorcycle Federation, which is active in a number of championships and also works with San Carlo Honda Gresini team owner Fausto Gresini in nurturing young Italian riders.

Qatar winner Maverick Vinales was not a factor in Jerez. The 17-year-old Spaniard ran off the track after a big scare, but managed to rejoin the fight. He made steady progress to land in sixth when time ran out.

Vinales was not the only rider to run off track. Of the 34 riders who started the Moto3 race, only 17 finished.

The tortuous 4182m Estoril Circuit is not a favorite of many riders, partly because of the surface and partly because of the volatility of the weather blowing in from the nearby coastline in Cascais. Estoril is one of the slower tracks on the calendar, with 13 corners-nine rights and four lefts-and a longest straight of just less than a kilometre. The variety of corners places an emphasis on a well-balanced motorcycle, with riders needing the help of electronic aids to tame the brutish power of the new wave of 1000cc MotoGP machines. One of the more special features of the circuit, is the run to the flag. The final turn is a right-hander, the Parabolica, which sends riders onto the front stretch where the leader often falls victim to the chasing riders who make the most of the draft the steal victory.

The first MotoGP race was held at Estoril in 2000 and this could well be the last. The track has never found a permanent place on the calendar, moving back and from the beginning to the end of the calendar. With the global financial crisis still gripping the Iberian Peninsula, and expansion plans already in place for other parts of the world, it is unlikely that Estoril is in MotoGP�s future.

MotoGP Rider Quotes

Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC213V)
�A flying visit back home to Switzerland and now we have the Grand Prix of Portugal this weekend. After our win in Jerez, I'm looking forward to going to Estoril and hopefully we can maintain the form we've had in the past two races as we've shown good pace. However, we do need to fix the arm pump issue as it's held us back a little and it's disappointing we weren't able to fix it before Jerez. We've had some really good results at Estoril in the past-I got my first 250cc win there-so I'll be aiming for another good result, but it would be really nice if we can have some better weather for the weekend.�

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC213V)
�I'm happy with our performance in the first two races, the results were good, but still not perfect. So, I will try to do the extra push in Estoril, where we achieved the first victory of the season last year after a very good weekend. It will be important to set up the bike well in a tricky circuit like this, with long corners and hard braking. It is the first time we go there with the 1000cc RC213V and a good position on the grid is always crucial in Estoril. We have to keep working hard like we did in Qatar and Jerez. Hopefully, we can have good weather and the grandstands are full of Spanish fans as we had in Jerez on Sunday, especially being the last season we race in Estoril.�

Alvaro Bautista (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC213V)
�It was a difficult weekend at Jerez because of the weather and my crash in practice, but thankfully we found some confidence for the race and picked up a result that gives us a platform to build on in the next round. We need to build my confidence still further with this bike at a circuit that I don't particularly like even though I have three wins here, one in 125 and two in 250. It is a circuit with some hard braking and the grip levels aren't great but I have had luck there in the past so hopefully that will prove to be the case again. It is important for us to get through a whole weekend without problems so that I can build the confidence I need to push the bike as hard as I want to. �

Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda MotoGP RC213V)
�I am really looking forward to Estoril GP. I know it will be more difficult for me on a MotoGP bike because this track is very small for those kind of bikes. I won the last 2 years races in Moto2 which is a good sign for me: I like the circuit and I like the atmosphere so I presume this will be another exciting week end for me�.

Michele Pirro (San Carlo Honda Gresini FTR-Honda)
�I was really hoping to score my first points for the team at Jerez, but I couldn't manage it. They deserve that and more for the tireless job they are doing, but unfortunately the dream was shattered just a few laps from the end because of an electronic problem. That was a shame but at Estoril we carry on with what is a difficult job, but it's a job we all believe in and now we just need a bit of luck to go with that belief. I qualified on the second row for the Moto2 race here last year and I like the layout so I hope it suits our bike. Naturally we can't get too excited because our only goal right now is to make improvements from one race to the next. We have a long way to go but morale is high and we are determined to show our potential on track.�

Moto2 Rider Quotes

Marc Marquez (Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol - Suter)
�We are highly motivated heading to Portugal, after the win in Qatar and second place at Jerez. We are in really good shape right now, as we were only in action at Jerez a few days ago. We will be very focused, because it is a tricky track. We had a very positive test last year there and there will be some useful reference points to help me for the race. I am really looking forward to getting back on the bike.�

Pol Espargaro (Pons 40 HP Tuenti � Kalex)
�Well, Estoril is a circuit that I like a lot. Sure will be difficult because there is an incredible level here in the Moto2 and it will be a hard race, as always. But I like that circuit. I had have been running in that circuit always and two or three years ago and it was fantastic; I take my first podium there. And I will try to do my best.�

Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2 �Suter)
�I mean, after Qatar it�s nice to be back on the podium. I mean, the team worked very good, very well and they deserve it to be on the podium, now we are all the group looking forward to Estoril next week and we can fight for the victory, I think so. Yeah, I like it, and hope for better conditions than down here in Jerez and we are good, as well, in Estoril.�

Moto3 Rider Quotes

Romano Fenati (Team FMI Italia-Honda)
�Yes, is unbelievable the start of this season. I don�t know what to say. The team works very good in helping me with new tracks. I don�t know Estoril, but I study at home the circuit and we hope to do our best.�

Maverick Vinales (Avintia Racing Moto3 � FTR-Honda)
�Estoril is a track that I like. We had a great result there last year and this time around we have to be at 100% to give our best. Leaving Jerez with a sixth place means that we have to change our mentality and maintain our motivation. The good thing about having two races back-to-back is that we can quickly forget about Jerez and a difficult race, moving onto the Portuguese round with much excitement.�

Alex Rins (Estrella Galicia 0.0 � Suter-Honda)
�Estoril is a circuit where I have ridden just the once, but I felt good there. We have to continue working in the same way with the bike, whilst also looking for a little more power in order to keep up with the KTM riders. I am very happy with the fourth place at Jerez; it serves as a boost for the Portuguese GP. Heavy rain is expected there, but it will be the same for everyone and we will all have to adapt to the conditions.�

Source: Honda Pro Image

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