This weekend sees the end of an era in the FIM MotoGP World Championship, as the series makes its final visit to Donington Park for the British Grand Prix. The venue has played host to some great racing in all classes and, with competition at a breathtaking level in 2009, another thriller can be expected on Sunday 26th July.
Standings leader Valentino Rossi has his own fond memories of Donington Park, the scene of his first premier class victory back in 2000. He has not won at the track since 2005, but is undoubtedly capable of ending the drought in front of a crowd that have always been heavily behind the MotoGP World Champion.
Rossi holds a 14 point advantage at the head of the standings, adding a fourth win to his 2009 tally with victory in Germany just days ago. His principal challenger so far this year has been Fiat Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo, whom he ousted for the triumph in Sachsenring by just 0.099s. Lorenzo has won once at Donington Park, in the 2006 250cc race, and placed sixth at the track last year, although previous form counts for little when talking about the flying Spaniard this season, as he seeks to extend a run of six consecutive podium finishes.
A further 14 points separates Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner from the head of the overall classification. The Australian is still out of sorts with illness, but has kept up his title challenge with some gritty performances over the past month. Off the podium for the past two races, a return to Donington Park gives Stoner the chance to win his third Grand Prix in as many years on British soil.
Dani Pedrosa’s bid for the MotoGP crown has picked up as his own physical problems have healed, but the Repsol Honda man is still very much the outside bet of the top four. He needs to pull back forty points just to catch up with third-placed Stoner. Pedrosa’s last win in Britain came back in his rookie season of 2006, riding the 990cc RC211V.
The British Grand Prix is a home race for James Toseland, who has double motivation to get a good result on race day. The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider is racing for his future in the MotoGP World Championship, and also has some demons to exorcise following his first lap crash in last year’s race.
Although Marco Melandri has since relocated to Italy, the former MotoGP runner-up can also count this weekend’s round as a ‘home’ race. He spent a handful of years living just a stone’s throw from the track before the start of this year. He is currently sixth in the standings, behind Toseland’s teammate Colin Edwards.
Hiroshi Aoyama leads the 250cc class upon arrival in Great Britain, ten points ahead of Spanish rival Álvaro Bautista. The category will see a new Donington Park racewinner on Sunday afternoon, as nobody on the current grid has ever taken victory at the track in quarter-litre competition. With the title in the balance, such an honour would be a huge boost to either the Japanese Scot Racing Honda rider or the Mapfre Aspar man.
Whilst Aoyama and Bautista have breathing space at the top of the standings, behind them some dark horses are looming. Héctor Barberá is just eighteen points behind Bautista midway through one of his most consistent campaigns, riding for the PepeWorld team and targeting a move up to MotoGP in 2009.
Confirmed for a spot in the premier class lineup next year, Marco Simoncelli is remounting his title defence in the 250cc class. The Metis Gilera rider won the last round at Sachsenring in Germany from pole position, and has thirty-two points to make up in order to catch leader Aoyama.
Home representation in Great Britain will come from a selection of wildcards, headed by semi-regular participant Toby Markham. The local rider has two points from five appearances in 2009.
The 125cc race at the 2008 British Grand Prix saw a memorable home victory for Scott Redding, ending a long run without reason for local cheer. Redding is back for more in 2009, although he is some way outside the title picture.
The previously almost inseparable top two in the lower cylinder category were split by two contrasting results in Germany. A win for Julián Simón and a first DNF of the year for Bradley Smith extended the gap between the two to 30.5 points, and put the duo’s Bancaja Aspar teammate Sergio Gadea between them for good measure.
Simón has great memories of Donington Park from his first stint in 125cc, as it was at the British venue that he took a first Grand Prix victory in 2005. Gadea has been just off the podium for the past two seasons at the track, whereas Smith has not had much joy at his home circuit. The Oxfordshire rider has never qualified higher than the third row in the Midlands, and has yet to take to the podium in four appearances there. Experiencing his best season to date, could this be Smith’s year to shine in front of his dedicated supporters?
Also stating their case for title contention are Andrea Iannone and Nico Terol, riding for the Ongetta I.S.P.A and Jack&Jones WRB teams, respectively.
The British Grand Prix takes place on Sunday 26th July, with practice sessions beginning on Friday.