Round 17 of 18 at Estoril this weekend marks the beginning of the final stint of the 2010 FIM MotoGP World Championship, with the bwin Grande Premio de Portugal the first in the last two races of the campaign which are back-to-back affairs.
With Jorge Lorenzo already proclaimed 2010 world champion it still remains to be seen in which order Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso will close the season.
With the pressure well and truly off Lorenzo is going for wins to cap off his momentous year, and at Estoril the Fiat Yamaha man only has winning form in the premier class. In his two previous MotoGP visits in 2008 and 2009 the Spaniard has taken victory from pole, so will be ever confident of adding an eighth win in this his title-winning third season.
“We now have the last two races in a row, and they are two very special races,” Lorenzo commented. “The first one is Estoril, where I’ve had some of my best moments in MotoGP in the last two seasons. I had never won there before in 125 or 250, but since 2008 I have had two victories.
“It’s the only one place where I’ve won twice in this category! I like the Estoril track and I always seem to feel so good there. Also it always seems a bit like another Spanish GP. Many people from home are coming and I am looking forward to feeling their support, because it’s the first time I’ve ridden so close to home since becoming world champion.
“I am still on a high and I would try to win again, like last year when the astronaut arrived!”
Hoping for a more successful return to action than in the previous round at Australia, Repsol Honda rider Pedrosa will have had an extra 12 days in which to allow his injured collarbone to further recover. The 25-year-old heads up the group of four who all still have a chance of a second-placed finish in the standings, and he has stood on the podium at Estoril for the past three years.
Ducati man Stoner, who moved up to eighth in the list of all-time winners in the premier class with his 23rd career victory in the last round, has twice finished on the podium at Estoril in the premier class and in his current form will be aiming to deliver Ducati their first MotoGP win at the Portuguese track.
“I have had a mixture of different results at Estoril – some good like my first 250cc win in 2005 and a podium in 2007, some not so good like when we had a problem with the on-board camera in 2008,” Stoner said. “Then we were back on the podium again in 2009.
“I was fast there last year but Jorge was a little faster. He is very strong at this circuit and I think we can expect him to be so again next Sunday. We just have to focus on the job of setting the bike up. We know that there are a lot of bumps here and our bike usually reacts quite aggressively over bumps, so we will have to see if we can adapt the set up.
“The GP10 has worked well in all kinds of conditions over the last few races so we’re pretty confident”.
Just eight points behind him is Valentino Rossi, who has the most victories at the track with five. The Fiat Yamaha man has nine podiums in total there and has only failed to step onto the rostrum once in his last ten visits, which was last year when he placed fourth.
“The flyaways were very good for us, three podiums including one win – we were happy with how much we had improved the bike and also the level of my shoulder,” Rossi said. “Now we return to Europe and I feel very strongly that I want to enjoy these final two races and try to win again.
“Estoril was not a good track for me last year, we had some problems and I couldn’t make it onto the podium so we will be trying to change that this year. After Phillip Island we hope the weather will be a bit warmer but Estoril can change very quickly so it could be a factor again.”
Dovizioso sits a further 18 points behind his fellow Italian and the Repsol Honda rider will be determined to step back on the podium after his run of two straight rostrum finishes was halted by a mechanical fault in Australia.
Ben Spies (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) has already secured the Rookie of the Year award and top satellite rider for 2010 and in Estoril faces a track on which he has never previously raced, a fact which appears to have done little to hinder his progress in similar situations this season.
Nicky Hayden (Ducati Team) will be another highly focused rider as he seeks to overcome the disappointment of just missing out on a podium in the last round.
Marco Simoncelli’s 250cc form at Estoril – second in 2008 and victory in 2009 – will give the San Carlo Honda Gresini rider added confidence as he continues his impressive progress, with Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) another rider looking for a strong finish to the season.
Making a return to the world championship after an almost three-year absence will be Carlos Checa. The 38 year-old Spaniard has been confirmed as Mika Kallio’s replacement on the Pramac Racing team for the final two rounds of the 2010 season, and will ride with the number 71 on his livery.
Toni Elías’ crowning as inaugural Moto2 World Champion in Malaysia may have ended the chase for the intermediate category title, but the battle for runner-up spot is still very much alive with two rounds remaining. This weekend both Julián Simón and Andrea Iannone will be aiming to improve their individual chances of taking the honour with strong results.
Moto2 World Champion Elías has a solid record at Estoril having won three times previously there (250cc in 2003 and 2004 and MotoGP in 2006), but the focus will undoubtedly be on the two riders who sit further back in the standings.
Just two points separate Mapfre Aspar’s Simón and his Fimmco Speed Up rival Iannone in second and third position, with Swiss rider Thomas Lüthi of the Interwetten Moriwaki team also still holding a mathematical chance of ending the campaign in second as he sits 36 points off Iannone and in fourth.
Neither Simón or Iannone have scored a podium finish at Estoril before with the Spaniard’s fifth place in the 125cc class in 2006 his best result there to date. His Italian counterpart has not had a top-ten finish in four previous starts at the track, with 11th in 2008 his best result to date.
Lüthi meanwhile took a podium finish on his way to the 2005 125cc title and has finished fourth twice in the past three seasons in the former 250cc category.
Simone Corsi (JiR Moto2) is currently fifth in the Championship and enjoyed a dominant 125cc visit to Estoril in 2008 taking victory from pole, whilst his team-mate Alex de Angelis is fresh off the back of his first win in the Moto2 campaign having tasted success in Australia.
Another rider also in good form is young Brit Scott Redding who took his Suter machine of the Marc VDS Racing Team to a season’s best finish of second at Phillip Island, and who has qualified on the front row for five of the last six races.
Joining the Moto2 field this weekend will be two wild card riders in Dani Rivas (Mr Griful) and Xavier Simeon (Holiday Gym Racing), whilst Turkish rider Kenan Sofuoglu begins his two-race partnership with the Technomag-CIP team, as does Spaniard Carmelo Morales with Racing Team Germany.
Thanks to his ninth win of the season in Australia last time out Marc Márquez has placed himself in a position to be able to claim the 125cc World Championship this weekend, and if he were to do so the 17 year-old would become the second-youngest World Champion in the 62-year history of GP racing behind one Loris Capirossi.
Márquez is 12 points clear of Nico Terol (Bancaja Aspar) and 17 ahead of Pol Espargaró (Tuenti Racing) at the top of the standings with two rounds remaining, and there are a number of scenarios which would hand him the title at Round 16.
One such outcome would be a victory at Estoril for Márquez with Espargaró failing to place second and Terol no higher than fifth, but with his rivals still holding their own title hopes it is a delicate situation.
Márquez’s experience at Estoril has not seen him score points in either of his two previous races there – he crashed when running in second last year – whilst Espargaró was the race winner last season. Terol has a best result of third in the 2008 race and suffered the same fate as Márquez last year, all of which adds to the anticipation for the penultimate race of a 2010 campaign that has thrilled throughout.
Bradley Smith (Bancaja Aspar) is still in search of a first win of the season and placed on the podium at Estoril last year, whilst Esteve Rabat (Blusens-STX), Efrén Vázquez (Tuenti Racing) and Sandro Cortese (Avant Mitsubishi Ajo) are separated by just five points as they contest fifth position in the standings.
Three wild card entries will also ride with Italians Alessandro Tonucci and Luigi Morciano both competing for Junior GP Racing Team and French youngster Robin Barbosa for the H43 Hernandez.
The last two rounds of the season also see a return to the three-practice session format which was successfully trialled at Aragón, with the opening session in the MotoGP class at Estoril scheduled to get underway at 10:05am local time on Friday.