Having wrapped up his first MotoGP World Championship title in Sepang three weeks ago, and with the pressure well and truly off, Jorge Lorenzo is going for wins to cap off his momentous year.
Lorenzo has won the Portuguese Grand Prix from pole position the last two years and the newly crowned world champion is keen to make it a hat-trick of victories at the Estoril circuit this weekend.
“I have good memories of the Estoril circuit, especially in MotoGP,” declared Lorenzo during the pre-event press conference. “In the past I’ve been fast here, but this is a new season, a new year, so let’s see what happens in the first practice.
“I really pushed at the maximum in Phillip Island and I think I made a great race, but the problem was how quick Casey was, meaning I could only finish second. I hope that here at Estoril I’ll have more opportunity to fight for the win,” concluded the new World Champion.
While Lorenzo has only race wins on his mind, the same isn’t true of his closest rivals. Second place in the championship is still very much up for grabs, as Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi both look to depose Dani Pedrosa from the runner-up position.
Hoping for a more successful return to action than in the previous round at Australia, Repsol Honda rider Pedrosa has had an extra 12 days in which to recover from the fractured collarbone he sustained at Motegi.
The 25 year-old has stood on the podium at Estoril for the past three years but this weekend is likely to be more about damage limitation than fighting for a podium, as he seeks to defend his second position in the championship standings.
“When you damage yourself it’s always hard and if it’s between races then it’s also stressful,” explained Pedrosa. “I missed three races and the return at Australia wasn’t successful, but at least I tried.”
“It’s four weeks now since the crash and I should be in better form than in Australia. I’ve been in the pool this week and I can move my neck now, which is already quite a big improvement, so I hope I can do some more laps here this weekend and do a good race.
“I haven’t ridden any kind of bike these past two weeks, but I’ve tried to maximise my performance and tomorrow we will find out the result.”
Stoner, who took an emphatic victory last time out in Australia, 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 circuit.
The Australian lies third in the championship, just 23 points behind Pedrosa, and another good result this weekend would line Stoner up to mount a serious challenge on Pedrosa’s second place at the final round in Valencia next weekend.
“After last weekend in Australia, we can’t ask for much more,” said Stoner. “It’s been a very, very tough season but these last four races have been really positive for us.”
“The focus for us at the moment is to try and keep our third position. We should have wrapped it up earlier, but there have been too many mistakes this season. At the same time everybody but Jorge has made mistakes or had things happen to them this year, so we’ll see how things go here this weekend. There are only two races to go, so we’re going to do the best we can.”
Stoner is well aware that his third position in the championship standings is under threat from Valentino Rossi, who lies just eight points adrift of the Australian going into this weekend’s penultimate round.
Of the current crop of MotoGP riders the 31-year-old Italian is the most successful at the Estoril circuit, having won in the premier class on five previous occasions. Rossi’s fourth place finish at Estoril last year was the first time in his ten visits to the circuit that he has failed to step onto the podium, making him a big threat this weekend as he looks to sign off from Yamaha with at least one more victory.
“The last three races were not so bad for me,” stated the Fiat Yamaha rider. “We made quite good results; good races and always on the podium. We have to try to finish the season with the last two races at the top.”
“This is a difficult track, it’s more like a road, but it’s very interesting because there is a lot of up and down and difficult corners, from tight to fast. My shoulder was checked in Italy and it’s like before, so I will be able to finish the season. I’m so happy because I was not sure before.”
Rossi also confirmed during the press conference that he would test the Ducati Desmosedici for the first time at Valencia, immediately after the final race of the season.
“I want to say thank you to Yamaha for allowing me to make the test with Ducati in Valencia. Now we hope for good weather! Straight after the test I’ll return to Italy for surgery on my injured shoulder.”
Marco Simoncelli’s 250cc form at Estoril – second in 2008 and victory in 2009 – will give the San Carlo Honda Gresini rider added confidence ahead of this weekend’s race. The former 250cc World Champion has so far finished sixth on three separate occasions during his MotoGP rookie year, but is determined to break into the top five before the season concludes next weekend in Valencia.
“The season didn’t start so well for us, but we have improved things step by step, race by race and the last three races have been very positive for us,” said the San Carlo Gresini Honda rider. “In Motegi I fought with Edwards for fifth, Sepang was also a good race and in Australia I fought with Valentino, Hayden and Spies.”
“Now we have to improve in the last part of the race, especially with the tyre wear, but I am very confident and I hope to finish the season in the best way and, it it’s possible, to step up on the podium.”
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.