2015 Barcelona MotoGP Preview - The Showdown in Catalonia

From Mugello to Barcelona, or from the heart of Italian motorcycle racing to the heart of Spanish motorcycling. Or rather, Catalan motorcycling, as any of the many Catalans which fill the paddock will happily point out. Then again, Catalonia is – ironically – at the heart of Spanish motorcycling itself. If MotoGP had a home race, it would be here. Series organizer Dorna has its offices just south of Barcelona, and the working language of the organization is Catalan. Just east of the circuit lies the old factory of Derbi, once a mainstay of the 125cc class. Check the birthplaces of any one of the riders racing on a Spanish license, and most of them hail from one of the towns and villages within an hour or two's drive of the Montmeló circuit. Most riders still have a house in the area, though many elect to live in the tiny mountainous tax haven of Andorra, because of the opportunities it affords for training, so they tell us.

With so much support, can the Spaniards – or Catalans, or Mallorcans – lock out the podium at home? It would be a crowd pleaser for sure, but getting three Spanish riders to fill out the MotoGP podium at Barcelona will be far from easy. That there will be one, perhaps two Spaniards on the box is a given. But filling all three places? That is going to be tough.

Jorge Lorenzo comes to Barcelona as the man to beat, mainly because it has been impossible to do just that for the past three races. The Movistar Yamaha rider started the season with a run of poor luck and strange circumstances, but since Jerez, everything has gone perfectly for him. He and his team have worked smoothly every practice to set up a bike Lorenzo is capable of winning on, and delivered on that work on Sunday at Jerez, Le Mans and Mugello. He has led from start to finish, taking less than half a lap to dispose of the opposition. So dominant has he been that he is closing in on Casey Stoner's record of leading the most successive laps. If Lorenzo leads the first 11 laps at Barcelona, he will beat Casey Stoner's total of 88 laps, set in 2007. Given the outright superiority Stoner displayed that year, it would be a very ominous sign for the 2015 championship indeed. Lorenzo trails his teammate Valentino Rossi by just 6 points in the title chase. Rossi will have to work hard to take his lead into Assen.

Beating Lorenzo in his current form will be difficult for the Italian, but he has happy memories at the track. Valentino Rossi has won five times at the Montmeló circuit, including one of the most thrilling battles of recent years in 2009. Then, Rossi pulled off an almost impossible move to dive inside Lorenzo in the final corner, coming out on top after a scintillating final lap. It is a move Rossi will find it hard to replicate: since that race, every rider leading into the final corner has taken a much tighter line, wary of a last-ditch dive up the inside from the rival they are trying to beat. Especially if the rider behind them answers to the name of Valentino Rossi.

The Yamahas will be hard to beat at the Circuit de Catalunya. The layout suits the bike, with a lot of long, fast corners and changes of direction, favoring corner speed and courage, qualities Rossi and Lorenzo have in abundance, as do the Tech 3 pairing of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. Smith could be a fly in the ointment at Montmeló, the Englishman currently in the form of his MotoGP career. Espargaro – the younger of the two, that is – wants to get his season back on track, after a couple of tough early races. Pol grew up within earshot of the circuit, and the Espargarins, the fanatical fan club which follow the Espargaro brothers around, will be urging him on. The dark horses at Barcelona will likely be wearing Monster colors.

The one area where the Yamahas will struggle is in top speed, Barcelona boasting a massive, and massively fast front straight. Top speed records alternate between Mugello and Barcelona, and with the GP15 having set a new standard at the Italian track two weeks ago, the Ducati Desmosedici will be a formidable prospect at the Catalan track. Andrea Iannone comes to Barcelona brimming with confidence after his podium in Mugello. The Italian has a solid record at the Spanish circuit,having won here twice before, in 125s and in Moto2. Iannone has shown great maturity in his first year as a full factory rider for Ducati, and that maturity is translating into results.

Iannone's teammate Andrea Dovizioso arrives in Barcelona with amends to make. Dovizioso came to Mugello with high expectations, but a worn rear sprocket – virtually unheard of in MotoGP – forced him to retire early. The Italian lost a lot of ground in the championship because of that, and will want to make that up. Dovizioso was a podium regular in the support classes, but has stood on the box only once in MotoGP, in his days with the Tech 3 team. The Desmosedici GP15 can nearly match the Yamaha for corner speed now, as well has having good grip out of corners. Both those qualities should allow it to stay with the M1 through Barcelona's fast and flowing sections, but the killer punch could be delivered along Barcelona's front straight. Anyone on a Yamaha is going to have to work very hard indeed to catch the Ducatis back up if either Dovizioso or Iannone lead out of the final corner.

Could a Ducati win at Barcelona? It is not beyond the bounds of possibility, the track playing into the strengths of the GP15. Ducati have strong support at every track around the world, and can count on the sympathy of neutral fans, coming back from a long period in the wilderness. But an Italian rider on an Italian bike beating the local favorites would not be as popular in Catalonia as it would have been at Mugello.

The biggest question mark for Barcelona is how the Hondas will fare at the track. The bike has horsepower aplenty to deal with the long front straight, but it is that power which is hampering everyone on the RC213V as they set up for the corners. The aggressive nature of the engine makes it hard to control under braking, and as the rider first cracks the throttle through the corner. HRC have paid a high price in the pursuit of outright power, corner entry being sacrificed for top speed. That leaves the rider overloading the front tire in an attempt to compensate for the lack of braking help from the rear. At some point, that becomes too much for even the incredible grip and support of the Bridgestone front tire. Honda riders find themselves hitting the floor before they even know what happened.

The one rider who may be able to handle this better than the other Honda men is Dani Pedrosa. The man from Sabadell is that little bit smoother and that little bit gentler on the brakes than both his teammate and the satellite riders, and that may give him the edge. Pedrosa has made good progress recovering from the radical arm pump surgery he had earlier in the year, and should be close to full fitness at what is truly his home race. Honda are in need of a solid result, and Pedrosa may be the man to bring it to them.

It will be tough for Marc Márquez. The reigning world champion won here last year, and finished on the podium the year before. But in 2015 he has been hardest hit by Honda's powerful engine, its aggressiveness robbing him of his greatest riding strength. No longer can Márquez brake at will, and make seemingly impossible passes up the inside of his rivals. Instead, the bike pushes wide, the front unable to control the bike the way Márquez used to when he could use both wheels to help slow the bike. The problem was most visible at Mugello at San Donato, the first corner at the end of the front straight. Márquez took a different line through that corner every lap, the front finally giving out on him a couple of corners later at three quarters distance.

That was despite a new electronics package to try to alleviate the problem, and spending all of free practice working on set up. So focused were Márquez and his crew on set up that they missed out on a fast lap in FP3, and were forced to go through to Q1. There further ignominy awaited, Márquez electing to conserve tires for Q2, but getting caught out when Aleix Espargaro and Yonny Hernandez posted hot laps to bump Márquez out of the top two slots, and suffering too much with a lack of rear grip to do anything about it.

Márquez' focus for Barcelona will once again be working on set up, with HRC likely to have brought yet more electronics updates to try to calm the engine braking. But the weather may work against the reigning world champion: some rain is forecast for Friday, with perhaps more coming on Saturday. Every lap lost to wet conditions puts Márquez even further on the back foot, and he and his team will have their fingers crossed for four dry sessions of free practice. The test set for Monday cannot come soon enough for the Repsol Honda team, with time to explore solutions more fully.

If the weather could work against Márquez during practice, it may work in his favor during the race. The Circuit de Catalunya can be a swelteringly hot place, thinning the air and depleting it of oxygen. Less oxygen means less power, and less power means a more amenable engine. The heat may be tough on Márquez, but it would be a godsend for the RC213V.

For the first six races, the Suzuki team would have committed foul and bloody murder for some of the surplus ponies which have plagued the factory Honda. At Barcelona, they are set to see their prayers answered, if the paddock grapevine is to be believed. Extremely reliable rumors have it that Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales are to receive an updated engine for Barcelona, with the extra horsepower they have been wanting. That engine is said to be close to the Yamaha in horsepower, putting the Suzuki men in with a fighting chance of staying with the race leaders. The bike is already the most agile on the grid, turning and braking better than anything else. If the extra ponies allow them to stick with the Hondas, Yamahas and Ducatis out of the corners and along the straights, then they will be in with a chance of beating them through the twisties.

The biggest question mark is just how the Suzuki GSX-RR's agile chassis will respond to have another twenty-odd horsepower thrown at it. Nothing ruins handling like horsepower, as every factory has found out to their despair at one point or another. Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales may find themselves with a lot more work to do than they expected once the new engine is slotted into the frame. The final piece in the puzzle for Suzuki will be the arrival of a seamless gearbox, but that is not due to come until some time after the summer.

Aleix Espargaro faces another challenge at his home race. The surgery he had on the ligaments in his thumb should be much better than it was at Mugello, but he will still face a good deal of pain. As long as he has a little more strength in his thumb, he should be able to put up a good fight.

Espargaro senior is not the only rider in MotoGP's sick bay. Cal Crutchlow suffered a horrific crash at Mugello, badly damaging his right ankle in the process. Though he has been training and having therapy to try to fix the ankle, he will be far from fully fit at Barcelona. It is a small mercy that the damaged ankle is the right one, the foot he uses least when racing a MotoGP bike. He will still have a lot of weight to bear on it, though, and with a wayward Honda RC213V, he faces a long race on Sunday.

Andrea Iannone is another who is still suffering the aftereffects of a crash. The Italian damaged his shoulder in a crash during testing at Mugello, and is taking some time to get back to full fitness. It has not slowed him down, but Iannone still has some pain and a bit of a lack of strength in the shoulder.

Injuries or no, MotoGP waits for man nor woman. On Friday, practice starts, ready or not. It should be a long, hot weekend in the heart of Catalan racing.

Total votes: 213
Total votes: 95

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Comments

It can be quite chaotic with such a long run inviting riders to be more agressive on the first lap. Regardless of qualifying, perhaps the order can then be shuffled with Ducatis and Hondas getting terrific starts, thus preventing Lorenzo from leading too easily too soon.

That's where my highest hopes are for this weekend in MotoGP. Otherwise, there seems no stopping Lorenzo (except for an unexpected return of his odd run of luck and misfortune).

Total votes: 125

Or rain - which he still seems tentative in.

Total votes: 121

I'll be interested to hear whether the engine from his crashed Mugello bike sees the light of day again. A frontal impact like that could have easily damaged the front cylinder head or engine mounts etc.

Total votes: 138

This season has surreal tones for me. I still have a bit of disbelief that nags me time to time. Is this a dream?

If Suzuki comes up with power to match the Yamaha THIS early in the season, that may push me over the edge. The thought of Rossi or Ducati arising to bump Lorenzo off the top step has me captivated. If Espargaro so much as threatens to get on the podium this season they are going to have to sedate me and keep me from Motomatters for a few weeks. That would just be too much.

HRC electronics have an update chance before our freeze comes. And Marquez could flick like a switch back into the pointy end. Please check in now and again to see that I am ok if anyone but Lorenzo is winning. I may have a damn stroke over here.

Total votes: 160

Dovi has only stood on the box once in MotoGP?

Total votes: 143

I think David meant he's only won one race, when he was with HRC in 2009.

EDIT: Sorry, ignore me. I just re-read David's original text. As others have now pointed out, only one podium in MotoGP in Catalunya.

Total votes: 111

David, is it possible that suzuki has better braking capability than yamaha and honda without the seamless downshift ? "The bike is already the most agile on the grid, turning and braking better than anything else". Its true their turn in is almost the best but braking, i doubt that.

And even if the ducatis overtake yamahas in the front straight they wont be creating a gap of two bikes. The braking for the first chicane is quite hard and we already know that in braking yamaha outbrakes them. So maybe its not so easy for ducati. If marc doesn't get a good grid position this time, the chances are more that he will be taking some riders down in the braking zone for the first chicane.

Also i get the feeling that the hype that was created before the mugello grand prix did not lived up to its expectations but here in montmelo i think it can be better than mugello even if there isn't enough buzzing. Everytime there is a good hype created the results are not as expected but when there isn't enough expectations, the outcomes blows away one.

Total votes: 128

Since I´m out of the race writing racket now (tucked away in a well-wired tent talking about TV images and having to step outside to see the color of the sky) here´s my take on this Battle of Barcelona (nothing here rhymes with anything much and the Rumble on the Ramblas is a bit far-fetched).

While it is true that Mugello and the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya (the official and politically correct name) are, like COTA, tracks that produce speeds around 220 MPH, there is a big difference between Mugello and Catalunya. In Mugello there are several sequences of curves that punish a rider who makes a small mistake on the first. The Catalan track has fast corners but on their own so that a slight error in one does not put the rider so far off line for the next corner that he pays a double price for a single error.

The right side of the tire gets worked very hard and finding a way around for a last-lap pass is tough. That is why the last left-hander, the Caixa corner, produces more crashes than any other curve. According to myth and legend, it was Valentino Rossi who first figured out how to make the pass up the inside on the final corner, but Spanish riders in the CEV have known that that move since 1992. Jorge has lost a couple of memorable races on last lap and last corner situations…famously to Rossi at Jerez at also, as David explained, here at Catalunya, but first of all, to pass Jorge you have to be close and he has won his last three races by 5.5, 3.8 and 5.5 seconds.

There is some notion that Jorge is not so good at what we call "cuerpo a cuerpo" (body to body…Spanish for hand to hand combat). If you look back at Jorge´s career in 125cc and 250cc you will see that he was the original bad boy, the only top rider in modern times (probably in any period) actually forced by sanction to sit out a race after he T-boned De Angelis in Japan, 2005. Jorge mended his ways after that and, in fact, became vocally critical of the tactics of the late Marco Simoncelli. After being bumped around hard by Márquez en 2013 he said, ominously, that he "would have to alter his riding style if it were necessary." We´ve seen since then that he gives as much as he takes---remember Valencia 2013.

He also told the media in Jerez, before he started his string of wins, that he had decided to "stop thinking while I am racing and trust my instincts as I used to do."

There are a lot of scenarios that could play out this weekend. It is obviously Jorge´s plan to clear off, and my guess is that he has it in mind (I can´t imagine Jorge, a thinking man´s racer, actually leaving his brain in the toolbox when he goes out on Sunday) that if Marc gets in front he will want to bunch up the pack…the way Ángel Nieto used to do when he needed points and would even drop back and pick up a couple of riders and tow them to the front in his slipstream…but that was in 125cc and another time.

This is the time of year when all the riders say it is too early to think about the championship….right! These points count just as much as the ones in "the war of the Pacific…Japan, OZ, Malaysia…and Valencia.

How would you play it if your were Marc? Jorge? Valentino? And watch out from Iannone. He´s feeling his oats and has rested that shoulder another eleven days. And Dovi did everything right in Mugello until that morning warm-up and, whatever that mechanical problem was, he´ll be out to try and give Ducati their first win since Australia 2010.

This is about the first time Marc has ever been off the pace…albeit only slightly. He has certainly played catch-up before, but not in MotoGP. In 2013 he was handed the lead when Lorenzo and Pedrosa were hurt and missed races. Last year the battle for the Championship was virtually over before it started…which Jorge crashing out on the first lap in Qatar and then mistaking the lights coming on for the lights coming off at COTA because he got distracted by a dead mosquitos on his visor as he took his place on the grid…showed up late, decided to whip off a tear off, took his eyes of the lights, heard somebody put a bike in gear, looked up in panic thinking the lights were already on just as they came on and his muscle memory was befuddled.

This year Marc, who started last year with the wins in a row and had a 53 point lead over Rossi by the time he got to BCN (and 85 points over Jorge) is trailing by 49…almost 2 races.

Total votes: 173

David's articles and added insight from Dennis. Quite the one two combination.

For what it's worth I still miss having you commentate on UK TV as you used to many years back on Eurosport.

Looking forward to a fight to the line this weekend but not sure that's what we'll get.

Total votes: 144

Do we know what tyres are likely to be used at Barcelona (assuming a dry race)?

i.e. do we think Jorge is going to have to use the harder compound rear tyre that doesn't offer the edge grip he likes (and that VR seems to gel with)?

Cheers

Macca

Total votes: 118

was the right choice in 2014

Total votes: 127

Did I not even mention #46, the points leader? That´s the way he likes it this year. He tends to be as invisible as a world Superstar dressed in yellow can be until Sunday

Here´s an interesting piece of trivia

Of the total of 36 practice sessions (4 practice¡+Q2+warm-up at each of the six GPs ) Marquez has topped 15 sessions, Jorge 8, Dovi 5….but Rossi has not been fastest in a single session…but has 3 fastest laps and two wins.

Here is a way to think about the Lorenzo-Rossi battle

After 6 races and 146 laps, totaling 711,519 km, Lorenzo leads Rossi on the road and on corrected time by 5.162 seconds.

Basically, in a race from Algeciras to Atocha station Madrid, via Mérida , Lorenzo has just taken the lead by 5.1 seconds.

The entire World Championship is 2,108.824 if the riders completes every lap….so that would be 2108.824 or Algeciras to just north of the center of Lens, France.

But, of course, its points and not miles that decide the winner…otherwise Marc, with a flat tire in Córdoba and another in Mérida (I prefer to Extremadura rout to the capital) would be out of luck.

Stats like these are the result of long flights from San Diego….

Total votes: 160

Exactly this has been perplexing me for some time now. How can Rossi be so consistently fast on race day for the last two years but NEVER fast in practices and qualifying?

I know part of it is that he is a wiley veteran and he doesn't feel the need to show his true pace in practice while he works on the all-important race setup. But what good is being as fast or faster than everybody else on race day if you are starting from 3 rows back behind even your satelite riders, especially when your main competition thrives on getting out front and never looking back.

To me, Rossi is no longer incognito nor should we be surprised by his race pace. He has delivered podiums for 10 straight, 14 of the last 15, and 18 of the last 21 races (86%). Phenomenally awesome! What I would like answered is SPECIFICALLY, why is his qualifying so bad and why can't he fix it? In his older age and wisdom and respect for injury, is he just unwilling to put his balls on the line for that one fast lap any more? I just can't understand how he can ride as fast as Jorge on race day but in quali, the only time he gets close is when he "shamefully" gets a tow.

Personally, I feel like he should put a bit more importance during practice on his hot laps, to help prepare for quali...but I feel like there is something more fundamental at play. Why? Why specifically is he so "slow"?

Total votes: 139

I don't have the answer ... but when you look back, when Rossi, during 5 years in a row (and even 6, in 2006), was far away anybody on Sunday, he was not always on pole at all.
And with the age + the psychopaths in front + the softer tire for some already competitive bikes ... it is just difficult for him to take the last tenth. Simple :)
But the guy still the monster he has always been on race day ... with lot less marge with the others than before.

By the way, from the original article to "some" comments which follows, this website is becoming very unique ... thanks guys !

Total votes: 122

Lorenzo's race strategy to come out the first lap flying like a lunatic didn't come out by accident in my opinion, he wasn't particularly recognized to be fast right off the bat before but it has probably been influenced by his main rival, also known as Valentino Rossi if you prefer. A good strategy is supposed to exploit your opponent's weakside, and early laps are certainly Rossi's.

Total votes: 134

Rossi's weakness vs Lorenzo is not his early laps per se....it is his starting position and being stuck behind slower guys gifting Lorenzo seconds that cannot be bridged, and exposing himself to the knife fights in the midfield back alley. Lorenzo is doing what he does best, not directly in response to Rossi.

My question is why is he starting back there?

Total votes: 140

that all riding was done by hand. why would hrc provide electronic updates for the 2nd time.?

mm can do it all without electronics.

I and we all knew it wasnt true but the most beautiful thing is hrc again didnt state the truth. is about the bike or electronics it isnt true honda says it isnt the engine mm says its the engine. if we believe the rider then hrc again is not telling the truth.

Total votes: 131

They can change the electronics, they can't change the engine (freeze rule), HRC are working on the aspects that they can.

Total votes: 134

A freeze rule will be coming into place for electronics some time soon too. I wonder if Honda are beginning to regret pushing for no development during the season yet?

Total votes: 112

Exactly, I wouldn't be surprised if HRC have electronics updates at every race (and test) before that date. How far off is that freeze away?

If they are to try anything to tame the engine, it has to be the electronics before that date. After that chassis solutions for finding more grip, to componsate.

Total votes: 134

Where can I see the race on Sunday? I'll be in Paris for a week, and while I have a motogp video pass, I don't know if I'll have internet. Can I watch on a public TV channel in France?

thanks,
Mike

Total votes: 128

Sorry dude.
Internet is your way.
Go in a Mc Donalds :/

Total votes: 107

Hard tires, seems to be Rossi. Medium, seems to be Lorenzo. Rain...not Lorenzo, but otherwise who knows? Suzuki with 20 more ponies is a big wild card, although it depends upon where those horses are stabled - at 17K or 12K I wonder?

Total votes: 127

Can you please hang out here all the time?

Sincerely,
Everyone

Total votes: 154

So said the smaller top banner headline in last week's MCN here in the UK. As most folk in Blighty know well, MCN has always hedged their bets with headlines, often claiming World Exclusives; when they come true, they told you first, when they don't- like the EXCLUSIVE- CRUTCHLOW STAYING WITH DUCATI!! embarrassment, you can soon see why Barry Sheene coined the moniker 'Motor Cycle Romance'
So, for the last three GPs when Jorge has decimated his lead, MCN kept giving premium column space to the Tenth Title campaign, knowing of course, writing big about 46 will potentially attract more sales than giving the space to 99. This is just the way Jorge likes it when he's in the imperious form of late- let the adulation pour over everyone else (Mugello), I'll just grab the swag and slip off into the night- verySteady Eddie as I mentioned in an earlier post.
Am I a Rossi hater? Not a bit of it, I well remember seeing him win his first 500GP at a deserted Donington Park (the BSB crowd that year was MUCH bigger), and have already booked my trackside and flight seats for Valencia in the hope I will in fact see that historic day. By the way Brits, flight from Manchester to Madrid £59 return, 3 day Valencia ticket with grandstand seat, just over £30, cheaper than Silverstone!!
Am I a Lorenzo obsessive, again, no, but when it all clicks, he really is something and everybody can plainly see, unless VR can find a way to get onto the front row and away with Jorge, his charges through the field, whilst very entertaining, aren't going to bring him that crown.
However I am sure MCN will continue to build up the crescendo and Jorge will, I'm sure, be very grateful to them for it...

Total votes: 147

I don't know that Jorge actually likes the spotlight always being on Rossi. There was that great moment after Jorge had just won the 2012 championship and, during the succeeding test, the press all thronged around Rossi to see him back on the Yamaha - all but ignoring the newly crowned motogp champion. To the few journalists who were actually paying attention to him, Jorge let out that great line directed at Rossi's side of the garage: "Mira el campeon" (look, the champion).

Total votes: 126

Loris won Ducati's first at this circuit. I think it was also this circuit that cost Ducati their first shot at a world title after the Gibernau/Capirex bummer.
Rightly or wrongly Catalunya in my book has some mystical governance over the championship. Whoever wins on Sunday or leads the standings will likely go on to take the title. Right now it should be an M1 slam dunk on paper.
We have enjoyed 1st turn cleanliness by hook or fluke for a while now.
Something's got to give. I hope it don't, but if it does into turn 1, I look forward to it anyway.

Total votes: 131

Tyres will again determine the results this weekend. If the medium works, Lorenzo will be unstoppable again, if the harder works Rossi and Marc will battle it out with the Ducks-Jorge will be lucky to be top five.

If it rains it's a lottery!

Total votes: 125