After an exciting, dramatic and at times controversial season, the MotoGP fraternity almost needed a three week break to catch their breath. From Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner's coming together at Jerez to the ongoing feud between Marco Simoncelli and a pair of disgruntled Spaniards, the first half of the 2011 championship has resembled something of a soap opera.
The latest instalment comes from the undulating Brno circuit in the Czech Republic. The 5.403km track is built in a natural bowl and produces a special atmosphere for teams and fans alike, and with many high speed direction changes, there are plenty of supporters too.
Jorge Lorenzo will surely count himself among them after his dominant victory 12 months ago, overwhelming polesitter Dani Pedrosa to take his seventh win of a sparkling season. The World Champion only has a couple to his name so far this year though and returns to Brno as the hunter rather than the hunted.
Casey Stoner carries that distinction after a powerful display of riding that proved too strong for Lorenzo at Laguna Seca. The Yamaha rider was in stunning form through free practice but an accident on Saturday morning turned out to be the turning point in the weekend. Lorenzo bravely took pole position while Stoner struggled with his set-up but the excruciating pain would hamper him on race day, allowing the Australian to power through to victory.
Despite the events of America, the balance of power looks to be shifting between Honda and Yamaha with the reigning champions seemingly on terms with their Japanese rivals after a slow start, and a fully-fit Lorenzo will fancy his chances of beating Stoner this weekend.
The principle threat is likely to come from their respective teammates who both arrive in the Czech Republic on the back of strong displays in the States. Fit-again, Dani Pedrosa is back to his best and has proven a match for Stoner since his return while Ben Spies rode a brilliant race to snatch fourth from Andrea Dovizioso last time out.
Fifth place continued what has been a consistent campaign for the Italian, having finished outside the top five only once, but a lack of victories has all but quashed any hopes of the title. Dovizioso will still fancy his chances here, as will fellow countryman Marco Simoncelli who is still searching for that elusive first podium. The sight of him walking away from a crashed motorcycle in the U.S.A is an all-too familiar one but the Gresini rider remains a threat on his factory-spec Honda machine.
Meanwhile, Valentino Rossi returns to the venue that holds some of the greatest memories in his glittering Grand Prix career. The Ducati star claimed his first pole, first win and first world championship here but none of those look to be attainable this weekend as Ducati continue to look ahead to next year. Nicky Hayden sampled the GP11.1 at his home Grand Prix three weeks ago but looks likely to concentrate solely on the GP11 at Brno.
The local supporters will all have their eyes on a different Ducati though as Karel Abraham flies the flag on home soil for the first time in the premier class since Pavol Dekanek 22 years ago. Pramac Racing will also be fielding a pair of Ducatis but both riders will be carrying injuries. Randy de Puniet fractured two vertebrae in qualifying for the U.S. GP and will bravely race on while Loris Capirossi rides the number 65 despite doctors advising him to undergo surgery on his injured shoulder.
Brno will also see the return to MotoGP of John Hopkins who will take part onboard a second GSV-R for Rizla Suzuki. The American is competing in his third different championship in as many weekends after representing Samsung Crescent Racing in British and World Superbikes, and will partner regular rider Alvaro Bautista.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 have struggled with a lack of grip in recent races but are hopeful of a turnaround in the Czech Republic. Cal Crutchlow will certainly hope that's the case on a circuit that has been kind to him in the past, having taking pole position in last year's World Superbike meeting. Colin Edwards, by contrast, has never finished in the top six here and will be looking to correct that statistic this weekend.
Hector Barbera will look to lead the way amongst the privateer Ducatis this weekend while two privateer Hondas completing the 18-rider grid. After Ben Bostrom's wildcard appearance in the States, Toni Elias will have a spare bike at his disposal once again while Hiroshi Aoyama will continue for San Carlo Gresini Honda.
After missing the Laguna Seca event, the 125cc and Moto2 classes will be back in action too, promising another dramatic weekend. The Cardion ab Grand Prix CeskÃ© republiky begins with Free Practice 1 for the 125s at 08:10 on Friday morning and The Checkered Flag will have full coverage throughout the weekend.