Three riders have had the podium all to themselves so far this season. Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa have been the men to beat but Cal Crutchlow is snapping at their heels. The Briton was just a quarter of a second away from his first MotoGP podium in Spain on Sunday and is unquestionably in the form of his life. The task for him now, is to make the next step and join the Grand Prix elite.
Of course, it's easier said than done with the top three being in such terrific form but Yamaha have won four of the last five Portuguese GPs and can still make a case that they have the fastest motorcycle on the grid, despite their defeat to Honda last weekend. Casey Stoner may have taken the 25 points but Jorge Lorenzo shadowed him until the end, 24 hours after taking a superb pole position. The fastest lap of the race in Spain was also set by Crutchlow himself who put Dani Pedrosa under intense pressure in the closing stages.
Unusually, Casey Stoner's victory at Jerez will have been classed by many as an upset after a poor qualifying session. The Australian started back in fifth place but ruthlessly powered to the front of the field, passing his title rivals along the way. Arm pump threatened to ruin his day but Casey held off Lorenzo to take victory, kick starting his championship defence.
|Riders’ Championship (2/18)|
With one monkey off his back, Stoner may head to Estoril with a little less trepidation than he might have done. A week ago, Casey had never won on any of his visits to Jerez and save for a 250cc success seven years ago, he doesn't have a winning record in Portugal either. The men expected to challenge him for victory on Sunday do, however. Dani Pedrosa simply overpowered Jorge Lorenzo in the final few laps of last year's event but the factory Yamaha was due a slip-up, having won every single MotoGP race he'd started at the circuit up until then.
He is certain to have a say in the fight for victory this weekend too but Yamaha will be desperate to see their other factory rider join him at the front. Ben Spies has been one of the disappointments of the season so far with a pair of eleventh place finishes to his name. Qatar was understandable after a couple of crashes earlier in the weekend but Jerez, in his own words, was “pathetic”. With Crutchlow producing such stunning performances on the satellite bike, Spies will be looking for a return to form, quickly.
Valentino Rossi will have a very similar plan in mind after his Ducati nightmare hit another low last weekend. “The Doctor” found himself outqualified by Randy de Puniet's CRT machine on Saturday and although Sunday didn't bring the same humiliation, he still couldn't do better than a lowly ninth. Rossi is still finish ahead of teammate Nicky Hayden on a Saturday or Sunday and whatever the shortcomings of the GP12, that must surely be of concern to the Italian and his legion of fans.
It's now coming up to a full year since Rossi stood on a MotoGP podium and with the satellite Yamahas performing so well, a return to the rostrum doesn't exactly seem imminent. Like Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso will have his eyes on silverware, particularly if that means getting on over on his teammate for the first time.
The privateer Hondas can't be discounted either in their current form. Both Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl finished in the top seven at Jerez and the latter is winning admirers every time he takes to the race track. The Moto2 champion is the only man to taste victory here in that particular class and could spring a surprise if his track record in Portugal is anything go by.
The presence of a near-1km pit straight at Estoril could spell trouble for the CRT runners this weekend. Randy de Puniet's qualifying heroics can't be downplayed but there is no doubt that the tight, twisty Jerez played into the hands of the ART machine more than Estoril will. The Frenchman's best bet is to finish as the leading CRT rider this weekend, something which he hasn't managed to do so far. That honour went to his teammate Aleix Espargaro last weekend and he heads to the third race of 2012 in the lead of the mini-championship among the tailenders.
James Ellison finds himself at the back of it at the moment but he should've registered his first points of the year in Spain, only to encounter an oil pressure problem. Jerez was unquestionably a step forward from Paul Bird Motorsport's tough baptism in Qatar and the Briton is expecting another improvement here.
British fans will have enjoyed the start to the Moto2 season as well with Scott Redding looking every inch a podium contender. The Quedgeley teenager led early in the Spanish GP before dropping to fourth but the first ever win in the intermediate class looks closer than ever. Bradley Smith has scored decent points in each of the first two events despite a Mistral 610 that isn't currently quick enough to rival the Suter and Kalex chassis' that are dominating the class at present. In such a tight field, small improvements can bring a huge upturn in fortunes and Smith feels he will be in better shape this time around.
Marc Marquez will go into the weekend as clear favourite despite losing victory to Pol Espargaro in Spain. The championship leader will point to the rain which halted the race shortly after he'd been overtaken and will take some beating in Portugal. Espargaro will give it a go though, as will Thomas Luthi who could easily have won each of the first two races.
In Moto3, the headlines are being dominated by Romano Fenati who is taking the Grand Prix world by storm. The Italian is leading a posse of rookies that are taking the experienced riders on, and beating them, and leads the standings two races into the season.
Fenati won the Spanish Grand Prix by a mind-blowing 36 seconds ahead of Luis Salom and Sandro Cortese while polesitter Alex Rins and Gresini protÃ©gÃ© Niccolo Antonelli also finishing in the top seven. The established cast will be plotting a fightback this weekend with Maverick Vinales intent on regaining the championship lead but the spectators will have their eyes on Miguel Oliveira who has a genuine chance of winning his first GP on home soil. Danny Kent and Danny Webb are yet to score the points that their early performances have deserved and will hope their season starts here.
The Grande Premio de Portugal Circuito Estoril weekend begins with the opening Moto3 practice session at 9:15am on Friday. The Checkered Flag will have extensive coverage throughout the weekend.
Estoril Race Winners:
|2011||Dani Pedrosa||Stefan Bradl||Nicolas Terol|
|2010||Jorge Lorenzo||Stefan Bradl||Marc Marquez|
|2009||Jorge Lorenzo||Marco Simoncelli||Pol Espargaro|
|2008||Jorge Lorenzo||Alvaro Bautista||Simone Corsi|
|2007||Valentino Rossi||Alvaro Bautista||Hector Faubel|
|2006||Toni Elias||Andrea Dovizioso||Alvaro Bautista|
|2005||Alex Barros||Casey Stoner||Mika Kallio|
|2004||Valentino Rossi||Toni Elias||Hector Barbera|
|2003||Valentino Rossi||Toni Elias||Pablo Nieto|
|2002||Valentino Rossi||Fonsi Nieto||Arnaud Vincent|
|*No Moto3 races have been held at Estoril|